It’s nearly 10 months since I last did a combo – so here’s the latest.
William Cowper is a personal hero – he has featured often on Q and in talks over the years. What a man: he persevered through years of terrible mental torment, the horrors of eighteenth-century asylums and more than one suicide attempt. But he was deeply loved by the likes of John Newton and members of the Clapham Sect. Newton, in particular, encouraged Cowper to write. And his long, autobiographical poem The Task is one of the most significant fruits of that. These first 9 lines are some of its most famous – but less well known is the way he continues from line 10.
Cowper seems to be reflecting on his isolation in the world, but also the emptiness of what people resort to in their despair. This is in marked contrast to the wonder of being known by the one who himself was wounded.
Edward Hopper was the master of evoking urban alienation. His paintings are populated by isolated individuals, whether surrounded by others or not, often at night, sometimes dwarfed by empty streets or industrial wastelands. So much seems left to the viewer’s imagination as we try to plumb the depths of their thought. It seemed fitting to combine it with Cowper, therefore, as a way of reminding us of the verse’s lasting contemporary resonance.
Then it struck me that something similar, though with less of Cowper’s sharpness, is happening in U2’s Moment of Surrender.
I was speeding on the subway
Through the stations of the cross
Every eye looking every other way
Counting down ’til the pentecost
At the moment of surrender
Of vision of over visibility
I did not notice the passers-by
And they did not notice me