An Horatian Ode: upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland Andrew Marvell


Horatian Ode

The Horatian Ode is the Latin descendant of the Aeolic ode, both of which were written to project a tranquil, contemplative tone meant for meditation. Both retain the purpose and formality of all odes, however, the Latin descendant attributed to Horace in 20 BC, is better preserved.

The Horatian Ode is simply a stanzaic form in which all stanzas are structured in the same pattern at the discretion of the poet. (rhyme, meter, number of lines etc.), more technically it is “nonce stanzaic” or a “homostrophic” ode (ode made up of same structured stanzas created specifically for that poem).

Below are the first 2 stanzas of an Horatian Ode On Cromwell’s Return from Ireland by Andrew Marvel (1621-1678). It is written in quatrains made up of rhyming couplets, L1, L2 iambic tetrameter, L3, L4 iambic trimeter and indented. The poet could just as well have written the ode in cinquains in iambic pentameter with alternating rhyme and as long as all of the stanzas were the same, it too could be identified as an Horatian Ode.

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’ unusèd armor’s rust,
——Removing from the wall
——The corselet of the hall.

Analysis

This poem is, obviously, an ode celebrating the return of Cromwell from his defeat of the Irish while looking forward to his campaign against the Scots. “An Horatian Ode: upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland” is written in AABB rhyme scheme with eight stanzas in the first two lines and six in the last two lines of each stanza. This writing is historical, and, according to the historical use of the word “Ode”, it is meant as a song to be sung. The phrase “Horatian Ode” comes from the Greek poet/writer/philosopher Horace. It means an ode that has one stanza whose pattern repeats throughout it. They are also subject to philosophy and more personal than other types of odes. In this poem, Marvell uses two couplets per stanza and repeats it consistently.

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Historical Background

Marvell’s Horatian Ode appears to have been written between Cromwell’s arrival in London in June 1650 and his departure for Scotland a month later. Marvell responded to the occasion of the invasion of Scotland in a way that showed not only the poet’s understanding of the event but also placed the event in a larger national history. It was in an atmosphere of expectation and uncertainty that Marvell felt impelled to give form to his thoughts about the killing of the king and the emergence of a new military leader. Cromwell’s emergence and the radical change in temper and plans of the new government certainly presented a challenge peculiarly attuned to Marvell’s habits of mind.

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