An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland

Original Text: 
Andrew Marvell, Miscellaneous Poems, ed. Mary Marvell (1681). Facs. edn.: Scolar Press, 1969. PR 3546 A1 1681A ROBA.
2Must now forsake his Muses dear,
3      Nor in the shadows sing
4      His numbers languishing.
5'Tis time to leave the books in dust,
6And oil th' unused armour's rust,
7      Removing from the wall
8      The corslet of the hall.
9So restless Cromwell could not cease
10In the inglorious arts of peace,
11      But thorough advent'rous war
12      Urged his active star.
13And like the three-fork'd lightning, first
14Breaking the clouds where it was nurst,
15      Did through his own side
16      His fiery way divide.
17For 'tis all one to courage high,
18The emulous or enemy;
19      And with such to enclose
20      Is more than to oppose.
21Then burning through the air he went,
22And palaces and temples rent;
25'Tis madness to resist or blame
26The force of angry Heaven's flame;
27      And, if we would speak true,
28      Much to the man is due,
29Who from his private gardens where
30He liv'd reserved and austere,
33Could by industrious valour climb
34To ruin the great work of time,
35      And cast the kingdom old
36      Into another mould.
37Though justice against fate complain,
38And plead the ancient rights in vain;
39      But those do hold or break
40      As men are strong or weak.
41Nature that hateth emptiness
43      And therefore must make room
44      Where greater spirits come.
45What field of all the civil wars
46Where his were not the deepest scars?
48      He had of wiser art,
50He wove a net of such a scope
51      That Charles himself might chase
53That thence the royal actor borne
54The tragic scaffold might adorn,
55      While round the armed bands
56      Did clap their bloody hands.
57He nothing common did or mean
58Upon that memorable scene,
59      But with his keener eye
61Nor call'd the gods with vulgar spite
62To vindicate his helpless right,
63      But bowed his comely head
64      Down as upon a bed.
65This was that memorable hour
68      The Capitol's first line,
69A bleeding head, where they begun,
70Did fright the architects to run;
71      And yet in that the state
72      Foresaw its happy fate.
73And now the Irish are asham'd
74To see themselves in one year tam'd;
75      So much one man can do
76      That does both act and know.
77They can affirm his praises best,
78And have, though overcome, confest
79      How good he is, how just,
80      And fit for highest trust;
81Nor yet grown stiffer with command,
82But still in the republic's hand;
83      How fit he is to sway
84      That can so well obey.
85He to the Commons' feet presents
88      His fame, to make it theirs,
89And has his sword and spoils ungirt,
90To lay them at the public's skirt.
91      So when the falcon high
92      Falls heavy from the sky,
93She, having kill'd, no more does search
94But on the next green bough to perch,
95      Where, when he first does lure,
96      The falc'ner has her sure.
97What may not then our isle presume
98While victory his crest does plume!
99      What may not others fear
100      If thus he crown each year!
101A Cæsar he ere long to Gaul,
102To Italy an Hannibal,
103      And to all states not free,
106Within his parti-colour'd mind;
108      Shrink underneath the plaid,
109Happy if in the tufted brake
110The English hunter him mistake,
112      The Caledonian deer.
113But thou, the war's and fortune's son,
114March indefatigably on;
115      And for the last effect
116      Still keep thy sword erect;
118The spirits of the shady night,
119      The same arts that did gain
120      A pow'r, must it maintain.


1] First published, along with two other Oliver Cromwell pieces, in the first edition of Marvell's poems, but in all but two known copies the leaves have been cancelled, presumably as offensive to the king. Written shortly after May 1650, when Cromwell returned in triumph from Ireland, after crushing the rebellion there, and before he entered Scotland on July 22. Back to Line
23] Caesar's head: Charles I was beheaded on January 31, 1649. Back to Line
24] laurels: laurels were thought proof against lightning. Back to Line
31] plot: purpose. Back to Line
32] bergamot: bergamot pear. Back to Line
42] penetration: two bodies simultaneously in one space, more "abhorred" by nature than a vacuum. Back to Line
47] Charles I fled from Hampton Court to Carisbrooke in the Isle of Wight, where he was recaptured; his flight was used as an argument for putting him to death to avoid further danger of an uprising, and Marvell accepts the common contemporary view (now doubted) that Cromwell connived at the escape in order to trap Charles. Back to Line
49] subtle: finely woven. Back to Line
52] case: "plight, with the alternative or additional sense of a cage" (Margoliouth). Back to Line
60] try: put to the test. In view of the fact that Marvell had been reading Lucan's Pharsalia, on the Roman civil wars, Margoliouth asks "is there a reminiscence of the Latin word acies, eyesight and blade?" Back to Line
66] forced power: power maintained by force, i.e., Cromwell's new Commonwealth established by "purging" the House of Commons. Back to Line
67] A human head (caput) is said by Pliny to have been dug up by the excavation of the foundations of the temple of Jupiter in Rome; the temple was thence called the Capitol and the event was accepted as a good omen of Rome's leadership of the world. Back to Line
86] kingdom: Ireland. Back to Line
87] what he may: as far as he may go.
public's: state's. Back to Line
104] climacteric: critical, dangerous. Back to Line
105] Pict (picti, painted people) is the old name for Scots; "parti-coloured" because they changed their political views, e.g., after the execution of Charles. Back to Line
107] sad: steadfast, sober. Back to Line
111] lay his hounds in near: send them to discover the deer. Back to Line
117] A cross (the cross-hilt of the sword) could avert evil spirits. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
3RP 1.363-65.