Buried Above Ground (After William Cowper’s “Sapphics”)

I suspect that one of the darkest poems in the English language is William Cowper’s “Lines Written During a Period of Insanity”, or, as it is sometimes more tactfully called, “Sapphics”. Written after his first suicide attempt, the poem deals with the idea of eternal condemnation which was one of his greatest fears. In the form of four “Sapphic” stanzas, it uses a complex rhythm, demonstrating what a master Cowper was of poetic form, even when in the darkest possible place. It is a hard poem to read, an even harder poem to imitate. But here is my attempt at the task, and my attempt to shed some light into a very dark poem.

Buried Above Ground (After “Lines Written During a Period of Insanity”)
Abiram, swallowed up by earth, was taken
Into the fiery core, our spinning planet
Not pausing to release him from its vortex;
                       I too am drawn in.
The Potter’s Field received Judas’ silver,
His body taken into soil, the true cost
Of what he bought Caiaphas with a swift kiss
                        From betraying lips.
I would have taken less than thirty pieces;
I have betrayed my Saviour for a trinket.
So I, like Judas and like dead Abiram,
                        Deserve gravity.
There is no soil to bury my betrayal
Or hide the bones that I have stripped of all flesh.
Only the night can for a time disguise them,
                        Soon to be found out.
Bright light – only when You enter my insides
Can darkness’ strong pull on me be halted.
Only if You come swiftly with Your promise
                        Will the vortex stop.

Published by Matthew Pullar

Teacher, writer, blogger, husband, father, Christian. Living in Wyndham in Melbourne's west, on the land of the Kulin Nation. Searching for words to console and feed hearts and souls.

5 thoughts on “Buried Above Ground (After William Cowper’s “Sapphics”)

  1. Hey, Matthew –

    I’m currently working on a spiritual memoir entitled “Delight in Disorder: Meditations from a Bipolar Mind”. Currently, I’m working on “The Study” chapter where I reflect on books that have impacted my understanding of mental illness as well as list other works of art (books,movies,visual arts, music) worth exploring.

    I’d love for you to visit my site and share what you’ve found helpful. The post is here –


    Hope to see you around.

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