Two main approaches have dominated interpretation of Andrew Marvell's notoriously ambiguous "An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland." One is what David Norbrook has criticized as the supposed "`balanced' reading," exemplified by Cleanth Brooks' seminal essay on the poem (165). This interpretation stresses the poem's ironies and ambiguities and attempts to organize them around a notion of Marvell's brilliance as an observer, his "cool perception" (Greene 395). By contrast, the readings performed by Norbrook and others stress the poem's engagement with the politics of its moment, the summer of 1650, and emphasize its commitment to Cromwell, despite any reservations Marvell may have about him. I say "stress" and "emphasize" since readings of either type generally recognize that the poem contains both praise and equivocation. While not denying an element of admiration in the poem's tone, this paper itself will focus on Marvell's use of irony and equivocation to depict the deeper cultural situation within which any political commitment on his part must be made. As Blair Worden notes, the poem's ironies "yield most when we explore them not in search of a partisan allegiance on the poet's part but with a willingness to accept the poem's openness" (173). In a recent exploration of this openness, Thomas Greene uses anthropological theory to address the role of the sacred in the poem, invoking Levi-Strauss and Freud, among others, to argue that the "Ode" pits the magic of language against "the intrusion of the uncanny into history," in the form of Cromwell (379). My argument will also consider the poem's references to the sacred or uncanny, but will apply Rene Girard's revolutionary insights about the hidden mechanism that cloaks violence behind supernatural appearances. Specifically, I will attempt to show that the unity of this enigmatic poem, with its paradoxical tributes to two foes, lies in its disclosure of the logic of sacred violence during the English Civil War, both in the martial mystique surrounding Cromwell and, as a comparison to Milton and other contemporaries will highlight, the sacrificial purpose behind the execution of Charles I.
Cromwell's mystique in this poem may be fittingly described through Girard's commentary on the Greek concept of kudos: a "semidivine prestige" or "mystical election attained by military victory" (152). Girard's understanding of kudos originates in his fundamental notion that human desire is imitated and hence--since not all objects of desire can be shared--inherently rivalrous. Oft-resisted in striving for the object of another's desire, the subject of mimetic desire comes to identify such resistance--indeed, violence itself--as the transcendent other that that subject longs to become. Kudos is the sacred aura that mimetic desire, fascinated by the obstacles to desire, attributes to violence: "Violence strikes men as at once seductive and terrifying, never as a simple means to an end, but as an epiphany"; thus kudos is "the fascination of superior violence." As mimetic rivalry intensifies, "kudos alone becomes the ultimate object." The rivals' mutually exclusive goal is personal deification: "To be a god is to possess kudos forever, to remain forever a master, unchallenged and unchallengeable." As an "eminently desirable" prize "that men strive constantly to wrest from one another," kudos is the essence of what Girard calls the sacrificial crisis, a breakdown in the sacred system of prohibition and ritual that maintains a social order: "As long as the concept of kudos exists.., there can be no transcendent force capable of restoring peace. What we are witnessing in this struggle for kudos is the decomposition of the divine, brought about by violent reciprocity" (152-53). In its ironic admiration of Cromwell's kudos, the "Ode" suggests that just such a crisis has accompanied his rise to greatness.
The opening lines anticipate this irony in an ambiguous call to arms. A "forward youth," himself a poet, is told he "Must now forsake his muses dear" (1-2) if he wishes to "appear"--that is, to achieve personal glory, as Cromwell has. Does the speaker also hear this call? While many critics do associate the youth, at least in his sympathies, with the poet, it is odd that at line nine the poet abandons this theme of abandoning poetry, leaving the youth's story unresolved and transforming it into a simile: "So restless Cromwell could not cease / In the inglorious arts of peace." But the simile breaks down at one point: the youth has not yet, like Cromwell, committed himself to "adventurous war" (11). He thus implicitly confronts an alternative: what if war comes and one does not choose to "appear"? Norbrook, arguing that Marvell wrote the poem as a republican, thinks the youth is responding to a threat to liberty (153). The call to fight, however, is framed not as a political obligation but as an inducement to mimetic desire. The inducement, glory, provides exactly what mimetic desire seeks: differentiation from others, and special value in their eyes. The summons to renounce poetry lies unresolved, initiating the "Ode's" pattern of praising Cromwell while distancing itself from the terms of this praise. While recognizing the pull of the mimetic desire that, as we will see, grips his great subject, the poet himself will remain contentedly, ingloriously, "in the shadows" (3), avoiding any further approaches to self-reference.
There follows an astonishing portrait of Cromwell that depicts him simultaneously as an incarnation of divine violence and as a creature of mimetic desire. The two images are not coincidental: Cromwell aspires to a divinity that he then manages to represent to others. The portrait begins with a statement of its controlling idea: Cromwell's constancy of motion, symptomatic of mimetic desire's endless dissatisfaction:
So restless Cromwell could not cease
In the inglorious arts of peace,
But through adventurous war
Urged his active star. (9-12)
Cromwell is fascinated by glory, a prize that manifests itself in violence ("adventurous war"). Next, in contrast to the shadowy poet, Cromwell bursts like lightning out of the clouds and does "thorough his own side / His fiery way divide" (13-16). Whether this stanza refers to his ascendancy over other parliamentary generals or, as Michael Wilding has it, his crushing of the radical opposition within the army (5), the poem itself comments on this image by means of a surprisingly Girardian formulation of conflictual mimesis:
(For 'tis all one to courage high
The emulous or enemy:
And with such to enclose
Is more than to oppose.) (17-20)
Because the imitation of desire leads to multiple persons desiring the same object, "the emulous" become enemies to one another. Because of his "courage high" and the position that has gained him, Cromwell has spawned imitators who automatically, in seeking his status, become his rivals. In fact, those who "enclose," that is, those who form an obstacle to his desire, inspire him even more than those who "oppose" him over a political cause. Thus Marvell transforms the lightning simile he borrows from Lucan's account of Caesar into an image of mimetic desire. The lightning "break[s]" the same "clouds where it was nursed," suggesting that Cromwell's desire for prominence was first mediated ("nursed") by those over whom he later triumphed. As usual, mimesis is a two-way street: Cromwell is not only imitated, but imitates. His rivals are also his models, since his own glory is predicated on exceeding theirs. In another bit of irony, Cromwell's participation in the reciprocity of desire tends to undercut his distinctiveness, ostensibly the very thing the passage as a whole is trying to describe.
To this point, the "Ode" has implied the continuity between the violence of mimetic rivalry--Cromwell driving "his fiery way .... thorough his own side"--and the violence of the battlefield by which he thus distinguishes himself, most recently in the conquest of Ireland. Extending the pyrotechnic metaphor that began with "three-forked lightning," the poem now becomes even more overt about the role of violence in the Cromwellian mystique. "Burning through the air," Cromwell lays waste to "palaces and temples" (21-22); that is, he destroys the institutions, political and religious, of the old sacred order. Finally he strikes at the center itself, the monarch: "And Caesar's head at last" he "Did through his laurels blast" (23-24). The failure of authority to withstand violence, the failure even of Charles' regal majesty--"his laurels"--to protect him, are the hallmarks of a sacrificial crisis. As Barbara Everett puts it, "the death of the King was also in some sense the end of ritual, of myth" (80). For Everett, the poem sees "beyond politics" (74) into the depths of a historical crisis which involves a desacralizing shift toward "history as a game of power" (86). In such a crisis, as these lines reflect, Cromwell's own assumption of sacred authority can come only at the expense of the sacred itself, by annihilating the old boundaries between legitimate and illegitimate violence.
Without these boundaries, Cromwell's authority rests purely on his ability to keep winning battles, as the closing lines of the "Ode" indicate. As Brooks notes, the poem insists on the necessity of Cromwell's constant action: Cromwell "must march indefatigably on, for he cannot afford to become fatigued" (125). An open question in the poem, as we will see, is whether Cromwell can end the crisis and become not just a momentary possessor of kudos but Girard's "transcendent force." In the meantime, he certainly seems invincible. Here is Girard in a comment that can be applied to the Lord General's rise:
At the least success violence begins to snowball, becoming finally an irresistible avalanche. Those who possess kudos see their strength multiplied a hundredfold .... [Kudos] belongs to the man who manages to convince others, and who believes himself, that his violence is completely irresistible. The opposition must then exert itself to break the spell cast by this conviction. (152)
The question arises: is Marvell himself caught in Cromwell's spell, or is he trying to break it?
In a stunning couplet that culminates the fire imagery, the poet does seem enthralled by Cromwell's kudos: "Tis madness to resist or blame / The force of angry heaven's flame" (25-26). By invoking the idea of blame, however, these lines imply the existence of moral objections to Cromwell's actions, and the concessive tone of the next couplet does register doubt: "And, if we would speak true, / Much to the man is due." The defense of Cromwell that follows is likewise slippery. The pre-war Cromwell is said to have "lived reserved and austere, /As if his highest plot / To plant the bergamot" (30-32). Reserve and austerity can indicate a godly modesty, but the conditional "as if" allows the suggestion of a duplicitous ambition. (By posing an obstacle to others, his reserve may also have been an early step in acquiring mimetic power.) Cromwell's later achievement of a much higher "plot" than his garden permitted is the "much" due him; that is, we should applaud the "industrious valour" by which he "Could ... climb / To ruin the great work of time, / And cast the kingdom old / Into another mold" (33-36). Thus, in finding a reason to praise Cromwell, the poem resorts again to the supremacy of his violence--hardly an answer calculated to win over those who would "resist or blame" such violence The paradoxical juxtaposition of "climb" and "ruin" (with its root sense of "fall") captures anew the zero-sum nature of kudos--one person rises on the destruction of others--and perhaps hints that Cromwell too, even as he rises, is spiritually falling. The earlier phrase "angry heaven's flame" seems to define Cromwell as the instrument of a righteous God's punishment, yet the poem notably fails to portray "the kingdom old" or the king himself as deserving objects of wrath. If anything, Cromwell has destroyed, in "the great work of time," a venerable creation, and the poem will soon imply that "justice" itself lies on the king's side (37). By what he has said and left unsaid, we can see that Marvell frames his confession of Cromwell's greatness as, in a sense, a forced confession. After all, it would be "madness to resist." Such coercion illustrates the power of violence over truth.
This power becomes more explicit as it overwhelms justice itself:
Though justice against fate complain,
And plead the ancient rights in vain:
But those do hold or break
As men are strong or weak. (37-40)
Justice pleads in vain because the rights that have survived since ancient times--among them those that distinguish subject and sovereign--are collapsing: "The end of distinctions," Girard writes, "means the triumph of the strong over the weak .... the end of all human justice" (51). What Marvell means by "justice" has been a major crux in the poem's interpretation, but as Brooks points out "there is nothing to suggest ... that the Justice which complains ... is anything less than justice" (111). Before, Cromwell seems to represent a divine force beyond ordinary morality--Greene's "intrusion of the uncanny into history." Joseph Mazzeo, Worden, and Brian Vickers have argued, however, that the poem here takes on a Machiavellian cast, as a worldly strength replaces the divine thunderbolt. (Indeed, the notion of kudos is highly comparable to Machiavelli's concept of virtu.) Cromwell's association with "fate" may thus be read as another myth built on his superior violence, a myth because it conceals what really decides the fate of the "ancient fights": whether "men," not gods, "are strong or weak." The lines that follow reaffirm the decisive role of violence in the creation of Cromwell's mystique. The statement that nature abhors not only a vacuum, but "penetration" even more (41-42), suggests again the aggressive essence of kudos, which comes "always at the expense of other men" (Girard 152). Nature "must make room / Where greater spirits come" (43-44), because the greatness of these spirits cannot be shared, just as kudos, the intangible prize created by mimetic rivalry, cannot be shared. Girard writes that "kudos passes to the man who strikes the hardest--the victor of the moment." According to Marvell, Cromwell has been striking the hardest for quite a while: "What field of all the Civil Wars, / Where his were not the deepest scars?" (45-46). To make his kudos permanent, however, he must strike not just the hardest blows, but a knockout blow.
WHAT he needs is a sacrifice, as Marvell himself suggests. For Girard, sacrifice is the climax of a sacrificial crisis, as the destructive energy of mimetic rivalry concentrates on a single victim, whose death paradoxically reconciles the combatants and lays a new foundation for the community. At the heart of the "Ode," in its most fascinating section, Marvell portrays Cromwell and his fellow republicans as seeking to exploit just this power in sacrifice. While other commentators (especially Greene [391-92] and Colie ) have discussed both the sacrificial aspect and the ambiguity of Marvell's account of the regicide, I would like to address specifically what this ambiguity says about the success of the sacrifice, the implications for Cromwell's regime, and most important, Marvell's resistance to sacrificial violence. We will turn first to Marvell's provocative comparison of the king's death to the legendary founding of the Roman temple called the Capitol:
This was that memorable hour
Which first assured the forced 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. (65-72)
In the legend, most prominently recorded by Livy and Pliny, the Romans interpret the bleeding head as sacred, a sign of divine favor in the form of an imperial destiny. The comparison implies that Charles' death lends a similarly sacred foundation to Cromwell's rule. As Girard emphasizes, to succeed in consecrating a new regime, sacrifice must unite the community behind what it considers a holy act against a victim understood as the common enemy. In this case, Charles would absorb the blame for England's sacrificial crisis, while Cromwell, his destroyer, would seem sent by God to restore peace and rebuild the community. This mythical narrative must attract widespread belief, however, or the sacrifice will fail and support will grow for a king now perceived as a martyr.
Despite such high stakes, the mythmaking of sacrifice is just as much a target of the poem's irony as the mythmaking of kudos. Here the irony lies in a faulty analogy. The underlying bleeding-head anecdote contains the elements of a mythical transfiguration of violence. In nonmythical circumstances, a detached head would indicate an act of human violence, but in the legend it points to the sacred: the head is completely mysterious in origin and, as Livy tells it, is miraculously intact. Marvell's embellishments upon his classical sources--namely, the head's bleeding and the terror of the architects--render the head all the more supernatural. This sacralizing differs starkly from Marvell's account of the regicide as the consequence of a very worldly power-play by Cromwell, an instance of his Machiavellian brilliance or, as Marvell puts it, "wiser art" (48): he makes way for his own rule by capturing and eliminating his most significant enemy. Two counterpoised references to blood develop this contrast and thereby complete the poem's subversion of the royal sacrifice. As noted before, the "bleeding" of the Roman head is Marvell's innovation. In a strikingly different context, the account of Charles' death also mentions blood, but there it serves not to shroud the killing in sacred mystery, but to incriminate the killers, by describing, in another invented detail, the hands of Cromwell's soldiers as "bloody" (56). Rather than affirm the king's sole culpability for the war, as sacrifice requires, the poem imputes blood-guilt to the Army, and by implication to Cromwell. The new regime is not a sacred power but, as Marvell labels it, a "forced power"--gained by a violent usurpation that, as the poem testifies, cannot be concealed by myth.
John Milton's Tenure of Kings and Magistrates forms an illuminating contrast with this section of the "Ode." Directing his polemic against the Presbyterians, former allies of the Army who now condemn the regicide, Milton strives to defend what he considers, in the words of Eikonoklastes, a "most gratefull and well-pleasing Sacrifice" (596). He makes the crucial attribution of total responsibility, blaming the "common enemie" Charles for the civil war (212), and approvingly quotes these lines from Seneca: "There can be slaine / No sacrifice to God more acceptable / Than an unjust and wicked King" (213). Just as he demonizes Charles, so Milton anoints the killers of Charles: they are "Worthies" who wield "the Sword of God" (192-93). Sharpening the contrast between The Tenure and the "Ode" is Milton's use of blood imagery, remarkably similar to Marvell's but opposite in effect. Milton accuses the Presbyterians, after having "so oft laid upon his [the king's] head" the blood of "thir pretious Saints and Martyrs," of now trying to "wash it all off, as if it were as vile, and no more to be reckn'd for, then the blood of so many Dogs in a time of Pestilence" (235-36). Girard writes that "blood can stand for the double nature of violence .... [T]he same substance can stain or cleanse, contaminate or purify, drive men to fury and murder or appease their anger and restore them to life" (37). For Milton, the blood spilled in the civil war stains the king, while the spilling of the king's own blood purifies the nation. In their attacks on this righteous deed, the Presbyterians "cannot with all thir shifting and relapsing, wash off the guiltiness from thir own hands. For they themselves, by these thir late doings have made it guiltiness, and turn'd thir own warrantable actions into Rebellion" (227). Here the blood is implicit; Milton invokes the Macbeth-like image of permanently bloodied hands to convict his opponents of hypocrisy, while also rejecting their equation of the king's blood with guilt. The Tenure thus upholds the crucial sacrificial distinction between good and bad bloodletting that the "Ode" subverts.
Milton is by no means unique among apologists for the regicide in employing the language of blood-guilt. For instance, John Cook draws on Genesis 4.10 ("And he [the Lord] said, `What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground'") for the eloquent peroration to the argument he prepared for Charles' trial:
I do humbly demand and pray the Justice of this High Court and yet not I, but the innocent blood that hath been shed in the three kingdoms, demands Justice against him [the king]: This blood is vocal, and cryes loud, and yet speaks no better, but much louder then the blood of Abel; for what proportion hath the blood of that righteous man, to the blood of so many thousands? ... This blood hath long cryed, How long Parliament, how long Army, will ye forbear to avenge our blood? will ye not do Justice upon the capital Author of all Injustice? (35)
We may note that Cook, like Milton, places total blame for the Civil War on the king, his sacrificial victim. Intriguingly, similar blood tropes to Cook's may as easily be found on the other side, in royalist polemics. John Warner, for example, writes that "if the bloud of Abel ... being wickedly shed receives a voice to be heard as high as Heaven: then much more this bloud of Ch: the King" (43; "Ch:" is Warner's coy abbreviation for both Christ and Charles). The reciprocated appeals to blood-guilt evidenced here not only suggest the Girardian notion of mimetic rivals as enemy twins, but should be appreciated as an important context for Marvell's blood metaphors. Those acting, like Cromwell's soldiers, on behalf of victims, may create new victims who will cry out against them. Despite their efforts to deny guilt, "a bleeding head" will stain the hands of those who cut it off. All who shed blood participate in the crisis of violence.
The danger that Milton, Cook, and the new regime face is that instead of being viewed as "the capital Author of all Injustice," Charles will gain posthumous adoration as a martyr. That is precisely the image of the king that his supporters tried, with much success, to promote in Eikon Basilike and other works, and that Milton's Eikonoklastes attempts to smash. David Loewenstein stresses Milton's employment in Eikonoklastes of theatrical tropes to attack the alleged martyrdom of Charles as mere stagecraft, and to replace the tragic conception of the king's personal drama, advanced by the royalists, with a satiric one (57-58). Turning back to the "Ode," we find that Marvell likewise puts his portrayal of Charles in theatrical terms, and like Milton, seems to use this metaphor to imply that Charles' martyrdom is inauthentic, a mere performance. This subtle attack on Charles does not, however, exhaust Marvell's use of the theatrical figure. He also employs it to suggest what enables the king to become a martyr: the failure of sacrifice and its competing interpretation of his death.
Setting the scene for the king's last act, Marvell writes that Cromwell
... 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. (50-56)
"Royal actor" may allude to the nearness of the scaffold where Charles was executed to the Banqueting House where he once performed in masques. As Loewenstein notes, Milton in Eikonoklastes refers to masques and antimasques to mock Charles; Marvell, however, finds tragedy a more suitable genre in which to cast the king. Tragedy and sacrifice, in Girard's view, are closely related forms of mimesis; both imitate, at different degrees of remove, the founding mechanism. Alluding to Oedipus the King, Girard uses Aristotle's notion of catharsis to describe how deep the relationship between tragedy and sacrifice is:
The tragic figure of Oedipus becomes the original katharma [sacrificial victim]. Once upon a time a temple and an altar on which the victim was sacrificed were substituted for the original act of collective violence; now there is an amphitheater and a stage on which the fate of the katharma, played out by an actor, will purge the spectators of their passions and provoke a new katharsis, both individual and collective. This katharsis will restore the health and well-being of the community. (290)
It is no accident that kings, Oedipus for example, are so frequently the protagonists of tragedy. Followers of Charles, Worden notes, "often used theatrical metaphors to recall the death of the monarch" (171). For Girard, kingship originates in sacrifice, and the sacredness of monarchy derives from the sacredness of the surrogate victim. Ironically, as this connection is lost, and kingship loses its sacred authority, it becomes vulnerable again to sacrifice: "The sacred character of the king--that is, his identity with the victim--regains its potency as it is obscured from view and even held up to ridicule. It is in fact then that the king is most threatened" (304). The king's rank, in this case, no longer protects him but does make him--as a figure of such high responsibility, already set apart from the community--an ideal sacrificial victim. In the "Ode," Charles and his "helpless right" are too weak to resist his enemies, but he is still a "royal actor" fit for the sacrificial drama Cromwell and the army have scripted for him. That the drama is staged by Cromwell is implied by the purposive construction in the lines above: he captures Charles so "That" he might adorn the tragic scaffold. That the drama is sacrificial we have already discussed, but the clapping of the soldiers' hands reinforces this reading. Historically, the soldiers appear to have been clapping to block out whatever the king might say, yet Marvell's mention of clapping in a theatrical context suggests, as many have noted, the applause of an audience. The audience for this tragedy, however, consists of participants rather than mere observers; by actually killing the katharma, they have returned tragedy to its ritualistic origin.
DESPITE their efforts, however, sacrifice is just not what it used to be. In opposition to non-biblical forms of sacrifice, in Girard's view, the Bible has given rise to a concept of the sacrificial victim patterned after Christ. By offering himself up peacefully to his persecutors, Christ renounced the world of mimetic violence and exposed the true nature of sacrifice. The "Ode" depicts the death of Charles as a similar act of martyrdom. Even in the immediate circumstances of his death, as Marvell's describes them, Charles resembles Christ: both had an audience of soldiers, their killers, and both adorned a tragic scaffold (one, of course, a cross; the other a beheading platform). The obsessive, sometimes blasphemous propagation of a Christ/Charles analogy was a common royalist endeavor in such works as Warner's Devilish Conspiracy. Marvell's account is distinct in its critical distance and suggestion that it was the king's own carefully observed performance--what John Wallace calls his "self-conscious martyrdom" (80)--that enabled his transformation from a justly condemned tyrant into a Christ-figure. A crucial turn comes at line 57; before, Cromwell and the soldiers had directed the action; now, Charles begins to rewrite the sacrificial script:
He nothing common did or mean
Upon that memorable scene:
But with his keener eye
The axe's edge did try:
Nor called the gods with vulgar spite
To vindicate his helpless right,
But bowed his comely head
Down as upon a bed. (57-64)
That Charles, in explicit contrast with the soldiers, does "nothing common or mean," and that he fails to act with "vulgar spite," implies that he is obeying a kingly decorum. On the one hand, such decorum reasserts his authority in the face of the radical challenge presented by his imminent execution. On the other hand, it reinforces the idea, already suggested by the theatrical figure, that the king is better at aesthetics than he is at genuine virtue. Along these lines, the word "adorn" (54) and the phrase "comely head" (63) emphasize the king's beauty, even delicacy. Not only in his appearance, but in his actions, Charles seems the opposite of his enemies. Like Cromwell, he is courageous, but his courage displays itself not in the way he commits violence, but in the way he receives it: he examines the executioner's blade without flinching, and submissively offers up his head. Unlike Cromwell, he does not invoke the sacred ("the gods") in violent defense of his cause. He resists spite; that is, he resists the mimetic urge to return violence for violence. He seems too delicate and too docile a sacrificial lamb to merit this kind of death. While the historical Charles did share responsibility for the disastrous events of the 1640s, Marvell's attention to his dignified death throws into relief the barbarity of his persecutors, the "armed bands" who "clap their bloody hands" (55-56). Even if Charles' claim to martyrdom is not entirely innocent, it is possible to be a martyr because sacrifice can now be understood as persecution, through the witness (the meaning of martyr) of texts like Marvell's.
Progressing through Cromwell's victims, past and future, the "Ode" turns next to the Irish:
They can affirm his praises best,
And have, though overcome, confessed
How good he is, how just,
And fit for highest trust. (77-78)
It seems unlikely that the survivors of the Drogheda and Wexford massacres would have lauded Cromwell's goodness, but Worden notes that "in panegyrics, it is not uncommon to allot applause to a defeated enemy" (174). This rhetorical device is undercut, however, by the surprising appearance of the word "just", since justice had earlier pleaded against Cromwell. The Irish praise may thus function as further testimony to Cromwell's kudos: the enemy are so dazzled by his prowess that they ascribe kingly qualities--a "fit[ness] for highest trust"--to the same man who destroyed the "kingdom old." Cromwell himself testified to the effect of his mystique after his initial victories in Ireland, writing that "the fear of God is upon them" (Hill 118). The poem soon reaffirms Cromwell's ironic ascension toward the semi-divinity of kingship when, like Charles before him, he receives the label Caesar (101).
After forecasting this new Caesar's conquest of Scotland, France, and Italy, the poem concludes by reinforcing the same theme with which it began its depiction of Cromwell: his inability to stop:
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. (113-20)
The last effect is the maintenance of power, but there really is no last effect, no end-point. As Brooks notes, Cromwell "must march indefatigably on, for he cannot afford to become fatigued" (125). The odd reference to "spirits of the shady night" perhaps alludes to Cromwell's chief danger: the return of the king's ghost, his political resurrection. (In a related image, in Marvell's "Last Instructions to a Painter" the ghost of his father appears, with a "purple thread about his neck," to give a warning to Charles II [1.922].) Though some have interpreted the sword's "force" as a reference to its cross-hilt and therefore to the power of the cross (Kermode 313), another reading seems more consistent with the poem's theme of sacred violence: it is Cromwell's blade that has endowed him with kudos and that must now keep the spirits of vengeance at bay. While the "Ode" may seem at one level to represent this blade as the instrument of an inscrutable God thirsty for royal blood, Marvell's equivocation betrays the origin of this God in the mythmaking power of human violence.
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By Thad Bower