A Poem by William Cowper (1731-1800)
A Study Guide
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2011
Type of Work and Publication Year
......."Light Shining Out of Darkness," by William Cowper (pronounced KOO per), is a lyric poem and a hymn centering on God as mysterious but benevolent. Cowper wrote the poem in 1773 and first published it in 1774 as a hymn in a book by his pastor, John Newton, entitled Twenty-Six Letters on Religious Subjects; to Which Are Added Hymns. It was republished in 1779 in Olney Hymns, a book on which Cowper collaborated with Newton.
carries out his plans in a mysterious way, the speaker says. Even though
you may not understand what He does, He fashions and executes His designs
for humanity with "never failing skill" (line 6). Be not afraid of the
celestial clouds, the speaker says; they rain with divine mercy. The speaker
tells the reader to trust God, for "Behind a frowning providence/ He hides
a smiling face (lines 15-16).
God moves in a mysterious
Deep in unfathomable mines
Ye fearful saints, fresh
Judge not the Lord by feeble
His purposes will ripen fast,
Blind unbelief is sure to
.......The theme of the poem is the mysterious way that the benevolent Almighty works on behalf of humanity.
.......Except for lines 1 and 3, the rhyme scheme of the poem is abab. The third stanza demonstrates the pattern.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
.......The poem alternates between iambic tetrameter (four feet) and iambic trimeter (three feet). Line 3 and 4 demonstrate the pattern.
.......Following are examples of figures of speech in the poem. For definitions of figures of speech, see Literary Terms.
God moves in a mysterious way (line 1)Anastrophe
.......For poetic effect, Cowper uses Anastrophe (inversion of the normal word order) in the first and fifth stanzas.
God moves in a mysterious way,Metaphor
Comparison of God's activity to footsteps in the sea (first stanza)Oxymoron
frowning providence (line 15)Study Questions and Writing Topics