James F. Carens (essay date 1957)
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8975
SOURCE: "Andrew Marvell's Cromwell Poems," in Bucknell Review, Vol. VII, No. 1, May, 1956, pp. 41-70.
[In the following essay on "Horatian Ode" and "The First Anniversary of the Government Under O.C.," Carens reconsiders Marvell's contradictory depiction of Cromwell.]
Though Andrew Marvell's Horatian Ode has often been commented upon, two later poems in honor of Oliver Cromwell have received little attention. It is not surprising that A Poem Upon the Death of O. C. has been largely ignored, for it is overlong and without real unity. Lines such as these are, of course, splendid:
Unfortunately, however, this is one of the few sections of the poem that deeply engages our feelings; and, if we remember these lines, we also remember the artificiality of the conceit—a real example of metaphysical excess—by which Marvell attempts to relate the death of the Protector to that of his favorite daughter. Moreover, since Marvell has failed to unite the two views of Cromwell, public and private, the poem is patchy. With the exception then of a number of fine lines, the poem is not comparable to Marvell's best work and does not seem to reward close analysis. This is not the case, however, with the other panegyric, The First Anniversary of the Government Under O. C.
As late as 1648 (if An Elegy Upon the Death of My Lord Francis Villiers is his, as it would seem to be), Marvell's sympathies were distinctly Royalist. So much were they so, indeed, that he could rejoice that the young Villiers "Much … did / Ere he could suffer. A whole Pyramid / Of Vulgar bodies he erected high." Moreover, in two poems, which are certainly his, that to Lovelace and that Upon the Death of the Lord Hastings, both of 1649, he continued to express criticisms of the Civil War and the Cause. "Vertues now are banisht out of Towne," he writes in the first, and "Our Civill Wars have lost the Civicke crowne"; and in the second, "the Democratick Stars did rise, / And all that Worth from hence did Ostracize."
Indeed, even after he had composed the Horatian Ode (June, 1650) to celebrate Cromwell's victorious return from Ireland, he wrote Tom May's Death, a devastating and bitter satire on the poet who had crossed over from the King's Party to that of Parliament. The attitude here is unmistakable:
When the Sword glitters ore the Judges head,
And fear has Coward Churchmen silenced,
Then is the Poets time, 'tis then he drawes,
And single fights forsaken Vertues cause.
He, when the wheel of Empire, whirleth back,
And though the World's disjointed Axel crack,
Sings still of ancient Rights and better Times,
Seeks wretched good, arraigns successful Crimes.
But thou base man first prostituted hast
Our spotless knowledge and the studies chast.
Apostatizing from our Arts and us,
To turn the Chronicler to Spartacus.
Nevertheless, and quite ironically in view of these lines, Marvell was subsequently drawn to side with Parliament, to compose poems in honor of Fairfax (who may be pointed to here by the unfavorable reference to Spartacus), to become an assistant to Milton, and to compose the two panegyrics to Cromwell. It has become a cliché to point out that the Horatian Ode reveals a curious tension between the two loyalties. Perhaps, however, the peculiar position which the poem occupies in the development of Marvell's political attitudes has led to a distortion, in our analyses, of the nature and quality of this tension. The tension is certainly present, but we may be justified in reappraising and qualifying earlier judgments of it. In this paper, then, I wish to examine Marvell's imaginative response to the disorder of his time in the two poems, the Horatian Ode (1650) and the Anniversary (1655).
Since the Ode has received extensive critical attention and has been the frequent subject of analysis, an added burden is placed upon the student of literature: he must take into consideration not only the poem but also these commentaries upon it. I am aware, of course, that the criticism of criticisms is often a tedious and unrewarding process; but in the case of Marvell's Ode and the commentaries, I feel that the procedure is a valid and justifiable one, for the problems raised by the differing analyses are problems raised by the poem itself.
Probably the most influential analysis of the poem is that of Cleanth Brooks, which has enjoyed wide circulation since its original publication in the Sewanee Review, in the text Understanding Poetry. In effect, Brooks regards the Ode as a drama. "Cromwell is the usurper who demands and commands admiration. Moreover, though Marvell does not have Shakespeare's tragedy in mind, it is obvious that he is thoroughly conscious of the drama, and 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."2 Brooks's analysis of the poem, which directs him to this conclusion, is close and remarkably subtle. Nevertheless, I am inclined to agree with Professor Douglas Bush's dissent and reply to Brooks, in which he argues that Brooks's analysis quite distorts the poem. As Bush points out, Brooks seems to be "forcing the evidence to fit an unspoken assumption—namely that a sensitive, penetrating, and well-balanced mind like Marvell could not really admire a crude, single-minded, and ruthless man of action like Cromwell."3
Unfortunately Bush scatters some of his shots in attacking Brooks's position,4 but his essay provides a substantial refutation of the latter's reading of the poem. The Ode opens:
Brooks, basing his argument on the fact that "forward" may mean not only "high-spirited," "ardent," "properly ambitious," but also "presumptuous" and "pushing," suggests that even these opening lines contain ambiguous compliments to Cromwell.5 The force of the latter meanings, he argues, then carries over to the lines on Cromwell himself. Yet as Bush points out, the meaning "presumptuous" for "forward" was not common in Marvell's day. Again, regarding the lines, "Nor yet grown stiffer with Command, / But still in the Republik's hand" Brooks asks, "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. … "6 Assuredly not, for as Bush indicates "still" normally for the seventeenth century meant "always," as it also does in line 116.
To examine every such "ambiguity" thus forced from the poem would be an interminable process, as it would be to examine each line which is distorted in the analysis. One might, however, cite Brooks's insistence that the line "Much to the Man is due" is not to be taken as meaning "After all, Cromwell has accomplished much that is good."7 Yet it is clear when we examine the context that Marvell, in a truly ambiguous line, is indicating that Cromwell has not only accomplished much because of his merits but also that credit is due him for having sacrificed the life of contemplation for that of action:
The fundamental error, of course, is to look upon this poem, which celebrates a victory over the Irish and anticipates a victory over the Scotch, as a miniature tragedy. This results from extending, without any justification, the rich metaphor by which the significance of Charles's death is realized. To suggest, as Brooks does, that Marvell "consciously makes use of dramatic perspective" is to obscure the fact that he does so only in those lines describing the execution of the King:
Brooks is aware of the many implications of these lines and notes that "there is ironic realism as well as admiration."8 Nevertheless, he does not go on to point out that Cromwell is contrasted with Charles here, as throughout the poem, and never is represented as a participant in the dramatic action. Indeed, it is clear that Cromwell is the creator of the action. He is the possessor of a wiser Art; he is the artificer who has woven a net of such scope that Charles might bring his own death upon himself, might chase himself to Caresbrook. It is important to realize also that, while Charles is seen here as gracious, comely, and pathetic, he is also seen as completely passive and incapable of action in any real sense of the word. He is the "Royal Actor," but he is, unlike Cromwell, no man of action: he is the performer in an action that another has created. And though Marvell sympathizes with him, he sees that Charles is a man admirably suited to the illusion of reality but not to the reality of acting and knowing. Cromwell is the real actor. Marvell's attitude here is certainly a complex one, but, if we examine the implications of these lines as well as the way in which they contrast with the images relating to Cromwell, it is difficult to see the poem as a tragedy. Indeed, when Brooks seeks to buttress his argument in this respect, it is necessary for him to play fast and loose with both the poem and history: "Cromwell is the Caesar who must refuse the crown."9 One wonders what bearing this comment has upon a poem written a number of years before Cromwell's power had become that of a military dictator and long before the event referred to, Cromwell's refusal of the throne.
If then Marvell at one and the same time responds to Charles's grace and dignity but is far more critical of him than most critics have indicated, and if, as seems certain, he was at this time still sympathetic to the Monarchy ("Though Justice against Fate complain,/And plead the antient Rights in vain"), what is his attitude towards Cromwell, and what is the significance of the imagery associated with him? In an unpublished Columbia thesis (a work, I might note, superior to any widely circulated study of Marvell) Mr. Lawrence Hyman, commenting on Brooks's analysis writes: "The Ode is neither a grudging acknowledgment of Oliver's greatness, nor an impartial dramatic treatment of the political struggles." On the contrary, this writer argues, it is a skillful and highly effective argument in support of Cromwell.10 At the same time, Mr. Hyman seems to agree in part with Brooks, who sees Cromwell as an "elemental force" without will or conscience, represented to us through "naturalistic" figures.11 Hyman finds that the tension between the dual loyalties here reveals a similar conflict to that found in the love poetry. "Instead of an ideal love which is in danger of being destroyed by actual passions, we have an ideal of political justice which is completely removed from the everyday world of political actions." Moreover, Hyman feels that even in this poem, "the best" of Marvell's political poems, he has failed to reconcile "what he should do according to his conception of political justice with what he must do according to the pressure of political events."12 In short, he argues that in the early section of the poem "The question of what is just is banished to the realm of contemplation," and the poem reveals, he argues, an "amoral determinism."13 When, later in the poem, Marvell attempts to present Cromwell as both powerful and just, he fails, Hyman believes, to present Cromwell as one "who both acts and knows."14 This argument is a persuasive one, particularly in the context of Hyman's thesis, but it must finally, I feel, be rejected.
Both Douglas Bush, in his essay, and M. C. Bradbrook and M. G. Lloyd Thomas, in Andrew Marvell, seem on more solid ground than either Brooks or Hyman, when they point out that the poem is posited upon a Providential interpretation of events. The crucial lines,
'Tis Madness to resist or blame
The force of angry Heavens flame
are interpreted by Hyman to mean that "what is inevitable is amoral and what is amoral tends to lose its horror."15 Brooks on this point states that, "There is no suggestion that Cromwell is a thunderbolt hurled by an angry Jehovah—or even by an angry Jove."16 Actually, in view of the explicitness of the lines themselves it seems almost unnecessary to point out that Marvell was, after all, an orthodox seventeenth-century Christian, in all probability a Puritan, and a poet who does not interpret events "naturalistically." As Bradbrook and Thomas indicate, the significance of the natural imagery early in the poem and of the metaphors drawn from the hunt in the later portions is that "Cromwell is God's instrument and the Common's servant."17 It is not that Cromwell, who, bursting through his own Party, has emerged as a leader, deposed and executed the King, and conquered Ireland, is an amoral force but that he is the instrument of an angry God who is working through him. Only in this respect is he above human justice.
In the Anniversary, five years later, Marvell was to return to this issue. Whatever Cromwell has done, he writes,
Of course, Marvell's attitude towards Cromwell may have undergone substantial revision during the years between the two poems, but it is doubtful that his general assumptions about the workings of the Providence of God differed in 1650 from those he held in 1655. Moreover, in A Poem Upon the Death of O. C., Marvell again returned to this theme and to the very metaphors of the Ode.
It is at least significant that Marvell again contrasts two different ways of viewing events—as dramatic action and as the Providential action of God, directing the actions of men. Moreover, he stresses here once more the theme of the Ode, that Cromwell, a man of peace, has been directed to war by "angry Heaven." This is not to suggest that any attitude expressed in one poem can be indiscriminately used as a gloss on an earlier, but surely the fact that Marvell returns in each of these closely related poems to the same theme and even to the same metaphors is relevant. In large part the tension we sense in the poem may be due to our modern inability to sympathize wtih the idea of Providence, so that metaphors which sprang spontaneously into Marvell's imagination to express both the source and effect of Cromwell's power suggest to the modern reader either that the poet is very critical of Cromwell or that his judgment of him is completely amoral.
Perhaps the most extraordinary feature of Brooks's reading of the Horatian Ode is the sleight of hand by means of which he deals with that element in the poem which troubles so many readers. I have in mind the lines about the Irish campaign:
As Margoliouth notes in respect to these lines, "Irish testimony in favor of Cromwell at this moment is highly improbable. Possibly this is a reference to the voluntary submission of part of Munster with its English colony."18 Since, however, the reference seems to be to the entire campaign, the latter explanation is not helpful, and Margoliouth's first sentence is, to say the least, an understatement. Not even the massacre of 1641, the memory of which the English had nourished long with the desire for revenge, can be said to justify the slaughter at Drogheda, where thousands were put to the sword at Cromwell's own direction. Brooks offers us an ingenious way around this: "But the most intense partisan of Cromwell would have had some difficulty in taking the lines without some undertone of grim irony."19 He does not suggest that Marvell "shed any unnecessary tears over the plight of the Irish," but he does argue that the "final appeal in this matter, however, is not to what Marvell the Englishman must have thought … but rather to the full context of the poem itself." We have little reason to quarrel with this latter statement. As Brooks himself notes, however, for a great many poems, "a knowledge of the historical references is a fundamental requirement."20 It would seem then that this is one of those very occasions upon which the reader of poetry must have recourse to history—indeed Brooks reveals that he has, by raising the issue—which here provides us with valid and necessary references. Yet even if we dismiss such secondary information as that, upon Cromwell's return from Ireland even London, which had hitherto been very cool, came out to applaud his triumph, we can scarcely ignore the contextual importance of the fact that the Ode ends with an association of the cross and the sword, in anticipation of another victory:
Indeed, to read the lines on the Irish as an irony is possible only if we accept Brooks's interpretation in full. Even then we run the risk of assuming that any lines which do not jibe with our own values must be ironic.
No more satisfactory, on this point, is the conclusion of the authors of Andrew Marvell that, "If the poem may seem to leave the realm of strict fact (particularly in the Irish tribute …) that does not invalidate it nor make the range of sympathies less."21 Yet while it is entirely possible to understand the factors at play in the Irish tribute—nationalism, the Puritan's sense of man as an instrument of God's vengeance, the convention of lavish tribute—we must admit that we are not here confronted with an example of the artist's legitimate right to distort or rearrange reality and that the Irish tribute is, at the least, an imperfection in the poem. No doubt the compliment was "true" to Marvell, but this only leads us to conclude that history does indeed have many cunning corridors—ones to confuse even the most perceptive of artists. Perhaps even more importantly, these lines force us to confront, once again, some of the elements of harshness in the Puritan ethic. In the Anniversary, for example, we find unpleasant elements of anti-Roman feeling, which do detract from the merit of the poem, but they are couched in the symbolism of Revelation. Fortunately for the poem the specific allusions that Marvell, as a good Protestant, had in mind are accompanied by the extensions of meaning which inevitably arise from a symbol. Time has not so completely withered the latter.
In his biography of Marvell, Augustine Birrell insisted that the poet remained an Anglican and a Royalist throughout his life.22 Yet all the evidence we have at hand—his closest friendships which were with Milton and Harrington, his poems in praise of Cromwell, his bitter satires of the Restoration period, his controversy with Bishop Parker over toleration—seems to point to other alignments. One thing is not disputable: his intense belief in parliamentary government. The lengthy and careful service that he gave to his Hull constituency is evidence enough here. Moreover, in The First Anniversary we find little indication of any devotion to the concept of monarchy, such as that found in the Ode. Indeed, Marvell attacks the monarchy in some of his most destructive satirical lines. Referring to the popular belief that the clay from which Chinese porcelain was made was laid underground for centuries, he writes of kings, "Their earthy Projects under ground they lay,/More slow and brittle than the China clay." He continues: "Well may they strive to leave them to their Son,/For one Thing never was by one King don." And not only are their projects as fragile as porcelain and as slowly ripened; not only are they guilty of hypocritical vanity; but they are also oppressors who abuse their subjects:
Another triumphs at the publick Cost,
And will have Wonn, if he no more have Lost;
They fight by Others, but in Person wrong,
And only are against their Subjects strong;
Their other Wars seem but a feign'd contest,
Their Common Enemy is still opprest;
If Conquerors, on them they turn their might;
If Conquered, on them they wreak their Spight.
Marvell's positive ideals are also firmly enunciated in the poem. Consider these lines about the Protectorate:
The crossest Spirits here do take their part,
Fast'ning the Contignation which they thwart;
And they, whose Nature leads them to divide,
Uphold, this one, and that the other Side;
But the most Equal still sustein the Height,
And they as Pillars keep the Work upright;
While the resistance of opposed Minds,
The Fabrick as with Arches stronger binds,
Which on the Basis of a Senate free,
Knit by the Roofs Protecting weight agree.
Under the Instrument of Government (which, despite its limitations and subsequent failure, was an advance over Stuart absolutism) Marvell envisions a social order in which even the opposition contributes and the Protector is checked by a free Senate. Moreover, he praises Cromwell for scorning the crown: "He seems a King … ,/ And yet the same to be a King does scorn./Abroad a King he seems…. / At home a Subject on the equal Floor." Of course, in isolating these passages, we simplify his attitudes towards the social order, attitudes which will be more closely examined later, in an examination of the imagery of the poem. I point these things out, however, to indicate that we find no tension of loyalties in the Anniversary.
It is not necessary to apologize for Marvell's political attitude in this poem, even though one may feel that, as in the Horatian Ode, some of the topical allusions and the extravagant praise of Cromwell are aesthetic defects. Of course, Marvell's attitude is not that of the modern who would consider Cromwell a dictator, for though the poet seems to support the concept of a limited central authority, balanced by a Senate, he also defends the Protectorate and feels that, "'Tis not a Freedome, that where all command;/ Nor Tyranny, where One does them withstand." But it would be extraordinary indeed to find him adopting the political attitudes of the later eighteenth century, particularly when the only tradition against which he had to measure Cromwell was the absolutism of Tudors and Stuarts. Indeed, to think of Cromwell solely in terms of the modern dictator is to be completely unhistorical, for it is the irony of Oliver Cromwell's career that an essentially moderate and tolerant man was compelled by the course of events to struggle on the one hand with the irresponsibility of the Monarchy and, on the other, with the fanaticism of the Army, the Levellers, and the innumerable sects which sprang into being during the course of this period. Cromwell represents to Marvell the principle of order in the midst of chaos; and the importance of order to the seventeenth-century mind is clear enough, if we think only of the projected social systems of such diverse thinkers as Burton, Hobbes, Bacon, Milton, and Harrington. Even the last of these, from whom Marvell's political theory largely derives23 and whose ideas had such impact upon the development of constitutional and republican thought, "has his republic created by a strong man, 'Olphaeus Megaletor,' otherwise Cromwell."24
It may be illuminating here to examine two other poems about Cromwell by successful poets of the century, Waller's A Panegyric to My Lord Protector, composed as was Marvell's to celebrate the anniversary of the Protectorate, and Dryden's Heroïque Stanzas upon Cromwell's death—poems, we may note, that the two notable turncoats later wished they had never written. Both poems begin by praising Cromwell for having restored order to a troubled nation, laud his victories over the Irish and Scots, celebrate England's mastery over the seas, and conclude with praise of the man who is responsible for having achieved this order. Waller's poem is particularly interesting, since in it we find a number of the very figures which Marvell develops richly, effectively, and organically in his poem. This is the first stanza:
While with a strong and yet a gentle hand,
You bridle faction, and our hearts command,
Protect us from ourselves, and from the foe,
Make us unite and make us conquer too.25
This metaphor of the bridling of faction is one of the central ones in the Anniversary, representing Cromwell's struggle to restrain the levelling instinct. Another central figure of disorder is noted in Waller's third stanza; it is that of the sea storm, symbolic in the Anniversary of social chaos:
Above the waves as Neptune show'd his face,
To chide the winds, and save the Trojan race,
So has your Highness, raised above the rest,
Storms of ambition, tossing us, repress'd.
And just as in Marvell's poem, Cromwell "heals" social discord: "Your never-failing sword made war to cease;/ And now you heal us with the acts of peace"; and "You strike with one hand, but you heal with both." Moreover, we find here Marvell's central figure of Cromwell as the sun, restoring light:
But when your troubled country called you forth,
Your flaming courage, and your matchless worth,
Dazzling the eyes of all that did pretend,
To fierce contention gave a prosperous end.
Still as you rise, the state, exalted too,
Finds no distemper while 'tis changed by you;
Changed like the world's great scene! when, without noise,
The rising sun night's vulgar light destroys.
Dryden also evokes Cromwell through images of harmonious order:
We may note that the circle image is played upon in the Anniversary, though with much greater variety and a truly organic coherence. Dryden too praises Cromwell for having restored order:
The Anniversary, like these two poems, is concerned with the restoration of order, with the victories over Ireland and Scotland, and with England's new prominence among the nations of Europe. But Marvell has managed to do something that neither Waller nor Dryden does: to relate the concept of political order to the moral and supernatural order. The mood of Waller's poem does not rise above self-satisfied imperialism:
To dig for wealth we weary not our limbs;
Gold, though the heaviest metal, hither swims;
Ours is the harvest where the Indians mow;
We plough the deep, and reap what others sow.
Things of the nobler kind our own soil breeds;
Stout are our men, and warlike are our steeds;
Rome, though her eagle through the world had flown,
Could never make this island all her own.
Marvell has drawn upon such conventional images, ideas, and attitudes—even upon the naval imperialism—as we see in these poems, but he has fused them into a new order which is not only an imaginative commentary on the political situation of his period but also a philosophical reflection upon man, society, and time. Clearly the Anniversary is a poem poised between two styles, the metaphysical and the neo-classical. The neo-classical attributes are obvious enough: the couplets, the relative smoothness of the lines, the occasional and public subject, the element of satire. But whereas the Cromwell poems of Waller and Dryden may be said to decorate compliments with conventional images, the poem of Marvell, which seizes upon the conventional but gives it new life, is animated by an intricately patterned metaphysical imagery.
The Anniversary is a poem of four hundred and two lines in iambic couplets; a varied paragraph stanza is used in which, by contrast to Waller's poem, thought and imagery determine the length of the stanza. These stanzas fall into groups governed by particular images and representing stages in the thought. Thus stanzas one through three establish the important figures of the circle and the sun, and stanzas four through nine further develop the theme of Cromwell as the source of order and renewal in the body politic. Apocalyptic imagery is introduced in stanzas ten through thirteen in a vision of the "latter" and the "latest" days. Stanzas fourteen and fifteen picture the threat of social chaos symbolized by Cromwell's serious accident in Hyde Park, and stanzas sixteen through twenty-one, in response to this, review Cromwell's career. While twenty-two through twenty-eight further dramatize Cromwell's struggles to control the forces of anarchy at work in the Commonwealth, stanzas twenty-nine through thirty-two represent his triumph over these forces. Essentially, however, the poem has three movements, the first nine stanzas introducing the imagery of moral order, the following eighteen pitting that order against the threats that assail it, and the last four resolving the conflict through a return to the earlier symbols and a development of those in the second movement.
The poem is composed of the most seemingly diverse elements. Marvell's enemy Bishop Parker viewed its origin and character in this way: "At length, by the interest of Milton, to whom he was somewhat agreeable for his ill-natur'd wit, he was made Under-secretary to Cromwell's secretary. Pleas'd with which honour, he publish'd a congratulatory poem in praise of the Tyrant; but when he had a long time labour'd to squeeze out a panegyrick he brought forth a satyr upon all rightful Kings."27 We scarcely expect objective criticism from the bishop, however, and as the authors of Andrew Marvell point out, "The best panegyrick has often an element of satire, as the best satire has an element of panegyrick."28 The satire of kingship and of the minority sects, for that matter, "intensifies by contrast the main purpose of the work."29 Even more importantly, all the elements of the poem—panegyrick, satire, observations upon the State and upon Cromwell's personal career, the theme of time, the apocryphal vision—are drawn together and fused by an imagery that is completely in the poet's control.
The opening stanzas introduce some dominant images of the poem—the water as the stream of time, the circle of completion, and the planetary imagery of the Ptolemaic system!
The balanced antithesis between the two stanzas is carefully wrought: for example, the opposition, line for line, of "vain Curlings" and "greater Vigour," "sinking weight" and "succeeding Suns," "disappears" and "restore," "weak Circles of increasing Years" and "Wonder of the day before," "short Tumults" and "new Lustre," the close of "flowing Time" and the shining of "the Jewel of the yearly Ring." But the attitude towards time, even in the first stanza, is complex. If ironically time "increases" while man "declines," the sinking weight is "raised" by the stream—at least for a time. (At the conclusion of the poem the relation of the stream of time to the ordinary man has altered significantly—and for the better.) It is to be noted, however, that the circles which man leaves as he sinks into the stream are not symbols of harmonious perfection but only of completion. By contrast, Cromwell seems exempt from these ordinary conditions of engulfment. The yearly ring of which he shines the Jewel does represent harmonious perfection. Indeed, he is a restorative force: "Tis he the force of scattered Time contracts,/ And in one Year the work of Ages acts."
The echo here of the Horatian Ode is undoubtedly deliberate. In that poem Cromwell had been seen, if as a divine force, as a destructive one, for he had climbed "To ruine the great Work of Time." Now "in one year" he "acts" the "work of Ages." He has become (line 56) creator of "the great Work." This power is his not only because he has ordered, drawn together "scattered Time," but also because, as the diction suggests, he has shortened time, concentrated it.
Marvell continues to play upon the cosmological system, which has been evoked by reference to the circle and to the course of the sun:
… heavy Monarchs make a wide Return,
Longer and more Malignant then Saturn:
And though they all Platonique years should raign
In the same Posture would be found again.
The element of satire, which is to continue in the succeeding lines, has entered here with the pun on "malignant," the name with which the King's Party had been dubbed by the Puritans and also an astrological term meaning "keenly desirous of the suffering of others." It is this disposition of monarchs, along with the leaden slowness of their movements, which Marvell proceeds to attack. It is interesting to note the way in which he has adapted the Elizabethan world picture to his own uses. According to the accepted view of the macrocosm, the sun always had corresponded to the king, the heart of the body politic: but Marvell, seeing Cromwell as the animating principle, banishes the "heavy Monarchs" to the outermost sphere of the universe. Nevertheless, nothing in his use of the cosmological figure, which he continues to develop, suggests that he does not take the evoked correspondences quite seriously.
The gravest charge brought against kingship is that heavy Monarchs
… neither build the Temple in their dayes,
Nor matter for succeeding Founders raise;
Nor sacred Prophecies consult within,
Much less themselves to perfect them begin;
No other care they bear of things above,
But with Astrologers, divine, and Jove,
To know how long their Planet yet Reprives
From the deserved Fate their guilty lives.
Thus scorn is indicated by inversion of the planetary figure: the monarch, though he exerts a malignant influence, is himself subject to the influence of the planets. Rather than attempting to shape "things below" to correspond to "things above," he is concerned solely with casting his own horoscope. The implied contrast with Cromwell and the continued depreciation of the monarchy are continued in the lines which follow:
Thus (Image-like) an useless time they tell,
And with vain Scepter strike the hourly Bell;
Nor more contribute to the state of Things,
Then wooden Heads unto the Viols strings.
The appropriate figure to suggest the monarch's command over time is not then the circuit of Saturn but the circle completed by the Image on a clock. When, however, Cromwell "issues out and sings,/ … once he struck, and twice, the pow'rful Strings" and first the Commonwealth, then the Instrument of Government came into being.
The transition from the satirical passage on monarchy to the vision of the building of the temple is skillfully handled. Both the cosmic imagery and the reference to the striking of the hourly bell, as well as the reference to the viol's strings, have prepared for the reference to the music of the Spheres:
Marvell is suggesting here (in contrast to the viol's string to which the Monarch is as a useless head) a cosmic string, extending from heaven through the planets to the earth, perhaps like that illustrated in Robert Flud's popular The History of Both Worlds. In representing Cromwell's achievement by reference to the myth of Amphion, builder of Thebes, he not only compliments Cromwell's love of music but indicates the divine inspiration of the Protector's creation of a society tuned "to that higher Sphere." Metre and diction here contribute to a sprightly gaiety of mood:
The series of puns contributes further to that mood. This, on time, for example: "The listning Structures he with Wonder ey'd,/ And still new Stopps to various Time apply'd"; or the ones on the parliamentary terms: "Such was that wondrous Order and consent, / When Cromwell tun'd the ruling Instrument."
It is important to note why, through the imagery of the poem the monarchy is reduced from malignancy in a cosmic figure to utter impotence in that of the clock's image. It is, of course, because Charles and other monarchs have failed to "build the Temple." The hold which the Cause has over Marvell's imagination is indicated by the passages which develop this theme. The building of the temple of the Lord was one of the ideals driving such men as Cromwell, and the temple was a metaphor which came easily to their lips. We find Cromwell, long before he had risen to eminence, writing that, "to build material temples is judged a work of piety; but they that procure spiritual food, they that build up spiritual temples, they are men truly charitable, truly pious."30 Moreover, to build the tower—the political society—was a closely related ideal, which Marvell here envisions also. The Commonwealth, the Protectorate, the Temple of the Lord are all created by the "sacred lute":
Now through the Strings a Martial rage he throws,
And joining streight the Theban Tow'r arose;
Then as he strokes them with a Touch more sweet,
The flocking Marbles in a Palace meet;
But, for he most the graver Notes did try,
Therefore the Temples rear'd their Columns high;
Thus, ere he ceas'd, his sacred Lute creates
Th' harmonious City of the seven Gates.
It was one of the ironies of history that given this opportunity and the desire to create a harmonious political, moral, and spiritual order Cromwell's party actually failed to do so. As Milton cried later in The Ready and Easy Way, "Where is the goodly tower of a commonwealth which the English boasted they would build to overshadow kings and be another Rome in the west? The foundation indeed they laid gallantly but fell into a worse confusion, not of tongues but of factions, than those at the tower of Babel."31
Marvell was realistic enough to recognize the threat which such factionalism presented to the tower of the Commonwealth:
All other Matter yields, and may be rul'd;
But who the Minds of stubborn Men can build? …
Each in the House the highest Place contends,
And each the Hand that lays him will direct.
Nevertheless, he returns to the image of order and perfection, the circle, to affirm his belief that "on the basis of a Senate free," and the "protecting weight" of Cromwell, even the "resistance of opposed Minds" may contribute to the building:
The imagery which we have been examining thus far in the Anniversary is altogether typical of Marvell. The circle, the cosmological references, the use of music (as in Music's Empire) to suggest social-political-moral harmony, and the classical allusion are all characteristic of his poetry. At this point, however, the second major movement of the poem begins; Biblical imagery enters the poem to an extent that it has not entered in any other of his poems. In large part, of course, this Biblical imagery is an indication of the extent to which Marvell is responding to the events of his time and drawing upon the metaphors which came most readily to Puritan and Independent. Beyond that, moreover, we note that the images which occur are entirely different from those of harmony and order which we have been examining. Indeed, after having achieved the perfect order of his vision of the Commonwealth as a great circle drawn through the center of all, he must turn to consider the relation of the Commonwealth to Europe, to Cromwell's attempts to form a Protestant alliance, to the Protector's accident, to plots against him, to the insane antics of the splinter sects; and, as he does so, the imagery of order will not serve. What strikes us as we continue the poem is that the Biblical references with which he attempts to balance the threats of chaos are themselves, if not images of disorder, those of turbulence and yet of a turbulence which brings order. We see this development in the tenth stanza:
The "latter days" was a slogan of the Fifth Monarchy Men, a Millenerian sect. Millenerian sects, which are always active during periods of disorder, in substance are based upon "the doctrine of the reign of Christ and His saints on earth for a thousand years."32 The First Monarchy Men derived their ideas chiefly from the apocalyptic visions of Daniel and Revelation—the sources of the imagery in this section of the poem. According to their interpretations of some rather incoherent and dark passages in these visions, "Four great monarchies had existed on the earth—Assyria, Persia, Greece, and Rome. The Old Testament prophesied a fifth—the Kingdom of Christ. This they believed would be established immediately…. The devil would be chained, and the saints would begin to possess the earth and all the wealth amassed by the wicked. Then Christ would sit in judgment, the wicked would be cast into hell, Christ would reign over a world-wide temporal kingdom for a thousand years, and the saints would reign with him."33 During a period in which there were perhaps as many as one hundred seventy different sects, these beliefs were held, of course, in varying degrees.34 Some men only believed that "in God's good time there would be a millenial reign in Christ." Others evidently desperately sought to discover in Daniel and Revelation signs "of fulfillment according to schemes of their own." Still others, and these were particularly strong in the army, combined their theological views with republicanism and believed that the prophecies of Revelation would be fulfilled by the efforts of the true believers. Many believed that Cromwell's reign would usher in these "latest days."35 Marvell reveals his familiarity with each of these views in this portion of the poem, but he seems to draw his conceptions largely from the last group. Here he refers to Cromwell's failure to form an alliance with the other Protestant powers:
But mad with Reason, so miscall'd of State
They know them not, and what they know not, hate;
Hence still they sing Hosanna to the Whore,
And her whom they should Massacre adore:
But Indians whom they should convert, subdue;
Nor teach, but traffique with, or burn the Jew.
The allusions are to those signs—the destruction of Rome and the conversion of the Jews—which must be fulfilled before the "latest days" follow the "latter days."
How deeply is Marvell committed to these visions? Enough at least to indicate that he has come a long way from the Anglican orthodoxy and monarchism that Birrell claimed for him and from the ambivalence ascribed to him by Brooks. No longer does he think of singing "of ancient Rights and better Times." Now he addresses the princes who refuse to contribute to the raising of the "great Designes":
The modern reader to whom the Beast, or Anti-Christ, means little enough may feel some sense of shock that the poet of To his Coy Mistress and The Garden should take such lunatic fringe ideas so seriously. Indeed even Cromwell, in addressing Parliament in 1654, excoriated the Fifth Monarchy Men. But, of course, Marvell, who includes these men among the objects of his satire, is not committing himself to a belief in the imminent approach of the "latest days"; he offers this prophecy only as a possibility he would be happy to see realized. Moreover, he has adapted the ideas of the Fifth Monarchy Men to his theme—to his characteristic obsession with time. At the very moment that he sees himself as the "shrill Huntsman" rousing rulers to the fore-shortening of time, he realizes, paradoxically, that this task is possible for him only if heaven give length to his life and "leisure to time." Moreover, if the vision of the reign of the saints, ushered in by Cromwell, is suggested as a possibility, it is withdrawn in the very act of offering it to our imaginations:
Indeed this whole reflection, at the moment when Marvell seems to be coming dangerously close to the edge of a precipice, serves to qualify what he has suggested about "Angelique Cromwell who outwings the wind" and his control over time, for the line "If (italics mine) these the Times, then this must be the Man," is still further qualified by the lines which follow it:
But Men alas, as if they nothing car'd,
Look on, all unconcern'd, or unprepar'd;
And Stars still fall, and still the Dragons Tail
Swinges the great Volumes of its horrid Flail.
For the great Justice that did first suspend
The World by Sin, does by the same extend.
Hence that blest Day still counterpoysed wastes,
The Ill delaying, what th' Elected hastes;
Hence landing Nature to new Seas is tost,
And good Designes still with their Authors lost.
Though Cromwell has managed to contract time, it is extended still, because of man's sin; the mysterious Work is not finished. The Protectorate is not, at any rate, the New Jerusalem.
From this point on the Anniversary becomes a series of clashes between the principle of order represented by Cromwell and political and moral anarchy. Cromwell's Hyde Park accident, in which he was dragged from his carriage while attempting to rein in his horses, results from the imperfect nature of man: "Thee proof beyond all other Force or Skill,/ Our Sins endanger, and shall one day kill." (Marvell comes uncomfortably close here to a parallel between Cromwell's mother and the Virgin, between Cromwell and Christ.) The accident, of course, symbolizes the impulse to anarchy loose in the land.
What follows in this melodramatic passage is the conventional Elizabethan picture of disorder in the macrocosm: "It seemed the Earth did from the Center tear;/ It seemed the Sun was faln out of the Sphere." But chaos is averted, and significantly Marvell here fuses the sun image with the Biblical imagery extensive through these latter sections by reference both to Phaeton's chariot and to Elijah's: "But thee triumphant hence the firy Carr,/ And firy Steeds had born out of the Warr."
Indeed, as he attempts to justify Cromwell's command, he does so by explicit reference to the higher force which moves him and by another allusion to Amphion (Stanza 19), but he also now employs Biblical allusions and metaphors which (like the hawking imagery of the Horatian Ode) contain both the principle of destructive violence—not merely of turbulence—and of order. We find this "double talk" for example, in the references to the story of Gideon:
The death of Charles is also suggested by such a figure. Cromwell is, like the cloud the size of a man's hand which appears in the sky, at once destroyer and creator:
Then did thick Mists and Winds the air deform,
And down at last thou pow'rdst the fertile Storm;
Which to the thirsty Land did plenty bring,
But though forewarn'd, o'r-took and wet the King.
This image of the "fertile storm" is related to the imagery of storm and turbulent waters, which carries the main burden in the final sections of the poem. We see (lines 211-215) this figure of engulfing chaos:
Such as the dying Chorus sings by turns,
And to deaf Seas, and ruthless Tempests mourns,
When now they sink, and now the plundring Streams
Break up each Deck, and rip the Oaken seams.
The symbol of the turbulent Sea as social disorder is even more fully developed here:
And Cromwell's power is given its final justification through the metaphor of the ships of State:
The poem pivots skillfully here, alluding to the Flood, the Ark, Noah's planting of the Vine. Metaphor glides into metaphor. "Thou," Cromwell is addressed, "but as an Husbandman wouldsd Till;/ And only didst for others plant the Vine/ Of Liberty, not drunken with its Wine." The next lines satirizing the multiplicity of sects, drunk with the wine of Liberty and exposing their "Nakedness," are topical, to be sure, but the antics of Quakers, who sometimes fell into trances, of the Ranters, who were notorious for the excesses suggested by their name, of the groups of Anabaptists, who abolished all human law (and thus evidently justified every kind of excess), and of Adamites, who refused to wear any clothing, ought not to seem strange to Americans with the Witnesses of Jehovah, the Holy Rollers, the Shakers, or the enthusiasms of Southern California. To Protestant reformers of Marvell's age, however, as John Morley has pointed out, "Excesses of religious emotion were always a sore point … , for all such excesses seemed a warrant for the bitter predictions of the Catholics at the Reformation, that to break with the church was to open the floodgates of extravagance and blasphemy in the heart of unregenerate man. Hence nobody was so infuriated as the partisan of private judgement with those who carried private judgement beyond a permitted point."36 Indeed Marvell, though a proponent of toleration, runs out of puns with which to ridicule the blasphemers and indulges in a Biblical allusion to Revelation—one much in use as a matter of fact among the sects:
Persiflage alone is the equivalent for the emotion he feels, so that it is with relief that he turns to the principle of order represented by Cromwell.
The vision of harmonious achievement with which the poem began is evoked by a return, as the third and final movement begins, to the imagery of the sun; Cromwell is as that "other World of moving Light" was to the first man. Moreover the sun image is related to that of the ship of State by reference to England's naval triumphs under Cromwell. The elements of satire and panegyric are also fused here:
Moreover, the envious Prince37 suggests the final triumph over all the forces of social chaos, at home and abroad, which threaten the English nation:
'Theirs are not Ships, but rather Arks of War,
'And beaked Promontories sail'd from far; …
'What refuge to escape them can be found,
'Whose watry Leaguers all the world surround?
'Needs must we all their Tributaries be,
'Whose Navies hold the Sluces of the Sea.
'The Ocean is the Fountain of Command,
'But that once took, we Captives are on Land.
'And those that have the Waters for their share,
'Can quickly leave us neither Earth nor Air.
We have here not only a tribute to Cromwell's great achievement in the development of the Navy (and a touch of exalted imperialism) but also a resolution of the imagery of shipwreck, which throughout has represented disorder in the body politic. Naval supremacy now is symbolic of national strength. Through the Protector's wisdom and courage the elements—Water, Earth, Air—have been mastered; and the soul of Cromwell (who has been clearly enough identified with the element of Fire) "Moves the great bulk, and animates the whole." The final lines complete the resolution of the conflicts:
… thou thy venerable Head does raise
As far above their Malice as my Praise.
And as the Angel of our Commonweal,
Troubling the Waters, yearly mak'st them Heal.
Cromwell, himself, in his speech before Parliament in September, 1654, had emphasized the word "healing," over and over again, to indicate the task of his government. As a matter of fact, as we examine that speech in relation to the Anniversary, we note that Marvell has explored the very topics of the Protector's oration: the importance of order after years of civil war, the superiority of the Commonwealth to the monarchy, the errors of Fifth Monarchy Men and other levelling tendencies, the importance of the free Parliament, England's relation with the Protestant states and with France, the great end of bringing the "ship of the Commonwealth" into a "safe harbor."38 If nothing more, these parallels indicate that Marvell's imagination was drawing heavily upon currents of thought set in motion by the Independents. In respect to the organization of the poem, however, the reference to the angel who "Troubling the Waters, yearly mak'st them Heal" is particularly important. The watery maze of time has indeed become troubled during the course of the poem, and in other Biblical images at once suggestive of violence and renewal Marvell has before suggested the relation of Cromwell to that disorder. (Those lines referring to the death of Charles are a good example.) Cromwell then has had some part in producing the disorder, but his most important role has been that of renewer, restorer, and healer. Moreover, the poem seems to suggest that Cromwell in foreshortening Time has affected the stream of experience for the entire nation. The waters of the year do not simply close over the heads of drowning man; Cromwell's whole effort "to tune this lower to that higher sphere" has altered them completely. Time has been so affected by "Angelique Cromwell" that it now heals.
The Anniversary may not be without the excesses which are perhaps the concomitants of panegyric, nor without the obscurity of a topical poem and satire. Nor would one want to make the kind of claim for it that might be made for The Garden. Nevertheless, it shares the distinction of all of Marvell's best poetry that in it the metaphors do not simply organize the material or "provide momentary illumination … : they are generative, and from them comes the greater life of the poem."39
1 Andrew Marvell, Poems, ed. Hugh MacDonald (Cambridge, Mass., 1952). All subsequent quotations of Marvell's poems will be from this edition.
2 Brooks and Warren, Understanding Poetry (New York, 1950), p. 679.
3 Douglas Bush, "Marvell's Horatian Ode," Sewanee Review, LX (1952), 364.
4Idem. Bush's suggestion that Brooks has misinterpreted the poem because he is a "liberal" is not only extraordinary, in view of Brooks's intellectual position, but also beside the point.
5 Brooks and Warren, p. 671.
6 Brooks and Warren, p. 676.
7Ibid, p. 674.
8 Brooks and Warren, p. 675.
9 Brooks and Warren, p. 680.
10 Lawrence Hyman, The Lyric Poetry of Andrew Marvell, Columbia thesis (1951), p. 85.
11 Brooks and Warren, p. 672.
12 Hyman, p. 79.
13Ibid, p. 85.
14Ibid., p. 87.
15Ibid, p. 83.
16 Brooks and Warren, p. 673.
17 Bradbrook and Thomas, Andrew Marvell (Cambridge, 1940), p. 76.
18 Brooks and Warren, pp. 676-677.
19Ibid., p. 677.
20Ibid., p. 667.
21 Bradbrook and Thomas, Andrew Marvell, p. 76.
22 Augustine Birrell, Andrew Marvell (New York, 1905), pp. 24-25.
23 Bradbrook and Thomas, Andrew Marvell, p. 83.
24 Douglas Bush, English Literature in the Earlier Seventeenth Century (Oxford, 1948), p. 255.
25The Poetical Works of Waller and Denham, ed. George Gilfillan (Edinburgh, 1857), pp. 52-59.
26Seventeenth Century Verse and Prose, ed. White, Wallerstein, Quintana (New York, II ), 217-221.
27 MacDonald, p. 192.
28 Bradbrook and Thomas, Andrew Marvell, p. 80.
30Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches, ed. Thomas Carlyle (London, 1888), p. 71.
31 John Milton, "The Ready and Easy Way," Prose Selections, ed. Merrit Y. Hughes (New York, 1947), p. 364.
32 C. E. Whiting, English Puritanism (New York, 1931), p. 234.
33Ibid, p. 234.
34Ibid., p. 233.
35Ibid., pp. 234-235.
36 John Morley, Oliver Cromwell (London, 1923), p. 438.
37 Marvell might have had in mind the tribute of the Queen of Sweden upon the occasion of the presentation of Cromwell's portrait, accompanied by a Latin verse which he had composed.
38 Cromwell, Speeches, p. 35.
39 Thomas and Bradbrook, Andrew Marvell, p. 36.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1389
Andrew Marvell 1621–1678
English poet and satirist.
The following entry presents criticism of Marvell's "Cromwell Poems."
One of the last of the seventeenth-century metaphysical poets, Marvell is noted for his intellectual, allusive poetry, rich in metaphor. His work incorporates many of the elements associated with the metaphysical school: the tension of opposing values, metaphorical complexities, logical and linguistic subtleties, and un-expected twists of thought and argument. Although in the past his work has been considered of minor stature next to the artistic genius of John Donne, the most renowned of the metaphysical poets, Marvell has come to be viewed as an important poet in his own right. The poems generally thought to be his best, including "To His Coy Mistress" and "The Garden," are characterized by an ambiguous complexity and a thematic irresolution which critics believe both define his talent and account for his appeal. In the latter half of the twentieth century, critics have paid increasing attention to Marvell's Cromwell poems, particularly "An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland."
The son of an Anglican clergyman and his wife, Marvell was born in Winestead-in-Holderness, Yorkshire. He received his early education at nearby Hull Grammar School, and later attended Trinity College at Cambridge University, where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1638 or 1639 and remained until 1640. He spent approximately four years traveling the European continent, and was not in England when the English Civil War erupted in 1642. Scholars suspect that up until this time Marvell's sympathies were with the Royalists. There is no evidence that he had transferred his allegiance to the Puritans until writing "An Horatian Ode" in 1650. After this time, Marvell became increasingly involved in politics and the Parliamentary cause. He became tutor to the daughter of Sir Thomas Fairfax, former commander-in-chief of the Parliamentarian forces. Marvell wrote the bulk of the lyric poetry on which his reputation rests during this period. Later, Marvell became tutor to Cromwell's charge William Dutton.
Through the influence of his friend John Milton, the Latin secretary, Marvell was appointed Assistant Latin Secretary. In 1659 he took a seat in Parliament as a representative for Hull, at which time he shifted from writing poetry to political satire and polemics. A conscientious statesman, Marvell channeled his energy and talent into his political career, serving in Parliament until his death. Although rumors persist that his death was the result of poisoning by his political enemies, it is generally accepted that Marvell died of an accidental overdose of medicinal opiates.
Traditionally, Marvell's work has been divided into four classifications—religious poetry, love poetry, pastoral poetry, and political poetry. In the twentieth century, however, commentators have argued that these distinctions are valid only superficially; though Marvell may have made use of these established poetic conventions, his poetry cannot be so neatly categorized or explained. In one of Marvell's most famous poems, "To His Coy Mistress," the narrator implores a woman to become his lover, arguing that the transience of life and the inevitability of death necessitate their immediate enjoyment of sensual pleasure. Many critics believe that complexities and ambiguities within the poem undermine the ostensible message; the suspicion of narrative irony and the curiously inappropriate imagery of the poem cast doubt on its true meaning. The concepts of ambiguity and duality have become recognized as central to the understanding of Marvell's work. In such overtly religious poems as "A Dialogue between the Resolved Soul and Created Pleasure" and "A Dialogue between the Soul and the Body," Marvell directly addressed the theme of the duality of spirituality and temporality. As their titles indicate, both of these poems are discussions between the body and its pleasures on the one hand and the soul and its spirituality on the other.
Issues of ambiguity and conflict are also inherent in Marvell's Cromwell poems, a series of poems written about and dedicated to Oliver Cromwell. "An Horatian Ode" chronicles the demise of Charles I and Cromwell's rise to power. However, unlike other poems dedicated to Cromwell in this era, "Ode" is neither completely critical of Charles nor totally admiring of Cromwell. In fact, some scholars contend that Cromwell is depicted as a necessary evil. Other critics suggest that subtle hints in the poem indicate the poet's belief that Cromwell's base of power, founded as it was on usurpation and bloodshed, may have been inevitable but can hardly be praiseworthy. Marvell's tone becomes more complimentary through the years as noted in The First Anniversary of the Government under His Highness the Lord Protector and "A Poem upon the Death of His Late Highness the Lord Protector." "Upon Appleton House," which is also usually grouped with the political poems, outwardly appears to praise the retirement of Marvell's benefactor Fairfax from the political arena. The extent to which this praise may be regarded as sincere has long been a critical stumbling block, as the rest of the poem seems to endorse action and movement. Marvell dealt again with the tension between retirement and action in "The Garden," which, like many of Marvell's best poems, presents a critical enigma. Garden imagery, which recurs throughout Marvell's poetry, represents a tranquil and idyllic retreat, a sanctuary in which one can address one's spiritual concerns. In "The Garden," Marvell explores the individual's spiritual journey; however, the validity of the narrator's pastoral retreat as a refuge from earthly cares and passions is compromised by Marvell's description of the garden itself, which is couched in lush, sensual language and imagery.
The history of Marvell's critical reception is one of shifting focus and sharp reversal. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Marvell's reputation was that of a major statesman but a minor poet. He was lauded as an upright politician, and his name became synonymous with disinterested patriotism. His poetry, when it was considered at all, was judged to be admirable but of secondary importance to his public career. In the twentieth century, Marvell's lyric poetry has come to be seen in an entirely new light, largely due to a pivotal essay by T. S. Eliot in 1921. Eliot emphasized for the first time Marvell's metaphysical wit, the recognition of which has both enlarged and redefined subsequent critical thought. Poems once considered simple and straightforward have been reinterpreted in light of their evident ambiguities. Many critics believe that the ambiguities are far more than clever devices and that Marvell's recurring themes exemplify the nature of ambiguity itself. Indeed, such critics claim that underlying all of Marvell's poetry is a unifying and omnipresent concern with a central ambiguity, the tension and duality of opposites, and that this is most often and most successfully expressed through his treatment of the duality of the body and the soul, the temporal and the divine. The dualities of mind and emotion, action and contemplation, and conventionality and nonconformity are secondary, yet related, thematic oppositions that commentators have also observed in Marvell's poetry. All these tensions, critics have noted, place the poems in a fundamentally spiritual or moral context, as each involves opposing human attributes or choices. Likewise, such political poems as "An Horatian Ode" and "Upon Appleton House" have prompted much critical debate due to their ambiguity. As Raman Selden writes, "Marvell's 'Horatian Ode' has proved to be perhaps the most controversial of all seventeenth-century lyric poems." He goes on to say that "most critics … have treated the 'Ode' either as historical document or as autonomous artifact, and have been unable to discover a mode of interpretation which both restores its historical uniqueness and preserves its poetic integrity." The same statement could be mode of the critical response to the other Cromwell poems. However, of the political poems, "An Horatian Ode" has sparked the most controversy. Most critics interpret the poem as a gauge of Marvell's political stand and the degree of support he espoused for the Royalists and Puritans. Some scholars, however, have moved beyond this debate to question Marvell's contradictory tone and to explore how and why he creates contrasts in the poem. R. H. Syfret argues that the tone reflects the uncertainty of the age while Michael Wilding argues that Marvell wanted the reader to find the poem ambiguous and detached in order to sway the reader towards the side of the revolution. Critics agree that both the contradictory tension and thus the quality are abated in the subsequent Cromwell poems.
Joseph Anthony Mazzeo (essay date 1960)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7038
SOURCE: "Cromwell as Machiavellian Prince in Marvell's An Horatian Ode," in Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. XXI, No. 1, January-March, 1960, pp. 1-17.
[In the essay below, Mazzeo compares "An Horatian Ode" to Machiavelli's The Prince, arguing that the authors of both works are insightful on the subject of political leadership.]
First I ought to say that this essay will not be a study of the history of Marvell's political opinions, nor will I attempt to find more consistency in them than they will bear. His elegy on Lord Francis Villiers, the poem to Lovelace, the poems on the death of Hastings and on the death of Tom May, all furnish evidence of Royalist sentiment. The three poems on Cromwell furnish equal evidence of Puritan sentiment. Even if all the problems of dating and attribution of Marvell's poetic corpus could be solved, we would still be faced with understanding the transformations of an almost frighteningly complex mind, one that, as we know from his poetry, is capable of holding in consciousness simultaneously both the playful and serious implications of an analogy, and of surveying experience from multiple perspectives without trying to reduce them to one another. He is a master of the representation of those ranges of experience which are heterogeneous, of a poetry of transformations, each metamorphosis corresponding to a transformation of consciousness. I suspect that even if we knew what went on at various times in Marvell's life, the actual shifts in mood, feeling, and attitude in his unrecorded consciousness, we would still be left with as much of an enigma as confronts the Dante scholar who tries to show a consistent development from the Vita Nuova to the Paradiso.
The "Horatian Ode" does not give a simple or a ready answer to the question, What did Marvell think of Cromwell when he wrote this poem? Mr. Cleanth Brooks in a well-known essay surveyed various answers and furnished a tentative one of his own. If Pierre Legouis finds an utter impartiality toward both Cromwell and Charles, and Margoliouth a divided sympathy but with a genuine preference for Cromwell as an ideal civic ruler, Mr. Brooks concludes his analysis of the poem with the following summation: "These [ i.e., contrasting or contradictory] implications enrich and qualify an insight into Cromwell which is as heavily freighted with admiration as it is with great condemnation. But the admiration and condemnation do not cancel each other. They define each other; and because there is responsible definition, they reinforce each other."1
I do not disagree with this view of the poem insofar as I too discover in it a double perspective on the events it imagines and interprets for us. Yet I think that the tension in the poem has far less to do with conflict of feeling in the poet (something difficult if not impossible to determine) than with the poet's deliberately maintained intellectual attitude to historical and political events which transcends questions of personal commitment and reveals his full awareness of the ethically irrational and problematic character of human experience.
I believe that fresh light is thrown on the dynamic structure of this poem when considered from the standpoint of Machiavellian political theory, for the "Horatian Ode" is the only literary work of the English Renaissance which is faithful to the authentic Machiavellian vision in all of its antinomies, courage, and complexity. And I would stress the word 'vision,' for the tensions and paradoxes of the "Horatian Ode" and The Prince stem not from ambiguity of feeling but from inclusiveness of intellectual insight, from fidelity to all relevant experience whether it can be neatly packaged or not. In neither work are we in a Christian universe; but if God is not present, neither is Satan, for both works move in a realm beyond those antitheses as tradition, at least, defined them. This does not mean that either work is amoral, any more than Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents or, for that matter, Montaigne's Essays. It simply means that traditional ethics and morality cannot interpret the whole of experience, that no one set of principles of identical ethical content can be applied to all of the disparate activities of life, commercial, military, political, or erotic.
Before defending and amplifying this perspective on the "Horatian Ode," let us turn to Machiavelli and briefly consider his achievement in The Prince and some of its leading general concepts.2
In that momentous work generalizations on statecraft and political theory are deduced from historical and contemporary instances of actual political behavior, with special attention to the intention of the agent, his qualities of mind and temper, and the results achieved by the actions he takes. To say that Machiavelli first treated politics as an autonomous activity is true enough, but it is not the whole truth.3 It implies a cool, descriptive, technical approach to the subject which any intensive reading of Machiavelli simply does not bear out. We might argue that such a technical description of politics was Machiavelli's intention but that his own passionate convictions on political and social values impeded its fulfillment, and this statement too would contain a partial truth. Nevertheless, it is perhaps more useful to say that Machiavelli does not give up all normative judgments but works from the perspective of the ethical irrationality of the world and of the enormous gulf between conscious intention and final achievement.
He most certainly abandons the ethic of ultimate or intended values but he never entirely abandons the ethic of responsibility. To say that man is responsible for the results of his actions whatever his conscious intent, even if that is for power, is surely not to escape from all normative judgment whatever. To imply that order imposed by a tyrant is better than a condition of bellum omnium contra omnes is, no matter what we may think of such an alternative, to make some decision concerning the better and the worse, and involves accepting the fact that force is not merely necessary to a political order but is essential to it, an essential element in the very definition of a state.
The ruler of Il Principe (a book primarily intended for new rulers favored by ability and chance, men in the process of building a state) is not a national hero leading a nation; for the nation—in the modern sense of a people having a common culture, mythology, and mystique—did not exist. Nor is he an anointed king of ancient lineage, a priest-king invested with supernatural authority, nor an armed religious prophet energizing his warriors with a sense of divine mission. He is simply a force. Autonomous in his lack of all the ideological and mythic apparatus which time and events give to many rulers, he is able to grasp the autonomous moment of political action. This is possible because he lives in the first autonomous state of modern times where all the traditional devices for the legitimizing of power had disappeared and only power itself remained.
He is indeed, at least for the imagination, as Burckhardt brilliantly maintained in his classic Renaissance in Italy, an artist who treats the individuals in his control with absolute authority, as if they were the words of a poem, capable of being shifted around to their proper places or even of being erased. Or perhaps his subjects are like the building blocks of a great edifice, capable of being cut and shaped to fit with one another. If medieval political theory sometimes left all historical explanation in the hands of a God who controlled everything, Machiavelli seems to have left his successful ruler in Il Principe with the power to manipulate events to an extraordinary degree. Sometimes Machiavelli's state seems just too plastic, too artificial, and his artist-ruler just too dexterous, too arbitrary, to be real.4 But in spite of this appearance Machiavelli knew better for, even when the laws of political physics are obeyed to the letter and in exemplary fashion, as they were by Cesare Borgia, a man of true virtù and 'prudence,' an extraordinarily harsh fortune may intervene and his achievement may crumble.5Virtù thus stands in polar opposition to fortuna. The harsh demands of concrete reality, what Machiavelli calls necessity (necessità), demand the immediate and swift exercise of virtù, but this very swiftness of necessitated action insures the operation of chance; there is never enough time to weigh, or even the possibility of weighing, all the alternatives. Virtù and fortuna divide world between them half and half, although the boundary between them is not absolutely fixed. One may prepare for the onslaughts of fortune by the exercise of virtu. If she is favorable, you lose nothing; if she is unfavorable, you may still be able to overcome her, at least in part.6
It is clear that Machiavelli's concepts are not metaphysical terms nor are they capable of being rigorously defined. They are poetic creations, like Lucretius' Venus and Mars or Freud's Eros and Thanatos, a way of talking about a whole dimension of human experience which would otherwise not be conceivable, for it would dissolve into many particulars, some of them inconsistent with one another.
If we try to sum up the originality and greatness of Machiavelli we will find it in two great perspectives from which he surveyed the world of politics and history, two points of view which also underlie Marvell's vision of Cromwell in the "Horatian Ode." The first is the recognition of the ethical irrationality of the world, the awareness of the fact that the same set of rules with exactly the same ethical content cannot govern all the activities of life. Men therefore live in a tragic universe where all choices entail some losses and where any action can never be au fond wholly unambiguous. The second principle derives from his awareness of the complex and heterogeneous relation which obtains between conscious intent and actual result achieved. This is surely familiar to us all as one of the central themes of literature, one which lies at the heart of both the tragic and the comic visions of life. What Machiavelli did was to transfer this perspective to the social and political realm, and this is precisely what Marvell did in the "Ode." It follows from both of these principles that political behavior cannot be judged entirely on the same principles which govern personal behavior, and that a man with the best intentions in the world cannot escape responsibility for a catastrophe which he engenders.7
Let us now turn to Marvell and apply what we have learned of Machiavelli to his "Horatian Ode."
The opening of the "Horatian Ode," as Margoliouth discovered, seems to portray Cromwell as a type of Caesar, Caesar as we find him in Lucan's Pharsalia, the young, ambitious, dynamic man of action who crashes like lightning through the opposition of both his party and of the enemy to the position of undisputed leadership.8 Restless for glory, 'forward' to 'appear,' he forsakes the arts of the Muses practiced in retirement and enters precipitously and successfully upon the life of action.
It is important to observe that Marvell begins the poem, not with Cromwell himself, but with a description of the nature of the times, the 'occasion.' Both Machiavelli and Marvell use the word to mean the particular circumstances and opportunities which condition a particular political action. They are not times when a young man of virtù who would make a name for himself can do so through the study of letters, the traditional vehicle for the acquisition of fame and glory in times of peace. The times, on the contrary, are troubled and warlike. Disorder reigns, and Cromwell, restless and ambitious, could not rest content with the arts of peace precisely because they are now inglorious. Both his restlessness, his need to engage in the activity appropriate to the times, and the urging of his 'active Star,' the sheer physical, cosmic power which seeks expression through him, marks him as the true Machiavellian man of virtù. He has fortune—here identified with the astrological powers which govern the processes of nature—and he has ability, and the external urgings of his fate are really aspects of one condition. His 'Star' is active in that its influence urges him, while he in turn urges it by grasping actively at the opportunity and power it offers.
The emphasis on youth and rapidity of action in these lines is striking and, in the context, suggests the concluding thoughts of the famous twenty-fifth chapter of Machiavelli's Il Principe:
I conclude then that since fortune varies and men remain obstinately fixed in their ways, men will succeed only so long as their ways coincide with those of fortune, but whenever these differ, then they are unsuccessful. In general, I think that it is better to be impetuous than cautious, for fortune is a woman, and it is necessary if you wish to master her, to strike and beat her; and you will see that she lets herself be vanquished more easily by the bold than by those who proceed more slowly and coldly. And therefore she is always a friend to the young, because they are less cautious, more fierce, and master her with greater audacity.
Cromwell's impetuosity, the nature of the times, the very sense of urgency in the rush of the lines, all indicate that he is the child of fortune. Nevertheless, like the successful child of fortune, he does not rely on fortune alone, for he would then seriously risk destruction, but exercises his own 'courage high,' his own virtù, in conjunction with it. The element of fortune as a favorable, natural, physical power, is again alluded to in the image of Cromwell as a three-pronged bolt of lightning smashing through the cloud in which it was born, at once the birth-portent and the birth itself, simultaneously overcoming and reconciling all the opposition in his own party, a feat more difficult than merely opposing an enemy.
Thus Marvell wishes us to realize that Cromwell's ability is not merely military and destructive but also political and creative. He further suggests, by making Cromwell himself an omen of the portent of power and ability he embodies, that Cromwell is no passive instrument of fortune but so active and 'virtuous' an agent that he becomes the fortune and the fate of others.
Marvell then continues with the effect of the Cromwellian lightning, which smashed palaces and temples, and finally struck 'Caesar's head.'
The allusion to both Cromwell and Charles I as 'Caesar,' the first indirect and revealed through the imagery of Pharsalia, the other explicit, has been puzzling to some readers of the poem, and the thesis that the poem is a poem of great personal conflict rests in part upon this identification of both Charles I and Cromwell as 'Caesar.' Yet as any student of Roman history knows, the name, after Julius himself, was no more a proper name than 'Kaiser' or 'Tsar.' Much more relevant, however, is the fact that Marvell, like Machiavelli, Guicciardini, and other historians of the Renaissance, uses historical allusions and events in a special way. Cromwell is like the Caesar who won a civil war, Charles I like the Caesar who was assassinated. This mode of exemplarism is no more strange than the fact that, in the fourteenth chapter of Machiavelli's Prince, Caesar is offered to rulers as a model to be studied along with Alexander, while in the tenth chapter of the first book of the Discourses he is execrated as the founder of a tyranny. Indeed, Machiavelli there reproduces all of the classic arguments in favor of tyrannicide. This is not really a contradiction but a consequence of the practice of reading history in order to seek particular examples from which to derive the norms of behavior for particular occasions. The life of one man can obviously afford many useful as well as useless exempla, many praiseworthy as well as damnable actions. Thus Cromwell is like Caesar in his brilliant success, in his ability to bring order to a nation torn by civil war. In these respects, he is Caesar at that moment when he rose to supreme power in the state. Charles I is like a Caesar at the moment of his destruction.
An analogous instance from Dante's Divine Comedy will make the exemplar method still more apparent. On the ledge of sloth in Purgatory, Caesar is offered as an example of the virtue of zeal, as a goad to virtue; "Caesar, to conquer Lerica, thrust at Marseilles and made haste for Spain." On the ledge where lust is purged Dante tells us that the sodomites being punished there "offended in that for which Caesar heard himself called Regina in a triumph."9 Thus Caesar is the example of both a vice and a virtue, and neither use of him cancels the other.
The next two lines have been used to argue that the poem has a religious character and presumably advocates a puzzled submission to the inscrutable will of God:10
'Tis madness to resist or blame
The force of angry Heavens flame:
It seems to me, however, that the context of this poem does not give us leave to interpret Heaven in too 'pious' a sense. Cromwell is the flame of heaven, a lightning bolt born in a cloud, but his success is also the work of fate (line 37), nature (41), and fortune (113). I would suggest that these are all mutually convertible terms. Although Marvell does consider the heavens as instruments of providence in 'The First Anniversary,' the universe of the "Horatian Ode" lacks the providential dimension in any religious sense. The angry heavens of the poem are more like those which rage above the head of King Lear. The difficulty here lies in the fact that the stars and their influence were considered at times to be in part the instruments of providence and at other times to be entirely the instruments of nature, fortune, and fate. Dante, for example, quite bluntly identifies fortune and celestial influence with the workings of a wise providence (Inf. VII). Machiavelli, equally bluntly, does not. While I cannot absolutely prove that Marvell does not mean Christian providence by 'heavens,' the universe of the poem is so exactly that of Machiavelli that the odds seem to me all against our reading a religious dimension into the poem. Indeed, it is precisely the physical, natural fatedness of Cromwell's forceful success that precludes both resistance and blame, a theme which culminates in the image of Cromwell filling a power vacuum.
The next lines delineate Cromwell in terms of another historical type, this time Cincinnatus, the type of old Roman republican integrity of character who left the farm he worked with his own hands to deliver Rome from the Aequians and, after ruling for sixteen days as dictator, returned to his farm. This analogy too suggests a Machiavellian context, his belief that when the state had reached a particularly grave level of disorder only a single individual of high virtù could restore it.11
The covert allusion to Cincinnatus might conceivably be read as a covert hope that Cromwell would soon retire to his estate after settling things, and it is of course true that Cromwell led the country in the name of an impersonal state or government, whatever the realities of his rule were in 1650 or later. However, I think that Marvell here uses an historical parallel in the standard Machiavellian way, for a particular act. Cromwell's emergence into public life, like that of Cincinnatus, is a spectacular manifestation of a virtù which displays itself at the right time, for he
'Industrious valour' is the active ability and skill—an excellent rendering of one of the important meanings of virtù—by which restless Cromwell urges his propitious fortune or 'active Star.' Like the artist-ruler of Machiavelli he creates a new state in very little time out of the old state which was the work of ages. The following lines are the pinnacle of the Machiavellian vision of Cromwell:
Fortune conquers justice, but it is a justice which is purely abstract, without the force to concretize itself. It is therefore empty and yields to the virtù, the martial valor of Cromwell, who, be it noted, does not destroy effective justice but only that impotent justice which pleaded for the Stuart's 'legitimate' rights to rule. If the ruler can't rule he leaves a vacuum which is immediately filled by a capable successor, a law of politics as binding as the law of nature. Beyond all the trappings of tradition lies the irreducible fact of political power, its dynamic and its exercise.
Cromwell not only possesses the martial virtù of a successful new prince or usurper, but he possesses the requisite cunning. Marvell accepts as fact the story, quite certainly unfounded, that Cromwell connived at Charles' escape from Hampton Court to Carisbrook in November 1647 in order to trap him and, eventually, to execute him.12
It is, as I have tried to indicate, by no means insignificant that the imagery of Cromwell's assumption of power is physical. The King's impotence and Cromwell's power are facts of the natural order. There is for Marvell as for Machiavelli a 'physics' of politics. Nature in its rôle as fortuna brings about the revolution as blindly as it fills the vacuum it 'abhors.' This event is outside ethics as the dynamics of political force is outside ethics. Marvell is witness to the moment of force in political activity, has seen the coercive element that underlies all effective rights, and has learned, as did Lear, that much that appears to be nature is in fact convention, and that nature will reassert itself.
This phase of the poem corresponds to the Machiavellian concept of occasione, half-way between fortuna and virtù. This 'opportunity' is more than the favorable operation of fate or fortune when it blindly and accidentally presents the man of virtù with his opportunity. Just as fate or fortune overcomes the ancient rights and presents Cromwell with the occasione, so Cromwell shows his virtù by the cunning with which he purportedly trapped the King.
If Cromwell is in part the creature of fortune so too is Charles, but negatively. The 'Royal Actor' is an actor precisely because he lacks the force to assert his right, lacks virtù, and so becomes the unhappy instrument of the malignant side of the same fortune whose benign aspect Cromwell experienced. Charles I is an actor in that he has only the appearance of a King, but he is a tragic actor because his fated retribution is out of proportion to his guilt. The imagery of the stage is here especially interesting and revealing, and not merely because of the obvious and ancient stoic metaphor for life and history as a drama. Rather, it serves to indicate the particular 'aesthetic' and moral distance from which Marvell views the events of history. They occur on another plane according to a sense of 'justice' which is not ours.
How persistent this perspective on public life and history is with Marvell can be seen from his return to the imagery of the tragic stage at the very beginning of his poem on the death of Oliver Cromwell. There he explains that the 'spectators,' the people, esteem a horrid death a glorious one and, exactly like the audience at a play, actually want the 'Prince' to be slain. It is not merely appropriate but actually fitting for a martial prince so to die, a right which fortune should not deny him. But, alas, Cromwell died in bed precisely because his virtù was so great, his valor and clemency so enormous, that fortune was, in effect, able to find no one to give him a glorious and fitting closing scene since he had eradicated his enemies and his friends loved him too much.
The Machiavellian moment in the last poem on Cromwell is there subsumed into a providential conception of his rôle as Davidic King, as instrument of the God of the Bible and history. What is significant here for our understanding of the "Horatian Ode" is Marveil's sense of the typological figure for a valorous prince, his attempt to explain why Cromwell did not follow out some archetypal pattern appropriate to him. It would almost seem as if Marvell lamented the lack of opportunity to match for Cromwell his own magnificent lines upon the death of Charles I in the "Horatian Ode":
These lines are the culmination of the dramatic and tragic dimension of Marvell's political vision, the moment of pity for the King's benign conscious intent, and the moment of terror for the terrible and incommensurable result he achieved. Marvell is faithful to the necessity of what is and must be without trying to rationalize away the pain, suffering, and personal injustice involved. Charles' greatness, indeed, lies in his submission to his fortune, the nobility with which he accepts his fate. The drama of the Civil War is played out on a public stage with different laws than those which regulate ordinary life, laws which are intuitively known and understood by the great figures who act out their parts in the great drama. Cromwell accepts his fortune in leaving retirement to become a 'Prince' and Charles accepts his fate on the scaffold. What they are as private individuals is incommensurable with their public selves and their historical destinies. This they seem to understand and accept even if we, as spectators, find a powerful tension in that incommensurability.
The good ruler is not identical with the good private citizen, the ideal ethical agent. The catalogue of his virtues cannot correspond part for part with that of the good retired private man. This was Machiavelli's answer to the question which had been posed in earlier writings and answered in the affirmative, whether the good ruler and the good man were identical.13
Marvell then interprets the significance of the regicide by alluding to an event recorded by Pliny. The diggers of the foundations of the ancient Roman Capitol found the head of a man while excavating. This at first frightened them, but it was later correctly interpreted as a good omen for the state. Analogously, the bloody head of Charles I frightened the architects of the new state at first, but in that same frightening symbol the state found the beginning of a fortunate future. Like Machiavelli, Marvell here sees history in terms of the polarities Aristotle found in nature: 'generation and corruption.' The head which the Romans found, and the bloody head which the Puritan party made, converge into one gory symbol of the interdependence of creation and destruction. Everything decays when it has reached its apogee and there can be no creation without the decay of something else. The death of Charles I was the completion of his already actual death as a king. This concept, so morally acceptable when applied to the natural order, becomes shocking in the political order. Nevertheless, neither Machiavelli nor Marvell is timid on this score. Good and evil eternally succeed each other, but even more, they are here, in a sense, the cause of each other.14
The immediate consequence of the successful revolution is the conquest of the Irish, which Cromwell proved could be accomplished in a year by "one Man … That does both act and know." Marvell then proceeds to a description of the great prince as Machiavelli defined him in the Discorsi (I, 10), the man who seizes power in order to found a republic and not a tyranny, who is self-circumscribed by law and who endeavors to institute rule by law. Cromwell begins in the "Horatian Ode" as the Prince of Machiavelli's Prince and ends as the Prince of Machiavelli's Discorsi. And this is exactly what Machiavelli hoped such a man as he required for the salvation of Italy would do. Cromwell comes in this poem not as the despoiler of the state but as its reformer, not by authority of ancient rights but by his fortune and virtue as a creative political agent, as one who has effective imperium or stato over men, an artist who seeks the true and lasting glory which comes to the good prince who could have been a tyrant but refrains from acting as one:
Cromwell forgoes his fame, the Renaissance reward for great rulers replacing the promise of eternal glory in heaven which the medieval theorists saw as recompense, and surrenders all to Parliament. Indeed, he is like a falcon, that prince of trained birds who does not wantonly kill, but only at the bidding of the falconer, the bird who does the will of another:
The death of the king was, as Machiavelli would have put it, of necessità, by which, however, he does not mean physically necessitated. The kind of necessity in question occurs, for example, when a state simply has to undertake a course of action, no matter how risky or immoral, because any other would lead to its own destruction.15 Like Machiavelli's good prince, however, he performs all necessary cruelties once and keeps them to a minimum, exchanging such measures for those useful to his subjects.16 The moment of gross unethical necessity is largely confined or perhaps fully revealed in the founding of a new state. Once the state exists as a secure unit of force, as a regime, then the good prince submits to law. There is really far less conflict between the statecraft of The Prince and the Discorsi than there appeared to be to Taine, for example. Political idealism cannot exist unless the state is a really functioning unit with its substratum of power secured. The state as regime demands something else than the state which is coming into being as a unit of force, for the conditions are different and the 'times' are not the same, although in neither case will politics and morals ever exactly coincide.
Cromwell's success and his submission to law are signs of the future glory of the 'Isle.' He will be, incongruously enough, Caesar to Gaul and Hannibal to Italy (97-102). Again Marvell uses historical examples in the characteristic Renaissance way without any attempt at total integration of those exemplars. Not only do France and Italy, the seat of the Papacy, fear Cromwell but Scotland will shrink from the steadfast virtù, the 'Valour sad.'
The poem closes with an exhortation to Cromwell, the child of martial valor and of fortune, to remain armed and to maintain his power, as he must, by those same arts with which he won it.
It is important to observe here that although Cromwell must be alert to crush his enemies his sword is also 'moral' in that its cross-hilt can avert the spirits of evil. The exhortation is really one to continue in the rôle of the good prince of the Discorsi who seizes and maintains power, but who also submits to law and fights against evil.
The complexity of Marvell's vision and the tensions in the poem are those we feel in the work of Machiavelli. They result from a perspective on politics as an activity which cannot be entirely subsumed in the categories of traditional ethics. In the teleological ethics of Aristotle and of Christianity there are some acts which are just wrong and no goal whatever can give anyone leave to commit them. Machiavelli denied that this was true of political activity, without saying—and this is most important—that white was black and black white. He simply says that the safety of the state, the maintenance of the minimum order and peace necessary for civilized life within the state, may demand that the ruler commit acts which are evil from the strictly moral point of view. Further, there is never any course of action open to a ruler that is always safe or, we might add, always moral. All policies are doubtful, all ambiguous.
Finally, the question becomes basically: Are there particular circumstances in the history of states when, whether in external or internal policy, the correct course of action is not a good one from the moral point of view? If we can celebrate revolutions, acknowledge the necessity of a civil war, or reluctantly agree that some executions are necessary, some assassinations desirable, then we must agree with the basic perspective of Machiavelli whether or not we follow him elsewhere.
In the last analysis, man is moral but society is not. Any group is such for particular ends, and the only ethically unambiguous sphere is that of individual morality. This is the vision which is expressed in the "Horatian Ode." The poem does not express unresolved personal feeling any more than Oedipus Rex expresses an unresolved personal feeling of Sophocles about whether or not to side with Oedipus or with Fate. We are in a realm analogous to that of tragedy where we are compelled to recognize that the judgments concerning justice and injustice, good or evil, that we employ in our daily life cannot be easily or unambiguously applied when the context in which we use them is no longer the living room, but the state, the world, or the universe.
This is the perspective from which Marvell regards the central events of the Great Rebellion. Cromwell is the embodiment of two of the major dimensions of the Machiavellian new ruler, the man of virtù who creates a state from chaos, the central figure of Il Principe, and the legally self-binding new ruler of the Discorsi, who, having consolidated his power tries to establish the rule of good laws and good customs enforced by good arms. It would seem that the 'Prince' for whose arrival Machiavelli yearned, who, like his Moses, would be a new prince in a new state with new laws, finally arrived on the stage of history, but on the English and not the Italian stage. He comes fulfilling the prophecy of that greatest of unarmed prophets, Machiavelli himself, as if in fulfillment of the archetypal model Machiavelli had created. It seems to me that some of the awe and excitement the "Horatian Ode" communicates flows from Marvell's shock at finding this theoretical figure fulfilled in reality, not in distant Italy, but in his own time and country.
1 Cleanth Brooks, "Literary Criticism," in English Institute Essays, 1946 (New York, 1947), 127-158. Brooks' comments on other critics are on 132-4, the citation on 153. I take Mr. Brooks' paper as my point of departure since he raised the issues which have since been debated in the interpretation of the "Horatian Ode." Mr. Douglas Bush answered him in "Marvell's 'Horatian Ode'" (Sewanee Review LX , 363-376, esp. 364), contending that Brooks distorts the poem primarily because he forces the view that Marvell could not really have admired Cromwell. Instead, Bush agrees with M. C. Bradbrook and M. G. Lloyd Thomas (Andrew Marvell [Cambridge, 1940], 73-76) on a providential interpretation of the poem. Ruth Wallerstein agrees in general with Brooks in so far as she feels that the "Horatian Ode" expresses "an unresolved conflict of feeling." She recognizes a "Machiavellian" atmosphere to the poem but neglects to interpret it in terms of the authentic Machiavellism in the poem (Studies in Seventeenth Century Poetic [Madison, Wisconsin, 1950], 278-9). More recently James F. Carens in "Andrew Marvell's Cromwell Poems" (Bucknell Review VII , 41-70) has surveyed the interpretations of the Cromwell poems, concentrating on the Anniversary. He has given us a very well balanced interpretation of that poem based on a skillful reading of the text and some use of seventeenth-century political and religious doctrine. Recently, L. W. Hyman maintained ("Politics and Poetry in Andrew Marvell," PMLA LXXIII , 475-479) that the "Horatian Ode" rests on a distinction between the government that ought to be (Charles') and the government which had to be (Cromwell's). Unless this is fully amplified and qualified, the statement reduces the tension in the poem to a rather simple antithesis between an ineffective right on the one hand, and an efficient might on the other, plus a pious wish that the latter will eventually be moralized. It is the task of this paper to show that Marvell's viewpoint is substantially richer that that.
2 Out of the vast Machiavelli literature three recent books are fundamental: the beautiful biography by Roberto Ridolfi, Vita di Niccolò Machiavelli (2nd ed., Rome, 1954), is the most just estimate of the character and temper of Machiavelli; Gennaro Sasso's Niccolò Machiavelli: storia del suo pensiero politico (Naples, 1958) is a masterly treatment of the evolution of Machiavelli's political thought, and Federico Chabod's studies collected in an English version under the title Machiavelli and the Renaissance, trans. David Moore (London, 1958), is indispensable for the cultural background and for the classic analysis of the method, style, and thought of Machiavelli. This last work also contains a splendid bibliography of Machiavelli and the Renaissance. I only indicate here some of the periodical literature and essays that I have found especially valuable. L. A. Burd's classic essay on "Machiavelli" in the Cambridge Modern History, Vol. I, The Renaissance, 190-218, is still very much worth reading. Ernst Cassirer's two chapters (10, 11) on Machiavelli in The Myth of the State are very suggestive and stress the innovative side of Machiavelli's work [cf. E. Cassirer, op. cit. (New York, 1955), 144-173, reprinted from edition of 1946, New Haven, Conn.]. Of recent more specialized studies, the essays of Felix Gilbert and J. H. Hexter are very illuminating on special questions. Of Gilbert's work I have drawn heavily on his "Machiavelli and Guicciardini," Journal of the Warburg Institute II (1938), 263-266; "The Humanist Concept of the Prince and 'The Prince' of Machiavelli," Journal of Modem History XI (1939), 449-83; "Bernardo Rucellai and the 'Orti Oricellari': A Study on the Origins of Modern Political Thought," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes XII (1949), 101-131 "The Concept of Nationalism in Machiavelli's 'Prince'," Studies in the Renaissance I (1954), 38-48. Of Hexter's studies I have drawn on "'Il principe' and 'Lo stato',"Studies in the Renaissance IV (1957), 113-138.
3 Cf. H. Butterfield, The Statecraft of Machiavelli (London, 1940), 109, who points out how a doctrine of necessity which foreshadows Machiavelli had been used both by Aquinas and the apologists of Frederick the Second to justify the right of a political community to self-assertion. In the Middle Ages this doctrine seems to be current as early as the papacy of Gregory VII, at least in regard to the breaking of positive law.
4 It cannot be stressed too much that Machiavelli understood the danger of absolute authority. His primary intent in politics was to find the means of assuring the stability of the state, an almost obsessive concern with him. He says more than once that a free government in a state with both good laws and customs is far more stable than absolute governments. Cf. Discorsi I, 35.
5 Cf. the illuminating remarks of Sasso, op. cit., 40 ff., on the lessons Machiavelli learned even from his first contact with Cesare on the factor of chance in all political action.
6 Cf. Il Principe, Ch. 25. On fortune see D. C. Allen, "Renaissance Remedies for Fortune: Marlowe and the 'Fortunati'," Studies in Philology XXXVIII (1941), 188-197; V'. Cioffari, "The Function of Fortune in Dante, Boccaccio, and Machiavelli," Italica XXIV (1947), 1-13. For fortune in antiquity see Kurt von Fritz, The Mixed Constitution in Antiquity: A Critical Analysis of Polybius' Political Ideas (New York, 1954), Appendix II, "Polybius' Concept of Tyche and the Problem of the Development of His Thought," 388-397. On virtù see the summary of various interpretations in L. J. Walker, The Discourses of Machiavelli (2 vols., London, 1950), I, 99 ff. Its precise meaning has led to considerable debate and disagreement. In the Machiavellian use of the word it is generally a dynamic and not an ethical concept. Among the most accurate translations, depending on context, are "efficiency," "valor," "technique," "ability to grasp the requisite course of action and act on it," "success," and even "devotion to the common good," the last the kind of meaning Livy sometimes gives the term. For a lucid and accurate outline of these and other Machiavellian key words, such as occasione, the opportunity or external circumstances for probably successful action, see Louis de Ville-fosse, Machiavel et nous (Paris, 1937), Appendix I, 191 ff.
7 See Max Weber's classic essay on the relations between ethics and politics, "Politics as a Vocation" in From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, edit. and trans H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (New York, 1946), 77-128. On the relation between conscious intent and achieved result as a guiding principle in interpreting experience see Juergen Ruesch, M.D., Disturbed Communication (New York, 1957), 1 ff.
8The Poems and Letters of Andrew Marvell, ed. H. M. Margoliouth, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1927), I, 237-238. A second edition of this masterly work was published in 1952. I cite, however, the text of Hugh MacDonald, The Poems of Andrew Marvell (Cambridge, Mass., 1952), since it reproduces the unique copy of Marveil's Miscellaneous Poems (1681) containing the Cromwell poems.
9Pur. XVIII, 101-2 and XXVI, 76-8.
10 Cf. Wallerstein, op. cit., 281.
11 Cf. Wallerstein, op. cit., 289, who does not, however, identify the notion with Machiavelli.
12 The view that Cromwell lured Charles to Carisbrook in order to trap him was believed and seen not only by Marvell but also by others such as Flecknoe, Carrington, and the author, Henry Fletcher, of The Perfect Politician, as an example of the highest skill in statecraft. Cf. Robert S. Paul, The Lord Protector: Religion and Politics in the Life of Oliver Cromwell (London, 1955), 152-153.
13 Cf. the whole of Gilbert's article, "The Humanist Concept of the Prince." He also points out that, during the Renaissance, the idea came into being of the ruler or founder of the state as an inspired being who could freely shape the state itself. This developed into the concept of the ruler as a creative political agent as against the traditional view of the ruler as the head member of an objective moral order (esp.476). Minus any notion of divine inspiration this is certainly the view of Machiavelli and also seems to describe Cromwell as we find him in the "Horatian Ode."
14 Cf. Burd, op. cit., 204.
15 Cf. Walker, op. cit., I, 75.
16Il principe, Ch. 8, "Of Those who have Attained the Position of Prince by Villainy." Cf. also Ch. 17.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 119
*"An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland" (poem) 1650
The First Anniversary of the Government under His Highness the Lord Protector (poetry) 1655
†"A Poem upon the Death of His Late Highness the Lord Protector" (poem) 1658
The Rehearsall Transpros'd (satire) 1672
The Rehearsall Transpros 'd: The Second Part (satire) 1673
An Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government in England (satire) 1677
Miscellaneous Poems (poetry) 1681
The Complete Works in Verse and Prose of Andrew Marvell. 4 vols. (poetry and verse) 1872-75
The Poems and Letters of Andrew Marvell. 2 vols. (poetry and letters) 1927
* 1650 refers to the poem's date of composition.
†Also known as "A Poem upon the Death of O. C," this poem was composed in 1658 but not published in its entirety until 1776.
C. K. Stead (essay date 1967)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3718
SOURCE: "The Actor and the Man of Action: Marveil's Horatian Ode," in The Critical Survey, Vol. 3, No. 3, Winter, 1967, pp. 145-50.
[In the essay below, Stead discusses the confusion which has surrounded the meaning of Marvell's "Horatian Ode."]
It is difficult to recover one's first impression of the Ode but probably for most readers the following description would cover it: The poem celebrates Cromwell's victory in Ireland and looks forward to future greatness for England, but in passing pays a beautiful tribute to the dignity of Charles, whose death was the necessary and unfortunate precursor of the present happy state of affairs.
Very quickly, however, as we give more attention to the poem, we discover an undertone qualifying this first impression. The tribute to Charles remains static; but Charles is not the subject of the poem. Cromwell is its subject, and Cromwell alters as our focus narrows on him. He has ruined 'the great Work of time'. He is 'Fate' over-ruling 'Justice' and 'the antient Rights'. His government is 'the forced Pow'r', achieved by the destruction of the 'helpless Right' of Charles. There can be no reasonable argument which denies that these aspects qualify the celebration; but it will be relevant to the latter part of my discussion to describe at this point how, some years ago, I misread the poem by giving my attention exclusively to them. 'And, if we would speak true,/Much to the Man is due.' Yes, much indeed!—the ruining of the great Work of time, the ultimate vandalism. That was the tone of voice I concluded belonged to the poem, and I was able to extend it even into lines 73 to 112, in which Cromwell's recent and forthcoming triumphs are presented. The lines on the Irish were no obstacle.
It was easy (though wrong) to read as sarcasm this tribute put into the mouths of a people who still speak of'the Curse of Cromwell'. And with a little ingenuity I was able to extend that sarcasm into the passages that follow. I had soon persuaded myself (and my class) that the Ode was a strongly Royalist poem thinly veiled (probably for the extra pleasure friends of that persuasion would have in seeing through it) as a tribute to Cromwell. Mr. Cleanth Brooks1 was right, but he had not gone far enough.
Returning to the Ode some years later, having recovered from the exercise, I was surprised (and chastened) to find it the poem I had first read: a celebration of Cromwell. Further readings restored many (not all) of what Mr. Brooks likes to call 'dissenting ambiguities'. But the sarcasm, the veiled Royalist assault on Cromwell, were not there. I was left with two problems: Why had I so misread the poem? And why has it occasioned so much argument among scholars and critics who yet do not seem in any fundamental sense to disagree?
A poem addressing the Cavalier Lovelace as 'His Noble Friend'; an elegy on a young nobleman, Francis Villiers, killed in a skirmish with Parliamentary forces; an elegy on 'My Lord General Hastings'; and finally 'Tom May's Death', a virulent attack on the reputation of the poet and translator who had gone over from the Royalist to the Parliamentary side—'turned chronicler to Spartacus': four poems during the years 1647 to 1650 indicating in one way or another Royalist connexions or Royalist sympathy. Cromwell returned from Ireland in May 1650 and marched on Scotland in July. Tom May died in November. If we are to date the poems by the events which occasioned them (and there is no likely alternative) it seems necessary to conclude that six months after writing the Ode Marvell still had no intention of putting his poetic gifts to the service of the Parliamentarians, and no sense of already having done so. I might, therefore, at the time when I read the Ode as a veiled attack on Cromwell, have adduced these poems in support of my reading and called it 'scholarship'. (Worse has been done to this poem in that name.)
I am not sure how far it has helped our reading of the Ode that it should have been the ground over which the academic empires of LIT CRIT and LIT HIST have made charge and countercharge.2 But whatever we decide about the poem Mr. Brooks is right in the general terms of the argument. Whether we conceive of ourselves as 'critics' or as 'historians', it is the same poem. The critic's 'text' must also be the historian's primary 'document'. The historian no less than the critic must prove that he can read it and (more difficult) write about it. Only the text can determine the relevance of any information we may choose to import from outside it; and the recognition of relevance is itself a critical discrimination. To demonstrate (if, indeed, anything so positive as a demonstration were possible) that Marvell was in some degree 'Royalist' and 'anti-Cromwell' before and after writing the Ode, is not at all the same as demonstrating that the Ode is Royalist and anti-Cromwell. Yet again, if the Ode is a celebration of Cromwell, 'Tom May's Death' coming six months later is a problem to be borne in mind.
Marvell came of the middle class and from Hull. There was something in him of the tough-minded, hard-working, no nonsense provincial, the man of action, capable at times of a certain crudeness and brutality. (It is not surprising to learn the author of the satires engaged in fist-fights.) Yet his best-known poetry reveals a mind as sophisticated and subtle, capable of as much delicacy of thought and feeling, as that of any poet in English. Such a conjunction is not uncommon, and is frequently productive given the right circumstances. Probably he discovered himself as a poet among men of superior rank; certainly in the early years of his life poetry was an art that seemed in the possession of Royalists, whether of Lovelace's class or of Cleveland's.
It is clear that Marvell regretted the execution and pitied Charles. But he nowhere reveals that mystical faith in kingship that belongs to the true Royalist. His background, his personality, and his later life, all suggest a man who—whatever his reservations and regrets—might have found something exhilarating in the triumph of the Parliamentary side. I am suggesting that Marvell's Royalist sympathies were literary rather than political.
The occasion of the Ode is important. The reported success of Cromwell's armies in Ireland was something which seemed to many Englishmen to ratify the victory of Parliament over King. God was not displeased. Success was evidence of His approval. Anxieties about the consequences of regicide were allayed and patriotism satisfied. England could look forward to power, perhaps even to an Empire. This feeling is part of the Ode's texture. I anticipate at this point to say it was Marvell's intention to express that feeling. He set out to celebrate Cromwell, and by accident found himself celebrating (and lamenting) the triumph in himself of the man of action over the poet.
Early in 1651 he is established at Nunappleton House as tutor to Mary Fairfax, daughter of the Parliamentary General whose death 'Fame' hopes for in the Francis Villiers elegy, and of the Lady who shouted 'Oliver Cromwell is a traitor' during the trial of Charles. (Mary was later to marry Francis Villiers' brother George, second Duke of Buckingham, a marriage which protected Buckingham before the Restoration and Fairfax after it.) Fairfax had resigned his Parliamentary Generalship because he would not sanction the campaign against Scotland which Cromwell returned from Ireland to conduct—the same campaign that is enthusiastically heralded in the Ode. The affiliations could scarcely be more complicated. If Nunappleton was the 'garden state' it nonetheless reflected all the significant elements of the civil conflict. There, it seems, Marvell wrote a good deal of the poetry for which he is remembered. But already in 1652 the 'forward' 29 year-old was ready to 'forsake his Muses dear'. At the same time that he was praising Fairfax for weeding ambition and tilling conscience he was seeking to attach himself to Cromwell's government. Milton's support failed to secure him the secretaryship he sought, but in 1653 he went to Eton as tutor to Cromwell's ward. From this time on he is unequivocally Cromwellian. The brief flowering of that metaphysical talent most of us mean when we speak of 'Marvell' belongs almost certainly to the period when (I am assuming) his political and literary personalities were in conflict. Once that element of contradiction within himself is dispelled, the poetry declines. Marvell's later celebrations of Cromwell (though the poem on the Protector's death is a moving personal tribute) lack the conflict in which his best poetry was generated. In the post-Restoration satires there is conflict, but conflict of the will with external circumstances. 'We make out of the quarrel with others rhetoric; of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.' Yeats's dictum may not fit every kind of poet, but it fits Marvell.
The will destroying the sensibility. The sensibility coming to perfection as it dies. That may be Marvell's literary biography in brief, but it is not what he intended when he set out to write his Ode. It is, nevertheless, the vision contained in the first 72 lines. Not intending it, Marvell did not recognize what he had done. Lines 73 to 112 do not accord with the vision on which the Ode's greatness depends. They do not because, unlike the first 72 lines, they simply fulfil the original intention.
How can one speak with confidence of Marvell's intention? There is one large clue to it—it amounts to a declaration by no less an authority than the poet himself. This is 'An Horatian Ode'. Scholars have busied themselves pursuing echoes. They report none of significance from Horace, but some from Lucan, or from May's translation of Lucan. I am not persuaded that these reports have proved of much use, nor that the conclusions drawn from them are valid.3
There is perhaps one characteristic of Marvell's lyric poetry that above all others helps us to think of him in conjunction with Donne rather than with Milton or Dryden. He could cast himself in a role. He could adopt in one poem the voice of the puritan soul, in another the voice of the frustrated lover urging a sexual need, in a third that of the voluptuary yet disembodied imagination. It does not occur to us to say that he is being 'inconsistent' in these poems. Each implies a dramatic situation and is governed by that. Milton could write only in accordance with what he believed, or held it right to believe. Marvell could write according to what it was possible to feel—and the possibilities were wide and conflicting.
In the Ode he casts himself in the role of Horace celebrating the victories of Augustus Caesar. We do not need to consider—though Marvell must have thought of it—that Horace had taken Brutus's side against Caesar at Philippi, and had later come to accept and praise him. What is important is that Marvell is experimenting with a point of view. 'Let us suppose that I am Horace and Cromwell is Augustus. How should I celebrate him on the occasion of this victory?' It is not unlike Yeats's 'mask'—a way of distancing oneself from one's subject. It helps to explain why another and more personal of Marvell's voices—that of the satirist—could castigate Tom May six months later as 'chronicler to Spartacus'.
Charles need not have entered the poem. Nor need the various 'arts of peace' that seem to attach themselves to his side of the argument. That they do, and in the way in which they do, indicates that to take up the Horatian role a certain violence had to be done within Marvell himself. It is expressed in the violence done to Charles. There is a 'Cromwell' in Marvell as there is a 'Charles'. The first 72 lines act out the victory of 'Cromwell' over 'Charles' which was necessary if the victory in Ireland were to be celebrated. The sensibility is working against the will, and that internal conflict is projected out on to society and made to represent it, because it does represent it. The intended heroic poem begins at line 73. But by that time we are already in possession of another—the tragic poem we value.
Cromwell triumphs at home. If he embodies 'inevitable Fate', if his freedom is only 'the consciousness of Necessity', the freedom to 'urge' his 'active Star' in the direction it will take without urging, then there can be no return to the gardens where he onced 'liv'd reserved and austere'. He must triumph abroad. Ireland is only a beginning. Next there will be victory in Scotland, and beyond—
A Caesar he ere long to Gaul
To Italy an Hannibal.
Marvell is in part experiencing, with relish and alarm, the triumph of the will to action in himself. That is what gives the poem its extra dimension and urgency. If the 'forward youth' should forsake his books and his 'Muses dear', whatever drives him to it will not relent. 'The same Arts that did gain/A Pow'r must it maintain'.
Active and passive principles are set in opposition, the Active eroding and destroying the Passive. Energy becomes self-sufficient. Form is destroyed. The 'forward youth', wishing to 'appear', must oil his armour and go forth. The 'inglorious arts of peace'—poetry, learning, gardening, acting—are abandoned. The Muses are forsaken, Numbers anguish in the shadows, the books lie in dust, planting ceases. Rest, contemplation, reservation and austerity are replaced by restlessness, industry and valour. Mars commands, Venus is neglected. The laurel goes, not to the poet but to the warrior. The 'plot' is no longer the garden plot but the political intrigue, the military manoeuvre, even the plot of the play in which the 'Royal Actor' is to die. Lightning has broken from the cloud, cutting through the soft side that nurtured it to burn and rend 'Pallaces and Temples', to 'ruine the great Work of Time'. 'Justice' and the 'antient Rights' 'complain' and 'plead', but Fate rules. The weak are broken, the strong hold; lesser spirits give way to greater.
Cromwell represents this release of new energy, and neither justice nor blame is attached to him. He is as much a part of an inevitable process as Charles is. Cromwell's 'art' is that of the hunter; Charles's is that of the tragic actor whose role is to die with good grace. Charles too knows 'Tis Madness to resist or blame'. He dies passively and beautifully. He does nothing mean, common, or vulgar—
But bow'd his comely Head,
Down as upon a Bed
He accepts his unjust fate as Cromwell urges his. The actor is swept aside by the man of action. As the king who read from Sidney's Arcadia on the night before his execution dies, so symbolically do decorum, style, and hence poetry itself. Poetry too is a kind of 'acting', unreal compared with the energy that can transform the world. But the Muses were 'dear'; Charles's head was 'comely'. The Ode is a celebration of Energy, and a lament for the dignity and decorum that are lost when it achieves its full freedom.
To see the lines on the Irish as sarcasm was an instructive error. Mr. Brooks denies the possibility of sarcasm, but finds in them 'grim irony'. Mr. Toliver concedes of Cromwell as Marvell depicts him that 'the hints of dispraise which Cleanth Brooks points out are clear enough' but remarks that the lines on the Irish 'cannot be taken ironically without totally inverting the eulogy'.4 He means, I take it, that they must be either sarcasm or eulogy—and I agree. They do not admit of the middle possibility proposed by Mr. Brooks. Either Marvell means what he says (that the Irish have conceded Cromwell's fitness for highest trust) or he means the opposite (that the Irish response to Cromwell proves his unfitness for it). To read these lines as sarcasm one must assume first that Marvell would have known precisely what Cromwell's armies had done in Ireland; and second (as Mr. Bush points out) that Marvell was in possession of a modern liberal conscience that could extend its humane concerns to the traditional enemies of his own country. Worse, one must lose sight of the poem as a whole, and of its primary rhetorical force.
I can now answer, at least to my own satisfaction, the questions proposed. First, why did I see sarcasm here, and extend it into the lines that follow? Because the first 72 lines are full of a rich duality of vision. Expecting duality of some kind to continue, I invented it where it was lacking. Second, why has the poem occasioned so much argument among writers who yet do not seem to disagree? Part of the confusion, I believe, arises from an element of contradiction in the poem itself which has gone unnoticed. We have been so charmed by the richness of the poem—a richness maintained without lapse for 72 lines—that when it does lapse we are unprepared to notice the decline. And the decline is further concealed by the quality of the verse which, simply as verse, does not lapse at all, and continues to be served by Marvell's wit:
The verse continues admirably, the wit operates, and yet the decline is real. It can be shown most simply by the fact that the poem begins to contradict itself. The man whom it was worse to 'inclose' than to 'oppose' is now one who 'can so well obey'. He is the falcon who always returns to the falconer's wrist. His victories are no longer the work of pure energy, 'angry Heavens flame', but duties meekly carried out by the servant of the English 'Publick'. The instrument of Fate is now the reasonable mortal 'That does both act and know'.
I have suggested that these lines fulfil Marvell's original intention and if this is accepted it suggests that he was working (as poets so often do) without full consciousness of the way in which feelings outside the scope of that intention had entered and modified the poem. The delicate balance of attributes represented by Charles and Cromwell had achieved a tragic rather than a heroic quality. With the death of Charles, tragic duality is lost. Lines 73 to 112 represent a decline, not because the heroic mode is in itself unworthy, but because it cannot accord with, or measure up to, the tragic vision which precedes it.
But the poem recovers. It has taken into its texture a number of references to the various arts that must have been at this time MarvelPs principal preoccupation. It has described the breath-taking political circumstances which are (in effect) destroying these arts by rendering them irrelevant, 'inglorious'. That theme returns in the final lines, and with it the tragic duality. The tone of unqualified excitement in which Cromwell's future victories were described gives way to something more measured. Cromwell is once again the embodiment of violence and fate:
Whatever Marvell intended by that 'last effect', it cannot avoid the suggestion of death. There must be an end even to Cromwell's marching. In our final view of him he is once again Energy, but Energy lacking an object. There is no longer a decorum for him to work against. All has been swept aside. He moves away from us, seeming now more urged than urging, advancing against nameless shadows, maintaining his old direction and posture because he cannot do otherwise. And so the final couplet, intended perhaps only to encourage Cromwell in his campaign against Scotland, regains all the power and duality of the tragic vision. The poem which began with the 'forward youth' (in effect) casting aside his pen, concludes with the ageing warrior still bearing up the sword. The sword is undoubtedly 'mightier', but
The same Arts that did gain
A Pow'r must it maintain.
I have argued that the Ode is less than perfect. But greatness is not perfection, and the Ode is a very great poem.
1 'Criticism and Literary History; Marvell's Horatian Ode', Cleanth Brooks, Sewanee Review, LV, 1947.
2 The article by Mr. Brooks cited above, and 'Marvell's Horatian Ode', Douglas Bush, Sewanee Review, LX, 1952 (an answer to Mr. Brooks). Mr. Brooks answers Mr. Bush in the same journal, LXI, 1953. Also relevant is Pierre Legouis' 'Marvell and The New Critics', Review of English Studies, 1957, viii.
3 The lines describing the three-forked lightning are particularly seen as an echo from May's translation of Lucan's Pharsalia. They may be, but I do not see that the pursuit of echoes is profitable because they need indicate no more than a poet's response to and memory of a form of words or an image that has struck him. To conclude, because certain verbal echoes are present, that Lucan's attitude to his characters will help us determine Marvell's to his (see 'Marvell's Horatian Ode', R. H. Syfret, Review of English Studies XII, 1961) is fallacious. I have not, incidentally, seen anyone suggest that Marvell had in mind the lines from Cleveland's 'Elegy on Charles the First, Murdered publicly by his Subjects':
And thus his soul, of this her triumph proud,
Broke like a flash of lightning through the cloud
Of flesh and blood.
—yet this is quite as likely a source. Marvell elsewhere echoes, indeed steals from, Cleveland. Are we to conclude that he shared Cleveland's point of view?
4Marvell's Ironic Vision, Harold H. Toliver, Yale, 1965, pp. 183-91. Mr. Toliver's seems to me the most balanced of the longer discussions of the poem. But his phrase 'hints of dispraise' is hardly adequate. Cromwell is less a man than a Force of Nature. If it is 'Madness to resist or blame' it is pointless to 'dispraise' by 'hints'. The Force is celebrated, but the celebration is qualified by the intrusion of another kind of Force calling for and dividing our admiration. One may remark here that academic writers have been content often to set down their conclusions about this extremely subtle poem in makeshift phrases. Mr. Bush's summary that the poem is a portrait of Cromwell 'warts and all' seems to me a breezy evasion of all the problems.
Annabel Patterson (essay date 1975)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4104
SOURCE: "Against Polarization: Literature and Politics in Marvell's Cromwell Poems," in English Literary Renaissance, Vol. 5, Spring, 1975, pp. 251-72.
[In the following excerpt, Patterson argues that it is only by considering all of his Cromwell poems that we can understand Marvell's changing perceptions of Cromwell.]
Despite the steady accumulation of commentary on Marvell's poems, the First Anniversary of the Government under O.C. has attracted little attention. Still less attention has been given to the elegy, Upon the Death of O.C. While critics return frequently to consideration of the techniques and insights of the Horatian Ode, The Garden, and Upon Appleton House, it is apparently acceptable to publish a full-length study of Marvell's poetry without a section on either of the later Cromwell poems.1 Literary judgment has not proceeded much beyond Legouis' original discouragement;2 and when the formidable political contexts of the poems have been mastered, as they were by John Wallace,3 knowledge of the period and of its constitutional debates seems to overpower purely literary considerations. This paper attempts to reduce such polarization and to unite what are now separated segments of Marvell's canon.
It is worth remembering that the modern pastoral/political dichotomy assumed to operate in Marvell's mind derives partly from the form in which we now read his poems. In Margoliouth's edition, the order of the 1681 folio is changed to the extent that "satirical, commendatory and political poems have been collected together and arranged in chronological order," and an assumption is made that pastoral lyrics belong together at the front of the volume.4 George deF. Lord, whose edition continues and extends this policy, justifies it in an article which moves Marvell from lyric detachment to political commitment and back to satirical disillusionment.5 But if we are able to look at Marvell's Miscellaneous Poems without preconceptions of category or chronology, the collection more obviously resembles Ben Jonson's Forrest and Underwoods, the second of which relates both volumes to the classical sylva: "With the same leave, the Ancients call'd that kind of body Sylva … in which there were workes of divers nature, and matter congested; as the multitude call Timber-trees, promiscuously growing, a Wood, or Forrest: so am I bold to entitle these lesser Poems, of later growth, by this of Under-wood, out of the Analogic they hold to the Forrest, in my former booke, and no otherwise."6
A reminder of the sylva concept is an appropriate entry into Marvell's Cromwell poems, for both in rhetorical precept and by the example of Statius, the sylva is essentially a grouping of occasional poems whose mode is epideictic. In Statius' Sylvae, each book opens with an epistle to a friend or patron, and the first of these repeats Quintilian's definition (X. 3.17) of sylva poems as improvisations struck out in the heat of the occasion. They include political panegyric ("The Seventeenth Consulship of the Emperor Augustus Germanicus," IV.1); the celebration of the large personal occasions in genethliaca, epithalamia, and epicedia; of the smaller social occasions, in propempticon (a send-off poem) or soteria (congratulations for escape or recovery); and a variety of praises of buildings, country estates, statues, pets, or even natural objects like "The Tree of Atedius Melior" (II.3) whose praise implies the praise of persons. The sense of contrasting scale and seriousness essential to the total effect is marked particularly by the different kinds of epicedia; the long and deeply felt lament for the poet's father in the fifth book gains stature by contrast with preceding consolations for the deaths of a favorite slave and a pet parrot. The implications of this precedent are schematized in the Poetices of Julius Caesar Scaliger, where under the heading of sylva these and other types of praise are listed and described, along with their appropriate topics.7 Scaliger excludes from the sylva lyric, love elegy, and epigram, a distinction which Ben Jonson did not observe.
I am not implying that Marvell thought of himself as collecting poems for a sylva, nor that he would ever have chosen a title similar to Jonson's. But under such a concept the exclusiveness of a generic grouping (pastoral/political/satirical) or a chronological one can be modified by the genre-crossing functions of epideictic, in which the poet is concerned with the theoretical problems of how one praises people or objects of contrasting but interdependent significance. By such a standard the elegiac conventions of the Poem on the Death of O.C. can be investigated with the same sensibilities as those employed on The Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Faun, which incorporates as one of its traditions the Statian epicedion for the death of pets. The First Anniversary of the Government under O.C. gains both point and stature by being read in the same critical context as The Picture of Little T.C. in a Prospect of Flowers, the titles alone pointing to the interdependence of pastoral and political expectations.8 T.C. and O.C, marked by fate for exceptional heroism in the wars of the heart and the Commonwealth respectively, represent not two exclusive phases of the poet's experience, but two opportunities for the same flexible mind to choose its own compelling exercises. Any additional information we may have about Marvell's growth of political consciousness only makes the second exercise more compelling; it does not make it less of an exercise.
If we can put aside, then, the assumption that a political subject implies an absence of literary motives, we can investigate the techniques of all the Cromwell poems with the necessary double focus. For in these poems Marvell is facing a literary problem which is actually caused by political facts: how does one praise, blame, or otherwise define a figure who has challenged, abolished, or made embarrassing traditional ways of thinking? Each of the Cromwell poems responds to this problem in a different way, not merely because Marvell's personal response to Cromwell altered, but because each of his formal solutions identified for him another set of theoretical questions.
Wherever we locate the Horatian Ode on "the curve of his feelings for Cromwell,"9 the formal solution he found for defining that transitional moment of history is now well established. It depends on presenting both the old and the new, the "ancient rights" and the necessary revolution, with an economy of statement suggesting objectivity. Through a pattern of allusions easily accessible to a classically trained audience, it is also implied that history has seen such contrasts before, and absorbed them. The identification of the poet, through the title, with Horace's stance as poet-counsellor to Augustus is balanced by echoes from the Pharsalia10 which associate Cromwell with Lucan's hated Caesar. The contrasting analogies, which offer the audience (and Cromwell himself) a choice of identification, keep the poem between the positive and negative sides of epideictic, while the poet comments explicitly upon the rhetorical problem. On one hand "Tis Madness to resist or blame" something as elementally impersonal as Cromwell's violent success; on the other, the application of the private/public topos allows for truthful approbation. "If we would speak true," as he who praises must, "Much to the Man is due" whose success is gained at the expense of his cherished privacy. But a final selection of attitude is restricted to one group, the conquered Irish, whose unwillingly objective testimony is only part of the dialectical structure: "They can affirm his Praises best, / And have, though overcome, confest / How good he is, how just."11
In addition, the refusal of the poem to choose a stance is assisted by a lucid time scheme which keeps separate facts, propositions, and hopes. The first major section of the poem (ll. 1-44) alternates the incontrovertible past with the immediate problem of assessment. Evaluative abstractions are noticeably in the present—"'Tis time to leave the Books in dust"; "For 'tis all one to Courage high"; "'Tis Madness to resist or blame"—while the res gestae of Cromwell are aggressively in the past. (The "did's" of this poem are not metrical padding, but epistemological tools.) The second section (ll. 45-72), which defines the role of Charles, is all in the past, as befits a figure about whom everything can now be said, and who belongs to memory:
He nothing common did or mean
Upon that memorable Scene:
But with his keener Eye
The Axes edge did try….
This was that memorable Hour
Which first assur'd the forced Pow'r.
The third section (ll. 73-112) returns us to the "now" of the poem's occasion, Cromwell's return from Ireland, and the need to formulate propositions and syllogisms:
So much one Man can do,
That does both act and know….
How fit he is to sway
That can so well obey.
For it is on these propositions and syllogisms that the poet bases the final section of the poem (ll. 113-20), which deals with hopes and recommendations for the future.
In fact, the temporal distinction between different levels of certainty invites comparison with Aristotle's discussion in the Rhetoric (I.iii, ix) of all three types of oratory and their relation both to time and knowledge. The forensic speaker deals with what is not yet established; his task is to evaluate events in the recent past, in terms of justice or injustice; his main tool is the logical proposition or syllogism. The deliberative speaker is not concerned with justice but with expedience and necessity; his task is to give advice for the future, though he may base this on historical exempla, for it is by examination of the known past that the unknown future may be predicted. Only the epideictic speaker deals with certainty, with "actions which are not disputed," with what is, both temporally and metaphysically, and his task is to demonstrate their importance for his audience. Epideictic works by amplification; its ethical choices are already made. Viewed in the light of this scheme, the Horatian Ode can be seen as explicitly subordinating the epideictic function to the forensic and deliberative (which is another way of putting Coolidge's point about the conditional nature of Horatian praise).12 But in addition it handles the relationship between time and certainty in an arrangement significantly, perhaps innovatively, different: it is the actions of the past, especially the king's, which have become indisputable and hence a subject for epideictic, in language which carries its own demonstration. In his "private Gardens" Cromwell was "reserved and austere"; on the scaffold Charles "nothing common did or mean." But the present of the poem, what Cromwell is, remains dominated by the forensic uncertainty of the case of "Justice vs. Fate," a matter of proposition only: "How fit he is to sway / That can so well obey" subordinates the affirmation of Cromwell's fitness to govern to a humility not yet finally demonstrated. It is true that such propositions gain an air of certainty disproportionate to their proof by being presented as classical sententiae, with the added assurance of rhyme. But real praise closes up the relational and syntactical gap between its subject and that which, if proved, makes that subject praiseworthy.
The Horatian Ode, then, balances the certainties and uncertainties of the historical process through deft manipulation of appropriate traditions. At the same time as it alerts its audience to the difficulties of responding to revolutionary events, especially "if we would speak true," it reminds us that such difficulties are not unprecedented. Horace and Lucan faced them; the three types of oratory provide recognizable stances with which to cope with them. There is no rigid commitment to a one-to-one system of historical analogy or a slavish reproduction of rhetorical categories, either of which would protect the audience from participating in the process of choice, but rather a lively, continuous movement between raw political fact and the possibility of categorization, between the strain of empiricism and the relaxation of system….13
If the first, and only, Anniversary for Cromwell questions its success in defining the indefinable, A Poem upon the Death of O.C. seems to sound a deliberate retreat. Far from modifying or arguing with conventions, Marvell seems to have fallen back with relief into one of the best defined and most luxurious, the classical epicedion with its well-marked topoi. A simple chronology presents the prior circumstances and causes (Cromwell's daughter's sickness and death), the portents which preceded his death, the date (also that of the battle of Dunbar), and the response of his survivors. To them are given the tasks of enumerating his value in terms of the four cardinal virtues (ll. 179-226), as modified by Christian-Stoical conventions, and of giving the traditional lament of what is "no more" (ll. 227-46) in language imitative both of Aeneid VI,42 Vergil's description of the heroic underworld, and of Milton's pastoral elegy for Lycidas/King.43 The poem ends with three different but equally conventional passages of consolation: Cromwell's immortality in the imagination and "martiall verse" of "th' English souldier"; a Christian heaven for Cromwell himself, where he can meet face to face the biblical types, Moses, Joshua, and David, he resembled; and a political reincarnation in his successor, for "Richard yet where his great Parent led, / Beats on the rugged track" (ll. 305-06). Our knowledge of Richard's inadequacies as a solution to the constitutional problem perhaps distorts our view of the last lines and makes them seem unduly fatuous; but Marvell has made no effort here to distinguish himself from Cavalier idiom at its most obvious.44
What are we to make of this apparent collapse of critical intelligence into the swaddling bands of convention? The usual response is to grant the ode only a personal status in Marvell's career, thereby avoiding a major evaluation.45 But there is no need to assume that Marvell was unable to write a public poem on Cromwell's death because a political force had become a friend. There are signs in the Elegy that, whatever his personal affection and loyalty, Marvell found Cromwell's death as interesting as his rule, and that the conventionality of his response is literary strategy appropriate to his definition of the event.
The most important of these signs links the Ode, the Anniversary, and the Elegy in a sequence of argument which prevents a merely sentimental reading of the latter. In all the flurry of attention given to Marvell's use of Lucan in the Ode, nobody seems to have noticed that the famous passage describing Caesar as lightning is preceded by a description of Pompey as a majestic but decayed oak. In Thomas May's translation of Lucan's Pharsalia (1627), firmly established as the source of many phrases and attitudes in the Ode, the passage reads:
It seems clear that Marvell remembered this passage when, after an opening which emphasizes the peacefulness of Cromwell's last years, he describes his appearance in death:
Yet dwelt that greatnesse in his shape decay'd
That still though dead greater then death he layd….
Not much unlike the sacred Oake which shoots
To heav'n its branches and through earth its roots:
Whose spacious boughs are hung with Trophees round,
And honour'd wreaths have oft the Victour crown'd.
When angry Jove darts lightning through the Aire
At mortalls sins, nor his own plant will spare
(It groanes and bruses all below that stood
So many yeares the shelter of the wood).
Marvell has here combined the Pompeian oak, honored but decayed, with the Caesarian lightning to give a double resonance to Cromwell's death. Once the lightning himself, blasting Caesar's head through his laurels, Cromwell has now become subject to the natural cycles of change and is himself struck down by Jove's bolt. In fact, the phrase "nor his own plant will spare" derives from Lucan's subsequent description of the Caesarian lightning ("Not Joves own Temple spares it") which not only helps to substantiate the source, but also emphasizes the curious fusion which Marvell's plagiarism has achieved.
The Elegy, then, returns by way of Lucan to a concept of time and history as essentially repetitive, a view denied by the Anniversary in its attempt to grapple with the man of the moment. But while it corrects the perspective of the Anniversary, this passage also uses the fallen oak46 to expand and support one of the Anniversary's major critical positions:
The tree ere while foreshorten'd to our view
When faln shews taller yet then as it grew.
So shall his praise to after times increase
When truth shall be allow'd and faction cease
And his own shadows with him fall. The Eye
Detracts from objects then it selfe more high:
But when death takes them from that envy'd seate,
Seeing how little we confesse how greate.
The point of the hypothetical elegy in the Anniversary is that epideictic cannot function properly in the perspective of the moment; truth and modesty of evaluation depend on the perspective of death, and, by extension, the only poem which can be both occasional and epideictic is the funeral elegy. In the real Elegy, Marvell's image of the tree provides graphic illustration of this previously elliptical statement. The fallen tree and the finished career can be accurately measured; the foreshortening produced during a great man's life by irrelevant emotions of envy and political prejudice becomes obsolete when he is leveled by his and our common humanity; and the traditional generosity of our statements about the dead allows, paradoxically, for truly historical objectivity.
This explicitly self-conscious chain of reasoning between the three poems helps to explain why the driving image of Cromwell as "the Man," unique and solitary hero, has been replaced, not only by that of a family man capable of dying of grief for his daughter, but also by that of a figure no longer antipathetic to Charles. His "last Act" recalls the "royal Actor" of the "Tragick Scaffold." Action gives way to "gentle Passions." His military achievements are expressed as the victories of prayer. Awkward questions likely to be raised by the topos of the four cardinal virtues are resolved by the substitution of Friendship for Justice; while the deliberate fusion of Valor and Holiness allows for the neat schematization of this newly active/passive hero:
Whose greater Truths obscure the Fables old,
Whether of British Saints or Worthy's told;
And in a valour less'ning Arthur's deeds,
For Holyness the Confessor exceeds.
None of this makes the return to simple conventionality intrinsically better, of course. The Elegy competes effectively neither with the strenuous mental activity of the Anniversary nor with the voluptuous emotional activity of an elegy, like Lycidas, written for its own sake. But the return to conservatism in form is at least consistent with the poem's historical judgment of Cromwell, as expressed through Lucan's oak, and with Marvell's decision to reabsorb Cromwell into the cycles of history. It looks forward to the constructive conservatism of the Rehearsal Transpros'd, where cyclical metaphors support Marvell's acceptance of "his present Majesties happy Restauration," and to his conviction that "all things else happen in their best and proper time, without any need of our officiousness' (p. 135). Such acceptance does not, however, imply the rejection of phenomena like Cromwell's speed of action, since that has already been absorbed into the poetic pattern of interdependent genres and conventions.
The three Cromwell poems, then, can be read as a sequential study in certain literary problems which politics had forced into relevance. Taken together they constitute an inquiry into the nature of epideictic, its relation to historical judgment, and the political implications of its conventions. Eventually, I believe, similar accounts can be given of Marvell's theory of satire and of polemic; and it will be clear that, all his life, the pressure of events alerts, rather than distracts, his critical mind.
1 As was done by Rosalie Colie, "My Ecchoing Song": Andrew Marvell's Poetry of Criticism (Princeton, N. J., 1970). In some respects this article is a continuation of this brilliantly suggestive but incomplete book.
2 Pierre Legouis, in Andrew Marvell: Poet, Puritan, Patriot (Oxford, 1968), defines the First Anniversary as a failed annal, without intelligible order (p. 102), and contrasts the "formal beauty" of the Horatian Ode with the Elegy, "longer, more unequal, inflated here, short-winded there, [which] discourages the ordinary reader who would relish its pathos" (p. 115). I use for convenience here the English redaction of the definitive French study, published 1928.
3 John M. Wallace, Destiny His Choice: The Loyalism of Andrew Marvell (Cambridge, Eng., 1968).
4The Poems and Letters of Andrew Marvell (Oxford, 1952), I, 207.
5 Lord, "From Contemplation to Action: Marvell's Poetical Career," PQ, 46 (1967), 207-24.
6 Jonson, Underwoods, "To the Reader," in Ben Jonson [Works], ed. C. H. Herford and Percy and Evelyn Simpson, 11 vols., VIII (Oxford, 1947), 126.
7 Scaliger, Poetices Libri Septem (Lyons, 1561), pp. 150-69.
8 This mutually enlightening interaction of political and lyrical poems has also been observed in the Odes of Horace. See John S. Coolidge, "Marvell and Horace," MP, 63 (1965), 111-20. Compare, however, Steele Commager, The Odes of Horace (New Haven, Conn., 1962), p. 208: "Horace himself supports the distinction, both by isolating these [Roman] Odes as a coherent group and by reiterating elsewhere the contrast between a levius and a maius plectrum."
9 Legouis, p. 114.
10 See Margoliouth, I, 237-38; R. H. Syfret, "Marvell's 'Horatian Ode,'" RES, 12 (1961), 160-72; and John M. Wallace, Destiny His Choice, pp. 72-73. Miss Syfret also points out (p. 768) that after the death of Charles "the analogy with Caesar is pursued no farther and Marvell draws Cromwell in the Ode after the civil war as Lucan had drawn Pompey before and during it." There seems to be no satisfactory explanation for the contradiction between this technique and the presumably contemporaneous attack on Tom May for drawing similar parallels:
Foul Architect that hadst not Eye to see
How ill the measures of these States agree.
And who by Romes example England lay,
Those but to Lucan do continue May.
(Tom May's Death, ll. 51-54)
11 All quotations from Marvell's poetry are taken from the facsimile of the 1681 edition, Miscellaneous Poems (Menston, Eng., 1969).
12 "Marvell and Horace," p. 119.
13 Compare the account of Italian Humanist historiography in Nancy C. Streuver's The Language of History in the Renaissance (Princeton, N.J., 1970), p. 100: "The rhetorical concept of kairos or opportunitas saves the Humanists from the further implications of poetic universality…. Their rhetorical experience provided a model for their participation in and consciousness of the general renewal of the Renaissance, not as the return of identical events through the intervention of cosmic forces such as Fate—a classical attitude reiterated in the medieval figure of Fortune's wheel—but as historical renewal, i.e. the creation of similitude, the attribution of analogous meaning…."
42 Compare Aeneid VI.653ff., "Quae gratia currum / Armorumque fuit vivis, quae cura nitentes / Pascere equos, eadem sequitur tellitur repartos," with the lament of Cromwell's survivors, "All, all is gone of ours or his delight / In Horses fierce, wild Deer or Armour bright" (ll. 243-44).
43 One of the structural achievements of Lycidas is, of course, the movement from the "Yet once more, O ye Laurels" of the first line to what is "no more" in pastoral and church politics (ll. 43, 131), to the consolatory "Weep no more, woeful Shepherds weep no more" (l. 165). Margoliouth, who thought he heard an echo of Lycidas at ll. 167-68, makes no mention of this, nor of the near certainty that Milton's lines, "But O the heavy Change, now thou art gone, / Now thou art gone, and never must return!" (ll. 37-38), became Marvell's:
For we, since thou art gone, with heavy Doome
Wander like Ghosts about thy loved Tombe, …
Since thou art gone, who best that Way coulds't teach,
Onely our Sighs perhaps may thither reach.
44 See Thomas Carew's "Upon the Kings Sicknesse" (1640), which describes Charles's grief at his father's illness in similar language: "That ruddie morning beame of Majestie, / Which should the Suns ecclipsed light supply, / Is overcast with mists …" (Poems, ed. Rhodes Dunlap [Oxford, 1957], pp. 35-36). Compare Marvell's description of Richard, who "by his milder beams assures, / And yet how much of them his griefe obscures."
45 An exception is Donald M. Friedman's Marvell's Pastoral Art (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1970), which, while admitting the poem's unevenness, points out that Cromwell's death was for Marvell another "public occasion … he could make his own, in which he could perceive the implications he loved to seek out of dialectic intricacy and symbolic weight" (p. 290).
46 The decayed oak also functions as an emblem of natural cyclical exchange, and perhaps as political allegory, in Upon Appleton House, where the Hewel or woodpecker is given the task of "Meas'ring the Timber with his Foot" and chooses "for his building" the "tainted Side" of the hollow oak rather than sounder trees.
47 It should be pointed out that the punctuation of the final line of this passage as it appears in Margoliouth's edition results in some ambiguity.
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Coolidge, John S. "Marvell and Horace." Modern Philology LXIII, No. 2 (November 1965): 111-20.
Interprets Marvell's "An Horatian Ode" as an imitation of Horace.
Donnelly, M. L. '"And still new stopps to various time apply'd': Marvell, Cromwell, and the Problem of Representation at Midcentury." In On the Celebrated and Neglected Poems of Andrew Marvell, edited by Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth, pp. 154-68. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1992.
Discusses Marvell's choice of images, symbols, and allusions in his Cromwell poems.
Duncan-Jones, E. E. "The Erect Sword in Marvell's 'Horatian Ode'." études Anglaises XV, No. 2 (April-June 1962): 172-74.
Remarks on the symbolic meaning of the sword in "An Horatian Ode."
Everett, Barbara. "The Shooting of the Bears: Poetry and Politics in Andrew Marvell." In Andrew Marvell: Essays on the Tercentenary of His Death, edited by R. L. Brett, pp. 62-103. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979.
Discusses the critical "rediscovery" of Marvell's poetry.
Friedenreich, Kenneth, ed. Tercentenary Essays in Honor of Andrew Marvell. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1977, 314 p.
Collection of fourteen essays covering the critical spectrum from Marvell's lyrics to his political satires.
Greene, Thomas M. "The Balance of Power in Marvell's 'Horatian Ode'." ELH 60, No. 2 (Summer 1993): 379-96.
Argues that Marvell himself found the events about which he was writing baffling and that the poem's subject was the "intrusion of the uncanny into history."
Hill, Christopher. "Society and Andrew Marvell." In Puritanism and Revolution: Studies in Interpretation of the English Revolution of the 17th Century, pp. 337-66. New York: Schocken Books, 1958.
Argues that the quality of Marvell's poetry becomes apparent when studied in the context of his political and social views.
Hodge, R. I. V. "Through His Own Side." In Foreshortened Time: Andrew Marvell and Seventeenth Century Revolutions, pp. 96-131. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Little-field, 1978.
Analyzes the "Horatian Ode" in order to study Marvell's transition from Royalist to Cromwell supporter.
Legouis, Pierre. "Cromwell's Poet." In Andrew Marvell: Poet, Puritan, Patriot, pp. 91-115. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965.
Considers Marvell's political career as evidenced in his poetry.
Lerner, L. D. "Andrew Marvell: An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland." In Interpretations: Essays on Twelve English Poems, edited by John Wain, pp. 59-74. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972.
Analyzes Marvell's attitudes towards Cromwell as expressed in the "Horatian Ode" and argues that the poem is more subtle than Marvell's later Cromwell poems.
Lord, George de Forest, ed. Andrew Marvell: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968, 180 p.
Gathers essays by well-known critics on Marvell's poetry.
Norbrook, David. "Marvell's 'Horatian Ode' and the Politics of Genre." In Literature and the English Civil War, edited by Thomas Healy and Jonathan Sawday, pp. 147-69. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Concludes that Marvell's poem is not unequivocally triumphal. Despite the revolution's boundless possibilities, Norbrook maintains that Marvell recognized that Cromwell could become its destroyer as well as its defender.
Reedy, Gerard, S.J. "'An Horatian Ode' and 'Tom May's Death'." Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 XX, No. 1 (Winter 1980): 137-51.
Discusses Marvell's evolving political views and his apparent antagonism toward Tom May.
Richards, Judith. "Literary Criticism and the Historian: Towards Reconstructing Marvell's Meaning in 'An Horatian Ode'." Literature and History 1, No. 7 (Spring 1981): 25-47.
Argues that to understand Marvell's meaning, the reader must not only consider Marvell's personal beliefs but how he may have intended to be understood by his contemporaries.
Selden, Raman. "Historical Thought and Marvell's Horatian Ode." The Durham University Journal XXXIII (1971-72): 41-53.
Evaluates various critical approaches to Marvell's "Horatian Ode" and suggests that a Marxist reading offers the most satisfactory historical interpretation.
Syfret, R. H. "Marvell's 'Horatian Ode'." The Review of English Studies XII, No. 45 (February 1961): 160-72.
Addresses the tensions and contradictions in the "Horatian Ode" through a comparison with the works of Horace and Lucan.
Wallace, John M. "'How fit he is to sway': 'An Horatian Ode upon Cromwel's Return from Ireland'." In Destiny His Choice: The Loyalism of Andrew Marvell, pp. 69-105. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968.
Contends that the thesis of "An Horatian Ode" is that through God, Cromwell would transform what was evil into good.
Wallace, John M. "Andrew Marvell and Cromwell's Kingship: 'The First Anniversary'." ELH 30, No. 3 (September 1963): 209-35.
Contends that The First Anniversary is not simply a panegyric to Cromwell but an expression of Marvell's concern for the nation's future and an expression of his calling to political office.
Wallace, John M. "Marvell's Horatian Ode." PMLA LXXVII, No 1 (March 1962): 33-45.
Argues that Marvell was a supporter of Cromwell when he wrote "An Horatian Ode" and that his tone and stance derived not from neutrality, but from the rhetorical method he was employing to persuade an audience whom he expected to be prejudiced against his views.
Wheeler, Thomas. "Satirical and Political Poems." In Andrew Marvell Revisited, pp. 111-29. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996.
Provides an overview of Marvell's political poetry, noting that these poems are unambiguous and characterized by a narrative voice which either supports a position or derides the opposing side.
Wilcher, Robert. "Action and Retirement." In Andrew Marvell, pp. 106-25. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Analyzes Marvell's poetry written during the English revolution in order to evaluate his political views and his conflicting interests in retirement from the world and service to society.
Wilding, Michael. "Marvell's 'An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland', The Levellers, and the Junta." In Dragons' Teeth: Literature in the English Revolution, pp. 114-37. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987.
Argues that critics have failed to see hidden propaganda promoting of Cromwell in "An Horatian Ode."
Wilding, Michael, ed. Marvell: Modern Judgements. London: Macmillan, 1969, 302 p.
Collection of essays by well-known critics, including essays on the "Horatian Ode" by Cleanth Brooks and Douglas Bush.
Wilson, A. J. N. "Andrew Marvell: 'An Horatian Ode upon Cromwel's Return from Ireland': The Thread of the Poem and Its Use of Classical Allusion." The Critical Quarterly 11, No. 4 (Winter 1969): 325-41.
Interprets "An Horatian Ode" as a Roman praise poem that paints an heroic portrait of Cromwell but does not necessarily demonstrate that Marvell was committed to Cromwellian politics at that time.
Wortham, Christopher. "Marvell's Cromwell Poems: An Accidental Triptych." In The Political Identity of Andrew Marvell, edited by Conal Condren and A. D. Cousins, pp. 16-52. Brookfield, Vermont: Scolar Press, 1990.
Maintains that Marvell's poems about Cromwell tell us "as much about Andrew Marvell as they do about Cromwell."
Annabel M. Patterson (essay date 1978)
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6947
SOURCE: "The Cromwell Poems," in Marvell and the Civic Crown, Princeton University Press, 1978, pp. 59-94.
[In the following excerpt, Patterson argues that in his attempts to describe Cromwell, Marvell also advanced his understanding of language and writing.]
… In all of his poems about Cromwell, Marvell faced a rhetorical problem which was clearly occasioned by political facts. Cromwell's actions were not only unconstitutional, they were also extremely difficult to assimilate into traditional modes of expression. A training in classical rhetoric provided a writer with a range of attitudes ….
At first sight the First Anniversary suggests a simple development from choice in progress to choice complete, from a mixed rhetorical stance supported by the classics to Christian determinism supported by biblical typology. However, any attempt to develop a straightforward reading of the poem as an alternative to the Ode, a "committed" Puritan poem which knows where it stands, is quickly defeated. Cromwell may resemble Elijah or Gideon, but he is also an Amphion of classical harmony, particularly as that figure had been interpreted by Horace's Ars Poetica. The poem seems extraordinarily digressive and, while invoking the temporal structures both of classical encomium and Christian prophecy, it also seems to subvert them in ways which can scarcely be accidental. Considered as an encomium, we find that praise of Cromwell's achievements at home and abroad precedes mention of his parentage and birth (genesis) and that a lament for his death (which turns out to be hypothetical) precedes his education (anatrophe) and choice of destiny (epitedeumatd).17
Considered as Christian prophecy, the poem is even more subversive, indeed explicitly so. The poet's hopes for a millennium in his own time under Cromwell's leadership are presented not as a conclusion, but toward the middle of the poem, and they are presented in the most hypothetical terms:
Hence oft I think, if in some happy Hour
High Grace should meet in one with highest Pow'r,
And then a seasonable People still
Should bend to his, as he to Heavens will,
What we might hope, what wonderful Effect
From such a wish'd Conjuncture might reflect.
Sure, the mysterious Work, where none withstand,
Would forthwith finish under such a Hand:
Fore-shortned Time its useless Course would stay,
And soon precipitate the latest Day.
But a thick Cloud about that Morning lyes,
And intercepts the Beams of Mortal eyes,
That 'tis the most which we determine can,
If these the Times, then this must be the Man.
This language is all conditional, in the grammatical sense; but as compared to the conditional praise of the Ode, which was merely dependent on Cromwell's fulfilling certain political responsibilities, the Anniversary indicates the limitations of vision. Thinking, wishing, and hoping are all very well, but a "thick Cloud" comes between the would-be prophet and his glimpses of the Apocalypse, as he considers exactly how unseasonable the people are at present:
As the poem continues, then, "the most which we determine can" is that its subject is indeed exceptional. Deprived of structural guidance, its readers "hollow far behind / Angelique Cromwell," whose legendary speed of action makes him as hard to catch as the shape of the uncertain future.
In fact, the more one investigates, the more the First Anniversary reveals itself to be an exercise in how to avoid conventional definitions and postures. The theoretical question with which the poem deals is not the conflicting claims of two different types of hero, two different views of what is "right," but how to express Cromwell's uniqueness, the unprecedented position he holds in England, in Europe, in God's providential plans and, above all, in the literary imagination. Marvell is here less concerned with what attitudes toward Cromwell were available to the writer than with the larger question of what, indeed, Cromwell was. His whole poem is a complex political version of the inexpressibility topos he had developed in the Epitaph for an unnamed lady; but in this context the problem of definition was one in which the whole country shared, the problem of what title could best express the nature of Cromwell's government and its sanctions. Rather than an argument that Cromwell ought to accept the crown of England, and so assimilate himself to traditional definitions of single rule by divine sanction, Marvell, I believe, decided in the First Anniversary that no conventional category, and certainly not that of kingship, was adequate to delimit the "One Man" whose like had never been seen before. Every analogy we are offered for Cromwell's career proves not, on inspection, to be exact. The act of hypothesizing is underlined at every turn. Fictions proclaim themselves as fictions, and in the critical awareness which such discoveries promote Marvell distinguishes a "true" political poetry from the automatic responses encouraged by propaganda. One might add that it is this quality particularly which distinguishes the First Anniversary from the poem On the Victory obtained by Blake over the Spaniards, a piece of unquestioning (and uninteresting) propaganda which does appear to argue for Cromwell's kingship. If Marvell was indeed responsible for this poem, which I doubt (since it was actually removed from the printed portion of the Popple manuscript), he must by 1657 have changed his mind considerably, not only on the kingship issue, but on the nature of political commentary.
The immediate occasion of Marvell's poem was not Cromwell's refusal of the crown, which had occurred in 1652 and was to be repeated in 1657. It was, rather, the first anniversary of the Instrument of Government, and also the session of the first Protectorate Parliament, which symbolized a return to some kind of constitutional government but which, between 3 September 1654 and 22 January 1655, when Cromwell dissolved it, fought to amend the terms of the Instrument and to limit Cromwell's powers, particularly with regard to control of the army. Written late in 1654, Marvell's poem was not designed to provide symbolic sanction for the kind of rule Cromwell apparently wanted, although that inference has been drawn from his magnificent musical and architectural metaphors for the "ruling Instrument." Rather he is concerned to investigate the historical significance, the internal paradoxes, and indeed even the disadvantages of that rule, subjecting the topoi normally associated with rulers to the scrupulous pressure of his own intelligence.
The central paradox of the Protectorate was, of course, implicit in the title of the Protector, a title with no constitutional precedent whose beneficent significance, some clearly felt, was merely a cover for despotism. Why, in any case, if Cromwell was only the servant of his country, did he need a title at all? In Milton's Second Defence of the English People, published earlier in 1654, there is an elaborate rationalization of the title in terms of a republican ethos: "Your deeds surpass all degrees, not only of admiration, but surely of titles too…. But since it is, not indeed worthy, but expedient for even the greatest capacities to be bounded and confined by some sort of human dignity … you assumed a certain title very like that of Father of your country. You suffered and allowed yourself, not indeed to be borne aloft, but to come down so many degrees from the heights and be forced into a definite rank, so to speak, for the public good." The name of Protector, Milton asserts, though an inadequate expression or devaluation of Cromwell's natural superiority, is nevertheless better than the title he has recently refused: "The name of king you spurned from your greater eminence, and rightly so. For if when you became so great a figure, you were captivated by the title which as a private citizen you were able to send under the yoke and reduce to nothing, you would be doing almost the same thing as if, when you had subjugated some tribe of idolaters with the help of the true God, you were to worship the gods that you had conquered."18
In June of 1654 Milton had entrusted Marvell with the delivery of a complimentary copy of the Second Defence to John Bradshaw, and Marvell reported in a letter how the gift had been received, adding his own accolade. "I shall now studie it," he wrote, "even to the getting of it by Heart: esteeming it according to my poor Judgement … as the most compendious Scale, for so much, to the Height of the Roman eloquence" (II, 306). It looks as though Marvell had so far succeeded in getting the Second Defence by heart that he incorporated this central paradox of the Protectorate into his own poem. Commenting, as in the Ode, on the great man's sacrifice of privacy to the demands of public life, he wrote:
For all delight of Life thou then didst lose,
When to Command, thou didst thy self Depose;
Resigning up thy Privacy so dear,
To turn the headstrong Peoples Charioteer;
For to be Cromwell was a greater thing,
Then ought below, or yet above a King:
Therefore thou rather didst thy Self depress,
Yielding to Rule, because it made thee Less.
The similarity is palpable; but the differences are, if anything, more interesting. By avoiding all mention of Cromwell's actual title, Marvell's version of the paradox shifts slightly toward the idea of an indefinable selfhood. The idea of what it is "to be Cromwell" appears for a moment on a confusing vertical scale, only to disappear as soon as one probes it. Nothing could be more unlike the propagandist tactics of George Wither, whose poem The Protector … Briefly illustrating the Supereminency of that Dignity; and Rationally demonstrating, that the Title of Protector … is the most Honorable of all Titles (1655) allows, to say the least, no possibility of misunderstanding. In all likelihood following the First Anniversary, which was advertised in Mercurius Politicus for the week beginning 11 January 1655, Wither reduces the constitutional paradox to bluntly expedient terms:
Why by the name of King, should we now call him,
Which is below the Honours, that befall him;
And makes him to be rather less than great,
(As in himself) and rather worse then better
As to his People …
It will deprive him ev'n of that Defence
Which seems intended; and, will him expose
To all the purposed Cavils of his Foes.
The difference is not just that Marvell's obliqueness allows for a more high-minded interpretation of Cromwell's motives, though that may be relevant. It is rather that the problem of what it is "to be Cromwell," in a constitutional sense, is more significant than any available verbal formulation. It recalls, in fact, the opening conceit of his anonymous Epitaph upon—, which proposed that the naming of an unnamed lady constituted her truest praise.
This functional indeterminacy also helps to explain those features of the First Anniversary which have caused Marvell's critics, taken as a group, to divide among themselves. On the one hand, it is clear that Marvell associates with Cromwell a range of images and topoi which have or had traditional associations with kingship, and which in some cases had acquired a new topicality in the poetry of Stuart panegyrists. On the other hand, Cromwell is also presented in terms of biblical types and metaphors more appropriate to a Puritan warrior saint. Not only do these two frames of reference conflict with each other, producing diametrically opposed readings of the poem, but the comparisons so invoked are themselves not simple. Neither "royalist" nor "biblical" types will apply to Cromwell without some adjustment, some diversion from their normal referential function; the effect is to make us look more closely, both at Cromwell's uniqueness and at the iconography itself. If the function of political symbolism is to endow sanctions on particular regimes, then it behooves the political poet to treat those symbols with a respectful exactness, in order that what is of permanent power and relevance may be preserved.
We can test this proposition by considering the best-known of Marvell's allusions to Stuart panegyric, the comparison between Cromwell, as creator of the Instrument of Government, and the harper Amphion, by whose musical skill the city of Thebes was magically built. It is generally accepted that in making this analogy Marvell was distinctly echoing not only Horace's Ars Poetica but also Edmund Waller's poem, Upon his Majesties repairing of Paul's. In Ruth Nevo's important study of Stuart and Commonwealth poetry of state, this echo exemplifies a tendency she sees in Marvell; he is reanimating, "with a kind of poetic justice," the language of Cavalier poets to celebrate the new regime.19 But Marvell's use of Waller is more specific than this suggests, and extends over a larger area of the poem. The aim of Waller's poem was to justify the repairs to St. Paul's Cathedral, undertaken by Charles and Laud in the 1630's, against the attacks of the Puritans, who interpreted the project as a consolidation of Anglican polity.20 Its rhetorical method was to praise the modesty of Charles in merely improving a structure begun by James:
Ambition rather would effect the fame
Of some new structure; to have borne her name.
Two distant verrues in one act we finde,
The modesty, and greatnesse of his minde;
Which not content to be above the rage
And injury of all impairing age,
In its own worth secure, doth higher clime,
And things half swallow'd from the jaws of time
Reduce; an earnest of his grand designe,
To frame no new Church, but the old refine:21
It was these lines which inspired not only Marvell's superb version of the Amphion passage but also his opening comparatio between Cromwell and the "heavie Monarchs" of a hereditary succession, who never complete even a limited project in one generation:
Their earthy Projects under ground they lay,
More slow and brittle then the China clay:
Well may they strive to leave them to their Son,
For one Thing never was by one King don.
The point is not merely the speed and vigor of Cromwell's escape from the slow cycles of classical time, but the difference in scale between Charles's achievement and Cromwell's. Waller invoked the Amphion image to describe a set of renovations to one end of an existing building. No note struck by Cromwell as Amphion "but a new Story lay'd" (with a pun on the making of history); and his "great Work" is no mere tinkering, but a harmonious construct of military, civil, and religious order:
Now through the Strings a Martial rage he throws,
And joyning streight the Theban Tow'r arose;
Then as he strokes them with a Touch more sweet,
The flocking Marbles in a Palace meet;
But, for he most the graver Notes did try,
Therefore the Temples rear'd their Columns high:
The building of the Temple was, of course, a favorite Puritan metaphor for reform of the English church, particularly during the Civil War. In 1642 Thomas Goodwin inspired his party with Zerubbabels Encouragement to Finish the Temple. In 1643 Edmund Calamy reproached the House of Lords for slackness in reform by comparing the situation of the Westminster divines with that of "Nehemiah when he undertooke the great worke of rebuilding the Temple, he was opposed by great men especially."22 In 1644 Milton had incorporated into the Areopagitica an appeal against those who resisted, by censorship, diversity of opinion: "as if, while the Temple of the Lord was building, some cutting, some squaring the marble, others hewing the cedars, there should be a sort of irrationall men who could not consider there must be many schisms and many dissections made in the quarry and in the timber, ere the house of God can be built."23 Marvell's reproach of kings who "neither build the Temple in their dayes, / Nor Matter for succeeding Founders raise" (ll. 33-34) is therefore a direct response to Waller's praise of those conservative rulers who, like Charles, do not move forward the Protestant Reformation, who "frame no new Church, but the old refine." Politically, Marvell's adjustment is precise, locating his opinions on the Puritan side. In terms of literary theory he is equally exact for, by making his ideological correction of Waller within the same symbolic construct, he asserts the permanence and accepts the sanctions of the great architectural and musical metaphor.
One of the most interesting problems for the panegyrist, and one that had become topical in the 1640s, was the narrow boundary between symbolic sanction and actual sacrilege. It has been observed that, as the crisis of the Civil War approached, the classical tone of Caroline panegyric gave way to religious language and Christic imagery, and poets escaped from anxiety into idolatry.24 Even when fear was not the motive, in a period when the Divine Right of kingship was being most fully articulated the borderline was easily crossed. This problem was raised (and dismissed) by Ben Jonson, in his Epigram to the Queene, then lying in (1630):
Haile Mary, full of grace, it once was said,
And by an Angell, to the blessed'st Maid,
The Mother of our Lord: why may not I
(Without prophanenesse) yet a Poet, cry,
Haile Mary, full of honours, to my Queene,
The Mother of our Prince?25
It was a matter of some importance, however, to writers on the other side of the political spectrum. In Anti-Cavalierisme (1642) John Goodwin maintained that those who sought to deify their mortal rulers by sacrilegious language and unquestioning obedience in effect only revealed their mortality: "they that will de-vest the great God of heaven and earth, to cloath Kings and Princes, or whomsoever, with the spoils of his Name, as all those doe, who obey them with disobedience unto God, as in one sense they make them Gods, so in another … they make them indeed more men then they were, more obnoxious to his displeasure, who hath the command of their life and breath."26 In the light of after-knowledge, the passage seems to contain a threat. Milton was later to return to the same theme in his efforts to justify the regicides: "the People, exorbitant and excessive in all thir motions, are prone oft times not to a religious onely, but to a civil kinde of Idolatry, in idolizing their Kings."27 No more extreme an expression of this folly could have been found than in Robert Herrick's To the King, to Cure the Evill, which mixes Ben Jonson's notion that the "Poets Evill" is poverty28 with the biblical story of the miracle at Bethesda:
To find Bethesda, and an Angell there,
Stirring the waters I am come; and here …
I kneele for help; O! lay that hand on me,
Adored Cesar! and my Faith is such,
I shall be heal'd, if that my King but touch.
The Evill is not Yours: my sorrow sings,
Mine is the Evill, but the Cure, the Kings.29
Marvell's adaptation of this conceit for the last lines of the First Anniversary is a condensed refutation of all of Herrick's premises. Rejecting the identification between his subject and Christ, who alone has the power to subvert natural process, Cromwell comes merely as the Angel of the pool, whose mysterious but regular "Troubling the Waters" manifested the workings of Providence in a less than miraculous form. The spirit of reform embodied in Cromwell, reactivating stagnant institutions, heals through their agency, not his own. But, most importantly, the power of healing is directed, through rhyme, to the good of the nation as a whole; and in the full significance of "Commonweal" the poem finally rests. If one knew Herrick's version, Marvell's must have made terrible irony in the 1650s, when the King's Evil had been cured indeed.
It is in the context of echoes like these that we may set the description of Cromwell's coaching accident, an event which occupies the center of Marvell's poem. Like George Wither's Vaticinium Causuale,30 this passage is a response to various hostile responses to the incident, a conversion of material potentially open to satiric interpretation. The six runaway horses, which had been a gift from the Duke of Holstein, were all too convenient a metaphor for the three kingdoms Cromwell was trying to manage; and A Jolt on Michaelmas Day, which drew the obvious analogy with Phaeton but suggested that Cromwell had been saved for the hangman's cart, represented the direction of contemporary lampoons. Wither's response was to congratulate the Protector upon his escape, to replace Phaeton with Hippolytus, and to interpret Cromwell's lucky escape as a sign of his special relationship with Providence, which had nevertheless given him due warning of his mortality. His poem draws the obvious constructions in a tone of pompous didacticism. Marvell's response is to replace ambitious Phaeton with Elijah, "the headstrong Peoples Charioteer" (l. 224), itself a neat inversion, and by concentrating not on the escape but the danger, he produces a radical innovation in poetic strategy.
Preservation from danger (or recovery from sickness) of a public figure was in itself a recognized subject for poetry, producing soteria, as in Statius' congratulation to Rutilius Gallicus (Sylvae, I, iv), and all too many imitations by Caroline poets. Apart from the university anthologies, Marvell would probably have been aware of Waller's Of the danger his Majesty (being Prince) escaped in the rode at St. Andere, or To my Lord Admirall of his late sickness and Recovery, both of which appeared in the 1645 editions. The latter, particularly, provides a close analogy for Marvell's pathetic fallacies, which have sometimes disconcerted his modern readers. The purpose of soteria, to define value by exploring its near loss, requires or at least justifies the use of hyperbole. Nature's lament for the death of Orpheus, which is imported from Ovid into both Waller's and Marvell's poems, is only excessive because it is not needed, because a death of equal significance has in fact been averted. It indicates the extravagance of relief. There is, however, a peculiar development in Marvell's poem, which goes far beyond anything similar in Waller or Jonson. The poet becomes trapped in his own fiction, and begins to describe Cromwell's death as if it had actually occurred. It only "seem'd" that "Earth did from the Center tear," but the effects on human institutions were less retractable:
Justice obstructed lay, and Reason fool'd;
Courage disheartned, and Religion cool'd.
In the analogy with Elijah the sense of deliverance disappears entirely from view, to be imaginatively replaced by another kind of escape altogether:
But thee triumphant hence the firy Carr,
And firy Steeds had born out of the Warr,
From the low World, and thankless Men above,
Unto the Kingdom blest of Peace and Love:
We only mourn'd our selves, in thine Ascent,
Whom thou hadst left beneath with Mantle rent.
Fiction has taken over, but only, paradoxically, to insist on another kind of truth. The "elegy" enforces dramatic recognition of Cromwell's human status. It cuts through literary and political illusions to assert his "Mortal cares" and "silver Hairs," his part in the Fall, the fragility of his regime, the problem of the succession. Its realism, Marvell tells us, is essential to the validity of the whole poem:
Let this one Sorrow interweave among
The other Glories of our yearly Song.
Like skilful Looms which through the costly thred
Of purling Ore, a shining wave do shed:
So shall the Tears we on past Grief employ,
Still as they trickle, glitter in our Joy.
So with more Modesty we may be True,
And speak as of the Dead the Praises due.
The conclusion of Marvell's anonymous epitaph, that "'Twere more Significant, [S]he's Dead," is deepened in this political context. In the Horatian Ode Marvell had perceived that "if we would speak true" it must be by looking to the past, to Cromwell's inarguable sacrifices and the dead king's intelligible dignity. In the Anniversary he controls his praise of Cromwell's life by imagining him dead. From that perspective, flattery has no object, and other forms of false perspective vanish in the precise knowledge of what we would miss.
This provocative use of "royalist" panegyric serves both in the particular and in general to distinguish Cromwell from previous rulers. Without invalidating the conventions he uses, Marvell has applied them with scrupulous attention to meaning, with an innovative seriousness which rebukes the frivolity of less careful poets, the inadequacy of less worthy subjects of praise. But because the materials so scrutinized have, so to speak, been set up for him by the political opposition, it does not follow that he accepts without question the conventions of his own side. The Old Testament types and millennial images, so appropriate to a Puritan definition of the rule of the saints, do not, in Marvell's poem, attach to Cromwell as clichés. There is no exact equivalence between the new Protector and Noah, Gideon, Elijah, and the hero of the Apocalypse; and if the use of royalist topoi had had the effect of making Cromwell seem infinitely better than a king, the adjustment of biblical topoi seems, conversely, to make him seem less than perfect as patriarch, judge, prophet, or millennial hero.
To begin (where Marvell does not) with Noah, the point of connection chosen seems almost perverse. The survival of the race, the fresh start under Noah's governance, are not expressed in the Ark and the rainbow, but rather through the discreditable tale of Noah's drunkenness, which has to be twisted back to positive statements:
Thou, and thine House, like Noah's Eight did rest,
Left by the Wars Flood on the Mountains crest:
And the large Vale lay subject to thy Will,
Which thou but as an Husbandman wouldst Till:
And only didst for others plant the Vine
Of Liberty, not drunken with its Wine.
That sober Liberty which men may have,
That they enjoy, but more they vainly crave:
And such as to their Parents Tents do press,
May shew their own, not see his Nakedness.
It is characteristic of Marvell's intelligence that his discussion of dictatorship should raise the question of human inadequacy even while denying it. The episode he had chosen was recognized in scriptural commentary as symbolizing the perpetually unregenerate nature of man. "Who would look," asked Bishop Joseph Hall, "after all this, to have found righteous Noah, the father of the new world, lying drunk in his tent! … that he, who could not be tainted with the sinful examples of the former world, should begin the example of a new sin of his own!"31 But, as if announcing that his subject is controversial, Marvell converts the tale to an allegory of benevolent and peaceful government, which is threatened but not dishonored by the activities of Levellers and Fifth Monarchy men. It is true, of course, that the Noah passage follows, with at least some semblance of progress, Marvell's account of how Cromwell as the "lusty mate" had seized from its incompetent steersman the tiller of the ship of state,32 which, during the Revolution, was often assimilated to the Ark; and it is also possible that Marvell had been attracted to the episode of Noah's drunkenness by the satirical rumor that Cromwell was a brewer's son.33 However, such explanations cannot account for the deliberate challenge of the passage, which in a nonpolitical poem would have been readily understood as wit. It does, in fact, quite directly recall the syntax of the inverted myths of The Garden: "Apollo hunted Daphne so, / Only that She might Laurel grow"; Cromwell "only didst for others plant the Vine / Of Liberty, not drunken with its Wine." And, as the impropriety of Cromwell's "Chammish issue" may only reveal "their own, not see his Nakedness," so the Pan of Marvell's metamorphosis pursues his Syrinx "Not as a Nymph, but for a Reed."
Gideon and Elijah, as metaphors for other aspects of Cromwell, are no less problematic. Both sets of analogies are highly condensed and ambiguous, and their particular points of emphasis both depend on, and diverge from, contemporary interpretations of these figures. Marvell's choice of Elijah depends on a common view of the prophet as solitary and courageous proponent of reformation, opposing his moral authority to the tyranny of Ahab. The often-repeated statement that Elijah achieved more for Israel by his prayers than any military force could have done did not confine the prophet to a contemplative role. In 1643 John Light-foot preached before the House of Commons on the theme of "Elias Redivivus," identifying Parliament with the spirit of the prophet, for whom millennial prophecy foretold a second coming, and asserting that "Elias is a proper and pregnant pattern for Reformers."34 Milton, in the antimonarchical pamphlets, frequently identified Ahab with Charles I and, by implication, the regicides with Elijah.35 Elisha's ambiguous lament, "My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof," was glossed by Bishop Joseph Hall as referring simultaneously to the visionary mode of Elijah's departure and, metaphorically, to his political role: "Certainly the view of this heavenly chariot and horses, that came for Elijah, put Elisha in mind of that chariot and horsemen which Elijah was to Israel."36 It is this context which explains Marvell's unstated transitions between Elijah's apotheosis, his role as the "Peoples charioteer" and his responsibility for the rainstorm that, in I Kings 18, finally "o'rtook and wet the King." In the mood of his hypothetical elegy for Cromwell Marvell adjusts the account of Elisha's response to produce a far less positive conclusion. Elisha's grief, which causes him to tear his own clothes, should be followed by his triumphant assumption of Elijah's mantle, symbol of his inheritance of a "double portion" of the prophet's spirit. Cromwell's survivors have no such inheritance:
We only mourn'd our selves, in thine Ascent,
Whom thou hadst left beneath with Mantle rent.
In a state where the sole ruler governs only by virtue of his unique fitness for the role, logic itself dictates that there can be no natural succession. Since Cromwell had (properly) refused the crown and its consequence, the right to found a dynasty, one hardly needed to be a prophet to foresee what would follow the Protectorate.
Like Noah's, the role of Gideon as a type was largely predetermined by a consensus of ethical and political commentary, in which he was identified as the best of the Hebrew judges, modest, moderate, without personal ambition. Arthur Jackson's Annotations (1646) stress his humility in threshing his own corn, and the significance of the altar building which preceded the Midian campaign: "ere Gideon might go to fight against the Midianites the enemies of God and his people, he was enjoyned to set on foot the reformation of Religion, and the extirpation of superstition and idolatry."37 The most important evidence of Gideon's character was his rejection of the crown of Israel, later to be acquired by his illegitimate descendant Abimelech, his political opposite in every way. For Bishop Hall, there was "no greater example of modesty" than Gideon's refusal of kingship,38 and Jackson's commentary draws out the religious significance of the judges' rule: "he judged Israel unto his dying day, but it was … the regall power, which they proffered, and he now refused … because the accepting of this would have been in a manner of taking of the government out of God's hand."39 After the deposition of Charles I, the virtues of Gideon had taken on a new relevance for Commonwealth theorists. In Milton's First Defence of the regicides, Gideon exemplified the superiority of the Jewish commonwealth under the Judges to the later monarchy, and his refusal of the crown taught "that it was not fit for any man, but for God alone, to rule over men."40 John Cook applied the episode to his thesis that "hereditary Kingdomes have no footstep in Scripture," and appealed to his "miserably deluded and discontented Countrey-men" to apply to themselves the parable of Jotham: "undoubtedly whoever shall by plots and conspiracies endeavour to introduce any of Abimelech's race or conditions to be King of England, Ireland or Scotland, or act anything against the late statute for the abolishing of kingly power shall perish by the sword of Justice…. The Lord grant … that the Parliament may give us every day more and more of the fatnes of the Olive, the peace bringing Olive quicke, cheape, and sure Justice, which can onely make peace and harmony in a Commonwealth."41 It is clear that Marvell accepted the general direction of this tradition in his reminder that Cromwell, like Gideon, "would not be Lord, nor yet his Son" and, like his namesake, the "Olive" of Jotham's parable, had refused the crown in 1652. At the same time he exploited both the ambivalence of biblical heroism and the ambiguity of fable. As with Noah, he fastened on the one episode in Gideon's career which seemed to require apology, his revenge on the elders of Succoth and Penuel for refusing his army provisions; this stands in the poem for the dissolution by force of the Long Parliament. Bishop Hall, who found Gideon's revenge extremely painful to contemplate, justified it in terms which bring out its relevance to an army leader faced with a recalcitrant group of legislators: "Well might he challenge bread, where he gave liberty and life. It is hard, if those which fight the wars of God, may not have necessary relief."42 But Marvell, declining apology, presents the problem nakedly. Cromwell "on the Peace extends a Warlike power" because that is his solution to the conflict of authority. Marvell likewise adjusts the parable of Jotham to create a more assertive Olive, one which itself puts down "Th' ambitious Shrubs" of the Leveller party. Between the old tyranny of kingship and the new tyranny of mindless egalitarianism lies the problematic realm of Christian justice and, if the duties of the Christian magistrate include the solidification of authority, it is implicit in Marveil's allusion to Succoth and Penuel that he wished it could have been otherwise.
Perhaps the most interesting piece of scriptural rewriting, however, occurs in Marvell's treatment of the "holy oracles" of Revelations 17 and 19, with their supporting texts from Daniel and the second Psalm. These prophecies had come in handy for Milton in Eikonoklastes, where with little adjustment they had authorized his attack on monarchy in general: "'To bind thir Kings in Chaines, and thir Nobles with links of Iron,' is an honour belonging to his Saints; … and first to overcome those European Kings, which receive thir power, not from God, but from the Beast; and are counted no better than his ten hornes. 'These shall hate the great Whore,' and yet 'shall give their Kingdoms to the Beast that carries her.' … Thus shall they be … doubtfull and ambiguous in all thir doings, untill at last, 'joyning thir Armies with the Beast' … they shall perish with him by the 'King of Kings.'… This is thir doom writt'n,… and the utmost that we find concerning them in these latter days."43 However, the small contradiction in Revelations 17:16, which Milton disposes of as "doubtfull and ambiguous … doings," becomes for Marvell the basis of an appeal for reformation, the possibility that Cromwell may change the shape of the future without the necessity for force. The "Unhappy Princes" of Europe are urged to "Kiss the approaching, nor yet angry Son," and to follow Cromwell's lead toward a peaceful European Reformation. With the threats of the Apocalypse thus modified by the counsel of Psalm 2, the poet anticipates a personal role in this less destructive millennium:
If gracious Heaven to my Life give length,
Leisure to Time, and to my Weakness Strength,
Then shall I once with graver Accents shake
Your Regal sloth, and your long Slumbers wake:
Within the temporal boundaries of the Anniversary, however, the ultimate Christian epic remains a hypothesis only. Between "the latter Dayes" and the moment lies the cloud of human imperception, which restricts the poet to Cromwell's actual but solitary heroism. Even the committed must operate on trust, rather than knowledge ("And well he therefore does, and well has guest, / Who in his Age has always forward prest"), but the majority are not committed at all:
… Men alas, as if they nothing car'd,
Look on, all unconcern'd, or unprepar'd;
And Stars still fall, and still the Dragons Tail
Swinges the Volumes of its horrid Flail.
The echo of Milton's Nativity Ode is not an accident, for it serves as a footnote, acknowledging a strategic debt. The hypothesis of an immediate millennium which is immediately withdrawn is central to Milton's conception of the birth of Christ, which only initiates, not subverts, the course of Christian history. In both poems the canceled fictions underline the problem of wishful thinking, and serve to distinguish prophecy from fantasy.
The "Unhappy Princes" of seventeenth-century Europe were, in fact, to make a final appearance in the First Anniversary, in a speech which reveals how far they were from any immediate hopes of reformation. This much expanded version of the "praise even by enemies" provides a hostile validation of all the poem's major themes:
That one Man still, although but nam'd, alarms
More then all Men, all Navies, and all Arms….
He Secrecy with Number hath inchas'd,
Courage with Age, Maturity with Hast:
The Valiants Terror, Riddle of the Wise;
And still his Fauchion all our Knots unties.
Where did he learn those Arts that cost us dear?
Where below Earth, or where above the Sphere?
He seems a King by long Succession born,
And yet the same to be a King does scorn.
Abroad a King he seems, and something more,
At Home a Subject on the equal Floor.
O could I once him with our Title see,
So should I hope yet he might Dye as wee.
But let them write his Praise that love him best,
It grieves me sore to have thus much confest.
Their recognition that Cromwell, "although but nam'd, alarms" more than all ordinary military threats is the enemy version of inexpressible admiration: "'Tis to commend … but to name." Their half-endorsed proposal that he possesses supernatural powers is the foreign equivalent of idolatrous royalist panegyric. Their attempt to define the contradiction between his domestic humility, as "Subject on the equal Floor" and his unquestioned superiority to themselves recalls the earlier paradox of what it means to be "greater … Then ought below, or yet above a King," and they vainly hope to see him accept their own title which, by implying mortality, would relieve their superstitious fears. The "Praise … best/confest" structure, which directly connects them to the conquered Irish of the Horatian Ode, serves also to underline the limitations of this later inverted praise. The Irish could, against their own interest, provide a simple affirmation of Cromwell's goodness and justice; but the kings of Europe can only offer inadequate standards of measurement, questions, and paradoxes. Cromwell's enemies may have provided a more objective evaluation of their great opponent than Cromwell's poet has been able to achieve; but neither, finally, has succeeded in controlling the subject:
Pardon, great Prince, if thus their Fear or Spight
More then our Love and Duty do thee Right.
I yield, nor further will the Prize contend;
So that we both alike may miss our End:
Whilst thou thy venerable Head dost raise
As far above their Malice as my Praise.
The poem can only end by reminding the audience of its title and, therefore, that other anniversaries will present new opportunities for evaluation….
17 Compare the formula for encomium in the Rhetorica ad Herennium, III, vii, 13-15: "We shall recount the events, observing their precise sequence and chronology" (Loeb). See also Hardison, The Enduring Monument, p. 205, n. 8.
18 Milton, Complete Prose Works, IV, i, 672. Compare also Cromwell's account of his position as a limitation rather than a promotion, in his speech to the Protectorate Parliament, 12 September 1654, in W. C. Abbott, The Speeches and Writings of Oliver Cromwell, III, 452.
19 Ruth Nevo, The Dial of Virtue: A Study of Poems on Affairs of State in the Seventeenth Century (Princeton, 1963), pp. 20-27, 74-118.
20 Chernaik, The Poetry of Limitation, p. 41 , n. 23 .
21 Edmund Waller, Workes (London, for Thomas Walkley, 1645), p. 4.
22 Edmund Calamy, The Noble-Mans Patterne of True and Reall Thankfulnesse (1643), p. 50.
23 Milton, Complete Prose Works, II, 555.
24 Nevo, The Dial of Virtue, pp. 24, 26.
25 Jonson, Works, VIII, 238.
26 John Goodwin, Anti-Cavalierisme in Tracts on Liberty in the Puritan Revolution: 1638-1647, ed. William Haller (New York, 1965), II, 239-240.
27 Milton, Eikonoklastes (1649) in Complete Prose Works, III, 343.
28 Jonson, Works, VIII, 325.
29 Herrick, Poetical Works, ed. L. C. Martin (Oxford, 1956), pp. 61-62.
30 George Wither, Vaticinium Causuale. A Rapture Occasioned By the late Miraculous Deliverance of His Highnesse The Lord Protector, From a Desperate Danger (London, 1654).
31 Bishop Joseph Hall, Contemplations On The Historical Passages of the Old and New Testaments (Edinburgh, 1770), I, 20.
32 J. M. Wallace, in "Marvell's 'lusty Mate' and the Ship of the Commonwealth," MLN 76 (1961), 106-110, described the political history of this metaphor in the Puritan Revolution. He has subsequently supplied me with the following information: In Cicero's Letters to Atticus (II, vii) he writes: "I had grown weary of piloting the state even while I was allowed to do so. Now, though, that I have been turned out of the boat, and have not abandoned the tiller but had it snatched out of my hands, my desire is to watch the shipwreck from the shore." Quoted in another context by J. B. Leishman, Milton's Minor Poems (London, 1969), pp. 147-148.
33 See "The Protecting Brewer," in Political Ballads of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, ed. W. W. Wilkins (London, 1860), I, 132-134.
34 John Lightfoot, Elias Redivivus: A Sermon Preached Before the Honorable House of Commons, March 29, 1643, p. 30.
35 Milton, Complete Prose Works, III, 216, 234, 353, 365, 394, 551, 554.
36 Hall, Contemplations, II, 259.
37 Arthur Jackson, Annotations upon the remaining Historical Part of the Old Testament (London, 1643-1646), II, 127.
38 Hall, Contemplations, II, 313.
39 Jackson, Annotations, II, 137.
40 Milton, Complete Prose Works, IV, i, 370.
41 John Cook, Monarchy No creature of God's making (Waterford, Ireland, 1651), pp. 20-21.
42 Hall, Contemplations, II, 308.
43 Milton, Complete Prose Works, III, 598-599….
Kenneth Elliott (essay date 1982)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6087
SOURCE: "Andrew Marvell and Oliver Cromwell," in Renaissance and Modern Studies, Vol. XXVI, 1982, pp. 75-89.
[In the following essay, Elliott argues that throughout his poems about Cromwell, Marvell remains favorable to Cromwell.']
Andrew Marvell was a servant of the Protectorate Government, tutor to the Lord-General Fairfax's daughter and, finally, a member of Parliament for Hull, wellknown for his opposition to the Crown's policies. A cultured, middle-class Puritan, he wrote political poetry in the 1640s and 1650s which clearly expresses the turbulence of the age and the anxieties of Long Parliament supporters who stubbornly resisted 'Stuart tyranny' only to find their victory threatened by radicals bent on loosening the whole fabric of society. Marvell catches the mood of a society in flux and his work serves as a corrective to notions of 'historical perspective' and 'inevitability' by reminding us that to contemporaries the outcome of the great rebellion was far from predictable. In Marvell's responses, however, to the flux of the times, there is, I would submit, an underlying consistency. This emerges most clearly in his poems addressed to Oliver Cromwell, but his continuing sympathy for the constitutional aims of the 1642 Parliament is still evident in 'The Rehearsal Transpros'd', a work written after the restoration of the monarchy and addressed to Charles II. Attempting to persuade the King of the Tightness of a policy of religious toleration, Marvell attacks the Anglican bishops for misleading Charles I into believing in 'that imaginary absolute Government upon which Rock we all ruined', and then adds his famous comment that 'the Cause was too good to have been fought for', with the implication, it would seem, that bloodshed had been unnecessary, because the King would have perceived the justice of the cause had he not been influenced by the misguided advice of evil counsellors. When he continues to speak of the 'fatal consequences of that Rebellion' and to claim that these can 'only serve as Sea-marks unto Wise Princes to avoid the Causes', then the tone may be appropriately polite but the political stance is consistently clear.
To understand Marvell's attitude to Oliver Cromwell it is necessary to remind ourselves, in some detail, of the complexity of political and military developments of the years between the Parliamentary victory of Naseby in 1645 and the execution of the King, four years later. The military victory which had been intended to overcome the political problems presented by 'Stuart tyranny' raised in itself a whole set of new political problems of its own. Immediately the horrors of civil war were over—which Marvell described as 'Hell's broke loose'—the central problem of how to end rebellion and division and restore stable government and institutions became increasingly urgent and desperately difficult for all but the most ardent revolutionaries. The four years between Naseby and Charles's execution were indeed a period of disastrous and fruitless negotiation and manoeuvre. Until the totally abortive attempt to rekindle the Royalist flame in the second civil war, no-one could really envisage a settlement without the King, except perhaps for the radical Agitators and Levellers, whose bid for power had come a good deal too near success for the liking of the socially conservative. The radical movement in the army was potentially much more dangerous than its civilian counterpart, since despite furious pamphleteering and the continued popularity of Lilburne, evidenced by his acquittal on a charge of treason, the civilian Levellers had no effective means of translating their ideas into political reality. Much of their support was in any case disenfranchised, although this was relatively unimportant, since Pride's Purge made it abundantly clear that Parliament ruled by army sufferance and he or those who could command the army could command England. The debates at Putney in 1647 revealed but did not resolve the divisions within the army. When the Levellers' representatives, not perhaps unreasonably, demanded the 'birthright' they had fought for, Ireton replied that, 'those that choose the representatives for the making of the laws by which this state and kingdom are to be governed are the persons who, taken together, do comprehend the local interest of the kingdom; that is, the persons in whom all land lies, and those in corporations in whom all trading lies.' Colonel Rainborough pertinaciously retorted for the Agitators: 'I do not find anything in the law of God, that a lord shall choose twenty burgesses and a gentleman but two, or a poor man shall choose none.'1 Colonel Goffe made it disconcertingly clear what rebellion and military success had meant to the zealous when he forcefully concluded: 'God does seem evidently to be throwing down the glory of all flesh … and the greatest powers in the kingdom have been shaken. God hath thrown down the glory of the King and that party … those that obstinately walk against him; if they be obstinate and continue obstinate he breaks them in pieces with a rod of iron.'2 Such rhetoric was no doubt ideal for leading troops into battle, but, while the hand of God was clearly discernible in scattering Royalist armies, it was rather less obvious to Cromwell and the army leaders that the Lord favoured an extension of the franchise. The Levellers labelled Cromwell's waiting on Providence as mere deceit, and they were in no way surprised therefore when mutinies at Burford and Banbury in 1649 were ruthlessly suppressed by Cromwell and Fairfax. The political campaign to destroy army Levellerism, plausibly disguised as one for military discipline, was virtually complete. The army proved themselves effective defenders of property rights.
Even so, army power also executed the King. And that execution shocked opinion in both England and Europe. It may well have been a tactical mistake in that in his trial Charles was presented with an opportunity to state his case, which was legally, if not politically and morally, very strong. The trial was a judicial shambles. Charles was dignified, eloquent and, considering the circumstances, surprisingly witty. The stylish, cultured face of Stuart monarchy was in fact allowed a public display. It was ironically ambiguous that it was Oliver Cromwell, the very man who sought to destroy the Stuart monarchy, who had permitted it. The strength of the myth of 'Charles the martyr', which so infuriated Milton, was considerably reinforced by this last performance of the 'royal actor'. Yet, nevertheless, it is difficult to see any alternative to regicide for the increasingly exasperated rebels. The King's obstinacy and his refusal to accept that a redistribution of power demanded a redefinition of the monarchy's role in the constitutional structure, if there were to be a unifying and lasting settlement, postponed a redefinition of that relationship until after 1688. From 1645 until his death Charles indeed acted as if the war had never been fought or lost. Given this attitude, Charles's execution was the logical conclusion of the exchange between Manchester and Cromwell almost five years before, when the anxious Earl had said: 'If we beat the King ninety nine times yet he is still King, but if the King beat us once, we shall all be hanged.' Charles realised this and must have believed that procrastination and manoeuvre would ultimately work to his advantage, but, unfortunately for him, Cromwell realised it too and replied pointedly to Manchester: 'My Lord, if this be so, why did we take up arms at first?'.3
By 1649, the Parliamentary position seemed secure. The Levellers were crushed; the King was dead. Stuart sympathisers on the continent were less than eager to risk military intervention against the New Model Army. And yet little was really resolved. The most immediately pressing problem for the regicide government was Ireland, where war had been dragging on for almost a decade. For economic and religious reasons as well as those of military security, the situation in Ireland could not be ignored. Cromwell himself said: 'If our interest is rooted out there they will in a very short time be able to land forces in England and put us to trouble here…. If they shall be able to carry on their work they will make this the most miserable people on earth for all the world knows their barbarism.'4 The thought of a Roman Catholic nation damaging English interests was not to be countenanced. Furthermore, O'Neil's Catholic army was allied with the Royalist forces under Ormonde and Inchiquin and the English commanders had been forced to patch up a truce. Clearly something had to be done and, not surprisingly, Cromwell got his commission in June 1649 to do it. Just before he sailed for Ireland news came of Michael Jones's victory at Rathmines, and, upon his arrival in August, he quickly and ruthlessly pushed home the advantage. The garrisons at Drogheda and Wexford were defeated and massacred, and, although winter and continued resistance held up operations, Cromwell returned to England in May 1650, leaving Ireton simply to mop up.
The position again seemed, at least for the moment, resolved. But within a month, Charles II was in Scotland signing a cynical covenant with the Presbyterians. The Rump and the army favoured preventive invasion and Cromwell himself said he feared it was 'unavoidable' that 'there will be war between us'. Fairfax, however, hung back, claiming that there was insufficient evidence of Scottish intentions to satisfy his conscience. It seems likely, however, that he was using this as an excuse to extricate himself from a political situation with which he was unhappy and to retire to Appleton House without too great embarrassment.
It was a hectic period with the generals confronted by one crisis after another, not least of which was the continued existence of the Rump Parliament. The constitutional problem was fundamental, if less immediately pressing than those posed by military threats. Noone, except the unpopular Rumpers themselves, seems to have thought that this hopelessly unrepresentative assembly was more than a temporary government. The Rump had been vindictive, self-interested and pre-occupied with its own preservation while the country desperately needed leadership to bring about a lasting settlement. When Cromwell finally dissolved this shabby remnant of the Long Parliament by force, he declared 'there was not so much as the barking of a dog, or any general or visible repining at it'. By 1650, the need for political reconstruction had become acute and Cromwell, alarming or exhilarating, or both, was emerging as the dominant political force. It was in fact at this point that Marvell wrote his 'An Horatian Ode'. For an intelligent observer such as Marvell of these rapid and complex developments, the urge to delineate their wider significance must have been strong, but our wish for a comprehensive magisterial summary should not detract from Marvell's resistance to simplification for the sake of clarity.
The poem opens with an apparent call to arms which rejects retirement and the pursuit of poetry as inappropriate in a time of crisis. I do not see the opening line of the poem as evidence of anti-Cromwell feeling and I am not convinced that the poem as a whole supports the sustained irony which an 'incitement-to-resistance' interpretation demands. Marvell seems to be seeking an appropriate public tone and needing to stiffen himself to become involved at all. The contrast between the 'muses dear' and the 'unused armour' seems simply a recognition by Marvell that to exert influence over public events the private individual must forsake passive retirement and seek active involvement in them. It is possible that the reference to the 'forward youth' is an ironic and rather self-deprecating description indicating an awareness that political action demands a capacity for self-assertion which he finds difficult, if not distasteful. Marvell is hesitant and the adjective 'forward' implies distate, but he cannot ignore the turbulent reality outside 'the hall' and so moves on to the major consideration, the career of Cromwell and its significance for England:
So restless Cromwell could not cease
In the Inglorious arts of peace,
But through adventurous war
Urged his active star.
The tissue of possible irony—the 'left-handedness' of the compliments as Christopher Hill puts it—is too obvious, both here and throughout the poem, for us to accept a straightforward pro-Cromwell view of the 'Ode'. The irony is too uneven, however, for me to accept that this is the work of a committed opponent of the Lord-General. A phrase like 'the Inglorious Arts of Peace' has possible ironic meaning and could imply both criticism of Cromwell as ambitious and ruthless and a bitter comment on a situation where glory is attached only to military exploits. However, equally plausibly, it could be seen as a comment on how Marvell sees his own passivity and non-involvement, for Cromwell's courage and sheer energy could be viewed as a reproach to his pursuit of 'Shadows'. The revolution had evolved to a point where Fairfax had washed his hands of it and presumably regretted the loss of constitutional continuity and 'ancient Rights', where Milton and a range of radicals and zealots still looked for the creation of a New Jerusalem, and where others, like Harrington, cared little for either 'Stuart tyranny' or 'godly rule' but anxiously desired a leader who could provide strong and efficient government within the traditional social and political forms. Cromwell was the obvious man, but in 1650 he was still a problematic character who aroused deep suspicions. He was efficient, purposeful and successful—his worst enemy would have had to concede that much—but noone could know whether he had been advancing, and would continue to advance, his own or England's ambitions and interests. In conniving at Charles I's escape to Carisbrooke, thus placing the king conveniently in the army's hands, we ask whether Cromwell was a skilful politician or a scheming, Machiavellian rogue and the reason the 'Ode' does not provide a clear answer seems to be because Marvell is asking precisely the same question.
J. B. Leishman points out that Marvell seems to see Cromwell as a kind of 'superman'5 in the description of the Lord-General's fiery emergence from relative obscurity, but respect for the sheer energy of the man is balanced and made more tentative by the following four lines—
Then burning through the air he went
And palaces and temples rent:
And Caesar's head at last
Did through his laurels blast.
The remarkable force embodied in Cromwell is powerfully realised in those lines. To overcome the monarchy and established church is indeed a measure of his influence on events, but, althogh I think I know what Leishman means when he describes the tone of the poem as 'disinterested', there is a slightly ominous note of excess in the almost frightening violence of the imagery. Moreover, the comparison with Caesar seems particularly appropriate for, while Caesar was a great soldier and leader, he was assassinated in the name of liberty and republicanism. It is as if Cromwell poses the same kind of choice for honourable men and Marveil's guarded response reminds me of Yeat's poem 'Easter 1916', a poem similarly aware that heroic action can have more than one implication. Also like Yeats, Marvell gives the impression of a man thinking out the situation in all its complexity and immediacy and the poem introduces at this point the thought that Cromwell may well be a divine agent through whom God is achieving his purpose and therefore beyond criticism or opposition for—
'Tis madness to resist or blame
The force of angry heaven's flame.
Marvell pursues this idea that Cromwell may be destined to 'cast the kingdoms old / Into another mould' as he turns to the specific problem of his impact on the political institutions of England. In the allusion to Cincinnatus, Marvell concedes that if we would speak true much is due to the man who gave up the life of retirement for decisive involvement in the political life of the nation, but the ambivalence remains in the hint that this man of retirement, Cromwell, may have been just a little too eager to come to England's rescue and also in the interesting observation that the result of his 'industrious valour' has been to 'ruin the great work of time'. However, Marvell's appreciation of 'ancient rights' and an evolving constitution does not obscure the possibility that Cromwell may be a greater spirit, to whom traditional institutions must give way. Moreover, Marvell seems to suggest that political institutions rely upon the character of the men who operate them, when he declares that the ancient rights do 'hold or break / As men are strong or weak'. He could be arguing that weakness or incompetence on the part of king or ruling elite invalidates those ancient rights and this would come close to contemporary ideas of contractual monarchy, but Marvell's choice of words is interesting. Where he might have used 'good or evil', Marvell says 'strong or weak' and, while it is quite possible that strength and weakness here do imply a connection with virtue and vice, it seems to me a measure of the poet's pressing contact with the realities of political power, and his awareness that Cromwell's army could make the law exactly what they wanted it to be, that he emphasises the constitutional importance of strength. The rather Hobbesian cynicism of that view of constitutional law balances the recognition that Cromwell may be a greater spirit and the poetic debate continues between the violation of legitimate authority and the possibility that Cromwell may be the architect of a 'happy fate' for England. Appreciation of the personal dignity and tragedy of Charles, who 'nothing common did or mean', and distaste for the 'armed bands', who 'did clap their bloody hands', may be misplaced if the state is to emerge happy and strong. Marvell, unlike Milton, concedes the illegality of the 'forced power' which has triumphed over the king's 'helpless right' and can respect the last performance by the 'royal actor', while recognising and hoping that this could be the beginning of a resurgence of English power and prestige.
The section of the poem about the Irish was obviously highly topical and it has puzzled me for some time because, although the tone is strange and tinged with irony, I could not believe that Marvell had much, if any, sympathy with that unfortunate people. The overwhelming majority of seventeenth-century English-men thought that the Catholic inhabitants of Drogheda and Wexford had received no more than their just deserts and there is no reason to suppose that Marvell chose to differ. On the contrary, he supplemented the anti-Catholic sentiments of 'Upon Appleton House' with the statement that 'Popery is such a thing that cannot, but for want of a word to express it, be called a religion; nor is it to be mentioned with that civility which is otherwise decent to be used in speaking about the differences of human opinion about divine matters.'6 The idea suggested by the poem that the Irish came to see in defeat that Cromwell had been just is highly improbable and it is difficult to excuse Cromwell's behaviour in Ireland, although one must admit that even with a disciplined army it must have been almost impossible to stop an attack once it had been launched. However, I do not think that important, as I do not believe Marvell was interested in the fate of the Irish. He indulges in what emerges as an ironic joke at their expense but for him the real significance of the campaign lay in its implications for England. The poem moves easily from the confessions of the soundly beaten Irish to 'Nor yet grown stiffer with command' and this, Marvell is declaring, is the real lesson to be learned from Drogheda and Wexford. The double meaning which is central to the poem is indeed captured in that line and Marvell seems to be using the technique of apparently praising someone while clearly reminding him of how he ought to behave when he declares—
How fit he is to sway
That can so well obey.
That paradox seems to be more than just an example of Marvell's wit for it neatly reminds Cromwell—and us—of the delicate relationship between the great military leader and the state and the observation is pursued in the image of the falcon and the falconer. The military solution to the Irish problem could be seen as an alarming example of what might happen if the falconer, England, lost control of its deadly falcon, Cromwell, but it could be seen as an exciting indication that here was a new Protestant hero, a natural successor to the great Gustavus Adolphus, ready and able to advance England's and Protestantism's cause. The falcon image suggests the magnificent and deadly nature of Cromwell and also accepts that he will soar above the falconer, while expressing the belief that the falconer can finally control the falcon. If Cromwell can remain the servant rather than the master of the state and maintain his record of military success, 'What may not then our Isle presume.'
It is tempting to see the conclusion of this poem as a flash of remarkable political insight, precisely locating the true basis of Cromwell's power, which no amount of constitutional experiment could change. Marvell writes—
But thou, the Wars' and Fortune's 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 power, must it maintain.
The ambivalence remains. When Marvell says—'But thou the Wars' and Fortune's Son / March indefatigably on' is he stating alarming fact or giving encouraging advice? In the image of the erect sword, do we see a symbol of the militant Christian soldier being urged to go onward or do we see a ruthless military dictator who will be deposed if he drops his guard for a moment? Are the arts which gained power and must maintain it the virtues of courage, skill, energy and divine election or the vices of ambition, cunning, ruthlessness and naked force? It would be wrong to suppress either alternative. The strength of the poem lies in the powerful impression of a man living through dramatic events and responding fully to their immediacy and complexity, while, simultaneously, struggling to grasp their political and constitutional significance. Marvell's wary response to Cromwell reflects the hopes and fears of middle-class Puritanism and the men of property who had taken up arms against the king to establish the stable government which would serve their own interests.
The search for a permanent constitutional settlement led to the expulsion of the Rump in 1653, when Cromwell's patience finally snapped and, after the abortive attempt to establish godly rule in the shape of the Barebones Parliament, to the establishment of the Protectorate. Based on Lambert's 'Instrument of Government', the new constitution offered an ideal 'mixed government' which achieved a balance between tyranny and anarchy with a 'single person' executive and a parliament elected on a restricted franchise. Cromwell was given the title of Lord Protector to give his undoubted power the appearance of constitutional legality and, after one year of his rule, Marvell published anonymously in January 1655 'The First Anniversary of the Government under his Highness the Lord Protector' in an attempt to justify his position.
After contrasting the insignificance of most men and their achievements with Cromwell's energy and sense of purpose, the poem moves specifically to the contrast between the vanity, tyranny and indolence of monarchs and the Lord Protector's 'greater vigour'. However, despite the fact that Marvell uses the continuity of royal succession as a way of reproaching monarchs and praising Cromwell, I feel there is also a rather anxious awareness, in the emphasis on time and the unique quality of Cromwell, that the state depends on a man who, although quite remarkable, cannot live for ever. The guarded ambivalence of the 'Horatian Ode' has changed to glowing praise and the next movement of the poem illustrates why the Lord Protector is so admirable and necessary to the state. After employing a musical metaphor to suggest that Cromwell is reconstructing a harmonious state, Marvell then sees the Commonwealth as a building which acquires strength by controlling and using opposing forces—
The crossest spirits here do take their part,
Fastening the contignation which they thwart;
And they whose nature leads them to divide,
Uphold this one, and that the other side;
But the most equal still sustain the height,
And they as pillars keep the work upright,
While the resistance of opposed minds,
The fabric (as with arches) stronger binds,
Which on the basis of a senate free,
Knit by the roof's protecting weight, agree.
Marvell is clearly aware that England is still deeply divided, in that Cromwell's assumption of executive power has not met with universal approval, and this creates difficulties for him as a public poet. He is concerned to exhort and reassure Cromwell in the task of reconstruction, but he cannot ignore the fact that the nation is neither united nor fired by common enthusiasm for agreed ends. Marvell's architectural image of strength and order arising out of conflict is a clever resolution of the problem, but I feel it is more than merely clever. The image is complex and has something to say about the role and function of each of the constituent parts of the state. A parliament free from external pressure is regarded as the foundation of the state and it seems that Marvell is once more insisting on one of the key principles of the reformers of the Long Parliament. The walls of the building are held secure by the balance of opposing forces and the pillars support the roof, which, in its turn, protects the whole structure. Marvell seems to be suggesting that the core of Cromwell's support comes from moderate opinion, which is neither Royalist nor revolutionary, but which values his ability to hold contending factions in check. There may be more indeed to this than a shrewd awareness that the Lord-Protector had emerged as the one strong man capable of imposing unity and preventing renewed conflict and chaos. Cromwell himself was acutely aware of the need to unite the nation, and, in the interests of harmony and stability, he seems to have been as tolerant of religious and political opposition as possible. Marvell may be encouraging and reassuring Cromwell in the construction of a state which is as inclusive and tolerant as is consistent with the welfare of the nation. However, he is neither naive nor dishonest enough to underestimate England's need for a strong man to hold the contending factions together and also to ensure that 'observing princes' continue to 'wisely court the influence they fear'. The view of Cromwell as the champion of European Protestantism reappears at this point in the poem, as does the ambivalence of Marveil's attitude to the new republican state, expressed earlier in the 'Horatian Ode':
Hence oft I think if in some happy hour
High grace should meet in one with highest power
And then a seasonable people still,
Should bend to his, as he to heaven's will,
What might we hope, what wonderful effect
From such a wished conjecture might reflect.
It has been suggested that this passage refers to the desirability of the millenium and, in postulating a harmonious relationship between people, ruler and God, Marvell's vision clearly comes close to an ideal society. However, it is significant that he envisages grace and power meeting in one man who could command the support of the people. Marvell's millenium, whatever its religious content, comes quite close to the common seventeenth-century political aspiration of a strong and united Protestant English state. His hopes and desires are quite clear, but there is also the implication of a discrepancy between the ideal and the reality and this is made explicit as he claims that 'the ill' are delaying what the 'elected hastes'. Marvell, unlike many of his contemporaries, does not presume that he has the ability to penetrate the divine will, except to make it quite obvious that he does not consider England to be ready for the millenium, although Fifth Monarchists and saints denounced Cromwell as 'the dissemblingest perjured villian in the world'. Cromwell may not have been the godly prince of the millenium but he 'Girds yet his sword, and ready stands to fight' and so remains a good constable. It is this necessity for a good constable to preserve order and restrain the lunatic fringe which seems to account for the stress which Marvell places upon the Lord Protector's coaching accident.
The witty compliments to Cromwell in this section of the poem do not conceal an anxious awareness of how easily the state could be thrown into disorder by his death. The fact that Cromwell has survived the dangers of battle and conspiracy is no real consolation for the belief that the sins of the nation will kill him one day and Marvell is in no doubt how much England depends on the Lord Protector:
How near they failed, and in thy sudden fall
At once assayed to overturn us all.
The mention of Cromwell's 'silver hairs' is a reminder that the problem of 'what happens after Oliver?' was a rather pressing one and, at his fall, Marvell's wit in describing nature's reaction is balanced by the more sombre note of the following couplet which indicates the terrifying consequences of Cromwell's premature demise:
Justice obstructed lay, and reason fooled;
Courage disheartened, and religion cooled.
Marvell is also convinced that Cromwell's death would leave a 'headstrong people' without a 'charioteer', and he appreciates that the Protector has given up the tranquillity of his 'own fields' in order to be the cloud bringing plenty to the 'thirsty land'. The ambivalence of Marvell's attitude to the civil war is present in the image of the 'fertile storm' and the frightening implications of the storm are balanced by the recognition that violence may lead to growth. Again, Marvell's response is reminiscent of Yeats who, in a similar situation, grasped the simultaneously alarming and exciting possibility that the valuable things in life 'but take our greatness with our violence'. Marvell seems to be finding his way through his doubts and anxieties. The same Cromwell who could 'ruin the great work of time' is now 'erecting new, Founding a firm state by proportions true', while the potentially deadly falcon of the 'Horatian Ode' is now a 'lusty mate', a homely figure who keeps the ship of state on course when the 'artless steersman' threatens it with ruin. Cromwell, like the biblical Gideon, is now the great leader who has modestly refused a crown yet cannot stand by and watch the dangerous growth of 'ambitious Shrubs' and Marvell defends him against the accusation that he is a tyrant:
'Tis not a freedom, that where all command;
Nor tyranny, where one does them withstand.
Cromwell is reassured that his defence of property and the traditional social structure is justified and Marvell fiercely attacks the millenarian aspirations of the Fifth Monarchists. The health of England depends on the health of Cromwell and, as the poem constantly suggests, that is not an unmixed blessing. To claim that Cromwell 'does with himself all that is good revive' is a flattering tribute but also a clear suggestion of the consequences of his death. Hostile foreign princes pay Cromwell the ultimate, if reluctant, tribute, for their fear of England and its naval power includes the recognition that it is the Lord-General who 'animates the whole'. However, the admission by these unfriendly monarchs that Cromwell seems 'a king by long succession born' should not obscure the point that they wish to see him crowned only because he will then share their common mortality. I am not convinced that Marvell wishes to see Cromwell crowned and I tend to agree with J. H. Summers that when the Protector is addressed as 'great Prince', the title seems 'almost incidental'.7 Indeed Marvell compliments Cromwell on the fact that he can operate a foreign policy with the effectiveness of a king yet be 'At home a subject on the equal floor'. In any case, the acceptance of the crown would not solve the real problem which was that Cromwell could not live for ever and that without him the future was alarmingly uncertain. In the concluding six lines of the poem, Marvell, as Summers so rightly observes, 'both completes the praise and makes clearly evident the relation of this anniversary to the uncertain future'. The Lord-General has become, quite literally, the 'Protector' of England and the social order and, because of his unique power and strength, he is above the malice of his enemies and the praise of his friends and supporters. For the moment, Marvell is grateful and content:
I yield, nor further will the prize contend,
So that we both alike may miss our end:
While thou thy venerable head dost raise
As far above their malice as my praise,
And as the Angel of the Commonweal,
Troubling the waters, yearly mak'st them heal.
That word 'while' qualifies the compliment and sums up the anxious undertones of this eulogy. Marvell has come to value the good constable and can call him the 'Angel of the Commonweal' but the nation depends on a man, and men die.
Marvell had to cope with the urgent pressures of a civil war and its aftermath which threatened to engulf traditional social and political forms. As J. H. Summers says, 'Such times make simple traditionalism and contitutionalism intellectually impossible: they pose the fearful questions about what could and should happen when the traditions contradict each other, when the constitutions break down.' In Oliver Cromwell, Marvell seems to have found a leader who supported freedom of conscience and the essential aims of the Long Parliament of 1641-42 but who was strong enough to resist the excesses of egalitarian extremists and restore England's prestige. The congratulatory poem 'On the victory obtained by Blake' expresses the delight of Protestant Englishmen that the deep-rooted yearning for military success against Catholic Spain had been satisfied because of Cromwell's 'resistless genius'.
'A poem upon the Death of His Late Highness the Lord Protector' illustrates Marvell's unambiguous commitment to Cromwell the man and the political leader. The years from 1650 have removed all doubts. The poem focuses on Cromwell's greatness and expresses Marvell's grief and, indeed, despair. The Lord-General is now seen as a man whom 'Nature all for peace had made', but whom 'angry heaven unto war had swayed'. When Marvell pays tribute to the 'wondrous softness of his heart' he is not indulging in empty panegyric. Ivan Roots agrees with Marvell that 'Always when you peel one layer off Cromwell you find another, more tender, underneath. Risen by the sword, he was not a simple military adventurer.'8 His military genius and human sensitivity are stressed by the poem and Marvell's despair at his death seriously weakens the attempt to build support for Richard Cromwell. The problematic figure of the 'Horatian Ode' has emerged as 'Heaven's Favourite'—and Marvell's.
The way in which Marvell's perception of Oliver Cromwell changed is an indication of the complexity of the choices of political allegiance facing an alert and sensitive mind in the midst of civil war. The sober parliamentarians who resisted the tyranny of Charles I in 1642 were not revolutionaries but they almost created a revolution and it took a man, as strong a man as Cromwell, to restore order and something approaching the familiar in the constitution. Marvell's public poems of the 1640s and 1650s catch the mood of fear of instability as the social and economic order disintegrated, and reveal a shrewd understanding of the implications of civil war. In Marvell we see the poet confronting profound and rapid social change, not as a detached observer but as a man facing a fluid situation in all its immediacy. The flow and movement of his allegiance reveals a man seeking to define and preserve the essential gains of the Long Parliament but alarmed by the possibility of anarchy.
All quotations from Marvell are from The Rehearsal Transpros'd, ed. D.I.B. Smith (Clarendon Press, 1971), and from Andrew Marvell. The Complete Poems, ed. E. S. Donno (Penguin Books, 1972).
1 A. S. P. Woodhouse, Puritanism and Liberty (London, 1974), pp. 54-6.
2Ibid., p. 20.
3 C. Hill, God's Englishman (London, 1970), p. 69.
4 I. Roots, The Great Rebellion (London, 1965), p. 155.
5 J. B. Leishman, The Art of Marvell's Poetry (London, 1966), p. 14.
6 J. P. Kenyon, The Popish Plot (London, 1972), p. 1.
7 J. H. Summers, Metaphysical Poetry (New York, 1965), p. 201.
8 I. Roots, op. cit., p. 217.
Warren L. Chernaik (essay date 1983)
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7611
SOURCE: "Power and Conscience: Marvell and the English Revolution," in The Poet's Time: Politics and Religion in The Work of Andrew Marvell, Cambridge University Press, 1983, pp. 15-62.
[In the excerpt below, Chernaik contrasts the political and world views presented in Marvell's "Horatian Ode" and "Upon Appleton House."]
… Marvell's most famous comment on the English revolution, made twenty-odd years after the fact, combines a recognition of the inevitability of historical processes with a sigh of regret that history took the path it did. If only the aggrieved subjects had been content with 'Patience and Petitions', if only the King had carried out the necessary reforms himself. 'An Horatian Ode' and 'Upon Appleton House' view the events of the Civil War from two entirely different perspectives, appropriate to their central figures, Cromwell and Fairfax, but they share with The Rehearsal Transpros'd the ironic recognition that what must be—'such an Earth as it has pleased God to allot us'—takes precedence over what 'might have been better' (RT, II, p. 231). The view of human striving in the passage on the Civil War in The Rehearsal Transpros'd is akin to the laughter of the grasshoppers at man's pretensions in 'Upon Appleton House', stanza XLVII; the distance imparted by coupling the downfall of Charles I with the return of Charles II gives the events of contemporary history an inevitability that is as much comic as tragic:
Whether it were a War of Religion, or of Liberty, is not worth the labour to enquire. Which-sover was at the top, the other was at the bottom; but upon considering all, I think the Cause was too good to have been fought for … Even as his present Majesties happy Restauration did it self, so all things else happen in their best and proper time, without any need of our officiousness. (RT, I, p. 135)
The 'Horatian Ode', written between May and July 1650, celebrates Cromwell's victorious return from his campaign in Ireland and forecasts even more glorious victories in Scotland. Lord Fairfax, with whom Marvell was to be closely associated for the next few years, reacted differently to the projected invasion of Scotland, and on 26 June ended a year and a half in which he had grown more and more unhappy with the course of the English revolution by resigning his commission as commander-in-chief of the army and retiring from public life. The 'Horatian Ode' appears to resolve the debate between action and contemplation in favour of action, presenting a state of affairs where, through necessity rather than choice, the 'Arts of Peace' must give way to those of war, where civilized leisure and the life devoted to study or to artistic creation have become impossible. But where one might expect Marvell to follow the 'Horatian Ode' with a dedication, willing or reluctant, to the public life, in fact Marvell spent the years 1651 and 1652 in retirement with Fairfax upon the former general's estate at Nun Appleton, serving as tutor to Fairfax's daughter and writing po etry. We can never be sure of the dates of Marvell's poems, but we know that 'Upon Appleton House' and 'Upon the Hill and Grove at Bill-borow' were written during this period, and it is likely that most if not all of his poems making use of pastoral conventions, as well as several others, were written at Nun Appleton. Marvell was an inaccurate prophet in the 'Horatian Ode', at least as far as his own life was concerned, since his residence with Fairfax provided him with the 'Sanctuary' ('Upon Appleton House', line 482) against the uncertainties of the outside world he had despaired of finding. The early 1650s, a period Marvell saw as inhospitable to poetry, were in fact the years of his greatest productivity.
And yet if the poems of the Nun Appleton period celebrate the possibility of erecting an impenetrable bastion against the world, a self-sufficient realm of nature and the imagination, 'annihilating all that's made, / To a green Thought in a green Shade', the ultimate lesson of most of these poems is that such a victory over the world is at best temporary or delusive.
How safe, methinks, and strong, behind
These Trees have I incamp'd my Mind; …
Bind me ye Woodbines in your 'twines,
Curie me about ye gadding Vines,
And Oh so close your Circles lace,
That I may never leave this Place.
('Upon Appleton House', lines 601-2, 609-12)
The language in both passages suggests that a permanent escape is unattainable, however much we may wish it to be otherwise; the 'Fetters' will necessarily 'prove too weak', the siege of the world's forces too strong to resist. Dryden in the beginning of Of Dramatic Poesy: An Essay manages to reduce the guns of war to a musical background for a leisured discussion of poetry; Marvell is either unwilling or unable to perform such a total transformation, and as a result the sounds of battle and disorder are always present in his poems. Any retreat from the world is precariously achieved, and the world rejected is never out of earshot. In the two stanzas quoted above, Marvell exploits the gap between the narrator's limited knowledge and the reader's more fully informed perspective to create an effect of great poignancy. The succession of strong imperative verbs here and in the next stanza—'Bind me', 'curie me about', 'chain me', 'nail me through', 'tie my Chain', 'stake me down',—suggest, like similar passages in Donne's Holy Sonnets, both the urgency of the poet's desire and his awareness that its fulfilment is literally impossible in man's earthly state.
The heart of 'Upon Appleton House' is the contrast between the ordinary world and the more perfect 'lesser World' (line 765) found in Fairfax's country estate. The poem takes its origin from the hope of finding a spot on the earth as yet unfallen, a microcosm in which one can exist in perfect tranquillity, provided with all the necessities of life without the attendant problems. Where the greater world is a 'rude heap' (line 762), stripped in its fallen state of beauty, harmony, or meaning, the 'yet green, yet growing Ark' (line 484) to which Marvell is able to retreat shows that man and the earth are not utterly corrupted by the 'Traitor-Worm' of sin (line 554), that it is still possible for the earth to be a garden rather than a desert of a 'Camp of Battail' littered with 'Bodies slain' (lines 420, 422).
'Tis not, what once it was, the World;
But a rude heap together hurl'd;
All negligently overthrown,
Gulfes, Deserts, Precipices, Stone.
Your lesser World contains the same.
But in more decent Order tame;
You Heaven's Center, Nature's Lap.
And Paradice 's only Map.
One difference between 'An Horatian Ode' and 'Upon Appleton House' is the pervasive Christian imagery of the latter poem: here Marvell sees contemporary political events and incidents drawn from the day-today life on Fairfax's estate in a fundamentally religious perspective as emblems of man's fall and his search for a possible redemption. And yet the hope of recapturing paradise, of finding an impregnable retreat 'where the World no certain Shot / Can make, or me it toucheth not' (lines 605-6) is balanced against the awareness that what is irremediably lost cannot be recaptured, that certain fruits do not grow in 'our Earthly Gardens' but only in realms 'eternal, and divine' (lines 356, 359). The dialogue between soul and body, with their mutually exclusive demands, can never be resolved: the two are indissolubly bound together, incapable of either divorce or separation, condemned to an unending struggle which neither can win.
Though Marvell's poetry is enormously varied, in a sense he has only one subject: the fall of man. As in Aristophanes' myth in the Symposium, fallen man is incomplete, cut in two, and yearns after a lost, unattainable wholeness. In one situation after another, man is placed in a position where he must choose, knowing that neither of the alternatives before him is satisfactory. Implicit in all the debates in Marvell's poetry—that between the soul and the body, between the simplicity of green nature and the complexities of civilization, between participation in the world of affairs and a contemplative withdrawal, between the hope of exercising power over time and fate and the fear of total powerlessness—is the overwhelming consciousness of man's fallen state and the necessity of adjusting to it or seeking somehow to overcome it.9
Many of his poems deal directly with the perception of the loss of innocence. The mower, whose 'Mind was once the true survey / Of all these Medows fresh and gay', finds himself suddenly cast adrift in a universe devoid of inner harmony; all is infected by the taint of death he carries within him: 'For She my Mind hath so displac'd / That I shall never find my home.' Obsessed by consciousness of his own unhappiness and enraged at nature's 'gawdy May-games', its blithe indifference to his plight, he is led to a frenzy of destruction, in which, like Milton's Satan, he hopes to blot out the tormenting memory of a happier state by 'depopulating all the Ground', involving nature with him 'in one common Ruine'. In the mower poems as in 'The Garden', the principle of destructiveness is identified with sexuality, as well as with the nuisance of having to cope with other people: 'Two Paradises 'twere in one / To live in Paradise alone.'10
Pastoral poetry ordinarily contrasts the 'fragrant Innocence' of 'plain and pure' rural nature with the 'polish'd' yet corrupt world of sophisticated urban man:
But in Marvell's poems the innocent world of nature is not free from invasion, since the principal of corruption lies within. The fall is re-enacted every day; the human condition guarantees that the tempter will find a receptive echo in the mind:
The heroine of 'The Nymph complaining for the death of her Faun' desires above all else to remain in a world of white, uncomplicated innocence, but the 'false and cruel men' (line 54) who control events—'unconstant Sylvio' (line 25), 'the wanton Troopers' (line 1)—refuse to allow it to exist. The only recourse of Diana's nymph is to die, and hope that in 'fair Elizium' (line 107) she can find the state of perfect whiteness she cannot find on earth. It is impossible for her to achieve her end in this world, since what she desires is a state of infinitely prolonged childhood, a total instinctual absorption into nature, free from the canker of thought. The mower, longing to recapture a lost harmony with nature, remembering the days before 'Love here his Thistles sow'd' ('Damon the Mower', line 66), similarly yearns after the unattainable.
'Bermudas' is perhaps the one poem in which Marveil allows the polarities to be reconciled. Here the possibility of a recovered paradise on earth is not a distant flickering hope, but an immediate, present reality. Other religious poems by Marvell, in contrast, are grimly or ruefully ascetic, presenting the natural creation as irremediably corrupted as a result of the fall. Life on earth, in such a view, is a series of snares cast in the path of the resolved soul: 'Ah, foolish Man, that would debase with them, / And mortal Glory, Heavens Diadem!' ('The Coronet', lines 17-18). But in 'Bermudas' the natural world is entirely unfallen, and soul and body live in complete harmony. God has provided not only relief 'from the Storms, and Prelat's rage' (line 12) but a second paradise fully equal to the first. God and man remain, as in the prelapsarian state, in constant communion through nature. Man's everyday activities sing the creator's praises, and the birds of the air play the role of angelic messengers, testifying to God's unceasing 'care' of his children: '[He] sends the Fowl's to us in care, / In daily Visits through the Air' (lines 15-16). Yet we are not allowed to forget that such a state of affairs is not the norm; the 'Isle … far kinder than our own' (lines 7-8) is only a single island in a vast sea, resting 'remote' and 'unespy'd' (lines 1-2) by all but the fortunate few. The poem makes the ideal seem attainable, but it is still essentially a prospect, a vision, something to steer towards. 'An holy and a chearful note' (line 38), the poem is directed in part at encouraging those English Puritans who have not received such tangible evidence of God's grace.
'Upon Appleton House' contains no such confident affirmations; the hope of perfection, of finding a 'Sanctuary' (line 482) free from the power of time and destructive human passions, plays a major role in the poem, but hope is set against the prevailing fact of uncertainty. The poem's polarities are not resolved, perhaps because the poet did not see them as resolvable at that time and under those particular conditions. In the poem's best-known lines, the loss of Eden is specifically identified with the Civil War. The lines are especially moving because they see the loss as both absolute and incomprehensible; God's judgment is final, beyond cavil, and fallen man's vivid memory of the world he has lost serves only to intensify his pain and bewilderment:
Oh Thou, that dear and happy Isle
The Garden of the World ere while,
Thou Paradise of four Seas,
Which Heaven planted us to please,
But, to exclude the World, did guard
With watry if not flaming Sword;
What luckless Apple did we tast,
To make us Mortal, and Thee Wast?
('Upon Appleton House' lines 321-8)
In this passage there is none of the grudging respect shown in the 'Horatian Ode' toward amoral virtu, sheer energy sufficient to 'ruine the great Work of Time' (line 34). The war in 'Upon Appleton House' is seen as an unmitigated catastrophe, destroying utterly and irrevocably the simple, placid existence of prewar England.
Unhappy! shall we never more
That sweet Militia restore,
When Gardens only had their Towrs,
And all the Garrisons were Flowrs,
When Roses only Arms might bear,
And Men did rosie Garlands wear?
Both of these stanzas raise questions to which there can be no answer: however much we may regret this loss, we have no choice other than to accept it. A passage in The Rehearsal Transpros'd, where Marvell comments at length on the fall and its consequences, bears directly on this section of 'Upon Appleton House'. The dream of living in a state of 'perpetual Peace' and prelapsarian tranquillity, he tells us, is futile:
Ever since the first Brother Sacrificed the other to Revenge, because his Offering was better accepted, Slaughter and War has made up half the business in the World, and often upon the same quarrel, and with like success. So that as God has hitherto, instead of an Eternal Spring, a standing Serenity, and perpetual Sun-shine, subjected Mankind to the dismal influence of Comets from above, to Thunder, and Lightning, and Tempests from the middle Region, and from the lower Surface, to the raging of the Seas, and the tottering of Earth Quakes, beside all other the innumerable calamities to which humane life is exposed, he has in like manner distinguish'd the Government of the World by the intermitting seasons of Discord, War, and publick Disturbance. (RT, II, pp. 231-2)
Not only does God 'permit' evils, He actively ordains them: 'Neither has he so order'd it only (as men endeavour to express it) by meer permission, but sometimes out of Complacency' (ibid.)—i.e., by active approval, by 'contented acquiescence or consent' (OED). The term 'Complacency' in such a context seems shocking to a modern reader; yet to Marvell as to Milton, God takes pleasure in the working out of his own justice, even though men, aware only of their own suffering, are unable to recognize the divine pattern.
The political position reflected in 'Upon Appleton House' is a complex and delicate one. Fairfax, who in the late 1640s had been, together with his fellow general Cromwell, one of the two most powerful men in England, had abandoned public life entirely in 1650 at the age of thirty-eight. Fairfax had supported the revolution in its initial stages, but like some other presbyterian moderates had opposed the trial and execution of the King. His sense of scruples had caused him to absent himself from the trial proceedings, refusing as a personal act of conscience to take part in an action of which he disapproved, though his loyalty to his former associates had kept him from speaking out in public against the trial or against the Commonwealth regime. His retirement was to be permanent, but neither Fairfax nor Marvell knew at the time that it would be. A second, probably earlier poem to Fairfax, 'Upon the Hill and Grove at Bill-borow', states the choice between the active and contemplative life in different terms, honouring the man who is able to inhabit both worlds, each at its proper time:
Much other Groves, say they, than these
And other Hills him once did please.
Through Groves of Pikes he thunder'd then,
And Mountains rais'd of dying Men.
For all the Civick Garlands due
To him our Branches are but few.
Nor did our Trunks enow to bear
The Trophees of one fertile Year.
The implication is clear that Fairfax is free to re-enter the world where 'Civick Garlands' are won whenever he wishes to do so—like the Roman heroes Cincinnatus or Scipio, or like the Crom-well of the 'Horatian Ode', leaving the 'reserved and austere' life of his 'private Gardens' as his 'active Star' led him (lines 14, 29—30). Fairfax's 'retreat' to his country estate is seen in 'Upon the Hill and Grove at Bill-borow' as a stage in his career, not as its culmination.
Therefore to your obscurer Seats
From his own Brightness he retreats:
Nor he the Hills without the Groves,
Nor Height but with Retirement loves.
No such easy reconciliation is proposed in 'Upon Appleton House'; here the problem of choice is set out in fundamentally Christian (and Platonic) terms as a posing of two incompatible alternatives, neither of which can be considered satisfactory.
For a man like Fairfax, the decision to give up entirely on the state was an acutely painful one, an admission of defeat, abandoning the hope, central to his career, that public and private virtue could be reconciled. Like Milton, Marvell in his political writings constantly raises the question of whether man is worthy of the gift of freedom: if God has rendered the just state no longer capable of achievement, then the virtuous man must turn his attention to the state of his own soul. In dark times, 'one just Man', withdrawing from physical contact with a corrupt society, should seek 'to save himself and household from amidst / A World devote to universal rack'. The Stoic version of the dilemma of the man of conscience in the degenerate state, as Seneca presents it, is phrased in prudential terms rather than those of strenuous physical combat, but the conduct recommended is essentially the same:
If the state is too corrupt to be helped, if it is wholly dominated by evils, the wise man will not struggle to no purpose, nor spend himself when nothing is to be gained.11
Yet several questions immediately suggest themselves. How can one know that the state has passed the point beyond which political action becomes futile? Can a man be sure that by abandoning the political arena entirely, he is not purchasing a freedom from pain at the cost of any moral principles in which he may believe, and possibly at the cost of suffering to others? Inaction may bring about those things most feared; a disclaimer of personal responsibility may not be sufficient to still the pangs of conscience, and passive obedience and non-resistance may serve to strengthen the unjust state and confirm it in its injustice.
'Upon Appleton House' then takes as its starting point a decision by Fairfax (and by implication by Marvell) which is possibly reversible, possibly unwise, and incalculable in its consequences, yet felt in its immediate circumstances to be necessary. The poem looks on much of the past and present with pained distaste, and any hope with which it views the future is tempered by the knowledge that earlier hopes have proved fruitless. Though the poem deals with serious matters, its prevailing tone is comic—the comedy which includes a tragic awareness and yet goes beyond it. The wit in the poem qualifies the feeling, the feeling gives added poignancy to the wit. Marvell's characteristic poise enables him at once to celebrate the possibility of a green world exempt from earthly decay and to suggest, with unblinking ironic awareness, that the fortress we built may be less secure than we think.
The problematical side of Fairfax's withdrawal is largely absent from the first two of the poem's six sections, which wittily describe the house itself and narrate its history. Though the manner here is light and amusing, the content is serious: defining by negatives (contrasting Fairfax in the first section with proud men swollen with a sense of their wordly greatness and William Fairfax, founder of the line, with the sinister temptresses who were the earlier owners of the property, the 'suttle Nunns' (line 94) of Appleton Priory), Marvell is writing about the nature of virtue and of temptation, suggesting that neither action nor contemplation is necessarily good or bad, but that moral choice is always an individual matter, dependent on circumstances and on an ability to look beyond surface appearances. The emotional and thematic centre of the poem is its third section, a description of and a meditation upon the gardens of Appleton House. The tradition in which Marvell is working here and in the sections that follow—the meadow, the forest, and the final address to young Maria Fairfax (and through her, to the future)—is 'occasional meditation' on the book of the creatures, readings in 'Natures mystick Book' (line 584). Nature's lessons are available to anyone who will look: throughout the poem, man serves as audience for and occasional participant in the masque nature performs in his presence. The poet's role is to serve as interpreter and guide, appealing to the senses, the imagination, and ultimately the understanding of the reader.12
Marvell's psychology, derived from Renaissance Platonism, has much in common with the characteristic idealism of the Romantic poets: the conduit between man and nature is the imagination, which is intermediate between sense perception and rational understanding. The phenomena of nature make their initial appeal to the senses. As Joseph Hall writes, in language curiously anticipating Wordsworth, meditations can take their origin from any natural objects which we happen to observe: 'Our active Soule can no more forbeare to thinke, then the eye can choose but see, when it is open … No object should passe us without use.'13 Throughout 'Upon Appleton House' Marvell places a similar emphasis on physical sense-data and on the role of chance in bringing 'these scatter'd Sibyls Leaves' before the eye and ultimately before the mind: 'And see how Chance's better Wit / Could with a Mask my studies hit!' (lines 577, 585-6). But the process of understanding as he presents it in the poem is far from automatic: the imagination, which can feed off the materials of sense but is free to make of them what it will, is to Marvell as to a number of Renaissance Platonists a necessary transforming agent which can mediate between the realms of sense and spirit. As his contemporary Ralph Cudworth writes:
Sense is but the offering or presenting of some object to the mind, to give it an occasion to exercise its own inward activity upon … For knowledge is not a knock or a thrust from without, but it consisteth in the awakening and exciting of the inward active powers of the mind.14
In his emphasis on the active role of the mind in perception and on the difficulty of distinguishing between inner and outer reality, the 'phantasms' of the imagination and the objects of sense—the world available to the senses is compared in 'Upon Appleton House' (lines 637-8) to a river 'Where all things gaze themselves, and doubt / If they be in it or without'—Marvell shares the epistemological concerns of the Cambridge Platonists and anticipates Romantic idealism. This conception of the imagination as the eye of the mind and on its evocative powers as a means of awakening the dormant soul in potential readers finds parallel in the theory of meditation during the Renaissance, with its exhortations 'to see with the eyes of the imagination the corporeal place where the thing I wish to contemplate is found.'15 The image-making faculty by which a poet can create or recreate 'other Worlds' on the page and in the minds of his readers is to Marvell the poet's distinctive province. Though the materials of the imagination are drawn from nature, the imagination (Marvell does not generally use the word, but in Renaissance fashion speaks of 'Phancy', 'Wit', or 'the Mind'), far from being passive or constrained, exults in its freedom: its world is limitless.
Mean while, the Mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness:
The Mind, that Ocean where each kind
Does streight its own resemblance find;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other Worlds, and other Seas;
Annihilating all that's made
To a green Thought in a green Shade.
('The Garden', lines 41-8)
The complex interchange between the outward world of sense experience and the inward world of imagination is illustrated throughout the poem. In the garden, meadow, and forest episodes, the subject of the imagination's transforming flights is always a literal scene unfolding before the reader's eyes. What the mind does with the materials it receives is unpredictable. The very apartness of the natural world makes man want to possess it, enter it, either submerge himself in it or assimilate it to himself, interpreting natural phenomena in anthropomorphic terms. In the open meadow, the observing mind is free to create whatever fleeting combinations of images it will; the external world is reduced here to a stage in which a series of 'pleasant Acts' (line 465) can be presented for the mind's entertainment. The poet, as in L'Allegro, is a looker-on at rural scenes, the more reflective for being uninvolved. But the parade of images turns out to be less pleasant than one might expect. The sight of the new-mowed plain calls forth an image of the prelapsarian world and then a telling correction:
The World when first created sure
Was such a Table rase and pure.
Or rather such is the Toril
Ere the Bulls enter at Madril.
No one and nothing in the fallen world can be a tabula rasa; the world we inhabit resembles an arena, and moments of apparent purity and innocence are mere trompe-l'oeil. The pictures that flash before the mind's eye in the meadow section of the poem are emblems of mortality, emphasizing the instability of all earthly things and the ubiquity of violence and pain. 'Death Trumpets creak' (line 415) in the call of a bird, the ordinary activity of mowers prompts one to 'wonder how they rise alive' (line 377) from the sea of grass in which they are submerged, hay-making becomes a masque of war, and the familiar contours of the landscape are transmuted into something far more threatening. With 'Precipices' (line 375) on one side, an 'Abbyss' (line 369) on the other, man cannot presume on the solid, comforting reality of his surroundings.
The powers and limits of the imagination are further illustrated in the poem's fifth section, in which the narrator retreats from the flooded meadow into the woods. Here the poet-persona, who has appeared fleetingly earlier as a modest, peripheral observer, is suddenly propelled into the centre of the picture: Marvell uses the first person singular forty times in the forest episode, as against only three times in the rest of the poem.16 The hope that by the power of the imagination man can be redeemed from the debris of his life is presented here in intensely personal terms. Searching for a refuge, the narrator envisages the forest's 'huge Bulk' (line 501) as providing an impenetrable barrier, stern in excluding the hostile world 'without' yet hospitable to its friends 'within':
[It] stretches still so closely wedg'd
As if the Night within were hedg'd.
Dark all without it knits; within
It opens passable and thin.
In the heart of the forest, the ordinary separation between man and nature is lessened; his normal human restlessness stilled, the narrator imagines himself entirely at one with nature:
Thus I, easie Philosopher,
Among the Birds and Trees confer:
And little now to make me, wants
Or of the Fowles, or of the Plants.
Give me but Wings as they, and I
Streight floting on the Air shall fly:
Or turn me but, and you shall see
I was but an inverted Tree.
Other seventeenth-century poets (Vaughan, for example: 'I would I were a stone, or tree, / Or flowre by pedigree … ') attribute to the natural creation a wholeness and simplicity which divided, unstable man, with his nagging self-consciousness, is unable to attain.17 One difference between Marvell's lines and characteristic passages in Herbert and Vaughan is that the narrator in 'Upon Appleton House' does not long for absorption into the natural world and loss of his human identity, but imagines himself to have achieved such a state—or in this stanza, to be on the verge of achieving it. But though the experience described is that of ecstasy, the language and tone in stanza LXXI are witty, dispassionate, uninvolved; as in many of the conceits of 'Upon Appleton House' (the antipodes in shoes, the house swelling to a sphere to admit its owner, the mowers diving through the grass), the poet appears to be savouring their comic grotesqueness, their violation of the norms of the ordinary world.
Stanza LXXII, on the other hand, presents the experience of ecstatic communion directly, without the ironic distancing of the preceding stanza (though the modulation in tone is subtle, and the opening couplet recognizes the comic aspects of the spectacle of the poet-linguist conversing with the birds in their 'most learn'd Original'). In imagery and tone this stanza resembles stanza VII of 'The Garden', the emotional climax of that poem. Both passages offer glimpses of a state of timeless perfection in which man, no longer conscious of his self-division and alienation, can enter worlds ordinarily denied him:
Already I begin to call
In their most learn'd Original:
And where I Language want, my Signs
The Bird upon the Bough divines;
And more attentive there doth sit
Than if She were with Lime-twigs knit.
No Leaf does tremble in the Wind
Which I returning cannot find.
As in the casting aside of the body's vest in 'The Garden', and as in mystical experience generally, the ecstatic state is characterized by a simultaneous heightening and calming of the senses. Ordinary means of communication, the reflection of man's confused, dualistic existence, becomes unnecessary; instead, the observer feels every motion of the leaf and immediately, intuitively knows its meaning. Rather than being constrained to rely on the slow, inaccurate gathering and sifting of information by untrustworthy senses and a faulty memory, man can know with instantaneous certainty, as angels do. Removed from the ordinary flux of time, the poet is able to hold past, present, and future in a single perspective. In stanza LXXIII, the leaves of the forest are 'Sibyls Leaves' from which the poet's 'Phancy' can weave 'Strange Prophecies' (lines 577-8), and his gift of divination is accompanied by equal comprehension of events past: 'What Rome, Greece, Palestine ere said / I in this light Mosaick read' (lines 581-2). The lines bear directly on Marveil's conception of the imagination or 'Pliancy' as the link between man and nature. Where in the previous stanza, the identification between man and the world of bird and leaf is seen as absolute, with no possibility of misunderstanding (or so the narrator claims), here the role of man as interpreter is stressed: the phenomena of nature need to be 'read'. By developing the metaphor of nature as book with pages to be turned, as material for a historical narrative (line 579), as painting to be viewed (line 580), Marvell stresses the separateness of the observer from the thing observed. The problem with imaginative or emotional empathy is that it is likely to be deceived: 'Thrice happy he who, not mistook, / Hath read in Natures mystick Book' (lines 583-4). Though the Book of Nature serves as both a repository of wisdom and a source of contentment for the man fortunate enough to be able to read it, the qualification 'not mistook' adds a touch of realism, a reservation, even at the moment of ecstasy. There is always the possibility of self-hypnosis, seeing what one wants to see, convincing oneself that what one desires is actually happening.
The garden, meadow, and forest sections of 'Upon Appleton House' enact a dialect of gradual withdrawal, similar in some ways to the central stanzas of 'The Garden'. In both poems the reader is led through a number of stages, each of which appears for a moment to be a final resting place but none of which proves fully satisfying, toward a climactic experience of imaginative ecstasy, involving a sense of oneness with nature and a loss of consciousness of self. But the moments of greatest emotional intensity in 'Upon Appleton House', unlike the mimesis of ecstasy at the heart of 'The Garden', are devoted to uncertainty, loss, or hope in defiance of any rational expectation, 'begotten by despair / Upon Impossibility' ('Definition of Love', lines 3-4). The hope that by the transforming and enkindling power of the imagination the forces of destruction can be held at bay receives its most memorable expression in the garden section.
The wide-ranging conceits of stanzas XXXVI-XLV all take their origin from descriptive fact: all the Fairfaxes were military men, so it was quite appropriate for the gardens of Nun Appleton to be laid out 'in the just Figure of a Fort' (line 286), serving their owner as a constant reminder of his earlier life. To the prosaic eye, flowers are flowers, worth a casual glance in passing; to the imagination, they come to life, waking in the morning in order to pay tribute and to stand guard.
The Flow'rs their drowsie Eyelids raise,
Their Silken Ensigns each displayes,
And dries its Pan yet dank with Dew,
And fills its Flask with Odours new.
Well shot ye Firemen! Oh how sweet
And round your equal Fires do meet;
Whose shrill report no Ear can tell,
But Echoes to the Eye and smell.
War here has lost its potential destructiveness and become wholly a game, an opportunity for colourful pageantry (as well as for the poet's wit and precise miniaturist's observation). Real bullets kill, but the 'fragrant Volleyes' (line 298) of the flower-troops are harmless and aesthetically pleasing.
Here and in the next stanza the tenderness of feeling and expression reminds one of Blake's Songs of Innocence, and the sense of a secret life within the closest recesses of nature, which may reflect the Hermetic tradition with which Marvell and Fairfax were familiar, anticipates the ecstatic communion with bird and leaf later in the poem.18 In the garden section, man is observer more than participant, and nature, anthropomorphized, is seen as his servant—indeed, as in Blake, the angelic guardians of paradise take on a natural form.
But when the vigilant Patroul
Of Stars walks round about the Pole,
Their Leaves, that to the stalks are curl'd,
Seem to their Staves the Ensigns furl'd.
Then in some Flow'rs beloved Hut
Each Bee as Sentinel is shut;
And sleeps so too: but, if once stir'd,
She runs you through, or askes the Word.
The tone remains playful; as with many metaphysical conceits, the wit lies in the surprising yet apposite nature of the comparisons. We are amused by the author's ingenuity and applaud the skill with which he extends the central metaphor in ways we do not anticipate. The lines contain a quality which is even more unexpected and is a major source of their power—a sudden charge of emotion, making one aware that the need for protection is genuine. In a sudden widening of perspective in the stanzas that follow, the garden of Nun Appleton is subsumed under the garden-state of pre-war England, whose loss lies at the heart of all human pain. As Hopkins writes, 'Now no matter, child, the name: / Sorrow's springs are the same'.19 As the tone darkens, Nun Appleton comes to be seen as an anachronism, reasserting earlier values of gentleness, civility, and human sympathy which appear to have been obliterated from the world outside Fairfax's private gardens—an oasis in a desert of war, somehow managing to embody the principle of life in a universe of death, magically exempt for the moment at least from the raging destructiveness surrounding it:
The Gardiner had the Souldiers place,
And his more gentle Forts did trace.
The Nursery of all things green
Was then the only Magazeen.
The Winter Quarters were the Stoves,
Where he the tender Plants removes.
But War all this doth overgrow:
We Ord'nance Plant and Powder sow.
In the broader context of fallen men and ruined England, the fanciful conceits of the earlier stanzas and of the Nun Appleton garden's design appear mere games, attempts to assert the will's sovereignty where in fact it bears only a temporary and limited sway. The imagination is not after all autonomous; the nature of freedom makes it inevitable that the mind in meditation, not limited only to pleasant thoughts, will eventually recall or recreate out of 'that Ocean, where each kind / Does streight its own resemblance find' ('The Garden', lines 43-4), the very conditions which it is seeking to escape.
What we have in this passage—and it is characteristic of the poem—is a constant revaluation of perspective, an illustration of both the power of imagination and the countervailing power of stubborn reality. To choose necessarily entails loss; a commitment to a single course means a closing of possibilities. Yet rejected alternatives, memories of the past, old loyalties, abandoned hopes, cannot simply be blotted out. The human condition makes it impossible to escape what 'Knowledge forces [us] to know; / And Memory will not forego' ('A Dialogue between the Soul and Body', lines 39-40). Within the sanctuary of Appleton House, one cannot escape the shadow of the ravaged garden outside; each sight is able to awaken remembered pain. Stanza XLIV, which deals directly with Fairfax's decision to retire from active life, leaves the reader with a sense not of powers kept under control by self-discipline or turned to better use, but of powers wasted, possibilities thwarted:
And yet there walks one on the Sod
Who, had it pleased him and God,
Might once have made our Gardens spring
Fresh as his own and flourishing.
But he preferr'd to the Cinque Ports
These five imaginary Forts:
And, in those half-dry Trenches, spann'd
Pow'r which the Ocean might command.
These moving lines combine a profound regret for the dead hopes of the past with a resigned submission to the will of God. 'Had it pleased … God', the garden-state might still be flourishing. But our own desires cannot deflect God's immutable judgments: we cannot understand the past and we cannot predict the future.
Ultimately, the claims of the conscience are uncompromising; faced with a choice between ordinary human values or feelings and 'Flowrs eternal, and divine' (line 359), we must turn our allegiances entirely to the latter. To retreat within the garden is to abandon the world outside to eternal perdition. In human terms, such a decision can never be easy to make; the tolerant humanist side of Marvell would inevitably find a source for sorrow and regret in a conclusion the Puritan in him found inevitable. In the rigid either/or calculus of Calvinist morality, a man of conscience must still any sympathy he may feel for the unhappy legions of the damned, who may include among them infants, innocent pagans, and men of good will; his only concern is his own salvation. The weeds must be separated from the flowers:
For he did, with his utmost Skill,
Ambition weed, but Conscience till.
Conscience, that Heaven-nursed Plant,
Which most our Earthly Gardens want.
A prickling leaf it bears, and such
As that which shrinks at ev'ry touch;
But Flowrs eternal, and divine,
That in the Crowns of Saints do shine.
When in Comus Milton uses similar imagery ('The leaf was darkish, and had prickles on it, / But in another Countrey, as he said, / Bore a bright golden flowre, but not in this soyl', lines 631—3), it is with entirely different implications. The action of Comus continually reminds us that though most men do not recognize the priority of heavenly values, some men do: Milton's masque is dedicated to showing that it is possible to lead a virtuous life, that earth and heaven are not discrete, mutually exclusive realms, but harmonious, reconcilable. Marvell on the other hand in stanza XLV as in 'The Coronet' and 'On a Drop of Dew' emphasizes the exclusiveness of the conscience's demands, suggesting that involvement in the affairs of the world, even with the best of intentions, necessarily ensnares one in 'wreaths of Fame and Interest' ('The Coronet', line 16).
The unresolved debate in 'Upon Appleton House', appropriately for its setting of rural England in time of civil war, sets the fear that nature is irremediably fallen against the hope that nature can be redeemed. Within the mortal state the soul cannot exist apart from the body, or free from the shackles of time and the undeniable contingent presence of a world beyond the self. In our imaginations we are able to accomplish all our desires, but iron necessity does not readily allow challenges against its power:
And yet I quickly might arrive
Where my extended Soul is fixt,
But Fate does Iron wedges drive,
And alwaies crouds it self betwixt.
('The Definition of Love', lines 9-12)
The soul proclaims its own reality as sovereign, but it necessarily lives in a world of extension. The attempt to erect an impregnable citadel where the soul may enjoy its own society alone is thus as likely to prove disappointing as the attempt to reshape the world around us to make it fit our heroic conceptions. It is the ironic tension between the hope of triumphing over the world's destructive forces and the recognition of man's limited power over events which gives such poignancy to the garden section of 'Upon Appleton House'. Its central images of garden and fortress, fruitful paradise and wasteland, reverberate throughout the poem….
…9 Several earlier studies emphasize the thematic unity of Marvell's major poems. John Creaser, in 'Marveil's effortless superiority', Essays in Criticism, 20 (1970), 403-23, finds as a recurrent theme in Marvell's poems 'the myth of the Fall … mortality and alienation'; see also Ann E. Berthoff, The Resolved Soul (Princeton, 1970), pp. 3-6; the essay by the editor in Approaches to Marvell, ed. C. A. Patrides (London, 1978), p. 41; and, with particular attention to 'The Nymph complaining', Ruth Nevo, 'Marvell's "Songs of Innocence and Experience'", Studies in English Literature, 5 (1965), 1-21.
10 'The Mower's Song', lines 1-2; 'The Mower to the Glo-Worms', 15-16; 'The Mower's Song', line 15; 'Damon the Mower', line 74; 'The Mower's Song', line 22; 'The Garden', lines 63-4.
11Paradise Lost, XI, lines 814-17; Seneca, De Otio, Moral Essays, tr. John W. Basore (London and Cambridge, Mass., 1935), II, 186-7: 'Si res publica corruptior est quam ut adiuvari possit, si occupata est malis, non nitetur sapiens in supervacuum nec se nigil profuturus impendet.'
12 Barbara Lewalski argues for a tradition of Protestant meditation in which 'application to the self' is explicit, but the formula should not be applied too literally; see Donne's Anniversaries and the Poetry of Praise: The Creation of a Symbolic Mode (Princeton, 1973); and 'Marvell as religious poet', in Approaches to Marvell, ed. Patrides, p. 262.
13 Joseph Hall, Occasional Meditations, 3rd edn (London, 1633), Proem, Sig. A7-A7V. For the view in Renaissance Platonism of the imagination as 'intermediate' between sense and reason, see Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola, De Imaginatione, tr. H. Caplan (New Haven, 1930), p. 41; and Ralph Cudworth, A Treatise concerning Eternal and Immutable Morality, appended to The True Intellectual System of the Universe (3 vols., London, 1845), III, 614-15.
14 Cudworth, Treatise, III, 564, 566. There are interesting discussions of Cudworth's epistemology in Noam Chomsky, Cartesian Linguistics (New York, 1966), pp. 67-70; and J. A. Passmore, Ralph Cudworth, An Interpretation (Cambridge, 1951), pp. 19-39.
15 St. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, quoted in Louis L. Martz, The Poetry of Meditation (New Haven, 1954), p. 27.
16 I am not counting five first-person-singular pronouns in the speech of the nun in section two, since there the nun is speaking, not the poem's narrator. For an excellent commentary on this section of the poem, see Rosalie L. Colie, My Ecchoing Song: Andrew Marveil's Poetry of Criticism (Princeton, 1970).
17 'Rom. Cap. 9. ver. 19.' ('And do they so'), lines IIff., in The Works of Henry Vaughan, ed. L. C. Martin (Oxford, 1967); cf. Herbert, 'Affliction', (I), lines 57-60 in The Works of George Herbert, ed. F. E. Hutchinson (Oxford, 1941).
18 See Maren-Sofie Røstvig, The Happy Man: Studies in the Metamorphoses of a Classical Ideal, vol. I: 1600-1700, 2nd edn (Oslo, 1962), pp. 153-4, 183-5. Røstvig seems to me to overestimate the Hermetic element in 'Upon Appleton House', interpreting the poem almost exclusively in esoteric terms, but Fairfax's interest in Hermetism is well documented.
19 'Spring and Fall: to a young child' (lines 10-11), in The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, ed. W. H. Gardner and N. H. Mackenzie, 4th edn (London, 1967).
Bruce Lawson (essay date 1992)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6510
SOURCE: "Representing Cromwell: Marvell's Wiser Art," in Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Vol. 23, 1992, pp. 64-79.
[In the essay below, Lawson compares Marvell's "Horatian Ode" with other works of the period and argues that Marvell was presenting his own political views as well as a critique of political rhetoric in general.]
The past decade has witnessed an effort on the part of Marvell critics to "rehistoricize" the Horatian Ode. In an essay published in 1981, Judith Richards rejected the "cavalier" readings of the New Criticism, and made an appeal for interdisciplinary readings of the poem that would restore historical contexts and recover "what meaning Marvell might have been seeking to convey to a contemporary audience."1 Six years later, Marion Campbell argued a similar interpretive agenda, also attacking the New Critics for their ahistorical readings and, while acknowledging a "distinguished" line of historical criticism by the work of scholars such as Wallace and Patterson, asserting that deeper scrutiny of the relation of literature and history is still needed.2
This widely shared concern has occasioned many rich historical readings of the ode during the past ten years by critics including Warren Chernaik, Kenneth Elliot, Derek Hirst, Michael Wilding, and Blair Worden.3 It is worth noting, however, that the interpretive goals of these readings differ remarkably little from those of the older historical or even the New Critical readings. Commentaries on the poem have consisted and continue to consist of attempts (whether textual, historical, or biographical in emphasis) to stabilize the poem so as to assess its representations of Cromwell, Charles I, and the regicide, and to establish Marvell's precise stance with regard to them. The poem's notorious refusal to be thus resolved continues for the most part—as it has in the past—to be attributed either to the poet's own uncertainty or to his deliberate equivocation.
Kenneth Elliott's essay is typical in its fashioning of Marvell as a sophisticated thinker who expresses very tentative political judgments: "The way in which Marvell's perception of Oliver Cromwell changed is an indication of the complexity of the choices of political allegiance facing an alert and sensitive mind."4 Similarly, Blair Worden finds in the poem a fundamental ambivalence: "It resists any partisan reading. The more one struggles with the elusiveness of the ode, the more that elusiveness appears to be at its heart." He accounts for this ambiguity by positing Marvell's own ambivalence: "the Marvell of the Horatian Ode is a man of troubled and divided loyalties."5
In contrast, Michael Wilding's important 1987 essay accounts for the poem's ambiguity as part of the rhetorical strategy of a Marvell who is not at all undecided in his opinions but is cleverly advancing a political argument, communicated by what is conspicuously excluded from that very argument (conspicuous, at least, to his original audience). Accusing Cleanth Brooks of depoliticizing the poem, Wilding argues that "the poem gives the impression of dispassionately considering all the political possibilities, but its full political nature lies not in its created 'impression of the mind detachedly at play over a number of possible choices' but in its skilful exclusion of certain possibilities and manipulation of others," Leveller opposition to the Irish campaign being the central element excluded.6 While Wilding's insights are strikingly original and illuminating, his method places him in the same interpretive community as earlier commentators who argued that Marvell's ambiguity deliberately cloaks a definite political conviction, whether Royalist or Cromwellian.
I have no quarrel with these approaches, except that they give insufficient attention to an important element in the hermeneutic equation. Specifically, when the Horatian Ode is placed within the context of other poems about Cromwell—poems by such contemporaries as Cowley, Wither, Waller, Sprat, and Dryden—it becomes evident that a major factor in the ambiguity of Marvell's representations (in addition to authorial uncertainty or equivocation) is the sheer difficulty of fashioning with language any stable representation of Cromwell, or of objectifying the significance of contemporaneous political developments. I believe that the earnest but fundamentally problematic representations of Cromwell by Marvell's contemporaries reveal that Marvell himself was uniquely conscious of this hermeneutic dilemma and that in his poem he is as interested in critiquing political rhetoric as in characterizing his own political views.
To illustrate, I shall examine the working out of two interpretive paradigms utilized by Marvell and his contemporaries. Critics have often noted that the writers on Cromwell frequently utilized Calvinistic providentialism (with its Christian view of history) and popularized Machiavellianism (with its classical orientation) to explain the events of the day.7 These binary oppositions provide the simplifications of Cromwell's actions and character useful to both his supporters and his critics for political propaganda as well as serving the purpose of fashioning unprecedented events into existing structures of meaning. Cromwell's supporters interpret him through the ideological grid of Calvinistic providentialism, and his critics place him in a context of classical historiography and Machiavellianism, both attempting to make Cromwell comprehensible and congenial to their world view.
Cowley, for example, characterizes Cromwell as the absurd plaything of Fortune, raised for a brief span of glory on her wheel, but soon to be crushed under it. Clarendon's analysis of the events of the wars and Commonwealth is similarly classical, though his interpretation of Cromwell's role as manipulating events focuses not on fortune but on the power of strong individuals to shape history. Conversely, Milton, Marveil, Wither, and others find in providentialism the means of understanding and defending Cromwell.
Political events resist neat categorization, however, so we often discover the panegyrists utilizing the terms of classical historiography, and the Royalists relying on the same scriptures as the Puritans to characterize Cromwell. In fact, the purposes of both parties are often subverted by the fact that Cromwell's behavior and character can just as easily be categorized as providential or Machiavellian, so that the actions pointed out by the Royalist as absolute proof of his self-serving opportunism are utilized equally convincingly by the Parliamentarians as the seal of providence. This pattern of appropriating and subverting conflicting ideologies to prove a point or deal with an unprecedented fact permeates the literature on Cromwell: the paradigms used to fashion Cromwell, existing within discourse, are inherently unstable and inevitably slip into one another.
This difficulty with representational language is evident when Cromwell's panegyrists attempt to fit him neatly into a providential frame. Cromwell, who is a man of blood as soldier and regicide, and who possesses clear personal ambition, thus lacks the trappings of sanctity. By his own virtuosity, he tends to focus attention on himself rather than on God. Therefore, in casting Cromwell in a providential role, his supporters must address the problem of those obvious qualifications which, as his detractors persistently point out, tend to make him appear an exemplar of Machiavellian virtu. Demonstrating that Cromwell lacked this or that quality of Machiavelli's Prince, though important, is only half of the task. The more difficult half lies in finding positive grounds for praising Cromwell that aren't already claimed by Machiavelli as praise for his Prince.
Providentialism and Machiavellianism share many terms that are utilized to demonstrate membership in either system: "success," for instance, could equally well be interpreted as the mark of Machiavellian virtu, or as the evidence of divine favor. Of course, Cromwell's enemies have the same problem in reverse: this resistance of language to stable—or reductive—representational categorizing is equally vexing to those who attempt to fashion Cromwell as a mere self-serving Machiavel.
A case in point is Abraham Cowley's history of Cromwell in A DISCOURSE by way of VISION Concerning the Government of Oliver Cromwell (1659),8 a multigenre diatribe constructed in such a way as to establish that it is indeed Cromwell the man who is author of events, and that his actions are alien to models of Christian behavior. From this perspective, Cromwell is, in fact, the quintessential Machiavel. In his vision, an angelic being singing Cromwell's praises confronts Cowley, who immediately realizes that this "strange and terrible Apparition" is of the devil's party, if not the very Devil himself. The devil's praise of Cromwell provides Cowley with the occasion for a fiery anti-Cromwell diatribe,9 which takes the form of a clever two-pronged attack. First, the Machiavellian terms of the devil's panegyric on Cromwell provide occasion and righteous indignation for Cowley's venomous response; additionally, Cromwell's praise is itself is subverted by the devilish speaker. Praise from one's enemies is more damning than the censure of one's friends.
Cowley begins his Discourse by fashioning Cromwell with an inflammatory iconographic image: the Machiavellian devil stands naked but adorned (or "deformed" as Cowley says) with painted images of civil-war battles on his body—Nasby centered on his chest—holding upright a sword containing Cromwell's motto, Pax quaeritur bello, "Let peace be won through war." His persona is horrified at seeing Cromwell's bloody sword held by this frightful demon. Cowley's image thus attributes cruelty and duplicity to Cromwell as soldier, reminding us of the duke whom Machiavelli endorses in The Prince for empowering his captian, Remirro de Orca, to restore peace through savage force and cruelty but who then makes a public display of cutting Remirro's body in half to impute the cruelty to his captain, and justice and restraint to himself.10 Although the notion of establishing peace with the sword was a popular commonplace,11 Cowley's portrait clearly attempts to discredit the role of peacemaker by associating it with Cromwell's militarism. The devil praises Cromwell for the invincibility of his military stratagems, for Cromwell's ability "to over-run each corner of the three Nations, and overcome with equal facility both the riches of the South, and the poverty of the North; to be feared and courted by all foreign Princes, and adopted a Brother to the gods of the earth" (347). In placing the emphasis on Cromwell's personal military prowess, Cowley utilizes the facts of Cromwell's military career to frame him as a great mover in the classical sense, as "a Brother to the gods of the earth" and in so doing to impute to him the qualities of Machiavelli's hero.
Cromwell's supporters, on the other hand, could utilize these same facts to fashion a hero. Twentieth-century writers have argued that Cromwell was a brilliantly unorthodox and innovative military strategist and leader, and that his increasing acquisition of power was a corollary of his military virtuosity.12 Cromwell's tactics for developing the regiments of his New Model Army were controversial: he discarded the conventional wisdom and social prejudice that assumed only men of gentle birth could be officers; he rejected the use of mercenary soldiers; and he extended his iron discipline so far as to deny his soldiers the traditional right to plunder the conquered. Perhaps even more controversial than the crossing of social boundaries was Cromwell's policy of permitting in his ranks men of all Protestant religious sects. Nevertheless, these factors—the melding of social and religious classes, the camaraderie and energy generated through mutual acceptance, the rigorous discipline, the love of the men for their leader, the innovative use of a regrouping cavalry—created the army that was responsible for Parliament's victory. Thus while Cromwell's formidable military success could seem problematic from a Christian perspective, his success could also be understood in a providential framework, utilized by the panegyrists to fashion Cromwell into an apocalyptic warrior. Waller, in his poem, "A Panegyric to my Lord Protector," fashions Cromwell into a hero whose very conquests are acts of grace, whose "never-failing sword made war to cease," and who now "heals us with the arts of peace."13 Dryden, in his "Heroic Stanzas on the Death of Oliver Cromwell," says that Cromwell "fought to end our fighting" and that "Peace was the prize of all his toil and care"; and he sets these worthy endeavors in a specifically providential interpretive context, suggesting that Cromwell's heroism and success cannot be explained entirely in human terms.14 He instead claims that "such heroic virtue Heaven sets out"; and that Cromwell is the true Christian hero: "How strangely high endeavors may be blest, / Where piety and valour jointly go" (147-148).
But Cromwell, thus fashioned, has feet of clay, at least from his critics' perspective. Cowley, for example, sees Cromwell's part in the execution of Charles as a compelling illustration of an individual's ability shape history, and as evidence of Cromwell's ambition. It is also a potent argument against representations of Cromwell as peacemaker. In itself, the act of regicide is not necessarily linked with Machiavelli, though the two were often associated, as in the portraits of Richard III (a parallel Cowley does not fail to point out). The devil contrives to justify Cromwell's act of regicide by setting it in a classical framework of great human endeavor. Cromwell is to be applauded for having "the courage to attempt, and the happiness to succeed in so improbable a design, as the destruction of one of the most antient, and most solidly founded Monarchies upon the Earth … that he should have the power or boldness to put his Prince and Master to an open and infamous death" (347). The terms "courage" and "power" and "boldness," coming as they are from the mouth of the Machiavellian demon, must be read as virtu. In setting up this equation, "Cromwell's apparent courage is actually Machiavellian virtu," Cowley supplants the terms of praise Cromwell's supporters use, effecting a shift of meaning that subverts attempts to praise Cromwell for his personal prowess. The joke is on the panegyrist who must praise Cromwell in terms that can so easily connote villainy.
Furthermore, in addition to using the self-subverting words of the devil to position Cromwell as a pagan hero or villain, Cowley, in his answer to the devil, recasts Cromwell's actions in a slightly different frame, which preserves the demon's pagan categories but makes him explicitly Machiavellian as well. Cowley says Cromwell's crime was "to set up Counsels of Rapine, and Courts of Murder, to fight against the king under a commission for him; to take him forcibly out of the hands of those for whom he had conquered him; to draw him into his Net, with protestations and vows of fidelity, and when he had caught him in it, to butcher him, with as little shame, or Conscience, or Humanity, in the open face of the whole World" (349). Cowley's narration of the events surrounding the execution selects and arranges the historical data so as to depict the events not merely as acts of barbarism or rage but as the direct result of Cromwell's deliberate and controlled design. Thus Cowley makes Cromwell the subject of a series of active verbs: he "set up counsels," "fought against the king," took him forcibly, drew him into his net, and butchered him, all with the majestic autonomy and self-assurance of a Greek hero.
But Cowley's reductive portrait crumbles, as he foolishly buttresses his image with mere cant—such as his accusation that Cromwell had secretly negotiated to sell St. Paul's Cathedral to the Jews for a synagogue—and with other blatantly selective and highly fictionalized accounts of events. In it, Cowley displaces Fairfax's role—who seized the king and brought him to London—as well as the army's, whose increasing anarchy forced Cromwell's hand, even as Cromwell himself was holding out for a restoration of monarchy. It also portrays as monolithic a divided and contentious Parliament, and generates an image of a solitary Cromwell triumphantly displaying the head of Charles whom he has single-handedly "butchered." Cowley must construct his ideological image in this way because the man and events he is describing are just as effectively interpreted and defended as providential, as Milton's representation illustrates.
The initial image in Milton's panegyric to Oliver Cromwell in The Second Defense of the English People is of a man of God in whose breast burned the "flame of piety."15 Following this image, Milton portrays Cromwell as a great military hero, described at times with words that Cowley's demon might well have spoken. "The whole surface of the British empire has been the scene of his exploits and the theater of his triumphs which alone would furnish ample materials for a history and want a copiousness of narration not inferior to the magnitude and diversity of the transactions" (832). Milton goes on to point out that Cromwell's personal character was such that from the beginning men flocked to him, desiring to serve in his ranks; that it was not possible to enumerate "the many towns which he has taken, the many battles which he has won" (832). Milton places these words, which alone might appear as barefaced exaltation of power, in a different ideological context from Cowley's. His juxtaposition of piety and militarism is crucial. While emphasizing Cromwell's personal might, Milton avoids making him a Machiavellian prince by shifting the grounds of his success from pagan virtu to Christian virtue. Cromwell, says Milton, attained his power over other men by first attaining power over himself through pious temperance and self-government: "He had either extinguished, or by habit had learned to subdue, the whole host of vain hopes, fears, and passions which infest the soul … so that on the first day he took the field against the external enemy he was a veteran in arms, consummately practiced in the toils and exigencies of war" (832). Milton makes it clear that such self-control in Cromwell is not pagan virtu by claiming that his was particularly a Christian virtue: "the good and the brave were from all quarters attracted to his camp, not only as to the best school of military talents, but of piety and virtue" (832).
Cowley's and Milton's accounts of Cromwell's notable exploits conflict because each perceives the same facts according to his own ideology. Cowley characterizes Cromwell's military victories as the acts of a butcher who "breaks his faith with all Enemies, and with all friends equally," and who "tramples on all his equals and betters." This is fine Machiavellian portraiture and disregards such common knowledge as the celebrated discipline and restraint of Cromwell's troops. In contrast, Milton makes Cromwell's pious self-government the centerpiece of his portrait of the New Model army,
which was formidable to the enemy in the field, but never cruel to those who laid down their arms; which committed no lawless ravages on the persons or the property of the inhabitants, who, when they compared their conduct with the turbulence, the intemperance, the impiety, and the debauchery of the royalists, were wont to salute them as friends and to consider them as guests. they were a stay to the good, a terror to the evil, and the warmest advocates for every exertion of piety and virtue. (833)
Milton's account presents Cromwell's exploits as those of an apocalyptic army bringing about the stern yet merciful judgment of God, a representation of events that conforms to English providentialism and may contain without disjunction an event such as the massacre of the priests at Drogheda. Similarly, while Cowley charges Cromwell with "usurping three kingdoms without any shadow of the least pretensions, and governing them as unjustly as he got them," Milton celebrates the conquests of Scotland and Ireland as succeeding in doing what "all our monarchs, during a period of eight hundred years" had struggled in vain to do. Milton takes as self-evident the justification for these conquests, referring to the Irish as "rebels" and noting that Cromwell's treatment of the Scots came in response to their "irruption into England with the king in their train". He celebrates as unmixed blessing the conquest of the Scots, making particular reference to such things as Cromwell's having "almost annihilated the remainder of their forces" at Worcester. But again his praise of violence is moderated by his characterization of Cromwell as a pious man of God who with "unwearied diligence" dealt with the rebel Scots (833). Milton's method of focusing on Cromwell's pious character—a character carefully fashioned—each time he extols his actions is the way he manages, albeit precariously, to keep Cromwell within the constraints of Christian, as opposed to Machiavellian, heroism.
The regicide unquestionably provides Cowley with the greatest indictment against Cromwell's claim of spiritual motivation, and does in fact present the greatest difficulty for his defenders. Cromwell's panegyrists seem to share the tacit assumption that the difficult matter of Charles's execution was best dealt with by silence. Milton, Waller, Dryden, and Sprat in their panegyrics make no reference to Cromwell's part in the execution of the king, and their praise of his military success focuses rather on his part in ending the civil wars and in his expansion of the British empire. Only Marvell and Wither specifically grapple with the problem.16 George Wither approaches the subject with caution in his "Epitaph" on Cromwell in Salt upon Salt,17 and his defense illustrates the risks of the endeavor and the perilous insubstantiality of ideological representations:
His Predecessor's Sins and our,
Made way for Him to Soveraign Power;
By rendring that an Act of Reason;
And Justice, which had else been Treason.
Wither thus justifies the regicide by carefully setting Cromwell and events in a Christian framework, wherein political phenomena are assigned spiritual meanings. He understands the motivating agent of Cromwell's act to be the sins of Charles and the English people, thereby making the execution a spiritual necessity, an "act of Reason and Justice." Yet Wither also recognizes that the act is redeemable only by defining it in these terms, that an interpretation that sees events as the consequences of the willful act of a self-motivated individual would make the execution an act of treason. In consequence, the passage's grammatical construction reduces the focus on Cromwell as individual mover, making him the receiver of the action rather than the subject. "Sins," the subject, are the force that "made way" for Cromwell to gain "Soveraign Power." Wither thus fashions him as one compelled by spiritual necessity to commit an otherwise heinous act. The poet, in effect, identifies the events' author as God, not Cromwell.
But the events, so fashioned, are unstable. Wither does not end his poem here, and some of what follows has the effect of unraveling the certainty of his judgment on the regicide and on Cromwell himself. The emphasis shifts almost irresistibly to Cromwell the man:
This World afford no Pattern can
Which better shews what is in Man.
His Vertues, were enough to do,
So much as GOD design'd Him to.
He Failings had: But, when liv'd any
That had not every way as many,
If he (whilst here abode he made)
Such Tempters and Temptations had?
Here Wither portrays Cromwell as the pattern of all men, a mixture of virtue and vice. On the surface this perspective does correspond to Wither's earlier portrait of Cromwell as being merely an instrument of God's designs and can be seen as further deflecting the view of Cromwell as aspiring hero in the classical or Machiavellian sense. The issue here, however, is not typical human sin and temptation but the extraordinary act of killing the king. In reducing Cromwell to the status of an erring human in order to avoid the problems of making him too much like a pagan hero, Wither also risks stripping Cromwell of the moral authority—that special knowledge of God—that makes the regicide righteous and reasonable rather than treasonous. The terms of Wither's defense may thus function as ammunition for attacks on Cromwell.
From the preceding polemics, we can see that a fundamental problem in all straightforward ideological representations—both accolades and attacks—is that they attempt to create monolithic pictures of complex subjects, pictures that cannot be contained within discursive categories or maintained under the force of reality. Cromwell the Christian warrior-saint; Cromwell the Machiavel; Cromwell the Conqueror; Cromwell the judge and patriarch; Cromwell the king: all such images, whether fashioned by Cromwell's supporters and detractors, by Cromwell himself, or by his historical observers crumble in the end because the reality of Cromwell consists in all of them, but is fully encompassed by no single one.
Marvell's Ode reveals the futility of attempting a definitive characterization or judgment of Cromwell and the events of his day. Whereas the other writers try to force Cromwell into a limited mold, Marvell points to the insufficiency of such attempts. The Ode is more a poem on political ideology and its rhetoric than it is on Cromwell, and, as a result, is the least reductive and doctrinaire of the poems on Cromwell. In the panegyrics and diatribes of Cowley, Waller, Sprat, Wither, Milton, and Dryden, the representations of Cromwell are heavily buttressed with ideology, and they collapse or unravel only against the earnest efforts of the poets.18 The fashioning of Cromwell in the Horatian Ode is decidedly different. Although Marvell, like the others, utilizes Machiavellianism and Providentialism as key paradigms for interpretation, he presents neither in the clear ascendancy. Instead, he juxtaposes them in the most daring manner, often balancing the two paradigms on a single word or image, thus generating a hermeneutic predicament in which the interpretation of a single word or image can nudge the entire representation into one political camp or the other. This witty manipulation of paradigms gives the poem a riddling, at times almost playful, tone quite unlike the high seriousness of the other works—and quite unlike Marvell's own later Cromwell poems.19
Critics have noted, for instance, the syntactic ambiguity of many lines, such as "To ruin the great work of time," with its hermeneutically equivocal word "great"; or the subtle but significant shift in stance in these lines of apparent praise, "Nor yet grown stiffer with command, / but still in the Republic's hand." Here the shift is effected if we emphasize "yet" and "still," as the iambic meter would suggest. There are other such examples as well.20 More significant than such wordplay, however, is Marvell's duplicitous use of the central representational metaphors of the poem. Critics have speculated upon Marvell's philosophy of history and his attitude to the regicide based on the interpretation of the "three-forked Lightning" passage.21 This passage is certainly interesting in terms of what it may reveal about Marvell's convictions, but it also provides a fascinating instance of colliding paradigms. The metaphor responds to the crucial question of the poem: who authors the social upheavals? What motivates Cromwell, the "forced Pow'r?" Is the phrase "forced pow'r" Christian or Machiavellian? Is Cromwell "forced" by God to "ruine the great Work of Time, / And cast the Kingdoms old / Into another Mold," or does Cromwell the man force his own will upon events? The answer hinges on how one interprets the metaphor following, which Marvell employs to characterize his military achievements:
The answer to the riddle would appear to be contained in the metaphor of Cromwell as "three-fork'd Lightning," a richly ambiguous image that resides on the borders of Providentialism and Machiavellianism. It suggests either powerful natural forces or, with its trinity of forks, supernatural power and willful intent. The lightning, in conjunction with the contention that "restless Cromwel … Urged his active star," may be the symbol of Cromwell's own powerful will and thus move him into Machiavellian territory. Marvell's subsequent comment destabilizes this interpretation, however: "Tis Madness to resist or blame / The force of angry Heavens flame" (25-26). It is "madness" to resist Cromwell only if he is indeed the instrument of angry heaven and a Providential, God-directed force, as these lines suggest; it is madness not to resist if he is merely another Richard III. If this is Marvell's perspective, then he may share Wither's view of Cromwell as a mere instrument of God's uncontrollable intent. But the reader is prevented from settling on this interpretation as well, because Marvell immediately juxtaposes this ostensibly Christian concept with an assertion that suggests a classical perspective: "And, if we would speak true, / Much to the Man is due" (27-28). Thus Marvell teases the reader. These four lines embody the two opposing views of Cromwell, and thus hold a key to the interpretation of the entire poem and its fashioning of Cromwell. This tension may indeed result from Marvell's own political wariness or uncertainty. But it is also possible that Marvell is deliberately and satirically illustrating the inherent instability of representational language, along with the absurd attempts by others to fashion Cromwell in absolute terms.
Such an agenda seems especially plausible in Marvell's presentation of Cromwell and the Irish campaign.
Cleanth Brooks, assuming that Marvell viewed Cromwell through a Machiavellian lens, saw these lines as obviously ironic, while Bush, assuming a providential lens, argued that they were straightforward. Both stances can be argued equally well; thus Marvell presents us another riddle. From our present perspective, the irony needs least argument: we may easily grant that the Irish "are asham'd" following their conquest, and that in a bitter sense they, the conquered, can in fact "affirm his Praises best"; but that they should affirm his goodness and justice is absurd, the irony almost too blatant. If the Irish had any reason to consider Cromwell "good" and "just" it would probably be for the restraint with which he carried out the Irish campaign, the fact that he permitted no pillage and rape of the peasantry as was customarily part of conquest; but even this seems more like an English projection than true Irish sentiment. Furthermore, irony exists comfortably in the poem's atmosphere of ambiguity and equivocation. And if one decides from the evidence that Marvell sees Cromwell as Machiavellian, then these lines must be read ironically.
On the other hand, it is interesting to note that Waller, Dryden, and Milton express a view of the Irish campaign that is strikingly analogous to Marvell's, similarly characterizing the Irish as praising Cromwell. Waller, for instance, says in his Panegyric that the Scots and Irish are "Preferred by conquest, happily o'erthrown" (93). And Marvell's noting of the Irish praise is presented in the straightforward manner of the other poets, and the terms of the praise fit Cromwell's own providential view of his accomplishment, as he expressed in his correspondence.23 One can effectively argue that Marvell is taking a providential view, focusing on God's judgment and Cromwell's restraint and seeing the slaughter of the priests at Drogheda as no consideration at all—except, perhaps, as further reason for the Irish to be grateful.
At least as interesting as what Marvell "really thought," however, is the way Marvell again manipulates the two opposing interpretive paradigms. How one interprets Cromwell's Irish victory—as providential or Machiavellian—hinges to a considerable extent on one equivocal line in the passage: "So much can one man do / That does both act and know." Marvell's praise of the achievements possible for one man "that does both act and know" is ideologically ambivalent, depending on how one interprets the verb "know." What, exactly, is the nature of the knowledge Cromwell possesses that enables him to attain unprecedented victory? There are two possibilities that conform to the Cromwell of his letters, as well as to the conceptions of Cromwell put forward by the panegyrists. Cromwell's knowledge may be "self-knowledge" of the kind that Waller refers to: "Oft have we wondered how you hid in peace / A mind proportioned to such things as these; / How such a ruling spirit you could restrain, / And practise first over yourself to reign" (129-132). Earlier in the poem Marvell hints at such a notion, where he refers to Cromwell in his private gardens, "where / He liv'd reserved and austere." Asceticism and spiritual preparation conjure up images of saints and religious heroes such as Moses, and other writers on Cromwell see these traits as a fountainhead of his later achievement. Another possibility is that the knowledge Marvell attributes to Cromwell is specifically a spiritual knowledge, such as that underlying Cromwell's assessment of the victory at Naseby: "Surely, sir, this is the hand of God." Cromwell "knows" the will of God for the English and "acts" in response to that knowledge, bringing about unprecedented victory. Of course it is just as credible to construe such knowing and acting as qualities of Machiavelli's prince, specifically as cunning and virtu, and there is just as much evidence in the poem to support such a reading.24 At the least, Marvell's words, "So much one Man can do" carry sufficient Machiavellian overtones to destabilize the image of Cromwell as Christian saint and cast doubt on the conviction that his success in war is the sure mark of divine instrumentality. Marvell might actually be expressing the ironic perspective that Cowley later develops in the Discourse, in which it is the devil who suggests that Cromwell's power comes from the Almighty and that "all men who are the effectors of extraordinary mutations in the world, must needs have extraordinary forces of Nature by which they are enabled to turn about, as they please, so great a Wheel" (360). Cowley refutes this view by citing historical instances demonstrating that, when Providence sets about making major changes in the world, it utilizes means that cannot be mistaken for the exclusively human. Cowley thus argues the scriptural view that God uses the weak and ignorant of this world to carry out his most important tasks, so confounding the cunning, a view that challenges Cromwell on his own ground.25 By having the devil defend Cromwell's actions as providential, Cowley implies that a Machiavel can hypocritically use Cromwell's view of providence. Again, Marvell plays with these slippery possibilities by wittily placing disproportionate interpretive weight on the word "know."
In this way, Marvell's central representations of Cromwell and events invite collisions of opposing ideologies and blatantly refuse to be definitively set in either camp. In doing so, they provide all who attempt to seize Cromwell for their own ideology with an object lesson that artfully enacts the difficulties of one-sided representation. No sooner does one fashion a portrait than it begins to break apart, for Cromwell's identity is not an "essence" to be captured, but a plurality of meanings and interpretations. In his pattern of presenting, then subverting, conflicting conceptions of Cromwell's actions, Marvell acknowledges the need to find order in disorder by conceptualizing political realities, while at the same time demonstrating the hopelessness of ever arriving at comfortable political certainties. The consequence is, of course, vulnerability and uncertainty, the tone, perhaps, in which Marvell finishes his portrait of Oliver Cromwell: "The same Arts that did gain / A Pow'r must it maintain."
1 Judith Richards, "Literary Criticism and the Historian: Towards Reconstructing Marvell's Meaning in 'An Horatian Ode,'" Literature and History 7 (1981): 44.
2 Marion Campbell, "Rehistoricising the Marvell Text," Southern Review 20 (July, 1987): 126-137.
3 See Warren Cherniak, The Poet's Time: Politics and Religion in the Work of Andrew Marvell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983); Kenneth Elliot, "Andrew Marvell and Oliver Cromwell," Renaissance and Modern Studies 26 (1982): 75-89; Derek Hirst, "'That Sober Liberty:' Marvell's Cromwell in 1654," in The Golden and Brazen World: Papers in Literature and History, 1650-1800, ed. John M. Wallace (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 17-53; Michael Wilding, "Marvell's 'An Horatian Ode Upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland', The Levellers, and the Junta," Modern Language Review 82 (1987): 1-14; Blair Worden, "Andrew Marvell, Oliver Cromwell, and the Horatian Ode" in Politics of Discourse: The Literature and History of Seventeenth-Century England, eds. Kevin Sharpe and Steven N. Zwicker (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 147-180.
4 Kenneth Elliot, "Andrew Marvell and Oliver Cromwell," 89.
5 Blair Worden, "Horatian Ode," 172, 159.
6 Michael Wilding, "The Levellers, and the Junta," 3.
7 For representative treatments of the Horatian Ode from these two perspectives, see J. A. Mazzeo, "Marvell's Machiavellian Cromwell," Journal of the History of Ideas 21 (1960): 1-17, and John M. Wallace, "Marvell's Horatian Ode," PMLA 77 (1962): 33-45. Most recently, Blair Worden, "Horatian Ode," 163, utilizes Machiavellianism as an interpretive device, suggesting that "during the Puritan Revolution, the period when Machiavelli's influence in England was at its peak, Machiavelli's prince became the archetype summoned by writers seeking to catch the greatness and meteoric rise of Cromwell."
8The English Writings of Abraham Cowley, ed. A. R. Waller (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1906), 342-383. Subsequent references will appear in the text by page number.
9 Cromwell, it would seem, was more tolerant: Cowley was one of several exiled Royalist writers whom he permitted to return to England during the Protectorate.
10The Prince, ed. Quentin Skinner and Russell Price (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 26.
11 Note, for example, "The Sword hath place, till War doth cease; And, useful is, in time of Peace." George Wither, A collection of emblemes ancient and modern (London: R. Milbourne, 1635), vol. 2, page 90, illustration 27.
12 See, for instance, Christopher Hill, God's Englishman (New York: Dial, 1970).
13The Poems of Edmund Waller (New York: Greenwood, 1968), 138-143.
14 Dryden's poem appeared along with poems by Waller and Sprat in a 1659 volume entitled, Three Poems upon the Death of His Late Highness Oliver Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland (Pamphlet Collection, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, Los Angeles).
15 In John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes (New York: Odyssey, 1957), 832. Subsequent references to this work will appear in the text by page number.
16 Milton, of course, deals extensively with the regicide in his Tenure of Kings and Magistrates and in Eikonoclastes, (Complete Poems and Prose, ed. Hughes, 750-780; 781-816); but he never touches on the matter in his fashioning of Cromwell.
17Miscellaneous Works of George Wither, Fourth Collection (New York: Burt Franklin, 1967), 44.
18 The same might be said, by the way, of much of the Horatian Ode criticism, which consistently fails in its attempt to set Marvell's ode securely in one ideological camp or another.
19 One may appreciate this quality in the Ode without diminishing the traditional valuation of the poem as being, in Barbara Everett's words, "a landmark at the center of the age: grave, weighty and unshakably judicious."
20 See Douglas Bush, "Marvell's Horatian Ode," Sewanee Review 60 (1952): 363-376, and Warren Chernaik's discussion in The Poet's Time. See also G. D. Monsarrat, "Marvell's Use of 'Nor Yet,' With Special Reference to the 'Horatian Ode,'" English Language Notes, 18 (December 1980): 104-108.
21 Bush, Brooks, and Chernaik grapple with this passage in the essays I've referred to. I am especially indebted for the observations that follow to C. A. Patrides' illuminating article, '"Till prepared for longer flight': The Sublunar Poetry of Andrew Marvell," in Approaches to Marvell, ed. C. A. Patrides (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978).
22 H. M. Margoliouth, ed., The Poems and Letters of Andrew Marvell, 2 vols., (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), vol. 1, 91, ll. 9-16. Subsequent references to this edition's line numbers will appear in the text.
23 See, for instance, his letter to Colonel Valentine Walton in Thomas Carlyle's collection, Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches: With Elucidations, 4 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1903), vol. 1, 188.
24 J. A. Mazzeo makes such a case in "Marvell's Machiavellian Cromwell," arguing that "Cromwell comes fulfilling the prophecy of that greatest of unnamed prophets, Machiavelli himself, as if in fulfillment of the archetypal model Machiavelli had created … some of the awe and excitement the 'Horatian Ode' communicates flows from Marvell's shock at finding this theoretical figure fulfilled in reality, not in distant Italy, but in his own time and country" (17).
25 1 Corinthians 1:27: "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty."
Alexander G. Gonzalez (essay date 1994)
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2731
SOURCE: "Antithesis and Resolution in the Character of Andrew Marvell's Cromwell and Fairfax," in CLA Journal, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 1, September 1994, pp. 87-96.
[In the following essay, Gonzalez compares "Horatian Ode " with "Upon Appleton House," arguing that rather than being diametric opposites, Cromwell and Fairfax as described by Marvell share numerous elements.]
About twenty years ago James Carscallen made some insightful and extremely useful observations about Andrew Marvell's poetry. Although I do not agree with everything he has to say, I feel that Carscallen successfully argues at least one idea that is of major significance of Marvell: that "where you find a pair of contraries you will also find that each of them contains both in itself, and that each can be seen in terms of the other." Carscallen goes on to add that often the "contraries change places and metamorphose into one another."1 My purpose here is to compare the characters of Oliver Cromwell in the "Horatian Ode" and Lord Fairfax in "Upon Appleton House," and to show that although they appear to be irreconcilable opposites they are actually contained within each other and can be defined by each other. As a result, I will attempt to refute some critics, such as Isabel Rivers, who in comparing Cromwell and Fairfax sees "a onesidedness" in each respective position of action (Cromwell) and retirement (Fairfax), and who concludes that "a choice for one way of life or for one kind of action excludes other qualities or possibilities."2 Actually, the love for action and for retirement coexist within each man, and if Rivers's statement is partially somewhat accurate, it is only by benefit of historical hindsight, for in spite of the final couplet in the "Ode," nothing was absolutely certain about the political future of either man at the turbulent time these poems were written, the early 1650s.
To be sure, the paths of the two generals have crossed one another, Cromwell coming out of retirement and Fairfax retiring from action, but Marvell could not have been completely certain that things would not change or even entirely reverse themselves, especially during a time of such unprecedented upheavals. Cromwell may indeed be an irresistible natural force for the time being, especially in a poem written in praise of Cromwell, but once the historically orderly pattern of government ceases to exist, who dares to attempt to foresee the future? In fact, if historical hindsight is to be the measure upon which interpretation is based, eventually the fortunes of the two men did cross again, for in 1658 "Presbyterian leaders including Fairfax and Manchester" were actively becoming contacts to the Royalist factions, a somewhat dangerous activity for Fairfax to carry on while in retirement; similarly, Cromwell became "sickly, fever and overwork wearing him down," and was forced into semi-retirement, which is where George Fox met him "riding round Hampton Court" and felt from him a "waft of death."3 Therefore what we must consider in these poems is twofold: first, we must assess the characters of two men who are temporarily opposites and, secondly, distinguish the opposing qualities that can be found in varying degrees in each other; that is, though the men are apparently dissimilar, the two actually have remarkably much in common.
First, we must identify exactly what human qualities Marvell chose to emphasize. Both men were unquestionably brave, Cromwell receiving "the deepest Scars" on any "Field of all the Civil Wars" (45-46), Fairfax embodying "Pow'r which the Ocean might command" (XLIV).4 Humility is evident in Cromwell's respect for the Commonwealth:
He to the Commons 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.
And Fairfax's humility is reflected by the modest and, for one of his station, unpretentious house in which he lives:
Humility alone designs
Those short but admirable Lines,
By which, ingirt and unconstrain'd,
Things greater are in less contain'd.
In addition to bravery and humility, John M. Wallace has pointed out "the four cardinal varieties" of Cromwell's virtue:5 temperance in Cromwell's private gardens, where "He liv'd reserved and austere;" fortitude, which is revealed in his "industrious Valour;" and wisdom in his "wiser Art." The fourth, justice, deserves extended discussion and will be treated separately. But Fairfax certainly shows the same temperance in his modest house; a "fortitude of patience" (Wallace 242) in choosing to retire at the time he did; and a wisdom that is reflected in a house and grounds "Where ev'ry Thing does answer Use" (VIII). Moreover, Annabel Patterson finds that "Mary Fairfax not only exemplifies Fairfax's 'Discipline severe,' but in her modesty, both natural and philosophical, must surely demonstrate his."6 Cromwell's discipline is evident throughout, particularly when we are told that despite the dangers of his newfound high position he "March[es] indefatigably on" (114).
But the idea of justice is a more complicated matter to discuss:
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.
How can Fairfax and Cromwell be linked at all, given a definition of justice such as this? Wallace, in one of his less extravagant claims in Cromwell's behalf, interprets justice to mean "a higher justice, embodied not in a constitution but in natural and revealed law" (76). A close reading of the lines will reveal that "Justice" need not necessarily be equivalent to "antient Rights." No, indeed, "Nature that hateth emptiness" and "Allows of penetration less" is ultimately the arbiter of what constitutes justice, to keep to the language of legality that characterizes the passage. Cromwell was acting justly to start a new order, acting for what he saw as England's good not for his own personal ends:
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.
As Joseph Mazzeo and others have demonstrated,7 Cromwell is also depicted by Marvell as a Machiavellian schemer:
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.
Although the last four lines have been proved historically false, there is enough historical evidence to support the idea that Marvell was right in essence. Cromwell was, however, a real Machiavellian general in the sense that, unlike some of the self-advancing schemers we find in Renaissance tragedy, Cromwell acted this way for the good of his country:
What may not then our isle presume
While Victory his Crest does Plume!
In these and in the lines quoted previously, we have ample evidence that Cromwell was acting for justice and England, not for personal gain.
Let us turn now to Fairfax then. The two men differ only in degree of transgressing "antient Rights" for realistic ends benefitting the nation. Fairfax, commander of the Parliamentary forces just before Cromwell, too, raised arms against his king, which, strictly speaking, is a violation of law, even if Fairfax did only intend to curb the power of the king. But when things began to happen faster than he liked, Fairfax withdrew, claiming his conscience would allow him to act no further. Fairfax would not attack Scotland unprovoked; Marvell extols Fairfax's
Conscience, that Heaven-nursed Plant,
Which most our Earthly Gardens want.
A prickling leaf it bears, and such
As that which shrinks at ev'ry touch;
But Flowrs eternal, and divine,
That in the Crowns of Saints do shine.
But perhaps it was as much guilt as conscience, for Fairfax must have known that the situation would never have gone as far as it did without his own contribution. Fairfax's last-minute efforts to save Charles's life went for nought. So in the final analysis both men began with a reinterpretation of justice for the benefit of their nation, although each had a different standard and outcome in mind.
Inextricably linked to the question of justice is that of ambition, for each general, first Fairfax and later Cromwell, came to be the most powerful single man in England in defiance of "antient Rights." Marvell speaks plainly enough on Fairfax's behalf:
For he did, with utmost Skill,
Ambition weed, but Conscience till.
As we have seen in several quotations from the "Ode," Cromwell is working for England's benefit, not his own. However, the closing couplet of the poem I interpret as a subtle warning:
The same Arts that did gain
A Pow'r must it maintain.
The final verb, "must maintain," implies that Marvell has an apprehension that Cromwell may do more than merely maintain his power in the future, that he may try to consolidate and advance it instead, especially if we keep in mind that Marvell has already portrayed Cromwell as an irresistible "force of angry Heavens flame" (26).
Indeed, Cromwell's responsibility to Parliament is emphasized again and again, most notably in the falcon simile:
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!
In this and in the other great natural image developed in the poem, that of the
Marvell gives us his idea of Cromwell's relationship with nature. As one who has forcefully "Urged his active Star" (12), Cromwell has taken on willingly this amoral8 power derived from above:
'Tis Madness to resist or blame
The force of angry Heavens flame:
And, if we would speak true,
Much to the Man is due.
Mazzeo claims quite rightly that Cromwell "is no passive instrument of fortune,"9 and Harold Toliver has noted that "worthwhile reconciliation of above and below comes only through those who have valor and make themselves conduits of Fate's electrical charge: one must conceive within himself a new order closer to the laws of providence before the works of time are found lacking; the flame must be self-engendered as well as derived from above."10
Fairfax's power is also active, but within a contemplative setting, for the equivalent of Cromwell's lightning bolt is Fairfax's estate, where instead of a natural force willingly assumed by man, we have nature willingly dominated by man, accepting Fairfax's influence and reflecting his character. "Had it pleased him and God," (XLIV) Fairfax might have been a lightning bolt, too, but instead, nature pays him homage:
These [flowers], as their Governour goes by,
In fragrent Vollyes they let fly;
And to salute their Governess
Again as great a charge they press:
None for the Virgin Nymph; for She
Seems with the Flow'rs a Flow'r to be.
And think so still! though not compare
With Breath so sweet, or Cheek so faire.
Here in the Morning tye my Chain,
Where the two Woods have made a Lane;
While, like a Guard on either side,
The Trees before their Lord divide;
This, like a long and equal Thread,
Betwixt two Labyrinths does lead.
But, where the Floods did lately drown,
There at the Ev'ning stake me down.
The floods mentioned are elsewhere in the poem seen as a controlled, orderly, and nourishing yearly occurrence, similar to the floods of the Nile, the idea again being that the elements are in service to Fairfax. And Mary Fairfax, as Fairfax's descendant, also has the same effect:
'Tis She that to these Gardens gave
That wondrous Beauty which they have;
She streightness on the Woods bestows;
To Her the Meadow sweetness owes;
Nothing could make the River be
So Chrystal-pure but only She;
She yet more Pure, Sweet, Streight, and Fair,
Then Gardens, Woods, Meads, Rivers are.
But there is a subtler rhetorical effect in "Upon Appleton House," almost imperceptible, urging Fairfax back to active life, and if not that, then at least extolling Fairfax's former active greatness. The fifth and sixth lines of the following stanza, to which I have already alluded above in discussing the yearly floods, are especially noteworthy:
Then, to conclude these pleasant Acts,
Denton sets ope its Cataracts;
And makes the Meadow truly be
(What it but seem'd before) a sea.
For, jealous of its Lords long stay,
It try's t'invite him thus away.
The River in it self is drown'd,
And Isl's th' astonisht Cattle round.
Natural images are used both to praise and perhaps to advise both men in each poem.
Finally, there remain two small but nevertheless important points of comparison. First, we must take stock of what Marvell has chosen to omit from each poem. Notably, we never get a full picture of Cromwell in retirement; but similarly, we are never shown Fairfax in action, which seems especially unusual in a poem of almost eight hundred lines. Curiously, we see instead Fairfax's predecessor in action against the nunnery:
But waving [resistance] aside like Flyes,
Young Fairfax through the Wall does rise.
We have also already seen nature in mock-military action, but we never do see Fairfax himself in any of his former active glory; perhaps during his stay at Appleton House as Mary's tutor Marvell learned firsthand of the possible guilt which Fairfax may have felt after Charles's death, or perhaps Fairfax may have instructed Marvell to keep the poem light, preferring allusion to statement about occurrences that he probably would rather forget. But when the lines about Fairfax's action are compared with the few lines showing Cromwell in retirement, we can see that roughly the same percentage is spent in discussing retirement in the "Ode" as is spent in discussing action in "Upon Appleton House." The proportion is almost like a yingyang combination, which, I believe, illustrates Marveil's understanding and acceptance of each mode of existence, each containing the other to about the same degree. In addition, Marvell has omitted mention of Fairfax's health, which helped force him into early retirement; as Pierre Legouis tells us, Fairfax suffered from "ague, his wounds, and the gout."11 However, it is easy to see that Fairfax would no more desire to be reminded of his ill health than of his role in the Civil Wars.
Secondly, the role of chance remains to be discussed. It is ironic that even as Fairfax's poor health played a part in his retirement, so too, as has been noted, did it eventually play a role in Cromwell's semiretirement in 1658. Circumstances are certainly given a role in the "Ode," for in addition to power derived from above and from within, Cromwell was also "the war's and fortune's son" (113).
Clearly, then, Marvell did not want to exclude totally the qualities of retirement from Cromwell, nor of activity from Fairfax, and his incorporation of antitheses in each poem supports this view. Marvell had to be supremely tactful, for he was as uncertain about the future as anyone else, which explains why he is indirect so often, keeping himself not fully committed, using metaphors, similes, hints, and allusions instead of making direct statements. Their meanings we are left to ponder.
1 James Carscallen, "Marvell's Infinite Parallels," University of Toronto Quarterly 39 (1970): 147.
2 Isabel Rivers, The Poetry of Conservatism (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1973) 103.
3 Keith Feiling, A History of England (London: Oxford, 1948) 507, 508.
4 H. M. Margoliouth, ed., The Poems and Letters of Andrew Marvell (Oxford: Clarendon, 1971). Excerpts from both poems are taken from this edition and are cited parenthetically in the text.
5 John M. Wallace, Destiny His Choice: The Loyalism of Andrew Marvell (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1968) 75. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
6 Annabel Patterson, Marvell and the Civic Crown (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1978) 108.
7 See Joseph Mazzeo, "Cromwell as Machiavellian Prince in Marvell's 'An Horatian Ode.'" Journal of the History of Ideas 21:1-17.
8 Some critics, such as Dennis Davison and John M. Wallace, consider Cromwell to be a moral Scourge of God. I disagree with this position, as do most other critics. See Dennis Davison, The Poetry of Andrew Marvell (London: Edward Arnold, 1964) and John M. Wallace, Destiny His Choice: The Loyalism of Andrew Marvell (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1968).
9 Mazzeo 7.
10 Harold Toliver, Marvell's Ironic Vision (New Haven: Yale UP, 1965) 127-28.
11 Pierre Legouis, Andrew Marvell: Poet, Puritan, Patriot (Oxford: Clarendon, 1968) 18.
Patsy Griffin (essay date 1995)
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5948
SOURCE: "Cromwell Alone: Marvell as Cromwell's Poet," in The Modest Ambition of Andrew Marvell: A Study of Marvell and His Relation to Lovelace, Fairfax, Cromwell, and Milton, University of Delaware Press, 1995, pp. 92-107.
[In the following excerpt, Griffin discusses Marvell's support of Cromwell.]
The point at which Marvell chose to write "The First Anniversary" is interesting. The title indicates that it is a celebration of the end of Cromwell's first year as protector, yet other moments would seem more worthy of celebration: Cromwell's triumph in Scotland or at Worcester, for instance. Or if Marvell had been deeply involved in millenarianism, he might have chosen the moment of the first meeting of the Barebone's Parliament. He did not. "The First Anniversary," advertised in Mercurius Politicus of January 1654/55, defends Cromwell's actions as Lord Protector and unrelentingly accuses the English of being recalcitrant stoneheads. Cromwell's domestic decisions and his newly devised constitutional basis, the Instrument of Government, clearly stood in need of defense. The deposed royal family grew dearer in absence. The English mind seemed unwilling, even unable, to understand the requirements of the change from monarchical to republican government. They did, however, understand that the time was unique; Charles's decapitation had impressed that on them. Marvell takes advantage of this one glimmer and creates the logic by which he would turn them to cooperation with Cromwell, an inescapable conclusion: "If these the Times, then this must be the Man" (144).
Cromwell was more than ordinarily beleaguered by what seemed the eternal resistance of parliaments to action, as well as by royalist plots against his life and harangues from the religious sects. One plot uncovered in February of 1654 had taken most of the year to unravel and was finally estimated to involve five or six hundred people. The object of the plot was to destroy the Cromwellian government and to bring in Charles Stuart; it was said to have originated in France.1 The Weekly Intelligencer of 8-15 August expresses some of the frustration that Cromwell himself must have felt:
The Plots and Repinements against this present Government are like the Heads of Hydra, no sooner one is cut off, but another ariseth. This day a Pavier in Grubstreet was by a Warrants from the Council apprehended, for having an intent to stab the Lord Protector, and that the way whereby he would accomplish his wicked Design, was by taking an opportunity to come unto him with a petition, pretended to be of great, and remarkable importance.2
Early in the year, Cromwell had issued a declaration delineating the boundaries of treason. In part, it said,
if any person shall compasse, or imagine the death of the Lord Protector, … or if any person or persons shall maliciously, or advisedly, either by writing, printing, openly declaring, preaching, teaching, or otherwise publish, that the Lord Protector, and the people in Parliament assembled, are not the Supream authority of the Common wealth, or if any person or persons whatsoever, shall proclaim, declare, publish, or any way promote Charles Stuart eldest Son the late King, or James Stuart one other of his Sons, or any other person or persons, claiming by, from, or under him or them.3
After the conspiracy, the restrictions were even tighter.
In addition to the conspiracies, the religious sects rumbled constantly, though their proclamations became much more discreet after the arrests of the Fifth Monarchists Feake and Simpson in late January on charges of treason. They were both sent to Windsor, and the newspapers' regular reports on them must have galled Cromwell. The following from The Faithful Scout, 3-10 February, is typical of the newspapers' attitudes:
thus much I desire, that the Series [sic] of Providence may guide and protect those two faithful Saints, and Ministers of the Gospel, pious Mr. Feak, and zealous Mr. Simpson … I hope it is no Treason to pray for them, although some hold it not reason to act with them; yet I could wish, that if it might stand with the honour of God, and the glory of his Church, that all men would submit in peace and love.4
A reading of Feake's and Simpson's mental and emotional health seems to have been taken about every two weeks and published as the news from Windsor. For example, The Every dayes Intelligence, 28 April-5 May, announced that "Mr: Sympson and Mr: Feake are very cheerful at Winsor, and as confident as ever." As close and sympathetic a watch was kept on the Leveller John Lilburne. News involving the royal family, only slightly less overtly sympathetic, was even more frequent. Henrietta Maria was referred to in most accounts as "the little Queen," which has an affectionate ring to it.
An incident of importance occurred that may have given added stimulus to Marvell's desire to defend Cromwell. In the spring of 1654, three army colonels met to discuss their grievances with the Cromwellian government, which they considered as "contrary to parliamentary government," and the imposing of the Instrument of Government, which had been drawn up by only a few officers.5 Cromwell heard of it and had Colonel Matthew Alured removed from his command in Ireland by Lieutenant-General Fleetwood to whom Alured confessed that some of the army were meeting in London against Cromwell.6 Colonel Matthew Alured was the nephew of Marvell's stepmother Lucy Alured and the father of Mary, wife of Marvell's nephew William Popple, and though the association may have been no embarrassment to Marvell, still it may have reinforced his loyalty to Cromwell. John Alured, brother to Matthew, was a member of the Long Parliament and the Rump, but he died in 1654. Perhaps Matthew Alured's ire was aroused as much by grief over his brother's death as irritation with Cromwell's delay in dissolving the House and then abruptly dismissing it. Alured himself would be elected to the House from Hedon in 1658/59, but in 1660, he failed to win the election that Marvell, one of his opponents, won.7 In her article on the petition, Barbara Taft recounts the complicated story of the dissident colonels, which began apparently with a meeting in London of the Colonels Alured, John Okey, and Thomas Saunders who signed a petition that denounced "Cromwell's unfettered control over a standing army and demanded successive Parliaments, freely chosen by the people and holding the supreme power in the state." John Wildman had written the petition; he and Okey and Saunders had won election to the first Parliament under Cromwell to convene on 3 September 1654. Cromwell, however, seems to have prevented their sitting, along with several others, through his order that any who refused to sign a "recognition of the government" would be excluded.8 Before the petition could be circulated for other signatures, Alured was arrested, "imprisoned in the Mews and the petition was taken from his chamber."9 Taft surmises that the petition was published by John Wildman, the writer of the document, whose dislike for "powerful executives, military might, and Oliver Cromwell" had been confirmed by "the exclusion of properly elected members—himself among them—from the Parliament of 1654."10 The three colonels were trusted officers of notable accomplishment. Only the year before Alured had been given "command of all the forces in western Scotland,"11 but Taft judges that he alone was imprisoned (for a year) because he was "clearly the most meddlesome."12 They had all been loyal to Cromwell prior to the Protectorate. Their petition was circulated throughout the army across England and into Scotland and Ireland. Taft comments that the army officers represented "the only critics who could destroy [Cromwell's] regime,"13 that the "printed copies probably ran into the thousands, and [that] the zeal with which Protectorate authorities seized and destroyed the manifesto is suggested by the character of contemporary comment on the contents."14 Major-General Robert Overton, friend of Milton and Marvell (and another possibility as introducer of the two poets), governor of Hull until 1650, and Fifth Monarchist, became involved through the discussion generated by the petition and "reportedly" met with Wildman. Overton had gone to Scotland from London late in 1654 to meet with similarly "disaffected officers" who signed a letter advertising a meeting in Edinburgh '"to assert the freedomes of the people in the priviledges of parliament.'"15 Copies of the petition signed by the colonels were found in Overton's quarters. He was imprisoned for four years or longer in the Tower for his part in the proposed insurrection. John Wildman continued to spread the petition; he was imprisoned early in 1655, but his Declaration of the Free-born People of England, Now in Armes against the Tyrannie … of Oliver Cromwell nonetheless was published and at about the same time that he was arrested. Taft comments that "Wildman's arrest had marked the end of the wave of hostile plots which had been the principal concern of Cromwell and his councilors since the discovery of the meetings which produced the Petition of Several Colonels"16
The army had been patient in a sense with the House and the House with the army, primarily because their membership "overlapped": there were officers who also sat in the House, there were House members who had served during the civil war and kept their military titles. Blair Worden observes that "There were broad areas of cooperation between army and parliament, … [yet] parliament and army still seemed to themselves and each other to be distinct and often opposing institutions."17 Worden explains their divergent perspectives of the political power due each group:
The civil war had been a split within the governing classes represented in parliament. Both sides had been obliged to employ men from outside the governing classes to fight their battles for them, but neither had questioned the divine right of those classes to govern or had imagined that the war had anything to do with the remedy of social inequalities. The demand for social reform advanced by the parliamentary army, and especially by Cromwell's increasingly prominent New Model forces, transformed the nature of the revolution. The troops, grievously underpaid, exhorted by their officers and their chaplains to regard themselves as God's chosen instruments of victory, provided fertile ground for the dissemination of social radicalism.18
The House resisted the army's requests for social reform and the doing of "the Lord's work" by slowing down even more than the burden of administrative detail they dealt with made necessary. One can hardly argue with Worden's observation that "politicians who give much of their time to mundane administrative tasks cannot be expected to sustain an unrelieved sense of apocalyptic urgency for more than four years."19 Worden has no doubt but that "the inertia which afflicted the Rump in its later stages is to be explained more by the conflict between parliament and army than by an endemic resistance to hard work on the part of the rumpers."20 Yet, as Worden goes on to consider, the army never lost faith in the parliament as an institution, rather they advocated "frequent parliamentary elections as the cure to all evils, but rarely seem to have asked themselves what kind of men parliamentary elections would return."21 And the elections continued to return the same sorts. The bill that caused Cromwell to dissolve the Rump in 1653 had concerned setting the date for their adjournment and '"for the calling and settling of future and successive parliaments.'"22 Agreeing that the qualifications for the representative (which was what the new parliament was to be called) should be only those '"such as are persons of known integrity, fearing God, and not scandalous in their conversation,'" they decided to meet in November before the newly elected group met, thus they could screen the new members' political bents. Recognizing this as a ploy to insure that the same kind continued to sit, the army knew they would make moot the reforms they had urged for so long. The night before the bill was to be passed, Cromwell held a meeting with the army leaders and some twenty of the most powerful of the House members. He suggested bringing to a close the present House and installing a smaller governing group comprised equally of army men and parliament members who should function until a new parliament convened. The movement toward the education of the electorate to choose men who were worthy to govern the Commonwealth could grow, or so Cromwell envisioned, through the careful selection and empowering of God-fearing men of integrity who would reform the inequities of law and wield justice fairly. With that kind of ruling body, the hope could exist that monarchy would be seen as inferior and thus forgotten. Enlightened by these governors of integrity, the necessity of keeping a standing army would cease. The Barebone's was to be the disillusioning consequence of Cromwell's hope, but the hope itself was admirable. The House members there that evening agreed that the present ruling group should not be "permitted to prolong their own power," and agreed as well "to suspend farther proceedings about the bill."23 Instead, the next morning they went straight to proceedings to pass the bill. Cromwell gathered a group of soldiers, went to the House, listened to the session for a while, and dissolved them.
The expulsion of the Rump had not shaken the army's loyalty to Cromwell, but the acceptance of the Protectorate after the unfortunate Barebone's Parliament and "in accordance with an Instrument of Government drawn up by a small group of officers" prompted what Taft calls "emerging disaffection"24 for Cromwell. In the poem, Marvell's contempt for the general English populace's inability to determine anything evinces itself immediately. He softens his contumely by substituting "Man" for the English and by assuming a philosophical attitude:
Like the vain Curlings of the Watry maze,
Which in smooth streams a sinking Weight does raise;
So Man, declining alwayes, disappears
In the weak Circles of increasing Years;
And his short Tumults of themselves Compose,
While flowing Time above his Head does close.
Man, like a rock, a "Weight," drops into the "smooth"—that is, continuous—stream of time; the circles formed by his entry into the stream dissolve themselves; he, "declining always," merely sinks. And time, with its never-ceasing flow, closes above his head. Man does not move with time, but instead falls through it, perpendicular in his relation rather than parallel. Marvell reduces the uprisings that may be said to have precipitated the poem by presenting them as man's "short Tumults [that] of themselves Compose" (5). "Man" has neither the power to disturb the stream nor the power to calm it, and "flowing Time" will continue its undisturbed course. Only Cromwell can effect change.
Because he "alone" moves parallel to time (and of course with the times), "Cromwell alone" increases. Man "disappears / In the weak Circles of increasing Years":
The phrase "Cromwell alone" suggests not only that Cromwell could achieve single-handedly all that he would do since God favors his efforts, but also that he alone of all English people and monarchs would build and restore England. The ability and desire lie nowhere else than with Cromwell. In his creative role, Cromwell not only restores but regenerates, so that beneath his hand, all grow more perfect. In the attributing to Cromwell the ability to "restore" days, Marvell expands restore sufficiently that it assumes the meaning of returning mankind from its fallen and ever-falling condition to a state of grace; thus, the implication is that Cromwell is capable of fulfilling Daniel 9.25 to restore and to build Jerusalem.
Marvell continues to enrich the aggregate of meanings of restore with the denial that any king ever restored and that to restore a king would be to destroy rather than restore:
With no mention of Charles II, Marvell has linked all monarchs with malice, incompetence, stupidity, and godlessness. The slant of the lines "While heavy Monarchs make a wide Return, / Longer, and more Malignant then Saturn" (15-16) ominously reminds his audience of the nature of a Stuart reign, as well as of the retribution that a restored Stuart would likely exact. As Marvell would have it, a Stuart restoration means backward movement, and throughout Marvell reiterates relentlessly the value of forward movement. Saturn speaks to this as well; the astrologically oriented age, fully familiar with its meandering, often retrogressive, path, considered Saturn a malignant influence only when it moved backward.25 Thus, Marvell creates the equation of a Stuart restoration as the exemplar of backward movement with its implications and Cromwell of forward movement. Only Cromwell has the ability to use Time as his instrument because only he can compress its force to unite time and work to achieve in his first year what monarchs cannot in a lifetime: "'Tis he the force of scatter'd Time contracts, / And in one Year the work of Ages acts" (13-14). "Man" cannot influence time; nor can kings. Marvell overtly and frequently repeats the point in this poem to make ever present the awareness that kings have no more power over time than ordinary men: "And though they all Platonique years should raign, / In the same Posture would be found again" (17-18). Those "earthy Projects" of the monarchs that take so long that they must "leave them to their Son" remind the audience of the great sums that monarchs require to maintain their "state" and the vast amounts they pass on to their heirs, all state monies. "Earthy" also stands in opposition to "spiritual."
Even in what kings seem to accomplish—victory in war—they in fact do not even do that without a severe toll on their subjects. They consider themselves to have won if they lose only their kingdom's resources:
Yet some more active for a Frontier Town
Took in by Proxie, beggs a false Renown;
Another triumphs at the publick Cost,
And will have Wonn, if he no more have Lost.
Thus only against their own subjects do they actually war. The irony is that the foreign wars are touted as protective measures; in reality, monarchs with their wars exhaust money and citizenry to the point of devastation; their "Common Enemy" is their own people:
They fight by Others, but in person wrong,
And only against their Subjects strong;
Their other Wars seem but a feign'd contest,
This Common Enemy is still opprest;
If Conquerors, on them they turn their might;
If Conquered, on them they wreak their Spight.
Secular recriminations comprise Marvell's explicit list thus far, and any might have been directed against Charles I. A particular exploitation that encompasses both the earthly and divine will lead to the spiritual objection:
They neither built the Temple in their dayes,
Nor Matter for succeeding Founders raise;
Nor sacred Prophecies consult within,
Much less themselves to perfect them begin;
No other care they bear of things above,
But with Astrologers divine, and Jove,
To know how long their Planet yet Reprives
From the deserved Fate their guilty lives:
Thus (Image-like) an useless time they tell,
And with vain Scepter, strike the hourly Bell;
Nor more contribute to the state of Things,
Then wooden Heads unto the Viols strings.
Refuting Ruth Nevo's contention that Marvell emulates Waller's "Upon his Majesty's repairing St. Paul's" (1635), Annabel Patterson points out that "Marvell is replying to Waller's poem, rather than merely echoing it."26 Among the numerous 1654 happenings interpreted as ominous for Cromwell's government, one was the partial fall of St. Paul's south wall. Marvell may have intended that the allusion and reply to Waller bring his audience to connect Charles's repairs with James's work and the ineffectiveness of both (for the south wall continued to crumble). This is to interpret rather literally, but their failed efforts in "building the temple" and the disrepair of St. Paul's at the time would seem to manifest a monarchical as against a Cromwellian failure. The repair of St. Paul's had been an issue for Charles I since at least 1631. St. Paul's was very nearly completely desecrated. Charles Carlton writes that "the nave had become a short cut for meat porters carrying freshly slaughtered, dripping carcases from Smithfield Market, it was a playground for children, … a place where writers of news letters could garner the latest intelligence, and a rendezvous where [whores] … found bountiful business." In 1631, the king instituted a commission and commissioners to "solicit contributions," and raised forty thousand pounds. Laud enthusiastically joined him in fund raising, sending "letters urging contributions" to bishops, cities, mayors, justices of the peace, whomever he might squeeze. He went further; he persuaded the king "to donate all fines levied by High Commission … [and thus corrupted] it 'from an ecclesiastical court for the reformation of manners to a court of revenue.'" He was ruthless in his fining. Their use of the funds was as subject to criticism as Laud's garnering of them had been. They had Inigo Jones design the west front, which he did "in the Palladian style, using as his model the facade of Il Gesu, the mother church of the Jesuits in Rome." The contributions flowed in, nonetheless, amounting to between sixty and a hundred thousand pounds more through 1639, in addition to the forty thousand pounds from the king's initial effort.27 Physically, Anglican churches all over England "needed reform."28 The cosmetic work on St. Paul's that might have been done with those kinds of monies was poorly done or done insensitively for the time. The point would seem to be that the king's concern had been with a crumbling structure, comparable to his concern with the Church of England, also a crumbling structure, and that he had merely cobbled it up. Cromwell's work, as Patterson points out, "is not only construction of the constitutional framework of the Commonwealth but also the building of the Temple … a common Puritan metaphor for the achievement of a new church polity."29
The "sacred Prophecies" (35) seem to be those of Daniel, including the admonishment of Daniel 9.25 to restore and to build Jerusalem, matters of no concern to monarchs. Their only involvement with the spiritual lies in seeking to "divine" with astrologers "and Jove" (38) their own fate, not that of their kingdom. The ruler's higher obligation is concern with eternal life rather than temporal, as well as with the spiritual life of the state. Moreover, it implies that Charles as a monarch "deserved" as his "Fate" the loss of his "guilty" life. Oppositely, the consulting of "sacred Prophecies" suggests Cromwell's procedure of attuning himself to God's direction. Charles Firth explains:
For his own part, Cromwell believed in "dispensations" rather than "revelations." Since all things which happened in the world were determined by God's will, the statesman's problem was to discover the hidden purpose which underlay events …. "Seek to know what the mind of God is in all that chain of Providence," was his counsel…. With Cromwell, in every political crisis this attempt to interpret the meaning of events was part of the mental process which preceded action. As it was difficult to be sure what that meaning was, he was often slow to make up his mind, preferring to watch events a little longer and to allow them to develop in order to get more light. This slowness was not the result of indecision, but a deliberate suspension of judgment. When his mind was made up there was no hesitation, no looking back; he struck with the same energy in politics as in war … [a] "sudden engaging for and sudden turning from things."30"
With each negative statement about monarchs or men, Marvell posits Cromwell as the positive.
In reality, Cromwell was well aware that this 'sudden engaging for and sudden turning from things,' the speed with which he moved once his way was clear to him, appeared unusual to others: "'I am very often judged for one that goes too fast. … It is the property of men that are as I am, to be full of apprehensions that dangers are not so real as imaginary.'"31 Cromwell's speed is a topic in the poem as a whole: "in one Year the work of Ages acts" (14), "Indefatigable Cromwell hies" (45), "Angelic Cromwell who outwings the wind" (126), "The ill delaying what the elected hastes" (156). Conversely, the monarchs' dominant attribute is their stillness, their inactivity: "In the same Posture would be found again" (18), "one Thing never was by one King don" (22), "(Image-like) an useless time they tell" (41), "wooden Heads" (44). Marvell makes this comparison explicit, even to the point of employing parallel parentheses in lines 8 and 41:
Cromwell alone with greater Vigour runs,
(Sun-like) the Stages of succeeding Suns:
And still the Day which he doth next restore,
Is the just Wonder of the Day before.
Thus (Image-like) an useless time they tell,
And with vain Scepter, strike the hourly Bell;
Nor more contribute to the state of Things,
Then wooden Heads unto the Viols strings.
"(Image-like)" also suggests Catholicism and the adoration of saints, figures to the Puritan mind as incapable of efficacious response as the effigies of saints, christs, and death marking the time of the great clocks in England's public squares. Monarchs are useless except to denote the passage of time; they are incapable of restoration. Cromwell, however, exerts himself with unremitting perseverance to reach higher and higher goals, to understand what God wishes, to hear the heavenly voice, the music of the spheres, so that he can bring earth in tune with heaven, to create a political and spiritual concord:
The identification of Cromwell with Amphion32 arises naturally from the lines in their emphasis on speed and skill. "The rougher Stones" reflect Cromwell's penchant for choosing men only on the basis of their devotion to God and their ability, that is, their usefulness to God's purpose. He shaped such "rougher Stones" into fine soldiers and extended their usefulness as statesmen when the war was over, in a sense retrieving them from their fallen state and restoring them to a right and useful life. Even his enemies had to admire his ability to place the right men in the right places: "Hyde wrote from Paris, with grudging admiration, that 'Cromwell proceeds with strange dexterity towards the reconciling all sorts of persons, and chooses those out of all parties whose abilities are most eminent.'"33 The whole of Marvell's passage reflects the trait that Hyde comments on—Cromwell's ability to bring men of disparate views into service in his government. Generally, each believed Cromwell's opinions to be in tune with his own, or at least sympathetic. Rather than duplicity on Cromwell's part, his wide tolerance and his custom of listening attentively created this perception in others. In contrast to the "wooden Heads unto the Viols strings" (44) of monarchs, who are functionless other than as props or holders of office, Cromwell harmonizes even as he builds the new state.
Moreover, Cromwell has recreated time in recreating circumstance: "The listning Structures he with Wonder ey'd, / And still new Stopps to various Time apply'd" (57-58); that is, in remolding the government into a commonwealth from a monarchy, he creates a new context for English life. The historic Cromwell's sudden turnings to or from action seem to match well with the nervous energy of these lines. As I mentioned earlier, he had the habit of waiting and watching "with Wonder" to see how God intended events to develop. Marvell's description of time as "various" reflects Cromwell's flexibility in applying himself to a variety of circumstance. Charles Firth considers this trait an argument against the accusation that he was calculating:
He was too much taken up with the necessities of the present to devise a deep-laid scheme for making himself great…. more practical and less visionary than other statesmen of his party; more openminded and better able to adapt his policy to the changing circumstances and changing needs of the times…. The persistent adhesion … to … old formulas, in spite of defeats and altered conditions, Cromwell regarded as blind to the teaching of events.34
Marvell presents Cromwell as having turned his transforming attention to every facet of government in creating the Instrument of Government, which name Marvell himself plays on:
The "tedious Statesmen" may be identified as the Long Parliament and the Rump, particularly the Rump, whose pace should have been quickened since rarely were more than fifty members present to fulfill their obligations. But they knew nothing except monarchy and the parliament as governmental structures, and thus clung unimaginatively to what they knew, searching for precedents for an event unprecedented. Even the Barebones could not lift itself from the monarchical morass. Their slowness is akin to the Saturnian-paced monarchs of the past and represents dangerous backward movement. They "hack" over the years looking for precedent to guide them, in contrast to the pioneering Cromwell who "cuts his way still nearer to the Skyes" (46). As I have earlier mentioned, the army's demands for reforming legislation caused the House to move even slower. Blair Worden gives an explicit picture of the parliamentary circumstance:
After the summer of 1649 there is a steady decline in the amount of legislation passed, in the number of committees appointed and, to a lesser extent, in the frequency with which the House sat…. Once the royalist threat had faded, the bond which had held the regime together simply snapped. As army pressure for reform increased, business and legislation became ever more bogged down in parliamentary dissension, until long delays became the norm rather than the exception. Division and delay promoted each other, and the decline in the number of committees appointed was closely paralleled by an increase in the number of occasions on which motions were put to the vote…. The government had run out of steam. Yet the inertia which afflicted the Rump in its later stages is to be explained more by the conflict between parliament and army than by any endemic resistance to hard work on the part of the rumpers.35
In addition to diminished attendance, the enormous membership of the House was a problem long wrestled with; by 1640 there were five hundred and seven members of the House,36 thus the "num'rous Gorge [which] could swallow in an hour / That Island, which the Sea cannot devour: / Then our Amphion issues out and sings, / And once he struck, and twice, the pow'rful Strings (71-74). Much of the House time had been occupied with electoral reform; Marvell does not focus on that though, nor is his implication concerning the vast membership's insatiable greed primary. His main motive here is to point up the state's danger in the numerous and divisive House members' inability to govern the Commonwealth. In contrast, Cromwell has the ability not only to rule alone, but also to create concord out of their self-serving cacophony:
Obviously, he echoes Milton's Areopagitica, but his own genius evinces itself in the figure of Amphion and the play on "instrument." The passage should have convinced anyone who understood harmony; Cromwell however, might have found irony in Marvell's assertion of "Consent" (67). Though Marvell presents Cromwell himself as God's "ruling Instrument" (68) and the creator of the instrument as well, Cromwell waited and looked for consent in vain. He had been recently accused by Major-General Ludlow (perhaps out of personal animus at having been relegated to General of the Horse in Ireland) of not possessing the people's consent. "Where shall we find the consent?" Cromwell asked in seriousness.37 Finding no consensus, Cromwell could look only to events, and as long as they could be read as favoring his rule, he found consent in God.
To prevent what he foresaw as catastrophe, Cromwell by this time had dissolved parliament twice; Marvell gives the most positive coloration possible to this action: "Then our Amphion issues out and sings, / And once he struck, and twice, the pow'rful Strings" (73-74). In "The First Anniversary," Marvell would have it that that strong action has enabled Cromwell to create a "willing Frame," that is, the Instrument of Government, by which the English can achieve freedom from monarchy and a new, better order. Willing carries both the meaning of consent, thus referring to "that wondrous Order and Consent, / When Cromwell tun'd the ruling Instrument," and the meaning of to will, in the sense of to grant or concede. In other words, Cromwell's desire in the Instrument is to reflect the desires of all the English insofar as possible. Their own attitude stands in his way, or their obtuseness: "But who the Minds of stubborn Men can build? / No Quarry bears a Stone so hardly wrought" (78-79). This last resounds Cromwell's preliminary construction of "The rougher Stones," who "Dans'd up in order from the Quarreys rude" (51-52), with the undertone of reminder that it was he who created a path for them. In further reiteration of theme, the lines remember Man, the first figure in the poem, described as "a sinking Weight" or rock thrown into the stream of circumstance, "flowing Time." These stoneheads are determined only in one thing, to be what they cannot be, to place themselves out of their element, the ground, the quarry, the foundation, which to be of value must remain the bottom. Their intractability and rigidity are virtues in the foundation. If they cannot bend by their nature, they should look to their architect to place them. If they can bend, as Cromwell with his flexibility and "gentle hand," the implication is that they may then be deserving of higher place than the foundation. Marvell indicts them with the accusation that "All other Matter yields, and may be rul'd," and then, reminding them more strongly of their ingratitude for what Cromwell has done, sounds again the theme of Cromwell's shaping hand: "each the Hand that lays him will direct, / And some fall back upon the Architect" (83-84). The image of the stones falling creates an ominous context in the awareness of not only direction based solely on stupid opportunism, but also the fall of the government. Yet having the frame, the Instrument, Cromwell can actually draw the government into a whole, using the "crossest Spirits" as beams to join all together, creating the tension capable of "Fast'ning the Contignation which they thwart" (90). Cromwell as the "Roofs Protecting weight" (98) provides both ballast and protection.
1A Full and Perfect Relation of the Great Plot and Terrible Conspiracy (London, 1654, Thomason Tracts).
2Weekly Intelligencer, August 8-15 (1654 Thomason Tracts).
3Every dayes Intelligence, January 17-20 (1653/4 Thomason Tracts).
4The Faithful Scout, February 3-10 (1654 Thomason Tracts).
5 Barbara Taft, "The Humble Petition of Several Colonels of the Army: Causes, Character, and Results of Military Opposition to Cromwell's Protectorate," Huntington Library Quarterly 42 (1978-79): 15-16.
6 Ibid., 16-20.
7 Caroline Robbins, "Absolute Liberty: the Life and Thought of William Popple, 1638-1708" William and Mary Quarterly 24 (April 1967), 196.
8 Taft, "The Humble Petition," 19-20.
9 Ibid., 21.
10 Baxter, Autobiography, 24.
11 Taft, "The Humble Petition," 31.
12 Ibid., 33.
13 Ibid., 15.
14 Ibid., 34.
15 Ibid., 38.
16 Ibid., 39.
17 Blair Worden, The Rump Parliament 1648-1653 (London: Cambridge University Press, 1974), 79.
18 Ibid., 12.
19 Ibid., 89.
20 Ibid., 92.
21 Ibid., 139.
22 Ibid., 330-31.
23 Ibid., 334.
24 Taft, "The Humble Petition," 16.
25 Raymond Klibansky, Erwin Panofsky, Fritz Saxl, Saturn and Melancholy: Studies in the History of Natural Philosophy, Religion and Art (London: Nelson, 1964), 177.
26 Annabel Patterson "Against Polarization: Literature and Politics in Marvell's Cromwell Poems," English Literary Renaissance 5 (Spring 1975): 258.
27 Carlton, Archbishop William Laud, 94-95.
28 Ibid., 99.
29 Patterson, "Against Polarization," 259.
30 Firth, Oliver Cromwell, 478-79.
31 Hill, God's Englishman, 193-94.
32 John Wallace has observed that "The Amphion myth offered further advantages; it allowed him to glide over the troubles of that anxious year, and indeed to pretend that the quarrels and disappointments of the republicans were a concordant discord, not a real threat to the state; it afforded an excellent illustration of that speed of action that so often caused Cromwell to be compared with Caesar (a comparison conspicuously missing in the poem); and it permitted him to allude to the military operations, of which the Western design was the chief, and to the controversial new ecclesiastical settlement as elements of Cromwell's success." Destiny His Choice, 118.
33 Hill, God's Englishman, 145.
34 Firth, Cromwell, 479-81.
35 Worden, Rump, 92.
36 Ibid., 140.
37 Firth, Oliver Cromwell, 419.