publisher colophon

This essay proposes a way of incorporating contextual perspectives, such as have dominated interpretation in the last quarter century, into the formal analysis of lyric poems of the English Renaissance. Following Kenneth Burke’s formulation, that poems adopt “various strategies for the encompassing of situations,” the discussion centers on George Gascoigne’s “Gascoigne’s Woodmanship” and Andrew Marvell’s “An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland.” While a reasonably complete interpretation of each poem is offered, the emphasis is equally on the ways in which Burke’s ideas are productive for understanding the rhetoric of these and other Renaissance lyrics.

Harry Levin once described the history of criticism as a pendulum swinging back and forth between form and content. By changing one letter, we can describe the way literature of the English Renaissance is now being interpreted. With the advent of the new historicism, the pendulum of criticism swung from form to context. There are many signs that it is now swinging back, and this essay proposes a way of incorporating contextual perspectives into formal analysis of lyric poems. I think it goes without saying that any aesthetic interpretation that is convincing now will be different from that practiced by the New Criticism or, to use the broader term I prefer, modernist criticism. But I want to say at the outset that I am not suggesting that we turn the clock back. Quite the contrary, I think that those who forget historicism are condemned to repeat it.

I am going to discuss two great poems—one of the mid-sixteenth, one of the mid-seventeenth century—both of which explicitly engage social and historical situations. But we should begin with the ideas of "situation" and "context" as they appear in modernist criticism. The idea that a good poem represents a dramatic situation was of considerable importance to the New Criticism. But it was mainly a way to express and authenticate the first-person speaker of lyric. This bias can already be seen in one of T. S. Eliot's most influential pronouncements: "The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an 'objective correlative'; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked."1 The interpreter of lyric is thus asked "to conceive of the kind of situation that might lead a speaker to feel thus and speak thus."2 This formulation (by Barbara Herrnstein Smith, writing towards the end of the modernist hegemony in criticism) is not novel. But Smith's intelligent, theoretically careful account makes its scope and assumptions especially clear. She makes a fundamental distinction between "natural" and "fictive" utterances, and extends this to her understanding of situations and contexts. She mocks an old-fashioned [End Page 309] biographical interpretation of one of Shakespeare's sonnets, in order to contrast the actualities of the poet's life with the human situations a reader will imagine for them, given his/her own understanding and experience. (Her main examples are Sonnets 104, "To me, fair friend, you never can be old," and 87, "Farewell, thou art too dear for my possessing.") "What we mean when we speak of interpreting a poem is, in large measure, precisely this process of inference, conjecture, and indeed creation of contexts" (33).

One could certainly defend this as an account of the psychology of reading. But its limitation as a critical paradigm is evident in Smith's sharp dichotomy between the fictive and the real. Her view of natural utterances (for example, "This is my daughter" or "I think Bill is a fool") is that their meanings depend on, are sometimes exhausted by, their contexts. This can even be true of certain texts, of which her main example is personal letters. But poems, she goes on to say, "are not natural utterances, not historically unique verbal acts or events; indeed a poem is not an event at all, and cannot be said ever to have 'occurred' in the usual sense" (24). This is a quite astonishing statement. What are we to make of the poems that appear in Elizabethan entertainments, like "The Princely Pleasures at Kenilworth Castle" or Sidney's "The Lady of May," that were written to welcome Elizabeth I on her visits to aristocratic estates? Smith's first-line defense, that these texts are simply records of events, will not bridge the gap between her "natural" and "fictive." Perhaps she would also say, as would many modernists, that such occasional writings do not count as real poems. But Ben Jonson's "To Lucy, Countess of Bedford, with Mr Donne's Satires" (Epigrams 94) indisputably does. Are we to think that what this title claims is not true or that it is irrelevant to our understanding of the poem, which centrally concerns the relation between writer and patron? By the same token, the constraints of a unique historical situation must in some way affect our understanding, as it did the writing, of Marvell's "An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland." It is not enough to say of it and of many other poems—saying just how many is part of the critical and interpretive challenge—that the "characteristic effect [of a poem] is to create its own context or, more accurately, to invite and enable the reader to create a plausible context for it" (33). These criticisms can hardly seem surprising after a quarter century of cultural studies and new historicism. But the blind spots that are now evident in Smith's scrupulous account explain, perhaps justify, historicists' vehement rejection of modernist formalism. [End Page 310]


"Gascoigne's Woodmanship" is commonly considered the greatest poem by George Gascoigne, the most interesting English writer of the mid-sixteenth century. When it was first published in 1573, it had a fuller title, which recounted the poem's occasion:

Gascoignes wodmanship written to the Lord Grey of wilton uppon this occasion, the sayde Lord Grey delighting . . . in chusing of his winter deare, and killing the same with his bowe, did furnishe master Gascoigne with a crossebowe cum Pertinenciis, and vouchsafed to use his company in the said exercise, calling him one of his wodmen. Now master Gascoigne shooting very often, could never hitte any deare, yea and often times he let the heard passe by as though he had not seene them. Whereat when this noble Lord tooke some pastime, . . . he thought good thus to excuse it in verse.3

What does it mean for the poet to excuse his inadequacies in verse? In other words, how does he make a poem of this situation? He begins by speaking as if he were literally on the scene he has just recounted:

My worthy Lord, I pray you wonder not, To see your wodman shoote so ofte awrie.


But he soon turns his failure at hunting into a metaphor for all his endeavours in life:

First if it please your honour to perceive, What makes your wodman shoote so ofte amisse, Beleeve me Lord the case is nothing strange, He shootes awrie almost at every marke.


Shooting awry provides the terms in which the poem represents everything it touches upon—Gascoigne's successive failures as a student of the law, as a courtier, and as a soldier. The poem is what sixteenth-century rhetorics called an allegory, defined in George Puttenham's Arte of English Poesie as a "long and perpetuall Metaphore."4 Gascoigne himself provides us with an even better term. In his brief treatise, "Certain notes of Instruction," he says: "The first and most necessarie poynt . . . to be considered in making of a delectable poeme is this, to grounde it upon some fine invention."5 The "invention" is a poem's central idea, as it is embodied in a specific conceit or device. "Gascoigne's Woodmanship" [End Page 311] announces its invention in its title, and true to the author's recommended method, the metaphor of shooting generates the entire poem. Whether or not such an invention always arises directly from the social situation, as it does in this poem, the idea, true to its origins in classical rhetoric, entails social and performative effect. As Gascoigne represents him in "Certain Notes of Instruction," the poet is attentive to "the occasions of Inventions" and therefore always seeks to make an impression on an audience. A "fine and good" invention is said to show "the quicke capacitie of a writer." In praising a gentlewoman, one must avoid "things [that] are trita et obvia." "If I should disclose my pretence in love, I would . . . avoyde the uncomely customes of common writers." If one does not "studie for some depth of devise in the Invention, . . . it will appeare to the skilfull Reader but a tale of a tubbe."6 In the same vein, Sidney's Astrophil represents himself as "studying inventions fine, her wits to entertain" (Astrophil and Stella, 1).

Taken on these terms, "Gascoigne's Woodmanship" shows impressive wit and inventiveness. But the poem is also of interest to us because it is a centerpiece in a classic of modernist criticism, Yvor Winters's "The Sixteenth Century Lyric in England."7 Stigmatizing Sidney's and Spenser's poetry as decorative, Winters praised poets of what he called the plain style, notably Wyatt, Gascoigne, Ralegh, and Ben Jonson. One of his great revelations is "Gascoigne's Woodmanship," which he can fairly be said to have discovered for modern readers. Particularly effective is his quotation of the long final passage,8 which he introduces by speaking of its "rhetorical grandeur, . . . the terseness, the subtlety of subdued but powerful feeling" (101). But his commentary on this passage is unduly truncated, because despite the justice of the phrases I have quoted, it does not exemplify the plain style as Winters has presented it. Though Winters calls the poem "a consecutive and elaborate piece of exposition" (95), its framework is allegorical, and nowhere is the poem more intensely allegorical than in this concluding passage. Winters recognizes this of course, but his plain style poetics cannot provide an account of how the allegory of the passage is of the essence of its power.

Winters's idea of the plain style inhibits him from recognizing first, that this passage speaks in and of a specific social situation, and second, that its power involves elaborating the allegorical invention of the poem. Plain style poetry, as he describes it, is restrained and austere; it dwells on universal moral truths and is often highly aphoristic. Furthermore, although Winters speaks of a school and a style, he does not have in mind a social phenomenon. He emphasizes the moral intelligence of individual poems, and the plain style is thus the moral and poetic choice of individual poets. What Winters resists, new historicists are eager to recognize—the social conditions of Gascoigne's career. The immediate [End Page 312] situation of "Gascoigne's Woodmanship"—the episode of Lord Grey's teasing the poet for his ineffectiveness as a hunter—may, for all we know, be something the poet made up. But his dependence on patronage was indubitably real and is the larger situation from which the poem speaks. Because of this dependence and his vulnerability to censorship, Gascoigne has been a figure of great interest in recent decades, and one would think that "Gascoigne's Woodmanship" would be a prime candidate for revisionist, new historicist analysis. But though it is always mentioned in discussions of Gascoigne, the swing of the critical pendulum has not gone far enough to produce an independent account of it as a poem. I want to propose that we can undertake such an account by following the lead of Kenneth Burke, the one great modernist critic who considered rhetoric to be at the heart of his enterprise.

In the eyes of his contemporaries, Burke's main limitation was the impurity of his interests. "Every poem is, in a sense, an 'occasional' poem," he said in his first book;9 in the 1930s, when he had his eye on large social issues, he called for a "sociological criticism of literature";10 he said that the critic should use everything there is to use, including biographical information (23). All this, of course, makes him the modernist critic most likely to interest us now. But at the same time, he always looked for the unity and internal coherence of individual works. He thus speaks to what concerns us here—the way interests in social situation, rhetorical purpose, and social context are compatible with a formalist account of individual poems.

In the essay recommending a sociological criticism of literature, Burke begins with proverbs. "There is no 'pure' literature here," he observes. "Proverbs are designed for consolation or vengeance, for admonition or exhortation. . . . or they name typical, recurrent situations." Where Winters assumes that proverbs state universal truths, Burke is interested in their "active nature": "proverbs," he says, "are strategies for dealing with situations." He then proposes to extend this notion to all of literature. "Could the most complex and sophisticated works of art . . . be considered somewhat as 'proverbs writ large'?" (296). This argumentative leap is itself suggestive for Gascoigne, who wrote some fine poems on proverbs set as themes. But more directly pertinent to "Gascoigne's Woodmanship" is the way Burke imagines how a sophisticated literary work deploys thoughts and images: "One tries, as far as possible, to develop a strategy whereby one 'can't lose.' One tries to change the rules of the game until they fit his own necessities. Does the artist encounter disaster? He will 'make capital' of it. If one is a victim of competition, for instance, if one is elbowed out, . . . one can by the solace and vengeance of art convert this very 'liability' into an 'asset.' One tries to fight on his own terms, developing a strategy for imposing the proper 'time, place, and conditions'" [End Page 313] (298). Burke may never have read Gascoigne, but this paragraph accurately represents the figure he cuts in many of his writings. The conversion of liability into an asset perfectly captures the organization of "Gascoigne's Woodmanship." Its first half surveys the poet's failure to succeed in various endeavors of which the hallmark is competition and taking advantage of one's fellows. In the middle of the poem, the speaker's self-presentation changes from third to first person. From this point on, he asserts his superiority to those who have bested him, and he makes good his claim by displaying, in the final use of his allegorical invention, the poetic authority that was implicit from the beginning in moral and satiric insight and in rhetorical handling.

But how does this engage the immediate situation of the poem, the poet's relation to Lord Grey and the hunting party? After all, this is the scene of competition most directly pertinent to the poem as a formalized statement. Burke implicitly addresses this question by the counter-considerations that follow what has just been quoted: "But one must also, to develop a full strategy, be realistic. One must size things up properly. One cannot accurately know how things will be, what is promising and what is menacing, unless he accurately knows how things are. So the wise strategist will not be content with strategies of merely a self-gratifying sort" (298).

Burke's handiest formulation of these ideas—what he calls "sloganizing the theory" (xx)—is in the long title essay, "The Philosophy of Literary Form." He begins by suggesting that "critical and imaginative works are answers to questions posed by the situation in which they arose." He therefore proposes that "we think of poetry . . . as the adopting of various strategies for the encompassing of situations." He proposes two leads, as he calls them, for understanding these strategies. The first comes from proverbs, "with their strongly realistic element." The second comes from magic and religion. "Magic, verbal coercion, establishment or management by decree, says, in effect: 'Let there be'—and there was" (3). But no sooner has Burke distinguished these two powers of language—realistic sizing up vs. dominating stipulation—than he proceeds to merge them. "The magical decree is implicit in all language; for the mere act of naming an object or situation decrees that it is to be singled out as such-and-such rather than as something-other" (4). This kind of argumentative slide can be irritating in Burke. On the next page, when he proposes "three subdivisions for the analysis of an act in poetry," the magical decree has disappeared and has been replaced by "prayer" ("please do such and such" [4]), which is accompanied by "dream" (unconscious factors) and "chart" ("the realistic sizing-up of situations") (5–6). Nevertheless, these pages give us Burke at his most engaging and useful. Amid the whirl of categories and arguments, he is continually alert to rhetorical purposes [End Page 314] and the way a verbal act is "the dancing of an attitude" (a phrase that emerges, a few pages later [9], from another corner of his mind).

As always in using Burke, one must choose what seem the most fruitful ideas, which often come in the form of terms or phrases (what he frequently calls "titles"). His claim that verbal representations involve both "magical decree" and "realistic chart" enables us to understand the central device of "Gascoigne's Woodmanship"—the strategy the poet adopts in order to "encompass his situation." Turning the poem's immediate occasion into its "invention" acknowledges, realistically, that the game must be played according to Lord Grey's rules; more broadly, the metaphor of hunting "charts" the other situations in which the poet has failed, in that success in all of them involves both accurate assessment and aggressive action. We can think in similar terms of the central rhetorical relation of the poem, the address to Lord Grey. The display of verbal skill, as the poet expands the badinage of the initial occasion, can be thought inherently to display a certain social prowess. But since his skill is encoded as explanations of why he "shoots awry," the poet's self-justification maintains his deference to the patron he addresses. The catalogue of actions he finds he cannot take as a soldier (73–84)—a passage rightly admired by Winters for its moral strength—is preceded by lines asking Lord Grey "to traine him yet into some better trade" (70). Throughout the first half of the poem, the grammar of self-representation brings out the way the poem, the thing made, is embedded in the social relation that prompted it. The poet speaks in the first person only when directly addressing Lord Grey, as in the opening lines: "My worthy Lord, I pray you wonder not, / To see your wodman shoote so ofte awrie."11 Otherwise he speaks of himself in the third person, as if sharing the perspective of Lord Grey and his companions on the figure he cuts in life.

This grammar of self-representation changes, as we have observed, in the second half of the poem. To understand the force of this change, we turn to Burke's third formulation of the ideas with which we are concerned. Much of his work in the 1930s, including the essays in The Philosophy of Literary Form (1941), was working towards A Grammar of Motives (1945), the book which most fulfilled his ambition to write a systematic theory of human action. Burke calls this theory "dramatism." Its basis is a "pentad" of terms derived from the drama: scene, act, agent, agency, purpose.12 Though Burke's ultimate interest is in the way these terms can be seen to generate various philosophical accounts of human motives, his initial presentation of them, in analyses of plays by Ibsen and Eugene O'Neill and frequent citations throughout the book, show that they are available for use in literary analysis. For our purposes, the crucial change is that what had hitherto been called "situation" is now [End Page 315] called "scene." This shift enacts precisely what makes Burke's theories promising for the analyst of Renaissance poetry: it formalizes context and circumstances ("situation"), so as to suggest that as a representation ("scene") they are inherently part of and therefore encompassed by a piece of writing. Later I shall suggest, what some would want to say immediately, that we should retain a sense of the ambiguities of "situation" and not presume on the formalism of "scene." But for now, let us follow Burke's lead—and Gascoigne's too, because "Gascoigne's Woodmanship" represents the poet's life as various scenes of endeavor.

It takes the speaker of "Woodmanship" only a dozen lines to turn the immediate social occasion—his ineffectiveness as a member of Lord Grey's hunting party—into a survey of the careers in which he has failed. Each of these careers is located in a specific place—the Inns of Court, the monarch's court, and the battlefields of the Low Countries. These scenes are not very "scenic" in the usual sense: though precisely identified they are scarcely described. But they very much answer to Burke's dramatistic conceptions. Burke's fundamental assumption is that any "scene of life" is coherent: there is a consistency among the scene itself (setting or circumstances), the human agents that inhabit it, the acts they perform, and their means (agency) of carrying out their purposes. The first question he puts to a represented scene is what it contains: who are the actors and what are their present or potential actions?13 It is in these terms that Gascoigne represents the careers he pursued. His account of mistaking the marks of dignity at court (both the ends sought and the means used) is followed by a sketch of flattering courtiers and then by a description of his own "queint aray" (49–52)—the latter presented not for its interest as costume, but to show his mistaking both means and purpose in seeking advancement (53–56). His failure as a soldier is his refusal to carry out the acts of self-enrichment that the situation offers. The strength of Gascoigne's "invention," which produces the point and scope of individual locutions, can also be stated in Burkean terms: the metaphor of "shooting awry" does not simply label failed actions, but in its various deployments engages questions of purpose (what is aimed at) and the speaker's means and capacities as agent.

An unsympathetic, though acute, New Critical discussion of Burke complains that as a critic he operates mechanically.14 We want to avoid this hazard ourselves, of course, and we must therefore ask how discovering the pertinence of Burke's pentad to "Gascoigne's Woodmanship" helps us understand what makes it distinctive as a poem. Consider the following lines, recounting the poet's inability to enrich himself as a soldier:

He cannot spoile the simple sakeles [innocent] man, Which is content to feede him with his bread. He cannot pinch the painefull souldiers pay, [End Page 316] And sheare him out his share in ragged sheetes, He cannot stoupe to take a gredy pray Upon his fellowes groveling in the streetes.


Winters commends these lines, because they suggest the speaker's moral refusal of acts that would enrich him. Why then are they not in the first person? If the initiating formula were "I cannot," it would imply that the speaker is in a morally secure position—that he now sees through the ways of the world and rejects its ambitions. This is not the way Gascoigne meant to present himself to his patrons, and it is not the way he understands himself in this poem. Burke's idea of the "ratios" that obtain between scene, agent, and act brings out the central ambiguity in this passage. Because the poet presents himself in the third person, it is difficult to tell whether his failure to act is a genuine moral refusal or a behavioral incapacity: it seems as much an inner failure, caused (like the earlier ones) by the human scene in which he finds himself, as it is his choice as an independent agent.

These Burkean questions help us understand what happens at the turning point of the poem, when the poet begins to speak in the first person. This grammatical shift produces what we might call lyric agency: first-person speech opens a space of reflection and inner experience:

Alas my Lord, while I doe muze hereon, And call to mynde my youthfull yeares myspente, They give mee suche a boane to gnawe upon, That all my senses are in silence pente. My mynde is rapte in contemplation, etc.


He is still caught up in his failures in life and, indeed, more fully expresses his resentment at others' success. But he now has confidence in his capacities, and for the first time in the poem advances the humanist's claim of being empowered by learning (101–4). Where before he represented himself as confused by the various scenes in which he found himself, his confusion now lies in his sense of thwarted powers. He concludes this section of the poem by speaking of those who lack his capacities but nevertheless make their way in the world:

Yet can they hit the marks that I do misse, And winne the meane which may the man mainteine, Nowe when my mynde dothe mumble upon this, No wonder then although I pyne for payne.

(117–20) [End Page 317]

"Mumble" seems to be one more piece of self-mockery. But in both its meanings the word manifests poetic prowess, like the skillful management of the poem's "invention." If we take it to mean "chew over," it sustains an earlier metaphor for the poet's reflections—the bitter "tast of miserie" (57) and his misspent years giving him "a boane to gnawe upon" (91). Its deployment to conclude an alliterative string has the effect of turning its other meaning ("utter indistinctly") into its opposite.

The one thing this poet can do successfully is represent his failure. It is on this paradox that the poem takes its final turn:

And whyles myne eyes beholde this mirroure thus, The hearde goeth by, and farewell gentle does.


This is the most vivid realization so far of the poem's central metaphor. It recalls and intensifies the lines that initiate the poet's full use of the first person: "But then you marvell why I lette them [the deer] go, / And never shoote, but saye farewell forsooth" (87–88). These words had momentarily revived the literal terms of the metaphor, but in the subsequent lines shooting always refers allegorically to the pursuit of worldly success. Then the metaphoric vehicle, the herd rushing by, returns with new immediacy. The effect is partly due to the speaker's exclamation, which makes us feel from within his sense of missed opportunities. But more importantly, the grounds of the metaphor have changed. The scene, in Burke's sense, is no longer a locale of worldly endeavor but the "mirroure" that the speaker beholds. That mirror can certainly be understood as his mind, which has just been shown "mumbl[ing] upon this," but it equally refers, in a common Elizabethan usage, to what is reflected in the mind, the world itself. The poem has just devoted some dozen lines to representing the worldly activities of other men: it is this survey that constitutes the "this" upon which the speaker's mind mumbles. If this is so, then "this mirroure" has a third meaning that cannot be separated from the other two: it refers, again in a common usage, to the poem itself. In Burke's terms, the poem has encompassed its situation by formally constituting its own scene.

Hence the new terms on which the poet explains himself to his patron:

But since my Muse can to my Lorde reherse What makes me misse, and why I doe not shoote, Let me imagine in this woorthlesse verse: If right before mee, at my standings foote There stoode a Doe, and I shoulde strike hir deade, [End Page 318] And then shee prove a carrion carkas too, What figure might I fynde within my head, To scuse the rage which rulde mee so to doo?


This doe, whose slaying generates the concluding allegory, exists not as one of Lord Grey's herd, but by the "magical decree" of the poet. He now wields the powers implicit in his account of his failures: if none of his "manye maystries" (109), as he calls them, brought him worldly success, he is indubitably a masterful poet. The verb with which he began to speak of himself in the first person, "while I doe muze hereon" (89), has become his self-representation as "my Muse," who stands as an equal, in this line of verse, to "my Lorde." In the concluding lines, Gascoigne's hapless performance as a member of Lord Grey's entourage becomes the allegory over which he claims authority as a poet. This is his true "woodmanship":

Some myghte interprete by playne paraphrase, That lacke of skill or fortune ledde the chaunce, But I muste otherwyse expounde the case, I saye Jehova did this Doe advaunce, And made hir bolde to stande before mee so, Till I had thrust myne arrowe to her harte, That by the sodaine of hir overthrowe, I myght endevour to amende my parte, And turne myne eyes that they no more beholde, Suche guylefull markes as seeme more than they be: And though they glister outwardely lyke golde, Are inwardly but brasse, as men may see: And when I see the milke hang in hir teate, Me thinkes it sayth, olde babe now learne to sucke, Who in thy youthe couldst never learne the feate To hitte the whytes whiche live with all good lucke.


The writing is very impressive here. It is not simply that the poet for the first time represents himself as shooting and hitting his mark: this is the kind of wit, the poetic "smarts," that Gascoigne regularly displays and that he praises in "Certain Notes." What justifies singling out this passage as Winters does is the experiential fullness with which the shot is represented. "Till I had thrust myne arrowe to hir harte" conveys not only successful achievement but also troubling aggression, so that the recoil ("the sodaine of hir overthrowe") makes him understand that he has hit the mark in a different sense than he had imagined. It is with the same strength of imagination that the white he hits (148, compare 112) [End Page 319] becomes the milk that he sucks. The humbling that had once been "full bitter in his bit" (58) is now understood as nourishment.

Is the poet's authority over his metaphor equivalent to authority over himself? So Winters would have us believe, in his advocacy of this poem, and so what may be called the modernist ideology of lyric would lead us to think.15 Burke too, at least in one aspect of his thinking, would want us to draw this conclusion. He regularly speaks of literary works as resolving the dilemmas that occasioned them—a point expressed as a reservation, perhaps surprisingly, by John Crowe Ransom in a response to The Philosophy of Literary Form.16 Indeed, we could have modeled our account of "Gascoigne's Woodmanship" on Burke's most celebrated analysis of a lyric poem, "Symbolic Action in a Poem by Keats."17 In this essay, Burke represents the stanzas of "Ode on a Grecian Urn" as transformations of "scene," "agent," and "act." His interest is in how the poem "transcends" the initial opposition between beauty and truth; he translates its famous final dictum as "act is scene, scene act"; and he says that "the Urn contains the scene out of which it arose."18 Reminiscent though this may be of what we have argued, Gascoigne's poem is manifestly not as self-contained as Keats's ode means to be—which is to say that it is not a first-person lyric in the Romantic and modernist sense. The last two lines of "Gascoigne's Woodmanship" show that he has a different sense of what will count as poetic closure. In Burkean terms, he returns from the formalism of "scene" to the ambiguities of "situation":

Thus have I tolde my Lorde, (God graunt in season) A tedious tale in rime, but little reason.


These lines acknowledge that the present tense of the final allegory—"And when I see the milke hang in hir teate"—cannot be taken to be the real time in which the poem ends. The final couplet returns to the world, and the parenthetical phrase, "God graunt in season," does a new kind of poetic work. What do we take "in season" to mean? Winters, who speaks of the "Christian morality" and "Christian humility" of the final lines, presumably would understand the phrase to convey a spiritual hope—saying, in effect, that the poet has learned a fundamental truth before it is too late (and perhaps also suggesting that it is a truth appropriate to his time of life). But I think it is impossible to rule out a more worldly sense of "in season," the hope that the poet's explanation of himself can maintain him in Lord Grey's favor. His poetic skill is not only a sign of cultural authority but a claim to patronage.19 This potential dilemma, a familiar one for Renaissance humanists, is apparent in what he says he learned from Aristotle and Cicero—"to guyde my manners [End Page 320] all by comelyness" (102) and to distinguish "betweene sweete speeche and barbarous rudenesse" (104). It emerges as a central tension when he says, two lines after "my Muse" has met "my Lorde" as an apparent equal, "Let me imagine in this woorthlesse verse" (127). One can only take so far the idea—tempting to those of us who were educated by modernist critics—that "woorthlesse" is an enabling irony. The lines that follow are certainly the very reverse of worthless as poetry. But the pointedness with which "this woorthlesse verse" denies that the poet's verse has cash value suggests, as a painful and unassimilated reality, that he still seeks to act in the world of affairs. Moreover, what is unresolved in this phrase returns at the end to make the concluding couplet—save for the parenthetical expression we have just considered—a weak and simple gesture of diffidence.

Our interpretation of "Gascoigne's Woodmanship" can be tilted in various ways, depending on whether we think its manifest poetic authority is or is not tantamount to self-mastery or to resolving the poet's situation in the world. But our understanding of its poetics, its representational and rhetorical workings, does not depend on one or another interpretive choice. In particular, following Burke's lead does not commit us to claiming that the poem "encompasses its situation" with unambiguous success. On the contrary, asking Burkean questions of Renaissance poems enables us to recover our sense of their life and individuality without closing our eyes to the way that aesthetic life is entangled in worldly contexts and dilemmas.


Andrew Marvell's "An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland" is more complex and elusive than "Gascoigne's Woodmanship," but there has been far more productive discussion of it. Beginning with T. S. Eliot's great essay on Marvell, modernist critics emphasized the poem's even-handed poise—particularly the way the portrayal of Cromwell, both admirable and fearsome, is balanced against the representation of King Charles's dignified behavior on the scaffold. These are certainly realities of the poem, but the modernist bias is revealed by Barbara Everett's comment that the representation of Cromwell and the king "has the effect of removing them out of history."20 Similarly, Frank Kermode invokes Eliot's phrase about "equipoise, a balance and proportion of tones," and speaks of the poem as follows: "Without severing it from immediate issues of political allegiance and stability one can say that it transcends time, contemplating not only political events but politics more abstractly: ancient rights as against 'Fate,' the leader as servant of [End Page 321] the people, the relevance of modern Machiavellianism and of the myths and commonplaces of imperial history."21 Some twenty years later the historian Blair Worden showed that every one of these items, which for Kermode indicate Marvell's contemplative distance from historical immediacies, was a matter of contemporary debate.22 They are thus felt as pressures within the "Horatian Ode" and its equilibrium is therefore more resistant to our (and presumably Marvell's) secure understanding. Everett attributes the depth of the poem to "the unparalleled representativeness" of the moment in which it was written: "the poet," she says, "is here, at the point of shock, between past and future."23 But so too were his contemporaries, and many of them knew it as well as he.

The modernist bias is that poems have a privileged relation to reality. Burke's view that a poem is a "strategy to encompass a situation" is, on the face of it, more appropriate to "An Horatian Ode," which was written in 1650 at a critical moment of English history—after Cromwell's return from suppressing the Irish rebellion against the Commonwealth, and before he left on his campaign against the Scottish Presbyterians, who had allied themselves with royalist forces. The larger situation, but one still felt at the moment of writing, was the execution of Charles I (January 1649) and its aftermath. Distress at the regicide was not confined to royalist outrage; many who were republicans and loyal to the Commonwealth—most famously Lord Thomas Fairfax, Cromwell's military superior and soon to be Marvell's patron—opposed the act and were troubled by it. Historicizing critics have done a great deal to place the poem in this context. But they have not, so to speak, reinvested their arguments and insights in the poem as a poem. Rather, they have sought to read from it the poet's future political commitments or, more generally, have treated it as of a piece with many other republican writings that address the questions it raises. Their inadequacy to the poem as poem is shown by the way they deal with its most famous passage:

He [i.e. the King] 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.


This admiring account is the heart of the poem for modernist critics, who were often royalist in their sympathies. But it is scanted by historicists, from John Wallace's pioneering Destiny His Choice, published in 1968, to David [End Page 322] Norbrook's Writing the English Revolution, thirty years later. Both reduce the passage to its last two lines. Wallace says they claim that Charles's acquiescence in his fate is the moral equivalent of abdicating his throne; Norbrook says they represent a "retreat into privacy and passivity [that] is consistent with a general republican critique of courtly culture."25 Both Wallace and Norbrook regard the passage as a digression, though it appears in the center of the poem; each in his way shows the strains of treating the poem primarily as republican discourse.

If we come to these stanzas from Burke, we see immediately that they constitute a "scene," and Burke's idea of a scene—that it contains and is the ground of human action—draws our attention to what Marvell emphasizes—the behavior of "the royal actor" (as he is called in the preceding stanza) on "the tragic scaffold." And now if we look back on the first half of the poem, we see that it is a sequence of scenes, settings for purposeful human action. This is obviously true of the first three stanzas, and I think it holds for the fourth:

And, like the three-forked lightning, first Breaking the clouds where it was nursed, Did thorough his own side His fiery way divide.


This simile is a scene, in Burke's sense, because the action of the lightning is inherent in the thundercloud. From this point until the stanzas about the king, Burkean scenes alternate with rather aphoristic comments on the part of the speaker. What do these formal facts tell us about the poem as a lyric? Consider the following stanza, in which a first-person speaker first appears explicitly:

'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.


These lines address the revolutionary events that have led to the "now" of the poem's first stanza. They express a measured acceptance of these events, first considered as if due to providential or historical necessity, and, when they turn to Cromwell himself, an acknowledgment of his agency and a measured commitment to him. The speaker's poise is not that of someone standing apart from the situation, but is closely related to the way preceding stanzas have represented possibilities and imperatives of action within it. Note that the acceptance recommended in the [End Page 323] opening aphorism is expressed by rejecting the extremes of resistance and blame. And in "much to the man is due," the double sense of "due" combines an observer's awareness of Cromwell's agency with the participant's sense of owing something to him. This stanza is followed by two more "scenes"—Cromwell before (living "reservèd and austere" in "his private gardens") and after ("cast[ing] the kingdoms old / Into another mould")—and then by another stanza in which the speaker steps forward:

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


Once again the speaker is implicitly an actor in the historical situation. Though recognizing that one might cast oneself as justice pleading ancient rights, he turns from the attractions of this allegorical scene (one that the royal actor himself might have imagined) and resolves his internal debate by a quasi-Machiavellian aphorism.26 The poetic form of this sentiment is as important as its political observation. The ode began by saying that the emerging poet must forsake "his numbers languishing" (4); these two lines, entirely composed of monosyllables, are strong numbers that hold.

All this changes in the second half of the poem. There are fewer scenes, and they do not have the character of those in the first half. To speak purely formally, they do not occupy single stanzas. The famous parallel from Roman history—Livy's anecdote of the head that appeared when the capitol was being built—straddles two stanzas (67–70), as does the most vivid image in this part of the poem, the simile of the falcon (91–96). This slight loosening of formal concentration brings with it a blurring of the human focus found in earlier scenes. Where these clearly indicate or imply agents and their actions, the human actors in the similes of the Roman head and the falcon are somewhat unclear, even when they would seem to call for precise referents. Who are the frightened Roman architects (70, a detail added by Marvell) and what is their relation to "the State" (70)?27 The falcon simile is vivid in itself, but it is more opaque in representing Cromwell's actions and motives than earlier scenes and images. (The main issues are whether Cromwell is to be identified simply as a bird of prey or as a trained falcon, and whether he will or means to break free of the falconer's, that is, Parliament's, control.) Finally, the stanzas about Cromwell's impending campaign in Scotland (105–12), are, by the standards of this poem, a rather thin bit [End Page 324] of allegorizing. Compare the fancy wit of "The Pict no shelter now shall find / Within his parti-coloured mind" (105–6) with the concentrated double sense of "side" (physical and political) in "Did thorough his own side / His fiery way divide" (15–16).

In the second half of the poem, there is a loss of concentration not only in the represented scenes, but also in the speaker's aphoristic presence. He sounds like his old self when he says, of Cromwell's Irish victories, "So much one man can do, / That does both act and know" (75–76). But the agency of such dicta is frequently in question. In the lines that follow the simile of the bleeding head, the speaker's agency is deflected onto the personified state, which "foresaw its happy fate" (71–72). In the most notorious difficulty in the poem, the praise of Cromwell is attributed to the conquered Irish:

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


Modernists have tried to rescue the final lines by claiming, but never convincingly, that they are ironic.28 Nor is it sufficient to say, with the historicists, that Cromwell's slaying the garrison at Drogheda was within the bounds of seventeenth-century martial practice and that some Irish royalists acknowledged his superiority to their leader, the Earl of Ormond.29 For one thing, "fit for highest trust" has nothing to do with what we might imagine such an Irish acknowledgment to be. The difficulty, as a matter of lyric form, is revealed in the next stanza:

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


Who do we conceive to be the speaker of the first two lines? It cannot still be the Irish, though one might at first take these words to be continuous with what they have "confessed" in the previous stanza; this difficulty is compounded by the fact that the final lines here repeat the "How X he is" formula of the preceding stanza. (To put it another way, if we are to attribute this stanza to the implicit first-person speaker of the poem, it seems necessary, retrospectively and against what the poem says, to put lines 79–80 in his mouth.) Still further on, the speaker's presence is opaque and oblique at the end of the falcon simile: [End Page 325]

She, having killed, no more does search, But on the next green bough to perch; Where, when he first does lure, The falc'ner has her sure.


Whatever the precise bearing of this stanza on Cromwell's obedience to the Republic and the House of Commons, the final lines, though they sound decisive, do not have the firm, measured presence of the speaker's actual aphoristic statements.

There are good explanations for what is difficult and unsatisfactory about the second half of "An Horatian Ode." The first half deals with events that preceded the poem's occasion. The second half concerns the present and future, and is thus less amenable to secure representation and secure positioning on the part of a first-person speaker. Norbrook argues that the poem's uncertainties and ambiguities reflect dilemmas, for example about the role of a military hero, felt by many republicans and adherents of the Commonwealth. But if we are to treat "An Horatian Ode" as a poem and not as a document, we want poetic explanations for what happens, or fails to happen, in it. Here again I think Burke is helpful. Let us apply his formula, a strategy to encompass a situation, not to the poem as a whole, but to the parts that constitute its second half. Each addresses a specific situation—the aftermath of the king's execution, Cromwell's Irish campaign and its reverberations at home, and the impending invasion of Scotland. Marvell employs a different rhetorical strategy for each of these situations—the historical analogy of the Roman head, political aphorisms which lead to the simile of the falcon, the witty allegory of the English huntsman and the fearful Scottish quarry. If we analyze the poem in these formal terms, we can see why it is elusive, and may even strike us as increasingly fragmentary, or, as Norbrook calls it, "centrifugal" (268). To understand this effect, we need to consider a further implication of a rhetorical approach like Burke's. For all their differences, both modernist and historicist interpreters assume that the poem has a single speaker. For the modernist this is an aesthetic assumption about lyric, for the historicist it is an assumption about Marvell in the real world. But both assume that there is a consistent first-person source of all the poem's statements and rhetorical usages. But if we start with the usages themselves, we can see that, like proverbs, each in its situation may imply its own kind of speaker. We may well ask whether these implicit speakers cohere, especially because the "Horatian Ode" is a lyric in which the first person scarcely appears: there is only the pronoun in "And if we would speak true" (27) and the pronominal adjective in "What may not then our isle presume" (97). [End Page 326]

The ending of "An Horatian Ode" shows that, as a postmodernist critic has said, "texts do not come from speakers; speakers come from texts."30 The poem concludes with yet another rhetorical device, an apostrophe to Cromwell in the last two stanzas. This is apostrophe as defined in classical rhetoric, a turning aside to a new addressee, and it is decisively felt because in the immediately preceding stanza, Cromwell is obliquely represented as "the English hunter" (110). The effect of closure in these stanzas is due to the way apostrophizing brings a first-person speaker to life, but also to the character of this particular speaker. "But thou, the Wars' and Fortune's son / March indefatigably on" (113–14) both represents Cromwell as a hero of the new age and suggests the speaker's adequacy to this representation. This adequacy is felt in the tone of address and is confirmed by the way the line-filling adverb "indefatigably" enacts its meaning. Because of the relation between the speaker and the hero he addresses, the final lines—"The same arts that did gain / A power must it maintain"—have the firm aphoristic presence of the poem's first half. But the effects of the speaker's presence and of closure do not guarantee lyric or discursive coherence. The critical question, which I will leave open, is whether the speaker of the apostrophe is an ad hoc effect of this rhetorical device or is continuous with—or at least in some way emerges from—the speaker who has been representing the Picts and the English hunter. To put it in other terms, does the lyric presence of the last two stanzas fulfill or guarantee the lyric coherence of the whole poem? It may help us understand why this is an open, even difficult, question if we note that the situation in the final stanzas is far from clear. No one, I think, has noticed the rhetorical importance of the final apostrophe, but there is continual debate about whether Cromwell has his sword drawn ready for battle or whether he is holding it upside down to ward off "the spirits of the shady night," and if so, just what those spirits represent.

Eliot concluded his essay on Marvell by proposing a definition of wit: "It involves, probably, a recognition, implicit in the expression of every experience, of other kinds of experience which are possible." He went on to praise "that precise taste of Marvell's which finds for him the proper degree of seriousness for every subject which he treats."31 This seems an appropriate way to praise the first half of "An Horatian Ode," which represents, with what I have called lyric coherence, what led to the "memorable hour" of the king's execution. My critique of modernist accounts of the poem is that they assume that a successful poem, as such, transcends the historical events it represents.32 Burke's terms enable us to see that the poem's poise and equilibrium are due to rhetorical devices that align the lyric speaker with other agents in these events. But this critique is well within the domain of modernist [End Page 327] criticism: "scene," in my account, is the rhetorical means of lyric presence and the instrument of Marvellian wit. But what do we then make of the second half of the poem, with its manifest uncertainties of tone, meaning, and rhetorical agency? Most of those who heard or read an earlier version of this essay took me to be arguing that the poem falls apart. This would be a modernist critique, and it is certainly true that I was able to see the difficulties in the second half of the poem because of my (modernist) dissatisfaction with it. Yet having got this off my chest, so to speak, my judgment of the poem is closer to that of a friend (a well-known new historicist), whose reading of my earlier version took me by surprise. He took me to be saying that the poem is not harmed by its fragmentary character and the "startling lack of a coherent first-person persona." In his view, I had shown (rather against my conscious intention) that "a poem does not need to resolve its dilemmas to succeed." "Succeed" perhaps puts too much pressure on us here. Have I shown that the poem succeeds by failing (to achieve lyric coherence)? Or is it that the poem is an overall success, despite local flaws? A more fruitful question, it seems to me, is Burke's—whether and to what degree "An Horatian Ode" encompasses its situation. Different readers will answer this question in different ways.33


I want to conclude with a few remarks about lyric situations. From a theoretical standpoint, there are two reasons why "situation" is an appropriate category to bring to bear on lyric poems. First, "situation" can refer either to what is represented in a poem or to the poem's circumstances or contexts. It thus engages the question with which we began: how to incorporate our recognitions of social and historical realities into our readings of poems as individual poems. But second, where "context" and "circumstance" can involve considerations of great variety and scope, "situation" directs our attention to the possibility of purposive utterance, and this seems entirely appropriate when one is considering lyric poems. As for Renaissance lyrics, I want to address a question that may already have occurred to some readers. Even if one accepts all that I have said about "Gascoigne's Woodmanship" and "An Horatian Ode," they might seem too situated, too grounded in specifiable circumstances, to be the basis of a general account. But specifiable situations are very common in Renaissance poems. Many are occasional in the strict sense, like funeral elegies, epithalamia, dedicatory poems, and what Puttenham called "poetical rejoicings."34 Numerous poems speak from within the world of the royal court, and others concern social and political realities [End Page 328] in the country at large. Many love poems are not merely expressive but concern actual or conceived social situations. And a great many religious poems speak from what are or (in the case of some devotional works) are conceived to be real situations. To take one example, what is the situation of "Lycidas"? Or rather, what are its situations? Our immediate answer is "the death of Edward King," the fellow student whom it commemorates. But it might be more accurate to say that the poem's situation is the volume that King's Cambridge associates gathered and published in his memory. This circumstance is of substantive importance for "Lycidas." Its pastoral fiction of a shepherd-singer, speaking to and on behalf of fellow shepherds (a metaphor for both poets and clerics), makes it especially appropriate as the poem that concludes the collective volume, in which it is the only pastoral elegy. Beyond its specific occasion, there are other situations which "Lycidas" engages. Milton wrote it at or around the time he decided not to become a clergyman and to dedicate his life to poetry. We cannot be precise about the poem's relation to this decision because dates of other documents, notably the autobiographical poem "Ad Patrem," are uncertain. But it certainly informs the ending, when the shepherd-singer departs, "Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new." On the public side, the poem's most notorious passage is the attack on "our corrupted clergy then in their height," as the 1645 headnote says, looking back on the crisis in England's polity when the poem was first published, in 1638. No doubt "Lycidas" concerns many things that are not confined to its time and place and has spoken to many poets and readers over the centuries. But the degree to which it engages actual situations marks it, like "Gascoigne's Woodmanship" and "An Horatian Ode," as a poem of its age.

Paul Alpers
Smith College
Paul Alpers

Paul Alpers is Class of 1942 Professor of English Emeritus at the University of California—Berkeley, and Professor-in-Residence at Smith College. He is the author of The Poetry of “The Faerie Queene” (1967), The Singer of the Eclogues (1979), and What Is Pastoral? (1996).


1. T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1950), 124–25.

2. Barbara Herrnstein Smith, On the Margins of Discourse (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1978), 34 (hereafter cited in text). Smith’s essay is one of several cited in Jonathan Culler’s sharp but sympathetic critique, “The Modern Lyric: Generic Continuity and Critical Practice,” in The Comparative Perspective on Literature, ed. Clayton Koelb and Susan Noakes (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1988), 284–99.

3. George Gascoigne, A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, ed. G. W. Pigman III (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2000), 312. All quotations from Gascoigne will be from this edition. Parenthetical references are to lines.

4. George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie, ed. G. D. Willcock and A. Walker (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1936), 187.

5. Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, ed. Pigman, 454. In his commentary, Pigman notes that “Woodmanship” exemplifies the poetic strategy stated in “Certain Notes” (663). [End Page 329]

6. All the quoted phrases are in the first section of “Certain Notes.” Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, ed. Pigman, 454–55.

7. First published in Poetry 53 (1939): 258–72, 320–35; 54 (1939): 35–51; rpt. in Paul Alpers, ed., Elizabethan Poetry: Modern Essays in Criticism (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967), 93–125. Parenthetical references in the text will be to this latter volume. This first version is more forceful than its expansion in Yvor Winters, Forms of Discovery (Denver, CO: Alan Swallow, 1967).

8. Lines 125–50, quoted (in segments) below.

9. Kenneth Burke, Counter-Statement, rev. ed. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1953), 184.

10. Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action, 3rd ed. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1973), 293. All parenthetical page references in the text will be to this volume.

11. Such lines are clustered at the beginning of the poem (9, 13, 19); afterwards, “I” recurs, in the first 85 lines, only when the speaker turns to his patron for support: “And sure I feare, unlesse your Lordship deigne, To traine him yet into some better trade” (69–70).

12. See Burke, “Introduction: The Five Key Terms of Dramatism,” in A Grammar of Motives (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1969), xvii–xxv.

13. Burke, Grammar of Motives, 3.

14. Marius Bewley, “Kenneth Burke as Literary Critic” (1948), in Critical Responses to Kenneth Burke: 1924–1966, ed. William H. Rueckert (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1969), 235–43.

15. The strongest postmodernist denial of the poet’s self-command here is Jonathan Crewe, Trials of Authorship (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1990), 134–39.

16. John Crowe Ransom, “An Address to Kenneth Burke” (1942), in Critical Responses, ed. Rueckert, 141–58, esp. 153.

17. Burke, Grammar of Motives, 447–63.

18. Burke, Grammar of Motives, 460, 458.

19. Cf. Daniel Javitch, “The Impure Motives of Elizabethan Poetry,” Genre 15 (1982): 231; and Richard C. McCoy, “Gascoigne’s ‘Poemata castrata’: The Wages of Courtly Success,” Criticism 27 (1985): 40–41.

20. Barbara Everett, “The Shooting of the Bears: Poetry and Politics in Andrew Marvell,” in Poets in Their Time (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 47. It should be said that this essay and Frank Kermode’s introduction (from which the next quotation comes) are really first-rate pieces of modernist criticism—which makes their blind spot all the more significant.

21. Andrew Marvell, Selected Poetry, ed. Frank Kermode (New York: New American Library, 1967), xiii. Eliot’s phrase (cited, xv) is in Selected Essays, 261.

22. Blair Worden, “Andrew Marvell, Oliver Cromwell, and the Horatian Ode,” in Politics of Discourse, ed. Kevin Sharpe and Steven N. Zwicker (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. Of California Press, 1987), 147–80.

23. Everett, “Shooting of the Bears,” 50–51.

24. In The Poems of Andrew Marvell, ed. Nigel Smith (London: Longman, 2003), with invaluable introductions and notes. Parenthetical references are to lines.

25. John M. Wallace, Destiny His Choice: The Loyalism of Andrew Marvell (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1968), 80–81. David Norbrook, Writing the English Republic: Poetry, Rhetoric and Politics, 1627–1660 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999), 266–67.

26. On Machiavellian aspects of the poem, cf. Worden, “Andrew Marvell, Oliver Cromwell,” 162–68 and Norbrook, Writing the English Republic, 257, 261, 264 (the ode “combine[s] a self-consciously unillusioned realism with an activist republicanism”).

27. Cf. Wallace, who identifies the architects with “the founders of the Republic, . . . the regicides, the members of the governing Parliament, and the Council of State.” Destiny His [End Page 330] Choice, 85. But if we emphasize their fright (as we must, for Marvell also added the detail of the bleeding head), a different identification emerges. Norbrook says they represent “many members of the Rump Parliament who were backing away from the radical implications of the regicide” (266). In his note on the line, Nigel Smith makes the reference more inclusive, extending it to “many supporters of the Parliament during the 1640s,” but it is hard then to see how all these would count as “architects.”

28. The locus classicus is Cleanth Brooks, “Marvell’s ‘Horatian Ode,’” in English Institute Essays, 1946 (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1947), 147. This prompted Douglas Bush’s animadversions, Sewanee Review 60 (1952): 363–76. These essays stood as what, at the time, was considered an exemplary confrontation of critic and historian. Bush called the claim that the Irish praise of Cromwell is ironic a “desperate solution” (372). Allowing that this might be so, Brooks maintained his defense of the lines, but only because they would otherwise be “a blemish in an otherwise fine poem.” “A Note on the Limits of ‘History’ and the Limits of ‘Criticism,” Sewanee Review 61 (1953): 133.

29. Both Norbrook and Worden advance this argument, though Worden especially recognizes that “while we can explain the invocation of the Irish without an ironical reading, we cannot explain it away.” Norbrook, Writing the English Republic, 246–49; Worden, “Andrew Marvell, Oliver Cromwell,” 174. On Cromwell at Drogheda, see Austin Woolrych’s excellent Britain in Revolution, 1625–1660 (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2002), 469.

30. Herbert F. Tucker, “Dramatic Monologue and the Overhearing of Lyric,” in Lyric Poetry: Beyond New Criticism, ed. Chaviva Hosek and Patricia Parker (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1985), 243.

31. Eliot, Selected Essays, 262.

32. Replying to Douglas Bush, Cleanth Brooks said, “I am not concerned to lift Marvell out of his age into ours [one of Bush’s charges]; I am concerned with what transcends his age. I am concerned with what is universal in the poem.” “Note on the Limits,” Sewanee Review 61: 133. “Universal” may pass muster when used of “To His Coy Mistress.” It is hard to see how it can apply to “An Horatian Ode.”

33. For a sharp historicist dissent, see Thomas N. Corns, Uncloistered Virtue: English Political Literature, 1640–1660 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), 227–31, esp. 230: “[as] an exercise in private ratiocination . . . the poem appears regrettably impoverished.” An interesting positive account, by a veteran modernist who recognizes the strains on the poem, is Thomas M. Greene, “The Balance of Power in Marvell’s ‘Horatian Ode,’” ELH 60 (1993): 379–96.

34. Puttenham, Arte of English Poesie, bk. 1, chap. 23. [End Page 331]

Additional Information

Print ISSN
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.