by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren

New York: Henry Holt and Company (revised edition, 1950; original edition, 1938)

See general introduction to this anthology.


The relationship of poetry to history is, needless to say, a most important one, though it is a relationship frequently confused. We know that poems arise out of the process of history - that they are written by men who live in that process - and the temptation is strong to see the poem merely as a historical document or to allow our reading of it as a historical document to settle for us the whole question of the failure or success of the poem. Moreover, if one protests against so simple a view, he may seem to be denying the importance of history and historical contexts altogether.

The editors are confident that it is necessary to distinguish between the poem as poem and the poem as historical document. For example, it may be an extremely useful historical document and yet have no value at all as a poem, or the reverse may be true. We promptly get into trouble if we say: "This is sound history, therefore it is good poetry." But the editors would be the last to deny the intimacy of the relationship between specifically critical studies and historical studies, and they would agree that for a great many poems, a knowledge of the historical references is a fundamental requirement.

But these problems are best discussed with reference to concrete examples. Marvell's "Horatian Ode" (p. 523) provides an excellent example. The title itself, "An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland," warns us that this poem deals with historical figures and comments on a historical occasion. The poem welcomes Cromwell home from his subjugation of Ireland and looks forward (see lines 105 - 112) to his campaign against the Scots. Since Cromwell returned from Ireland in May 1650 and entered Scotland on July 22 of that year, the poem was probably written in the early summer of 1650. The student may consult a life of Cromwell or a history of the English civil war for a full account of these campaigns and of the other events alluded to in the "Ode." But it may be serviceable to present a very brief summary here.

The long standing quarrel between Charles I and the Parliamentarians or Roundheads - a quarrel involving religious, political, and constitutional matters - broke out into open hostilities in August 1642. In the battles that followed, Oliver Cromwell soon proved himself to be the most vigorous and powerful general that the Roundheads had. He organized the New Model army which inflicted a crushing defeat upon the royal army at Naseby in 1645. Charles surrendered to his Scottish subjects, who later turned him over to the English in 1647.

Charles was kept in protective custody at Hampton Court, from which he fled to Carisbrooke Castle in November 1647. Many Englishmen, including many who fought against Charles, shrank from the prospect of executing him. They held the person of the king sacred and acknowledged him as the legal head of the state. But Charles kept dickering with the Scots and attempting to regain his lost power. Finally, a strong-minded group of men in the Parliamentary party, led by Cromwell, drove forcibly out of Parliament the members opposed to extreme measures, tried Charles for treason, condemned him, and executed him on the scaffold on January 30, 1649. In the next year, Cromwell crushed Ireland and, as Marvell predicted he would in the "Ode," speedily broke the Royalist forces in Scotland. As Lord Protector, Cromwell ruled England until his death in 1658. Today we would call him a "dictator," though he was in many ways a beneficent dictator, and though he attempted several times to find a parliamentary basis for his government. The year before his death he was offered the crown and refused it.

What was Marvell's attitude toward Cromwell in 1650? A few years later he was to write several poems full of eloquent praise of Cromwell, and he was to become the assistant of John Milton in his post as Latin Secretary to Cromwell. But two of Marvell's earlier poems (published in 1649) seem definitely pro-Royalist in sentiment, and the "Elegy upon the Death of Lord Villiers," which has been quite plausibly attributed to Marvell, is quite explicit in its Royalist bias. As H. M. Margoliouth puts it: "If [the 'Elegy on Villiers'] is Marvell's, it is his one unequivocal royalist utterance; it throws into strong relief the transitional character of An Horatian Ode where royalist principles and admiration for Cromwell the Great Man exist side by side. . ."

The puzzle of Marvell's attitude becomes more complicated still if we take into account two more facts having to do with Marvell's life in the year after he wrote the "Ode." Sometime after November 1650 (the date of May's death) he wrote "Tom May's Death ," in which he slurs at the Commander of the Parliamentary armies - either Essex or Fairfax is meant - as "Spartacus," and he lashes May as a partisan of the parliamentary party. Yet within a few months - Margoliouth suggests early in 1651 - Marvell was actually living under Fairfax's roof, acting as tutor to his little daughter Mary.

The poem, "Tom May's Death," suggests a further complication. It is the curious fact that the "Horatian Ode" in which Marvell seems to affirm the ancient rights of the monarchy -

	Though Justice against Fate complain, 
	And plead the ancient rights in vain -
				(lines 37-38) 

is full of echoes of the poetry of Tom May, the poet whom Marvell was to denounce a few months later for having failed poetry in the hour of crisis:

	When the sword glitters o'er the judge's head, 
	And fear the coward churchman silenced, 
	Then is the poet's time, 'tis then he draws,
	And single fights forsaken Virtue's cause.
	He, when the wheel of empire, whirleth back,
	And though the world's disjointed axle crack,
	Sings still of ancient rights and better times,
	Seeks wretched good, arraigns successful crimes. 

The echoes of May's poetry, of course, may well have been unconscious: but it seems significant that they are from May's translation of Lucan's poem on the Roman civil wars. One is tempted to suppose that in the year or so that followed the execution of Charles, Marvell was obsessed with the problem of the poet's function in such a crisis; that the poet May was frequently in his mind through a double connection-(1) through the parallels between the English and the Roman civil wars, Lucan's poem on which May had translated, and (2) through May's conduct as a partisan of the Commonwealth; and that the "Horatian Ode" and "Tom May's Death," though so different in tone, are closely related and came out of the same general state of mind.

If Marvell censures May's attitude in this crisis of the English state, what is his own attitude? Marvell's biographer, Pierre Legouis, finds in the "Ode" a complete impartiality between the contestants and even an indifference as to forms of government. But Marvell, as we shall see, is far from indifferent.

Margoliouth, Marvell's editor, is much more specific and much nearer the point. He sums up as follows: "The ode is the utterance of a constitutional monarchist, whose sympathies have been with the King, but who yet believes more in men than in parties or principles, and whose hopes are fixed now on Cromwell, seeing in him both the civic ideal of a ruler without personal ambition, and the man of destiny moved by and yet himself driving a power which is above justice." But what sort of constitutional monarchist is it who "believes more in men than in . . . principles"? Or who can accept a "power which is above justice"? Margoliouth's statement raises as many problems as it solves. We have already referred to Margoliouth's description of the "Ode" as a poem "where royalist principles and admiration for Cromwell the Great Man exist side by side." The Royalist principles and admiration for Cromwell do exist side by side, but how are they related to each other? Do they exist in separate, contradictory layers; or are they somehow unified? Unified, in some sense, they must be if the "Ode" is a poem and not a heap of contradictory fragments.

With this last statement we raise the specific problem that we must try to solve: it is a problem of poetic organization, and it addresses itself properly to the critic. For important as the historical evidence is--and as concerned as we have been to assemble all the data that is relevant--this question is one that cannot be settled by historical evidence. We must try to read the poem as fully, as richly as possible. But if we do succeed in mastering the poem, we shall have the poem; and we may have gained some insight into the attitude of Marvell the man. For the poem was fashioned by him.

We may well begin our examination of the "Ode" by considering the ambiguity of the first compliments that the speaker pays to Cromwell. The ambiguity reveals itself as early as the second word of the poem. It is the "forward" youth whose attention the speaker directs to Cromwell's example. "Forward" may mean no more than "high-spirited," "ardent," "properly ambitious"; but the Oxford Dictionary sanctions the possibility that there lurks in the word the sense of "presumptuous," "pushing." The forward youth can no longer now "in the shadows sing / His numbers languishing." In the light of Cromwell's career, he must forsake the shadows and the Muses and become a man of action.

The speaker, one observes, does not identify Cromwell himself as the "forward" youth," or say directly that Cromwell's career has been motivated by a striving for fame. But the implications of the first two stanzas do carry over to Cromwell. There is, for example, the important word "so" to relate Cromwell to these stanzas: "So restless Cromwell could not cease...." And "restless" is as ambiguous in its meanings as "forward," and in its darker connotations even more damning. For, though "restless" can mean "scorning indolence," "willing to forego ease," it can also suggest the man with a maggot in the brain. "To cease," used intransitively, is "to take rest, to be or remain at rest," and the Oxford Dictionary gives instances as late as 1701. Cromwell's "courage high" will not allow him to rest "in the inglorious arts of peace." And this thirst for glory, merely hinted at here by negatives, is developed further in the ninth stanza (lines 33 - 34). "Climb" certainly connotes a kind of aggressiveness. In saying this we need not be afraid that we are reading into the word some smack of such modern phrases as "social climber." Marvell's translation of the second chorus of Seneca's Thysestes sufficiently attests that the work could have such associations for him:

			Climb, at Court, for me, that will, 
			Tottering favor's pinnacle; 
			All I seek is to lie still. 

Cromwell, on the other hand, does not seek; to lie still--has sought something quite other shall this. His valor is called--strange collocation--"industrious valor," and his courage is too high to brook a rival (lines 17-20). The implied metaphor is that of some explosive which does more violence to that which encloses it--the powder to its magazine, for instance--than to some wall which merely opposes it--against which the charge is fired.

But, as we have already remarked, the speaker has been careful to indicate that Cromwell's motivation must be conceived of as more complex shall any mere thirst for glory. The poet has even pointed this up. The forward youth is referred to as one who "would appear"--that is, as one who wills to leave the shadows of obscurity. But restless Cromwell "could not cease"--for Cromwell it is not a question of will at all, but of a deeper compulsion. Restless Cromwell could not cease, if he would.

Indeed, the lines that follow extend the suggestion that Cromwell is like an elemental force--with as little will as the lightning bolt, and with as little conscience (lines 13 - 16). We are told that the last two lines refer to Cromwell's struggles after the Battle of Marston Moor with the leaders of the Parliamentary party. Doubtless they do, and the point is important for our knowledge of the poem. But what is more important is that we be fully alive to the force of the metaphor. The clouds have bred the lightning bolt, but the bolt tears its way through the clouds, and goes on to blast the head of Caesar himself. As Margoliouth puts it: "The lightning is conceived as tearing through the side of its own body the cloud." In terms of the metaphor, then, Cromwell has not spared his own body: there is no reason therefore to be surprised that he has not spared his own party or the body of Charles.

The treatment of Cromwell as a natural force is emphasized in the lines that follow (lines 21-26). A few lines later the point is reinforced with another naturalistic figure, an analogy taken from physics (lines 41-44). The question of right, the imagery insists, is beside the point. If nature will not tolerate a power vacuum, no more will it allow two bodies to occupy the same space.

What, by the way, are the implications for Charles? Does the poet mean to imply that Charles has angered heaven--that he has merited his destruction? There is no suggestion that Cromwell is a thunderbolt hurled by an angry Jehovah--or even by an angry Jove. The general emphasis on Cromwell as an elemental force is thoroughly relevant here to counter this possible misreading. Certainly, in the lines that follow, there is nothing to suggest that Charles has angered heaven, or that the Justice which complains against his fate is anything less than justice.

We began this examination of the imagery with the question: What is the speaker's attitude toward Cromwell? We have seen that the speaker more than once hints at his thirst for glory: "Restless Cromwell could not cease . . . ," "Could by industrious valor climb...." But we have also seen that the imagery tends to view Cromwell as the product of historical necessity--as a kind of natural phenomenon like the bolt bred in the cloud. Is there a contradiction? No, for if the driving force has been a desire for glory, it is a glory of that kind which allows a man to become dedicated and, in a sense, even selfless in his pursuit of it. Moreover, the desire for such glory can become so much a compulsive force that the man does not appear to act by an exercise of his personal will but seems to become the will of some great force outside himself. There is in the poem at least one specific suggestion of this sort: "But through adventurous war / Urged his active star...." Cromwell is the marked man, the man of destiny, but he is not merely the man governed by his star. Active though it be, he cannot remain passive, even in relation to it: he is not merely urged by it, but himself urges it on.

Yet if thus far Cromwell has been treated as naked force, something almost too awesome to be considered as a man, the poet does not forget that after all he is a man too--that "the force of angry Heaven's flame" is embodied in a human being: "And, if we would speak true, / Much to the man is due." The stanzas that follow proceed to define and praise that manliness--the strength, the industrious valor, the cunning. (The student must guard against taking the lines to mean "After all, Cromwell has accomplished much that is good." Such an interpretation could sort well enough with the view that sees Marvell as the cool and detached honest broker between the factious: unfortunately it will not survive a close scrutiny of the grammar and of the general context in which the passage is placed.)

One notices that among the virtues comprising Cromwell's manliness, the speaker mentions his possession of the "wiser art" of cunning and intrigue (lines 49-52). On this point Cromwell has been cleared by modern historians. Charles's flight to Carisbrooke Castle, as it turned out, aided Cromwell; but Cromwell could hardly have known that it would; and there is no evidence that he cunningly induced the king to flee to Carisbrooke. Royalist pamphleteers, of course, believed that Cromwell did, and used the item in their general bill of damnation against Cromwell. How does the speaker use it here--to damn or to praise? We tend to answer "to praise." But then it behooves us to notice what is being praised. The things praised are Cromwell's talents as such--the tremendous disciplined powers which Cromwell brought to bear against the king.

For the end served by those powers, the speaker has no praise at all. Rather he has gone out of his way to insist that Cromwell was deaf to the complaint of Justice and its pleading of the "ancient rights." The power achieved by Cromwell is a "forced power"--a usurped power. On this point the speaker is unequivocal. One must question therefore Margoliouth's statement that Marvell sees in Cromwell "the man of destiny moved by . . . a power that is above justice." Above justice, yes, in the sense that power can enforce decisions that are unjust. Charles has no way to vindicate his "helpless right"; but it is no less right because it is helpless. But the speaker, though he is not a cynic, is a realist. A kingdom cannot be held by mere pleading of the "ancient rights": "For those do hold or break / As men are strong or weak."

In short, the more closely we look at the "Ode," the more clearly apparent it becomes that the speaker has chosen to emphasize Cromwell's virtues as a man, and likewise, those of Charles as a man. The poem does not debate which of the two was right, for that issue is here not even in question. In his treatment of Charles, then, the speaker no more than Charles himself attempts to vindicate his "helpless right." Instead, he emphasizes his dignity, his fortitude, and what has finally to be called his consummate good taste. The portraits of the two men beautifully supplement each other. Cromwell is--to use Aristotle's distinction--the man of character, the man of action, who "does both act and know." Charles, on the other hand, is the man of passion, the man who is acted upon, the man who knows how to suffer. The contrast is pointed up in half a dozen ways.

Cromwell, acted upon by his star, is not passive but actually urges his star. Charles in "acting"--in chasing away to Carisbrooke actually is passive--performs the part assigned to him by Cromwell. (True, we can read "chase" as an intransitive verb--the Oxford Dictionary sanctions this use for the period: "that Charles himself might hurry to Carisbrooke." But the primary meaning asserts itself in the context: "that Charles might chase himself to Carisbrooke's narrow case." For this hunter, now preparing to "lay his hounds in near / The Caledonian deer," the royal quarry has dutifully chased itself.)

Even in the celebrated stanzas on the execution, there is ironic realism as well as admiration. In this fullest presentation of Charles as king, he is the player king, the king acting in a play. He is the "royal actor" who knows his assigned part and performs it with dignity. He truly adorned the scaffold like a stage "While round the armed bands / Did clap their bloody hands." The soldiers are said to have clapped in order to drown out the king's speech from the scaffold, but Marvell, drawing the incident into his theater metaphor, interprets the clapping as applause. Did Charles's enemies applaud Cromwell's resolution in bringing the king to a deserved death? Or did they applaud Charles's resolution on the scaffold as he suffered that death? Marvell does not resolve the ambiguity. It is enough that he makes the armed bands applaud.

With line 65, what may be regarded as the second part of the "Ode" begins. Cromwell is now the de facto head of the state, and the speaker, as a realist, recognizes that fact. Cromwell is seen henceforth, not primarily in his character as the destroyer of the monarchy, but as the agent of the new state that has been erected upon the dead body of the king. The thunderbolt simile of the first part of the poem gives way here to the falcon simile in this second part of the poem. The latter figure revises and qualifies the former: it repeats the suggestion of ruthless energy and power, but Cromwell falls from the sky now, not as the thunderbolt, but as the hunting hawk. The trained falcon is not a wanton destroyer, nor an irresponsible one. It knows its master: it is perfectly disciplined (lines 93 - 94).

The speaker's admiration for Cromwell the man culminates here. Cromwell might make Fame his own; he need not present kingdoms to the state. He might assume the crown rather than "crowning" each year. Yet he forbears: "Nor yet grown stiffer with command, / But still in the Republic's hand...." Does the emphasis on "still" mean that the speaker is surprised that Cromwell has continued to pay homage to the republic? Does he imply that Cromwell may not always do so? Perhaps not: the emphasis is upon the fact that he need not obey and yet does obey. Yet the compliment derives its full force from the fact that the homage is not forced, but voluntary and even unexpected.

And now what of the republic which Cromwell so ruthlessly and efficiently serves? What is the speaker's attitude toward it? To begin with, the speaker recognizes that its foundations rest upon the bleeding head of Charles. The speaker is aware, it is true, of the Roman analogy, and the English state is allowed the benefit of that analogy. But it is well to notice that the speaker does not commit himself to the opinion that the bleeding head is a happy augury (lines 71 - 72). The Roman state was able to take it as a favorable omen, and was justified by the event. But here it seems more to the point to notice what prophecy the speaker is willing to commit himself to. He does not prophesy peace. He is willing to predict that England, under Cromwell's leadership, will be powerful in war, and will strike fear into the surrounding states (lines 97 - 100). Specifically, he predicts a smashing victory over the Scots.

But what of the compliments to Cromwell on his ruthlessly effective campaign against the Irish? Does not the speaker succumb, for once, to a bitter and biased patriotism, and does this not constitute a blemish upon the poem? (See lines 73 - 80.) Margoliouth glosses the word "confessed" as follows: "Irish testimony in favour of Cromwell at this moment is highly improbable. Possibly there is a reference to the voluntary submission of part of Munster with its English colony." But the most intense partisan of Cromwell would have had some difficulty in taking the lines without some undertone of grim irony. The final appeal in this matter, however, is not to what Marvell the Englishman must have thought, or even to what Marvell the author must have intended, but rather to the full context of the poem itself. In that context, the lines in question can be read ironically, and the earlier stanzas sanction that reading. Cromwell's energy, activity, bravery, resolution--even what may be called his "efficiency"--are the qualities that have come in for praise, not his gentleness or his mercy.

The Irish, indeed, are best able to affirm such praise as has been accorded to Cromwell; and they know from experience "how good he is, how just," for they have been blasted by the force of angry Heaven's flame, even as Charles has been. But it is not necessary to turn the passage into sarcasm. The third quality which the speaker couples with goodness and justice is fitness for "highest trust," and the goodness and justice of Cromwell culminate in this fitness. But the recommendation to trust is not to the Irish, but to the English state. The Irish are quite proper authorities on Cromwell's trustworthiness in this regard, for they have come to know him as the completely dedicated instrument of the English state.

To say all this is not to suggest that Marvell shed any unnecessary tears over the plight of the Irish, or even to imply that he was not happy, as one assumes most Englishmen were, to have the Irish rebellion crushed promptly and efficiently. It is to say that the passage fits into the poem--a poem which reveals itself to be no panegyric on Cromwell but an unflinching analysis of the Cromwellian character.

The wild Irish have been tamed, and now the Pict will no longer be able to shelter under his particolored mind. It is the hour of decision, and the particolored mind affords no protection against the man who "does both act and know." In Cromwell's mind there are no conflicts, no teasing mixture of judgments. Cromwell's is not only an "industrious valor," but a "sad" valor. Margoliouth glosses "sad" as "steadfast," and no doubt he is right. But sad can mean "sober" also, and there may be, in this context, an implied reference to Scottish plaids, for "sad" means also "drab of hue."

Thus far the speaker has been content to view Cromwell from a distance, as it were, against the background of recent history. He has referred to him consistently in the third person. But in the last two stanzas, he addresses Cromwell directly. He salutes him as "The War's and Fortune's son." It is a great compliment: Cromwell is the son of the war in that he is the master of battles, and he seems fortune's own son in the success that has constantly waited upon him. But we do not wrench the lines if we take them to say also that Cromwell is the creature of the war and the product of fortune. The imagery of the early stanzas which treats Cromwell as a natural phenomenon certainly supports this reading. Cromwell can claim no sanction for his power in "ancient rights." His power has come out of the wars and the troubled times. Note that we do not have to choose between readings: the readings do not mutually exclude each other: they support each other, and this double interpretation has the whole poem behind it.

Cromwell is urged to march "indefatigably on." The advice is good advice; but it partakes of quiet commentary as much as of exhortation. If "restless" Cromwell could not cease "in the inglorious arts of peace" when his "highest plot" was "To plant the bergamot," one cannot conceive of his ceasing now in the hour of danger. The speaker goes on to say: "And for the last effect / Still keep thy sword erect." Once more the advice carries with it as much of warning as it does of approval. Those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword: those who by the sword have achieved their power in contravention of ancient rights can expect to maintain their power only by the sword.

What kind of sword is it that is able to "fright / The spirits of the shady night" ? Margoliouth writes: "The cross hilt of the sword would avert the spirits...." But the speaker has made it quite plain that it is not merely the spirits of the shady night that Cromwell will have to fright as he marches indefatigably on. It will not be enough to hold the sword aloft as a ritual sword, an emblematic sword. The naked steel will still have to be used against bodies less diaphanous than spirits. If there is any doubt as to this point, Marvell's concluding lines put the matter as explicitly as it can be put: "The same arts that did gain / A power must it maintain."

What, then, is the final attitude toward Cromwell? Is it ultimately one of approval or disapproval? Does admiration overbalance condemnation? Or is the "Ode," after all, merely a varied Scottish plaid, the reflection of Marvell's own particolored mind--a mind which had not been finally "made up" with regard to Cromwell? Enough has been said to make it plain that there is no easy, pat answer to such questions. There is a unified total attitude, but it is so complex that we may oversimplify and distort its complexity by the way in which we ask the question. For a really full answer, of course, one must refer the questioner to the poem itself; but one can at least try to suggest some aspects of the total attitude.

We might begin by re-emphasizing the dramatic character of the poem. It is not a statement--an essay on "Why I cannot support Cromwell" or on "Why I am ready to support Cromwell." It is a poem, essentially dramatic in its presentation, which means that it is diagnostic rather than remedial, and eventuates, not in a course of action, but in contemplation. Perhaps the best way therefore in which to approach it is to conceive of it as, say, one conceives of a Shakespearian tragedy. Cromwell is the usurper who demands and commands admiration. What, for example, is our attitude toward Macbeth? We assume his guilt, but there are qualities which emerge from his guilt which properly excite admiration. The point is not that the qualities palliate his guilt or that they compensate for his guilt. They actually come into being through his guilt, but they force us to exalt him even as we condemn him.

We do not mean to imply that in writing the "Ode" Marvell had Shakespeare's tragedy in mind. Not at all, but the kinds of honesty and insight and whole-mindedness which we associate with tragedy are to be found to some degree in all great poetry and they are to be found in this poem. Moreover, though Marvell does not have Shakespeare' s tragedy in mind, it is obvious that he is thoroughly conscious of the drama, and in this poem consciously makes use of dramatic perspective. Charles, as we have seen, becomes the "royal actor," playing his part on the "tragic scaffold." But the tragedy of Charles is merely glanced at. The poem is Cromwell's--Cromwell's tragedy, the first three acts of it, as it were, which is not a tragedy of failure but of success.

Cromwell is the truly kingly man who is not king--whose very virtues conduce to kingly power and seem to force kingly power upon him. It is not any fumbling on the poet's part which causes him, before the poem ends, to call Cromwell "a Caesar," even though he has earlier appropriated that name to Charles. Both men are Caesar, Charles the wearer of the purple, and Cromwell the invincible general, the inveterate campaigner, the man "That does both act and know." Cromwell is the Caesar who must refuse the crown--whose glory it is that he is willing to refuse the crown--but who cannot enjoy the reward and the security that a crown affords. The tension between the speaker's admiration for the kingliness that has won Cromwell his power and his awareness that such power can be maintained only by a continual exertion of these kingly powers--this tension is never relaxed. Cromwell is not of royal blood--he boasts a higher and a baser pedigree: he is the "War's and Fortune's son." He cannot rest because he is restless Cromwell. He must march indefatigably on, for he cannot afford to become fatigued.. These implications enrich and qualify an insight into Cromwell which is as heavily freighted with admiration as it is with a great condemnation. But the admiration and the condemnation do not cancel each other out. They define each other; and because there is responsible definition, they reinforce each other.

Was this, then, the attitude of Andrew Marvell, born 1621, sometime student of Cambridge, returned traveler and prospective tutor, toward Oliver Cromwell in the summer of 1650? The honest answer must be: we do not know. We have tried to read the poem, not Andrew Marvell's mind. That seems sensible in view of the fact that we have the poem, whereas the attitude held by Marvell at any particular time must be a matter of inference, even though we grant that the poem may be put in as part of the evidence from which we are to draw inferences. True, we do know that Marvell was capable of composing the "Ode" and one must concede that that very fact may tell us a great deal about Marvell's attitude toward Cromwell. We think it probably does. But we shall not claim that it tells us everything: there is the problem of the role of the unconscious in the process of composition, there is the possibility of the poet's having written better than he knew, there is even the matter of the happy accident. It is wise to maintain the distinction between the total attitude as manifested in the poem and the attitude of the author as man and private citizen. Yet the total attitude realized in the "Ode" does not have to be regarded as monstrously inhuman in its complexity. It could be held by human beings. Something very like it apparently was held. Here, for example, is the Earl of Clarendon's judgment on Cromwell:

He was one of those men, quos vituperare ne inimici quidem possunt, nisi ut simul laudent [whom not even their enemies can inveigh against without at the same time praising them], for he could never have done halfe that mischieve, without great partes of courage and industry and judgment, and he must have had a wounderful understandinge in the natures and humours of men, and as greate a dexterity in the applyinge them, who from a private and obscure birth, (though of a good family) without interest of estate, allyance or frendshipps, could rayse himselfe to such a height, and compounde and kneade such opposite and contradictory humour and interests, into a consistence, that contributed to his designes and to ther owne distruction, whilst himselfe grew insensibly powerfull enough, to cutt off those by whome he had climed, in the instant, that they projected to demolish ther owne buildinge....

In a worde, as he had all the wickednesses against which damnation is denounced and for which Hell frye is prepared, so he had some virtues, which have caused the memory of some men in all ages to be celebrated, and he will be looked upon by posterity, as a brave badd man.

The resemblance between the judgment of Clarendon, who lived at this time, and that reflected in the "Ode" is so remarkable that one wonders whether Clarendon had not seen and been impressed by some now lost MS. of the "Ode." Compare "who from a private and obscure birth"--"Who from hs private gardens, where / He lived reserved and austere"; "could rayse himselfe to such a height . . . by whome he had climed"--"Could by industrious valor climb," etc. But we do not mean to suggest that Clarendon was influenced by Marvell's "Ode." Our point in quoting from Clarendon is rather to show that the attitude of the "Ode" is not inhuman in its Olympian detachment, that something like it could be held by a human being, and by a human being of pronounced Royalist sympathies.*

Marvell did not invent the stanza form of his "Ode," as has been supposed, but apparently borrowed it from Sir Richard Fanshawe. Fanshawe uses the stanza several times in translating Horace's Odes in his Selected Parts of Horace . . . Now newly put into English, London, 1652. Mr. William Simeone, of the University of Pennsylvania, has found a MS. copy of one of these translations dated as early as 1625. The borrowing was probably made by Marvell from Fanshawe, not the reverse Like Wild, Fanshawe was an ardent Royalist. Marvell was evidently associating with the Royalist party and perhaps his "Ode" was circulating among Royalist sympathizers soon after its composition.


1. Attempt to define Corbet's attitude toward the Reformation in England as indicated in his poem "The Fairies' Farewell" (p. 250). Find out what you can about the Reformation--its causes and its consequences. Remember that Corbet was later to become a bishop in the Church of England. Is his attitude as reflected in the poem consonant with the attitude you would expect an Anglican bishop to hold?

2. What historical and biographical events shed light upon "Lycidas" (p.465)? Does a knowledge of literary history (particularly of the conventions of the pastoral elegy) contribute to your appreciation of this poem? Which kind of knowledge is the more important in appreciating this poem?

3. How much knowledge of the American Civil War is required for full appreciation of "The March into Virginia (p. 445) ? "Lee in the Mountains" (p. 501) ? What do these poems contribute, if anything, to your insights into this period of American history?

4. Other poems which may profitably be investigated with relation to biography and history are:

(a) "On the Late Massacre in Piedmont'' (p. 143).

(b) "Frescoes for Mr. Rockefeller's City" (p. 447).

(c) "Twelfth Night" (p. 521).


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Last modified: Thursday, 31-May-2007 09:42:13 EDT