Heroic Stanzas on the Death of Oliver Cromwell
Heroic Stanzas on the Death of Oliver Cromwell
John Dryden, 1631 - 1700
Written after his funeral. And now ‘tis time; for their officious haste Who would before have borne him to the sky, Like eager Romans, ere all rites were past, Did let too soon the sacred eagle fly, Though our best notes are treason to his fame Joined with the loud applause of public voice, Since heaven, what praise we offer to his name, Hath rendered too authentic by its choice: Though in his praise no arts can liberal be, Since they whose muses have the highest flown Add not to his immortal memory, But do an act of friendship to their own: Yet ‘tis our duty and our interest too Such monuments as we can build to raise, Lest all the world prevent what we should do And claim a title in him by their praise. How shall I then begin or where conclude To draw a fame so truly circular? For in a round what order can be showed, Where all the parts so equal-perfect are? His grandeur he derived from heaven alone, For he was great, ere fortune made him so; And wars, like mists that rise against the sun, Made him but greater seem, not greater grow. No borrowed bays his temples did adorn, But to our crown he did fresh jewels bring; Nor was his virtue poisoned, soon as born, With the too early thoughts of being king. Fortune, that easy mistress of the young, But to her ancient servants coy and hard, Him at that age her favourites ranked among When she her best-loved Pompey did discard. He, private, marked the fruits of others’ sway And set as sea-marks for himself to shun; Not like rash monarchs, who their youth betray By acts their age too late would wish undone. And yet dominion was not his design; We owe that blessing not to him but heaven, Which to fair acts unsought rewards did join, Rewards that less to him than us were given. Our former chiefs, like sticklers of the war, First sought to inflame the parties, then to poise. The quarrel loved, but did the cause abhor, And did not strike to hurt, but make a noise. War, our consumption, was their gainful trade; We inward bled, whilst they prolonged our pain: He fought to end our fighting, and essayed To stanch the blood by breathing of the vein. Swift and resistless though the land he passed, Like that bold Greek who did the East subdue, And made to battles such heroic haste As if on wings of victory he flew. He fought, secure of fortune as of fame, Till by new maps the island might be shown, Of conquests, which he strewed where’er he came, Thick as the galaxy with stars is sown. His palms, though under weights they did not stand, Still thrived; no winter could his laurels fade: Heaven in his portrait showed a workman’s hand And drew it perfect, yet without a shade. Peace was the prize of all his toils and care, Which war had banished and did now restore: Bologna’s walls thus mounted in the air To seat themselves more surely than before. Her safety rescued Ireland to him owes; And treacherous Scotland to no interest true, Yet blessed that fate which did his arms dispose Her land to civilize as to subdue. Nor was he like those stars which only shine When to pale mariners they storms portend; He had his calmer influence, and his mien Did love and majesty together blend. ‘Tis true his countenance did imprint an awe And naturally all souls to his did bow, As wands of divination downward draw And point to beds where sovereign gold doth grow. When, past all offerings to Feretrain Jove, He Mars deposed and arms to gowns made yield, Successful counsels did him soon approve As fit for close intrigues as open field. To suppliant Holland he vouchsafed a peace, Our once bold rival in the British main, Now tamely glad her unjust claim to cease And buy our friendship with her idol, gain. Fame of the asserted sea, through Europe blown, Made France and Spain ambitious of his love; Each knew that side must conquer he would own And for him fiercely as for empire strove. No sooner was the Frenchman’s cause embraced Than the light Monsieur the grave Don outweighed: His fortune turned the scale where it was cast, Though Indian mines were in the other laid. When absent, yet we conquered in his right: For though some meaner artist’s skill were shown In mingling colours or in placing light, Yet still the fair designment was his own. For from all tempers he could service draw; The worth of each with its alloy he knew; And, as the confident of nature, saw How she complexions did divide and brew: Or he their single virtues did survey By intuition in his own large breast, Where all the rich ideas of them lay That were the rule and measure to the rest. When such heroic virtue heaven sets out, The stars, like commons, sullenly obey, Because it drains them, when it comes about, And therefore is a tax they seldom pay. From this high spring our foreign conquests flow Which yet more glorious triumphs do portend, Since their commencement to his arms they owe, If springs as high as fountains may ascend. He made us freemen of the continent Whom nature did like captives treat before, To nobler preys the English lion sent, And taught him first in Belgian walks to roar. That old unquestioned pirate of the land, Proud Rome, with dread the fate of Dunkirk heardl, And trembling wished behind more Alps to stand, Although an Alexander were her guard. By his command we boldly crossed the line, And bravely fought where southern stars arise; We traced the far-fetched gold unto the mine, And that which bribed our fathers made our prize. Such was our prince; yet owned a soul above The highest acts it could produce to show; Thus poor mechanic arts in public move, Whilst the deep secrets beyond practice go. Nor died he when his ebbing fame went less, But when fresh laurels courted him to live; He seemed but to prevent some new success, As if above what triumphs earth could give. His latest victories still thicket came, As near the centre motion does increase; Till he, pressed down by his own weighty name, Did, like the vestal, under spoils decrease. But first the ocean as a tribute sent That giant-prince of all her watery herd; And the isle, when her protecting genius went, Upon his obsequies loud sighs conferred. No civil broils have since his death arose, But faction now by habit does obey; And wars have that respect for his repose As winds for halcyons when they breed at sea. His ashes in a peaceful urn shall rest; His name a great example stands to show How strangely high endeavours may be blessed Where piety and valour jointly go.
This poem is in the public domain.
Born on August 9, 1631, John Dryden was the leading poet and literary critic of his day and he served as the first official Poet Laureate of England
The British Library
13 April offers a veritable smorgasbord of literary laureates, as Samuel Beckett (1906) and Seamus Heaney (1939) were both born #onthisday.
Hero of the heroic couplet John Dryden also became the first English poet laureate on 13 April 1668. Here’s a fair copy of his first major poem, written after the death of Oliver Cromwell.