‘Thou retir’est to endless Rest’. Abraham Cowley’s ‘Wise’ and ‘Epicuræan’ Grassehopper

by Milena Romero Allué

The lyric The Grassehopper by Abraham Cowley is a paradigmatic example of the reverent and almost animistic approach to the natural dimension that marks the first half of the seventeenth century: along with the vast process of democratization and the growing interest in science, a renewed enthusiasm for classic thinkers contributes to a mounting sensitivity towards the ‘brute creation’.
Close to Pythagoras, Plato, Theophrastus, Ovid, Plutarch, Porphyry and, among his illustrious contemporaries, Gassendi, Galileo and Montaigne, Cowley indirectly challenges anthropocentrism and believes that the earth equally exists for humanity, animals and plants. Cowley devotes numerous poems and essays to plants and animals that do not belong to literary tradition and even theorizes and formulates an educative system that includes agriculture, gardening and zoology. In the lyric under analysis, he obliquely associates the eponymous grasshopper, an insect traditionally identified with the cicada in English culture, with the Muses, Apollo, Tithonus, Epicurus and with the figure of the poet: Cowley endows the “happy Insect” with both human and divine features and connects himself with it in order to retire, as his grassehopper does, “to endless Rest”, a metaphor for the paradisal and immortal dimension to which many seventeenth-century English thinkers aspire.