(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.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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