22 pages 44 minutes read

Andrew Marvell

An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1681

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide


Andrew Marvell is one of the most well-known English metaphysical poets. Poets of the metaphysical movement, such as John Donne and George Herbert, use unique conceits, juxtapositions, and reflective turns to explore philosophical ideas related to their subjects. Marvell was also politically involved throughout most of his life, and served in various positions under both English general Oliver Cromwell and King Charles II.

Marvell’s “An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland” reflects his poeticism and political life. Marvell composed the poem shortly after King Charles I’s execution at the hands of Cromwell’s Parliamentary army in 1649. The poem’s ostensive aim is to celebrate Cromwell’s victory and conquest of England, Scotland, and Ireland. To this end, the poem characterizes Cromwell as an unlikely man of action predestined to take England through his martial abilities. As a true metaphysical poet, Marvell complicates the poem’s depiction of Cromwell by providing an equally sympathetic view of Charles.

“An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland” remains one of Marvell’s most well-known and cited poems for its depiction of both rulers. Written in 1650, Marvell circulated the work privately until its publication in 1681.

Poet Biography

Andrew Marvell was born on March 21, 1621, in Winestead-in-Holderness. Marvell’s father, also named Andrew, worked as a clergyman for the Church of England. Marvell moved to Hull upon his father’s appointment as a lecturer at Holy Trinity Church. Marvell attended grammar school in Hull, and, at the age of 13, attended Trinity College, Cambridge. After graduating Cambridge in 1642, Marvell roamed continental Europe, learning French, Italian, and Spanish. In 1647, Marvell returned to England.

England, upon Marvell’s return, had long been engaged in civil war. Royalists were loyal to Charles I, and Parliamentarians, to republican ideals and the military leader Oliver Cromwell. The war came to a head early in 1649, with the public execution of Charles I by Cromwell’s forces. This event provided the inspiration for Marvell’s ode. The work celebrates Cromwell’s actions and the republican ideals that motivated them. Though Marvell had written and published Latin and Greek verse while attending Cambridge, “An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland” is Marvell’s first major English poem. From 1650 to 1656, Marvell worked as a tutor and began to write more seriously. Marvell wrote many of his best-known works, including “His Coy Mistress” and his early political satires, during this time.

Marvell left tutoring in 1657 to join John Milton in service to Cromwell’s Council of State. After Cromwell died in 1658, Marvell continued to serve under his son. Marvell was then elected as a member of Parliament, a position he was reelected to in 1660 after the monarchy was restored to Charles II. Like many who served Cromwell’s republican cause, Marvell struggled to avoid persecution by the restored monarchy. Despite Marvell’s conspicuous political situation, he continued to write private satires against corruption while serving in various capacities under Charles II.

Marvell died suddenly in 1678. His good health and poor political reputation has led some to speculate that he was the victim of poisoning. Few of Marvell’s major works were published prior to his death. In 1681, Marvell’s former housekeeper published Miscellaneous Poems, a collection of Marvell’s work in which “An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland” first appeared, as part of her claim to be Marvell’s widow and heir.

Poem Text

An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland

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 th’ 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 thorough advent’rous war

Urged his active star.

And like the three-fork’d lightning, first

Breaking the clouds where it was nurst,

Did through 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 force of angry Heaven’s flame;

And, if we would speak true,

Much to the man is due,

Who from his private gardens where

He liv’d reserved 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 kingdom 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 wars

Where his were not the deepest scars?

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 Carisbrooke’s narrow case,

That thence the royal actor borne

The tragic scaffold might adorn,

While round the armed 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 bowed his comely head

Down as upon a bed.

This was that memorable hour

Which first assur’d the forced pow’r.

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 asham’d

To see themselves in one year tam’d;

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 does search

But on the next green bough to perch,

Where, when he first does lure,

The falc’ner has her sure.

What may not then our isle presume

While victory his crest does plume!

What may not others fear

If thus he crown each year!

A 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 thy sword erect;

Besides the force it has to fright

The spirits of the shady night,

The same arts that did gain

A pow’r, must it maintain.

Marvell, Andrew. “An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland.” 1681. Poetry Foundation.


Marvell’s poem chronicles Oliver Cromwell’s conquest of England, Scotland, and Ireland. The poem is not broken into stanzas. It follows a clear progression from Cromwell’s early life to his place as England’s Lord Protector. The poem begins with a depiction of Cromwell as a “forward youth” (Line 1) that abandons his easy life of study for military glory. The speaker likens Cromwell’s early conquest to “three-fork’d lightning” (Line 13) due to its speed and ferocity.

The speaker describes Cromwell’s military victory from lines 13 to 26 before taking a lyrical turn back to Cromwell’s early life where “his highest plot / [was] to plant the bergamot” (Lines 31-32). The speaker continues this thread by highlighting the scale of Cromwell’s rise, comparing Charles I’s struggle against Cromwell’s army as one of “justice against fate” (Line 37). The speaker goes on to describe Cromwell’s heroics on the “field of all the civil wars” (Line 45), including his successful plot to capture Charles.

The poem’s shifts at line 53 to Charles’s execution. Described as a “royal actor” who “nothing common did or mean” (Lines 53, 57), the king lays his “comely head / Down as upon a bed” and is promptly decapitated (Lines 63-64). The speaker focuses on Charles I’s “bleeding head” and the crowd’s reaction (Line 69).

After the execution, the speaker turns to Cromwell’s capture of and return from Ireland. The speaker continues to praise Cromwell, focusing on his moral virtues. As the head of state, the speaker imagines Cromwell mighty yet “still in the republic’s hand” (Line 82), able to “well obey” (Line 84) the people’s will. These qualities prompt the speaker to compare Cromwell to a “falcon” (Line 91).

The speaker ends the poem by imagining Cromwell as a Caesar or a Hannibal, leading a conquest to liberate “all states not free” (Line 103). This includes Cromwell’s pending invasion of Scotland, whose warriors “Shrink underneath the plaid” (Line 108) of their tartans. Having foreshadowed Cromwell’s victory against Scotland, the speaker urges Cromwell to “March indefatigably on” (Line 114) with his “sword erect” (Line 116). The poem ends with a simple conceit that summarizes Cromwell’s rule and its future—that if military abilities won Cromwell his power, that power must be maintained by those “same arts” (Line 119).

Related Titles

By Andrew Marvell

Study Guide


To His Coy Mistress

Andrew Marvell

To His Coy Mistress

Andrew Marvell