Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Restoration Verse
William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Restoration Verse.  1910.
An Horatian Ode
By Andrew Marvell (1621–1678)
Upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland

THE FORWARD 1 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,        5
And oil the unusèd armour’s rust;
    Removing from the wall
    The corselet of the hall.
So restless Cromwell could not cease
In the inglorious arts of peace,        10
    But through adventurous war
    Urgèd his active star;
And, like the three-forked lightning, first
Breaking the clouds where it was nursed,
    Did thorough his own side        15
    His fiery way divide: 2
(For ’tis all one to courage high,
The emulous, or enemy;
    And with such, to enclose,
    Is more than to oppose;)        20
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        25
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,        30
    (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,        35
    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.)        40
Nature that hateth emptiness,
Allows of penetration less,
    And therefore must make room
    Where greater spirits come.
What field of all the civil war,        45
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        50
    That Charles himself might chase
    To Caresbrooke’s narrow case, 3
That thence the royal actor borne,
The tragic scaffold might adorn;
    While round the armèd bands        55
    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;        60
Nor called the gods with vulgar spite
To vindicate his helpless right;
    But bowed his comely head
    Down, as upon a bed.
This was that memorable hour,        65
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;        70
    And yet in that the state
    Foresaw its happy fate. 4
And now the Irish are ashamed
To see themselves in one year tamed;
    So much one man can do,        75
    That does both act and know.
They can affirm his praises best,
And have, though overcome, confessed
    How good he is, how just,
    And fit for highest trust.        80
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        85
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: 5        90
    So, when the falcon high
    Falls heavy from the sky,
She, having killed, no more doth search,
But on the next green bough to perch;
    Where, when he first does lure,        95
    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?        100
As Cæsar, he, ere long, to Gaul,
To Italy an Hannibal,
    And to all states not free,
    Shall climactèric be.
The Pict no shelter now shall find        105
Within his parti-coloured mind,
    But, from this valour sad,
    Shrink underneath the plaid;
Happy, if in the tufted brake,
The English hunter him mistake,        110
    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,        115
    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.        120
Note 1. On January 8, 1650, Cromwell was recalled from Ireland, to serve in Scotland. He returned to England in May after the fall of Clonmel, and succeeded Lord Fairfax as Commander-in-Chief when he resigned his commission in June. [back]
Note 2. And like the three-forked lightning … fiery way divide: own side, i.e., his own party. This stanza and the following Aitken says in his edition of Marvell, Muses’ Library, p. 216: “These stanzas may refer to Cromwell’s quarrel with Manchester, or to his leadership of the army, in the struggle with the Presbyterian party in 1647. The meaning seems to be: Restless Cromwell … first broke his fiery way through his own party; for to ambition (courage high) rivals and enemies are the same, and with ambitious men (such) to restrain their energies is more than to oppose them.” [back]
Note 3. That Charles himself might chase to Caresbrooke’s narrow case: In November, 1647, Charles fled from Hampton Court to Carisbrooke, which Lilburn calls the “mouse-trap” into which Cromwell lured the king. [back]
Note 4. This was the memorable hour … capitol’s first line … foresaw its happy fate: The allusion in these two stanzas is to the tradition recorded in Livy i, 55: At the digging of the foundation of the Capitol at Rome a human head is reported to have been found, which was at once accepted as an augury that Rome should be the head of the world, and gave a name to the temple (capitolium from caput) which was being reared. [back]
Note 5. The public skirt: in taking hold of the skirt was to place one’s self under the protection of the wearer. Cf. Zechariah, viii. 23: “Even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you;” and 1 Samuel xv. 27: “He laid hold of the skirt of his mantle.” [back]

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