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An Horation Ode Upon Cromwell's Return From Ireland Analysis



Author: Poetry of Andrew Marvell Type: Poetry Views: 988

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The forward Youth that would appear
Must now forsake his Muses dear,
Nor in the Shadows sing
His Numbers languishing.
'Tis time to leave the Books in dust,
And oyl th'unused Armours rust:
Removing from the Wall
The Corslet of the Hall.
So restless Cromwell could not cease
In the inglorious Arts of Peace,
But through adventrous War
Urged his active Star.
And, like the three-fork'd Lightning, first
Breaking the Clouds where it was nurst,
Did through his own Side
His fiery way divide.
For 'tis all one to Courage high
The Emulous or Enemy;
And with such to inclose
Is more then to oppose.
Then burning through the Air he went,
And Pallaces and Temples rent:
And Caesars head at last
Did through his Laurels blast.
'Tis Madness to resist or blame
The force of angry Heavens flame:
And, if we would speak true,
Much to the Man is due.
Who, from his private Gardens, where
He liv'd reserved and austere,
As if his hightest plot
To plant the Bergamot,
Could by industrious Valour climbe
To ruine the great Work of Time,
And cast the Kingdome old
Into another Mold.
Though Justice against Fate complain,
And plead the antient Rights in vain:
But those do hold or break
As Men are strong or weak.
Nature that hateth emptiness,
Allows of penetration less:
And therefore must make room.
Where greater Spirits come.
What Field of all the Civil Wars,
Where his were not the deepest Scars?
And Hampton shows what part
He had of wiser Art.
Where, twining subtile fears with hope,
He wove a Net of such a scope,
That Charles himself might chase
To Caresbrooks narrow case.
That thence the Royal Actor born
The Tragick Scaffold might adorn
While round the armed Bands
Did clap their bloody hands.
He nothing common did or mean
Upon that memorable Scene:
But with his keener Eye
The Axes edge did try:
Nor call'd the Gods with vulgar spight
To vindicate his helpless Right,
But bow'd his comely Head,
Down as upon a Bed.
This was that memorable Hour
Which first assur'd the forced Pow'r.
So when they did design
The Capitols first Line,
A bleeding Head where they begun,
Did fright the Architects to run;
And yet in that the State
Foresaw it's happy Fate.
And now the Irish are asham'd
To see themselves in one Year tam'd:
So much one Man can do,
That does both act and know.
They can affirm his Praises best,
And Have, though overcome, confest
How good he is, how just,
And fit for highest Trust:
Nor yet grown stiffer with Command,
But still in the Republick's hand:
How fit he is to sway
That can so well obey.
He to the Common Feet presents
A Kingdome, for his first years rents:
And, what he may, forbears
His Fame to make it theirs:
And has his Sword and Spoyls ungirt,
To lay them at the Publick's skirt.
So when the Falcon high
Falls heavy from the Sky,
She, having kill'd no more does search,
But on the next green Bow to pearch;
Where, when he first does lure,
The Falckner has her sure.
What may not then our Isle presume
While Victory his Crest does plume!
What may not others fear
If thus he crown each Year!
A Caesar he ere long to Gaul,
To Italy an Hannibal,
And to all States not free
Shall Clymacterick be.
The Pict no shelter now shall find
Within his party-colour'd Mind;
But from this Valour sad
Shrink underneath the Plad:
Happy if in the tufted brake
The English Hunter him mistake;
Nor lay his Hounds in near
The Caledonian Deer.
But thou the Wars and Fortunes Son
March indefatigably on;
And for the last effect
Still keep thy Sword erect:
Besides the Force it has to fright
The Spirits of the shady Night,
The same Arts that did gain
A Pow'r must it maintain.


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||| Analysis | Critique | Overview Below |||




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Choose 2 poems of Marvell which throw light on the politics of the time and show how he does this

Both “Bermudas” and “An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland” deal with the politics revolving around the Civil War and its outset, though “Bermudas” is much more oblique in its reference to religion. Marvell distances himself from the views held within the poem by putting the poem in the form of a sailors’ song. This allows him to create characters with their own poetic voices, making the question of whether Marvell is projecting his own views somewhat equivocal. True to his source of inspiration (Horace), Marvell presents a balanced view of the Civil War in “An Horatian Ode”, again sparking much debate about his own political views.

Written for Marvell’s Puritan employer Lord Fairfax, “Bermudas” commences with a steady, maritime rhythm to reinforce the lonely image of sailors rowing somewhere in a vast ocean, trying to cheer themselves up with their future, utopian prospects. The first lines of the song itself has definite biblical overtones – “What should we do but sing his praise” and the element of escape is reminiscent of Exodus. The “isle” clearly represents an Elysian place free from persecution and whatever else the sailors may have suffered. The potential of new beginnings is reinforced with the strong presence of water (“watery maze” and “huge sea-monsters”) and “eternal spring” – both significant literary symbols of regeneration. One of the few hints the reader receives about what precisely the sailors are escaping is “prelate’s rage” – indicative of the growing struggle between Catholicism and Puritanism before the Civil War, and Lord Fairfax’s own attempts to set up a haven for Puritans in the Bermudas. Conversely, “An Horatian Ode” abandons religion almost entirely, focussing more on the two main figures of the war – King Charles and Cromwell – and weighing their faults and merits equally. As with “Bermudas”, the poem opens with a small introduction, in this case about a youth whose identity is debatable. This anonymity is not without significance – he may represent Marvell himself, particularly as poet who must “leave the books in dust” or he may be a general figure for unprepared soldiers who were called to war with “unusčd armour”. This leads into what may be interpreted as a subtle criticism of the warmongering Cromwell, who Marvell satirically describes as unsatisfied with “the inglorious arts of peace”. Yet this is immediately followed by an almost celestial description of Cromwell as a weapon of Zeus – “lightning” with the three fatal forks of religion, Charles’ decapitation and his defeat of the Irish. His brutal (“fiery” and “blast”) destruction of the monarchy is symbolized by a graphic metaphor, with Cromwell blazing through the air to smite Charles who, for all his divine right, was not saved by his protective “laurels”. This seemingly careless reference to “Caesar” is another oblique indication of Marvell’s own views regarding divine right itself – Charles’ laurels are futile and in the same way, perhaps believing in the divine right of kings was merely folly. The paradoxical application of “angry heaven’s flame” to Cromwell is puzzling, but perhaps it is a further indication of Marvell’s views. While Charles considered himself heaven’s chosen ruler, it is in fact Cromwell who is heaven’s choice of weapon to strike the king down.

It is such violence from which the soldiers seem to wish to escape, as they anticipate the calm pleasures in the Bermudas, where all is smooth (“enamels”) in perhaps more ways than one. The biblical references become stronger as the language becomes more exotic – the “fowl…on daily visits through the air” recall God’s daily delivery of manna to the travelling Israelites, and the sheer abundance of this isle echoes that of Eden. Marvell particularly indulges his wit here with both horticultural and geographical knowledge, as well as subtle allusions to Judaism. Though the “apples” ostensibly reinforce Marvell’s wit and the abundance of the island, they also seem to refer to the downfall of man as apples which certainly came with a price. Cromwell too seems to wish for exotic gardens in which to plant “the bergamot”, a suggestion by Marvell perhaps of Cromwell’s hypocrisy in annihilating any remnant of luxury (“palaces and temples rent”) while simultaneously aspiring to great heights himself. While Marvell admits that Cromwell may have been unjustified (“though justice against fate complain”), he indicates that Charles did not have the capacity for power, thus he was consigned by Nature to be ousted by Cromwell, whose “greater spirits” must fill the vacuum left by Charles’ weakness. The fact that Cromwell manages to be both unjust as well as “angry heaven’s flame” is never reconciled, drawing further attention to the ambiguity of the speaker’s opinion. This neatly avoids any forthright statement on the part of the poet, who appears to have chosen to extol the virtues of both men while wreathing his praise in ambivalence and irony. Charles’ execution itself is described carefully, with no obviously sycophantic phrasing but ambiguous indications of the Roundheads’ guilt (“their bloody hands” and “forced power”) in contrast to Charles graceful acceptance of his fate – “He nothing common did or mean”. The overall impression is that of an admiration for Charles and a lamentation of his apparently unfair death.

Cromwell’s lightning qualities are brought to the fore once again with “the Irish are ashamed/to see themselves in one year tamed” though the hidden irony of “That does both act and know” belies the apparently laudatory tone at this point – whether Cromwell’s swift destruction of a nation is so praiseworthy remains equivocal, though the speaker quickly moves on to say that the Irish themselves would “confess” that “they can affirm his praises best”. Yet Cromwell’s ability to “sway” his captors indicates that he had to do so by force, and his laying his “spoils” at the “Commons’ feet” has connotations of larceny. Marvell’s use of imagery renders his meaning somewhat more oblique, allowing the speaker to be more daring in his suggestions – in this case he asserts that Cromwell is now at his most vulnerable, much like the falcon just after the hunt. The fate of the “isle” of England remains unclear, though surrounding nations apparently fear Cromwell’s constant wins – “thus he crowns each year”. The rapid flow of images switch constantly between an ambivalent mix of disdain and admiration for Cromwell, in itself a prediction of the English people’s own feelings for their new ruler perhaps.

Towards the end of “Bermudas” the soldiers seem to extend their comparison of themselves to the Jews and their exodus (“Lebanon”), echoing their hopes of a promised land made by God and the founding of a Church – “A temple, where to sound his name”. This ending is clearly a dream of what the sailors are prevented from doing, presumably in England, in a haven free from persecution. The conclusion of “An Horatian Ode” is rather more solemn after the mockery of the Scots, ending with sombre advice for the new ruler. Echoing Cromwell’s earlier dissatisfaction with the “arts of peace”, the speaker advises him to “keep thy sword erect”, as a policy of living by the sword may lead to his dying by the sword – “A power must it maintain.”

Though both poems deal with different aspects of the Civil War, Marvell avoids repetition with his skilful manipulation of form and subject matter. It is impossible to conjecture the poet’s own political standing, as even in “Bermudas” the speakers avoid any particular criticism of their persecutors save the “prelate’s rage”. The poems provide, however, a useful indication of the general feeling of the time and prevent the reader from simplifying the works by attempting to cast either Charles or Cromwell into the stereotypical roles of hero and villain.

| Posted on 2005-02-01 | by Xaphy




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