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"CRAZY KATE" William Cowper (1785) William Cowper included the poem "Crazy Kate" in book 1 of his six-volume blank verse collection The Task. As did the other poems, "Crazy Kate" provided readers with a glimpse of Cowper's village environment, populated with figures such as Kate. Her story is a traditional tale of a woman driven insane by the loss of love; in this case, Kate's sailor lover dies at sea. She spends the remainder of her days in tattered formal clothing, living in the fantasy world of madness, as she awaits his return. Cowper begins in the midst of action, writing in the style of the folktale,

There often wanders one, whom better days Saw better clad, in cloak of satin trimmed With lace, and hat with splendid ribband bound.

Repetition of the term better emphasizes a change in fortune for the "one" he describes, with the term wander connoting an aimless movement. Cowper employs repetition in sound as well, making abundant use of the letter s and practicing alliteration with the consonant c.

This poor soul had been a "servingmaid" who loved "one who left her, went to sea, and died." The speaker supplies no details regarding the sailor but offers instead a fatalistic series of actions: the sailor left, he went, he died. Such brevity allows focus to remain on the woman left behind. She immediately dissolves into

"fancy," imagining her lover sailing "foaming waves / To distant shores," weeping at the idea that he might suffer at sea. As the speaker points out, imagination most deludes "where warmest wishes are," and she often anticipated "his glad return." Kate becomes a sympathetic figure, lacking the strength that one might believe a servant to possess, dreaming "of transports she was not to know." She never smiled after hearing "the doleful tidings of his death," her blank mind leading her to roam

The dreary waste; there spends the livelong day, And there, unless when charity forbids, The livelong night.

Kate is trapped in an endless longing, emphasized by Cowper's repetition of the term livelong in describing the endless cycles of day and night. A pitiful figure, her

. . . tattered apron hides Worn as a cloak, and hardly hides, a gown More tattered still; and both but ill conceal A bosom heaved with never-ceasing sighs.

In these four lines Cowper demonstrates his rhetorical skill, repeating the words hides and tattered for emphasis and including internal rhyme with the words still and ill, both of which resound in close proximity to the off rhyme in conceal. The speaker next relates that while Kate will ask fellow travelers for an "idle pin," which she "hoards," by sticking them in her sleeve, she will not request what she really needs, food and clothing, "Though pinched with cold." This fact alone causes the speaker to exclaim after a pause, or caesura, forced midline by a dash, "—Kate is crazed!"

Such madwomen were common topics for ballads and stories, relayed as cautionary tales for young women or just as entertainment in a gathering. Ironically Cowper often sank into depression, eventually becoming completely disabled through insanity. His madness, however, was not sparked by love lost, but rather by delusions that led him to believe he was eternally damned for his sinful nature.

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