No Comment — March 14, 2008, 6:39 am

Marvell – ‘Cromwell’s Return’

oliver_cromwell4

The forward youth that would appear,
Must now forsake his Muses dear,
Nor in the shadows sing
His numbers languishing.

‘Tis time to leave the books in dust,
And oil the unused armour’s rust,
Removing from the wall
The corslet of the hall.

So restless Cromwell could not cease
In the inglorious arts of peace,
But through adventurous war
Urgèd his active star:

And like the three-fork’d lightning, first
Breaking the clouds where it was nurst,
Did thorough his own Side
His fiery way divide:

For ’tis all one to courage high,
The emulous, or enemy;
And with such, to enclose
Is more than to oppose;

Then burning through the air he went,
And palaces and temples rent;
And Cæsar’s head at last
Did through his laurels blast.

‘Tis madness to resist or blame
The face of angry heaven’s flame;
And if we would speak true,
Much to the Man is due

Who, from his private gardens, where
He lived reservèd and austere,
(As if his highest plot
To plant the bergamot),

Could by industrious valour climb
To ruin the great work of time,
And cast the Kingdoms old
Into another mould;

Though Justice against Fate complain,
And plead the ancient Rights in vain—
But those do hold or break
As men are strong or weak;

Nature, that hateth emptiness,
Allows of penetration less,
And therefore must make room
Where greater spirits come.

What field of all the civil war
Where his were not the deepest scar?
And Hampton shows what part
He had of wiser art,

Where, twining subtle fears with hope,
He wove a net of such a scope
That Charles himself might chase
To Carisbrook’s narrow case,

That thence the Royal actor borne
The tragic scaffold might adorn:
While round the armèd bands
Did clap their bloody hands.

He nothing common did or mean
Upon that memorable scene,
But with his keener eye
The axe’s edge did try;

Nor call’d the Gods, with vulgar spite,
To vindicate his helpless right;
But bow’d his comely head
Down, as upon a bed.

—This was that memorable hour
Which first assured the forcèd power:
So when they did design
The Capitol’s first line,

A Bleeding Head, where they begun,
Did fright the architects to run;
And yet in that the State
Foresaw its happy fate!

And now the Irish are ashamed
To see themselves in one year tamed:
So much one man can do
That does both act and know.

They can affirm his praises best,
And have, though overcome, confest
How good he is, how just
And fit for highest trust.

Nor yet grown stiffer with command,
But still in the Republic’s hand—
How fit he is to sway
That can so well obey!

He to the Commons’ feet presents
A Kingdom for his first year’s rents,
And (what he may) forbears
His fame, to make it theirs:

And has his sword and spoils ungirt
To lay them at the Public’s skirt;
So when the falcon high
Falls heavy from the sky,

She, having kill’d, no more doth search
But on the next green bough to perch,
Where, when he first does lure
The falconer has her sure.

—What may not then our Isle presume
While victory his crest does plume?
What may not others fear
If thus he crowns each year?

As Cæsar he, ere long, to Gaul,
To Italy an Hannibal,
And to all States not free
Shall climacteric be.

The Pict no shelter now shall find
Within his parti-colour’d mind,
But from this valour sad
Shrink underneath the plaid—

Happy, if in the tufted brake
The English hunter him mistake,
Nor lay his hounds in near
The Caledonian deer.

But Thou, the War’s and Fortune’s son,
March indefatigably on;
And for the last effect
Still keep the 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.

Andrew Marvell, An Horatian Ode Upon Cromwell’s Return From Ireland (1650)


Irish readers will of course chide me for allowing that man’s name to appear on the eve of the great national holiday. But this is a brilliant specimen of studied political ambiguity, one of the high arts of the mid-seventeenth century English poets who struggled to survive between the forces of King and Parliament. Read this through and ask yourself: so what does Marvell really think about Cromwell? The close is a masterpiece: “The spirits of the shady night,/The same arts that did gain/A power, must it maintain.” The description of Cromwell and the forces that drive him is nearly perfect.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

August 2016

Atlas Aggregated

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Origins of Speech

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Four in Verse

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Sigh and a Salute

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Four in Prose

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Don the Realtor

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Martin Amis on the rise of Trump, Tom Wolfe on the origins of speech, Art Spiegelman on Si Lewen, fiction by Diane Williams, and more

In Havana, the past year has been marked by a parade of bold-faced names from the north — John Kerry reopening the United States Embassy; Andrew Cuomo bringing a delegation of American business leaders; celebrities ranging from Joe Torre, traveling on behalf of Major League Baseball to oversee an exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team, to Jimmy Buffett, said to be considering opening one of his Margaritaville restaurants there. All this culminated with a three-day trip in March by Barack Obama, the first American president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. But to those who know the city well, perhaps nothing said as much about the transformation of political relations between the United States and Cuba that began in December 2014 as a concert in the Tribuna Antiimperialista.

Illustration by Darrel Rees
Article
Don the Realtor·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"If you have ever wondered what it’s like, being a young and avaricious teetotal German-American philistine on the make in Manhattan, then your curiosity will be quenched by The Art of the Deal."
Photograph (detail) © Polly Borland/Exclusive by Getty Images
Article
The Origins of Speech·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"To Chomsky...every child’s language organ could use the 'deep structure,' 'universal grammar,' and 'language acquisition device' he was born with to express what he had to say, no matter whether it came out of his mouth in English or Urdu or Nagamese."
Illustration (detail) by Darrel Rees. Source photograph © Miroslav Dakov/Alamy Live News
Article
A Sigh and a Salute·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Si told me that various paintings had spoken to him, but he wished they had been hung closer together 'so they could talk to each other.' This observation planted a seed that would come to fruition years later in his mature work."
Artwork (detail) by Si Lewen
Article
El Bloqueo·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Amid the festivities and the flood of celebrities, it would be easy for Americans to miss that the central plank of the long-standing cold war against Cuba — the economic embargo — remains very much alive and well."
Photograph (detail) by Rose Marie Cromwell

Estimated temperature of Hell, according to two Spanish physicists ‘ interpretation of the Bible:

832°F

The ecosystems around Chernobyl, Ukraine, are now healthier than they were before the nuclear disaster, though radiation levels are still too high for human habitation.

A TSA agent in Seattle was arrested for taking up-skirt photos of women in the airport, a Maryland police officer was arrested for taking up-skirt photos of an off-duty colleague, and the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that taking up-skirt photos is legal in the state.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today