William Cowper’s fine sensitivity to nature anticipates the great nature poetry of the Romantic Movement. ‘The Poplar Field’ is a poignant expression of a feeling of anguish (sorrow) at the sight of the poplars cruelly leveled to the ground. Cowper bids his first farewell to the shade provided by the poplar trees during his childhood days. He recalls the times when the cool breeze blows, it produces a whispering sound through the colonnade of these poplar trees. But now, the same wind does not blow nor produces anymore musical effect on the leaves of these trees. The River Ouse on whose banks the poplar trees once grew no longer receives their images on its slow deep running waters.
The poet’s feeling for nature comes through touchingly. The first time that Cowper came to the field of poplar trees was twelve years back since this date of event. It was his favorite field which touches the banks of the River Ouse, where these trees grew. These poplar trees that once lent him a cool shade now lay as ugly logs of timber on the grass. All the wild birds of the forest including the uncommon black bird have flown out of this destructive site to a nearby forest cover to rebuild their nest. A new forest with thick hazel leaves that offer them a proper shade from the scorching heat of the sun. All the songs of the different kinds of birds have finally vanished. The many sights and sounds associated with the poplars which were a source of joy to him are now no more.
The fast moving and fleeting years of his age show no signs of slowing down. His life like anybody else will come to an end and he too will have to sleep six feet down under; in his grave; dead just like the dead poplar trees. The tombstone will be placed over his head and the turfs of grass on his breast. His only last wish would be to see another grove of poplar trees to grow in place of the old. With all the joy gone, the poet sadly anticipates for himself a fate similar to that of the poplars.
It is a sad sight indeed to see and this has compelled him to ponder on the short-lived and selfish pleasures of man. Though he lives his real life as in a dream and his enjoyments not hidden from the eyes of the world, they have a more fleeting existence more than him. The poem ends with the sad reflection that if human life is short, the joys of this life are even shorter.