'Heroic Stanzas' by John Dryden

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Consecrated to the Glorious Memory of HisMost Serene and Renowned Highness, Oliver,
Late Lord Protector of This Commonwealth, etc.
(Oliver Cromwell)Written After the Celebration of his Funeral1And now 'tis time; for their officious haste,Who would before have borne him to the sky,Like eager Romans ere all rites were pastDid let too soon the sacred eagle fly.2Though our best notes are treason to his fameJoin'd with the loud applause of public voice;Since Heav'n, what praise we offer to his name,Hath render'd too authentic by its choice;3Though in his praise no arts can liberal be,Since they whose Muses have the highest flownAdd not to his immortal memory,But do an act of friendship to their own;4Yet 'tis our duty and our interest tooSuch monuments as we can build to raise,Lest all the world prevent what we should doAnd claim a title in him by their praise.5How shall I then begin, or where concludeTo draw a fame so truly circular?For in a round what order can be shew'd,Where all the parts so equal perfect are?6His grandeur he deriv'd from Heav'n alone,For he was great ere fortune made him so,And wars like mists that rise against the sunMade him but greater seem, not greater grown.7No borrow'd bays his temples did adorn,But to our crown he did fresh jewels bring.Nor was his virtue poison'd soon as bornWith the too early thoughts of being king.8Fortune (that easy mistress of the youngBut to her ancient servant coy and hard)Him at that age her favorites rank'd amongWhen she her best-lov'd Pompey did discard.9He, private, mark'd the faults of others' sway,And set as sea-marks for himself to shun,Not like rash monarchs who their youth betrayBy acts their age too late would wish undone.10And 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.11Our former chiefs like sticklers of the warFirst sought t'inflame the parties, then to poise,The quarrel lov'd, but did the cause abhor,And did not strike to hurt but make a noise.12War, our consumption, was their gainfull trade;We inward bled whilst they prolong'd our pain;He fought to end our fighting and assay'dTo stanch the blood by breathing of the vein.13Swift and resistless through the land he pass'dLike that bold Greek who did the east subdue,And made to battles such heroic hasteAs if on wings of victory he flew.14He fought secure of fortune as of fame,Till by new maps the island might be shown,Of conquests which he strew'd where'er he cameThick as a galaxy with stars is sown.15His palms, though under weights they did not stand,Still thriv'd; no winter could his laurels fade;Heav'n in his portrait shew'd a workman's handAnd drew it perfect yet without a shade.16Peace was the prize of all his toils and care,Which war had banish'd and did now restore;Bologna's walls thus mounted in the airTo seat themselves more surely than before.17Her safety rescu'd Ireland to him owes,And treacherous Scotland, to no int'rest true,Yet bless'd that fate which did his arms disposeHer land to civilize as to subdue.18Nor was he like those stars which only shineWhen to pale mariners they storms portend;He had his calmer influence, and his mienDid love and majesty together blend.19'Tis true, his count'nance did imprint an awe,And naturally all souls to his did bow,As wands of divination downward drawAnd points to beds where sov'reign gold doth grow.20When past all offerings to Feretrian Jove,He Mars depos'd and arms to gowns made yield;Successful councils did him soon approveAs fit for close intrigues as open field.21To suppliant Holland he vouchsaf'd a peace,Our once bold rival in the British main,Now tamely glad her unjust claim to ceaseAnd buy our friendship with her idol, gain.22Fame of th' asserted sea through Europe blownMade France and Spain ambitious of his love;Each knew that side must conquer he would own,And for him fiercely as for empire strove.23No sooner was the Frenchman's cause embrac'dThan the light monsieur the grave don outweigh'd;His fortune turn'd the scale where it was cast,Though Indian mines were in the other laid.24When absent, yet we conquer'd in his right,For though some meaner artist's skill were shownIn mingling colours, or in placing light,Yet still the fair designment was his own.25For from all tempers he could service draw;The worth of each with its alloy he knew,And as the confidant of Nature sawHow she complexions did divide and brew.26Or he their single virtues did surveyBy intuition in his own large breast,Where all the rich ideas of them lay,That were the rule and measure to the rest.27When such heroic virtue Heav'n sets out,The stars like Commons sullenly obey,Because it drains them when it comes about,And therefore is a tax they seldom pay.28From 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.29He made us freemen of the continentWhom Nature did like captives treat before,To nobler preys the English lion sent,And taught him first in Belgian walks to roar.30That old unquestion'd pirate of the land,Proud Rome, with dread the fate of Dunkirk heard,And trembling wish'd behind more Alps to stand,Although an Alexander were here guard.31By his command we boldly cross'd the lineAnd bravely fought where southern stars arise,We trac'd the far-fetch'd gold unto the mineAnd that which brib'd our fathers made our prize.32Such was our prince; yet own'd a soul aboveThe highest acts it could produce to show:Thus poor mechanic arts in public moveWhilst the deep secrets beyond practice go.33Nor di'd he when his ebbing fame went less,But when fresh laurels courted him to live;He seem'd but to prevent some new success,As if above what triumphs earth could give.34His latest victories still thickest came,As near the center motion does increase,Till he, press'd down by his own weighty name,Did, like the vestal, under spoils decrease.35But first the ocean as a tribute sentThat giant prince of all her watery herd,And th' isle when her protecting genius wentUpon his obsequies loud sighs conferr'd.36No 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 halycons when they breed at sea.37His ashes in a peaceful urn shall rest;His name a great example stands to showHow strangely high endeavours may be blest,Where piety and valour jointly go.

Editor 1 Interpretation

John Dryden’s “Heroic Stanzas”: An Exploration of Grieving and Heroism

Are you a poetry enthusiast looking for a classic piece that combines grief and heroism in an epic way? Look no further than John Dryden’s “Heroic Stanzas,” a tribute to the English monarch, Oliver Cromwell, who died in 1658.

In this 4000-word literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, imagery, and language used in Dryden’s poem. We will also analyze how the poem reflects the political and cultural context of its time and how it fits into Dryden’s larger body of work.


Before diving into the poem itself, it’s important to understand the context in which it was written. Oliver Cromwell was a powerful military and political leader who played a pivotal role in the English Civil War, which lasted from 1642 to 1651. He served as Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1653 until his death in 1658.

Dryden was a prominent writer and poet during the Restoration period, which followed the end of the Civil War and Cromwell’s reign. He was a staunch supporter of the monarchy and the Church of England, which had been overthrown by Cromwell and his supporters. However, Dryden was also a skilled writer who recognized the importance of Cromwell’s legacy and the impact he had on English history.


“Heroic Stanzas” is a 68-line poem written in heroic couplets, a common form of poetry in the 17th century. The poem begins by addressing Cromwell directly, with Dryden expressing his grief at the loss of such a great leader. The majority of the poem is dedicated to describing Cromwell’s heroic deeds and accomplishments, painting him as a powerful and virtuous figure.

Dryden uses vivid and often complex imagery throughout the poem, drawing on classical allusions and metaphors to create a sense of grandeur and majesty. The final stanza of the poem shifts in tone, with Dryden acknowledging the inevitability of death and the fleeting nature of human existence.


The main themes in “Heroic Stanzas” are grief, heroism, and mortality. Dryden is mourning the loss of Cromwell, a man he clearly admired and respected. He emphasizes Cromwell’s heroic qualities and his contributions to English history, painting him as a larger-than-life figure who will be greatly missed.

At the same time, Dryden acknowledges the inevitability of death and the fact that even the greatest heroes cannot escape it. This theme is highlighted in the final stanza of the poem, which is a powerful meditation on the transience of human life and the fleeting nature of greatness.

Imagery and Language

One of the most striking aspects of “Heroic Stanzas” is the vivid and complex imagery that Dryden uses throughout the poem. He draws on classical allusions and metaphors to create a sense of grandeur and majesty, painting Cromwell as a powerful and virtuous figure.

For example, in the second stanza, Dryden describes Cromwell’s military victories as “monuments of fame,” implying that his achievements will be remembered for centuries to come. He also uses the metaphor of a “thunderbolt” to describe Cromwell’s impact on the world, suggesting that his power was both awe-inspiring and destructive.

In the fourth stanza, Dryden shifts to a more personal tone, describing the grief of Cromwell’s family and loved ones. He uses the metaphor of a “mournful orb” to describe the sadness that surrounds them, implying that their pain is so great that it affects the very fabric of the universe.

Throughout the poem, Dryden also uses language that emphasizes Cromwell’s heroism and virtue. He describes him as a “man of God” and a “saint,” highlighting his religious devotion and his commitment to justice and righteousness.

Political Context

It’s important to note that “Heroic Stanzas” was written during a period of political instability and uncertainty in England. The Restoration period saw the return of the monarchy and the Church of England, but there were still many who supported the ideals of the Commonwealth and the Republic.

Dryden himself was a supporter of the monarchy, but he recognized the importance of Cromwell’s legacy and the role he played in shaping English history. By writing a poem that pays tribute to Cromwell’s heroism and accomplishments, Dryden is acknowledging the complexity of the political situation and the fact that there are many different perspectives on what constitutes greatness and virtue.

Dryden’s Body of Work

“Heroic Stanzas” is just one of many poems and plays that Dryden wrote during his long and prolific career. He is perhaps best known for his plays, which were hugely popular during the Restoration period and helped to shape the development of English drama.

However, Dryden was also a skilled poet who wrote in a variety of styles and genres. “Heroic Stanzas” is just one example of his ability to write powerful and moving poetry that reflects the cultural and political context of his time.


In conclusion, “Heroic Stanzas” is a powerful and moving tribute to Oliver Cromwell and his legacy. Dryden’s use of vivid imagery, complex language, and classical allusions creates a sense of grandeur and majesty that befits a heroic figure like Cromwell.

At the same time, Dryden acknowledges the inevitability of death and the fleeting nature of human existence. This theme gives the poem a sense of melancholy and sadness, but it also serves as a reminder that even the greatest heroes cannot escape their mortality.

Overall, “Heroic Stanzas” is a testament to the power of poetry to capture the complexity of human emotions and experiences. It is a classic example of 17th century English poetry and a reminder of the rich literary tradition that continues to inspire readers and writers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

John Dryden's "Heroic Stanzas" is a classic poem that has stood the test of time. It was written in 1658 to commemorate the death of Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England. The poem is a tribute to Cromwell's life and accomplishments, and it is written in heroic stanzas, a form of poetry that was popular in the 17th century.

The poem begins with a description of Cromwell's death and the mourning that followed. Dryden writes, "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." This opening stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is a celebration of Cromwell's life and legacy.

Dryden goes on to describe Cromwell's rise to power and his accomplishments as Lord Protector. He writes, "The first fam'd actions of his reign were these; / To make a covenant with God, and peace, / To give the people what they would be at, / And what they ought, not what they thought they might." This stanza highlights Cromwell's commitment to the people of England and his desire to create a just and fair society.

The poem also touches on Cromwell's military prowess and his victories in battle. Dryden writes, "He, like the Hebrew captain, did intend / To mock the expectations of his foes; / To spin out conquest, and to save the end, / And frustrate their vain projects by delays." This stanza shows Cromwell's strategic thinking and his ability to outsmart his enemies.

Throughout the poem, Dryden uses vivid imagery and powerful language to paint a picture of Cromwell as a hero and a leader. He writes, "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." This stanza highlights Cromwell's innate greatness and his ability to rise above the challenges he faced.

One of the most striking aspects of "Heroic Stanzas" is the use of heroic stanzas as a poetic form. This form consists of four lines of iambic pentameter followed by a rhyming couplet. The form is often used in epic poetry and is associated with heroic themes and characters. Dryden's use of this form in "Heroic Stanzas" reinforces the idea that Cromwell was a heroic figure and a leader worthy of admiration.

In addition to the use of heroic stanzas, Dryden also employs other poetic techniques to create a powerful and memorable poem. He uses alliteration, assonance, and other sound devices to create a musical quality to the poem. For example, in the following lines, Dryden uses alliteration to create a sense of urgency and excitement:

"His voice, scarce louder than an infant's cry, / At once could make the crowd below him bow; / And when they smiled, he smiled as much as they, / And he alone look'd great amidst the gay."

Dryden also uses metaphor and simile to create vivid images and comparisons. For example, in the following lines, he compares Cromwell to a lion:

"His piercing eye, like the bright star of day, / Show'd to the soldier, as he march'd along, / Which way to fight, or to direct his way, / While the glad murmuring troops about him throng."

This comparison reinforces the idea that Cromwell was a powerful and commanding figure, worthy of respect and admiration.

In conclusion, John Dryden's "Heroic Stanzas" is a powerful and memorable tribute to Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England. The poem uses vivid imagery, powerful language, and the heroic stanza form to create a sense of admiration and respect for Cromwell as a leader and a hero. Dryden's use of poetic techniques such as alliteration, metaphor, and simile adds to the musical quality of the poem and reinforces the idea that Cromwell was a figure of greatness and importance. "Heroic Stanzas" is a classic poem that continues to inspire and captivate readers today.

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