Study Guide

An Horatian Ode

by Andrew Marvell

An Horatian Ode Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Like “To His Coy Mistress,” “An Horatian Ode” operates on several levels. On the surface, it is a conventional celebratory ode about a military and political hero, praising his exploits and virtues. One can infer from Marvell’s other laudatory poems about Oliver Cromwell that the poet genuinely admired the lord protector; the tone of the poem is not openly ironic. Woven into the praise, however, or hidden behind it, are subtle signs indicating an equivocal attitude toward Cromwell and his achievements.

Cromwell is depicted as a larger-than-life figure, a conqueror who is almost as much a force of nature as a man; Marvell compares him to “three-forked lightning” and calls him a “greater spirit.” He is likened to a scourge of God, sweeping away corruption. “’Tis madness to resist or blame/ The force of angry heaven’s flame.” He is a conqueror on a par with “Caesar” and “Hannibal.” Yet intermingled with this praise for Cromwell is a sense of regret at the destruction of ancient institutions. The effect of Cromwell’s revolution has been “to ruin the great work of time,” in other words, society and government as it had been. Marvell calls Cromwell an instrument of fate and power rather than one of righteousness when he says “Though justice against fate complain,/ And plead the ancient rights in vain:/ . . . those do hold or break/ As men are strong or weak.”

Of course, the greatest institution that...

(The entire section is 570 words.)

An Horatian Ode Bibliography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Berthoff, Anne E. The Resolved Soul: A Study of Marvell’s Major Poems. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1970.

Colie, Rosalie L. “My Ecchoing Song”: Marvell’s Poetry of Criticism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1970.

Craze, Michael. The Life and Lyrics of Andrew Marvell. London: Macmillan, 1979.

Donno, Elizabeth Story. Andrew Marvell: The Critical Heritage. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978.

Hunt, John Dixon. Andrew Marvell: His Life and Writings. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1978.

Lord, George de Forest, ed. Andrew Marvell: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968.

Murray, Nicholas. World Enough and Time: The Life of Andrew Marvell. London: Little Brown, 1999.

Patterson, Annabel. “Andrew Marvell and the Revolution.” In The Cambridge Companion to Writing of the English Revolution, edited by N. H. Keeble. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Rees, Christine. The Judgment of Marvell. New York: Pinter, 1989.

Von Maltzahn, Nicholas. “Andrew Marvell and the Prehistory of Whiggism.” In “Cultures of Whiggism”: New Essays on English Literature and Culture in the Long Eighteenth Century, edited by David Womersley, assisted with Paddy Bullard and Abigail Williams. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2005.