begin page 203 | back to top


Cowper’s incidental poem, On the Death of Mrs. Throckmorton’s Bullfinch (1789, 1792) offers a likely source for a description in Blake’s A Poison Tree, in the Songs of Experience (dated 1794). In Blake’s poem the wrath of the speaker grows to bear “an apple bright”; this is beheld by the envious “foe” who—the last stanza relates—

. . . into my garden stole,
When the night had veild the pole;
In the morning glad I see;
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.
In Cowper’s poem, “Bully” leads a peaceful existence in his well-latticed cage, since his “Dire foe” the cat is not permitted to live in the house. Unfortunately, on one occasion his foe was a rat:
Night veil’d the pole—all seem’d secure—
When led by instinct sharp and sure,
Subsistence to provide,
A beast forth-sallied on the scout,
Long-back’d, long-tail’d, with whisker’d snout,
And badger-colour’d hide.

“Poor Bully’s beak,” like Orpheus’ head, is all that “remain’d to tell / The cruel death he died.”

Blake’s adaption or unconscious echoing of this material is hardly central to his poem, but it does offer further evidence of his early attention to Cowper. The poem could have been seen by Blake on its first appearance in the Gentleman’s Magazine, February 1789; again in the Speaker, 1792; or possibly in the offices of Joseph Johnson, who published it in the 1794-95 edition of Cowper’s Poems (see Cowper, Poetical Works, ed. H. S. Milford, 4th ed., corr., add. Norma Russell, Oxford Standard Authors [London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967], p. 383).

Print Edition

  • Publisher
  • Department of English, University of New Mexico
  • Albuquerque, NM, USA
    • Editors
    • Morris Eaves
    • Morton D. Paley
    • Bibliographer
    • Thomas Minnick
    • Associate Editor for Great Britain
    • Frances A. Carey
    • Production Office
    • Morris Eaves
    • Morton D. Paley
    • Thomas L. Minnick
    • Frances A. Carey
    • Editorial Assistant in Charge
    • Cynthia Lewiecki
    • Editorial Assistants
    • David Anderson
    • Marietta Barnes
    • Lynn Goldstein
    • Kris Lackey
    • Contributors
    • E. B. Bentley
    • G. E. Bentley, Jr.
    • David Bindman
    • Izak Bouwer
    • Martin Butlin
    • Arnold Cheskin
    • Detlef W. Dörrbecker
    • Martha Winburn England
    • J. Karl Franson
    • Christopher Heppner
    • Nelson Hilton
    • David Irwin
    • Paul McNally
    • Marta Slowikova
    • Robert R. Wark
    • Kazumitsu Watarai
    • Dwight Weber

    Digital Edition

    • Editors:
    • Morris Eaves, University of Rochester
    • Robert Essick, University of California, Riverside
    • Joseph Viscomi, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    • Project Manager
    • Joe Fletcher
    • Technical Editor
    • Michael Fox
    • Previous Project Manager and Technical Editor
    • William Shaw
    • Project Director
    • Adam McCune
    • Project Coordinator, UNC:
    • Natasha Smith, Carolina Digital Library and Archives
    • Project Coordinator, University of Rochester:
    • Sarah Jones
    • Scanning:
    • UNC Digital Production Center
    • XML Encoding:
    • Apex CoVantage
    • Additional Transcription:
    • Adam McCune
    • Jennifer Park
    • Emendations:
    • Rachael Isom
    • Mary Learner
    • Adam McCune
    • Ashley Reed
    • Jennifer Park
    • Scott Robinson
    • XSLT Development:
    • Adam McCune
    • Joseph Ryan
    • William Shaw
    • PHP and Solr Development:
    • Michael Fox
    • Adam McCune
    • Project Assistants:
    • Lauren Cameron,
    • Rachael Isom,
    • Mary Learner,
    • Jennifer Park,
    • Ashley Reed,
    • Adair Rispoli,
    • Scott Robinson
    • Sponsors
    • Funders
    • Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly
    • William Blake Archive
    • Carolina Digital Library and Archives
    • Use Restrictions
    • Copyright © 2015 Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly, all rights reserved. Items in this digital edition may be shared in accordance with the Fair Use provisions of U.S. copyright law. Redistribution or republication on other terms, in any medium, requires express written consent from the editors and advance notification of the publisher. Permission to reproduce the graphic images in this digital edition rests with the owning institutions.