Solitude and Grace (After William Cowper’s “The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk”)

One of William Cowper’s more famous poems, “The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk” takes on the perspective of the real-life inspiration for Robinson Crusoe, a buccaneer cast away on an island in the South Pacific for four years. Though much less famous than Defoe’s novel, Cowper’s poem brought English the saying, “The monarch of all I survey”. I have used that as the starting point for my poem, also an exploration of solitude but from a different angle to Cowper’s.
Solitude and Grace
(After William Cowper’s “The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk”)
This is the kingdom I have found;
     I claim it as my own, my flag
Is planted firmly in its ground;
     I own its every hill, each crag.
I alone have scaled these ravines;
     I know their contours and their depths.
Their grooves are friends to me, their veins
     Run through me, and bind like threads.
The walls, the mountains of my mind,
     Are boundaries which no-one can scale;
I keep each thought safely inside,
     Secure from victory, sure to fail.
The desert sands, the highest hills,
     The isolated islands and
The widest seas: these are my fill,
     My world within my hand.
The Body, broken into shards,
     Does not console me; I am king
Of all that loneliness discards,
     Hiding from every breathing thing.
The eyes of day are far from here:
     Hands cannot hold my messiness
And voices cannot reach my ear,
     No knowing smiles, no caring threats.
But water pours sometimes into
     These caverns and these crevasses,
Water washing, reaching out to
     Sea, eternal, vast, the masses
Of my heavy days and years
     Floating for that moment in
A current of free-flowing tears,
     My rock-walls wearing thin.
The ocean’s body then reminds me
     Of a space much wider than
The closed parameters I see,
     Much wider even than the span
Of years, of fear, of solitude;
     And so I turn my anxious gaze
Past my kingdom’s finitude,
     Into the vista of His grace –
It frightens, then, to see beyond
     The comfort of my walls, my towers,
Where I have safely hidden from
     The shine of sun, the scent of flowers;
But still I am drawn into light,
     My kingdom pulled away from me,
All I have known – my pain, my pride –
     Pulled out to Grace’s sea.

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.

9 thoughts on “Solitude and Grace (After William Cowper’s “The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk”)

  1. Wow, this is sheer brilliance–very impressive, and so deeply moving. My fave lines are “I keep each thought…fail.” And then all of the last stanza, with the final 3 lines being so exquisite! God bless you–love, sis Caddo

  2. Beautiful!

    And thanks very much for the Liebster nomination. I’m not sure that I will do everything the official acceptance entails, but I do appreciate the nod.

  3. You have a definite gift for this. I appreciate that you are drawing from such deep wells to nourish your work. I am reminded of what Van Gogh did early in his career. Rather than come up with something purely from his own mind, he carefully studied and closely copied the masters of painting.

    I wouldn’t wish on you Van Gogh’s destiny, but I pray you might be as inspired as he was.

    1. Wow! Thanks so much. It’s definitely been creatively and personally rewarding to look closely at the masters of the craft and learn as much as I can from them. Thanks for your encouragement!

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