Tag Archives: Upon Appleton House

New arduity pages

I’ve decided to put my work about poetry in the future into the arduity project, which is also getting a bit of an overhaul. Bebrowed is now going to be used for the creative projects that I’m involved in. The extant bebrowed material will remain here with copies of some being on arduity as well.

These are the most recent arduity pages:

prynne100

J H Prynne, the Neolithic and Landscape. A tentative survey from the English Intelligencer in 1967 via Wordsworth and then to Kazoo Dreamboats.

appleton100

Andrew Marvell’s Appleton House: a Poem of Many Parts. In which we explore the world of the mid-seventeenth century with the aid of this involved and multi-dimensional jewel.

jpeck100

Part Two of John Peck’s M in which concern is expressed but then resolved by the nature and effect of obscurity, intersperersed with admiration for this densely rewarding piece of work.

delaunay100

Cecilia Corrigan and Ian Hatchett’s Titanichat which is an excellent illustration of how poets can make use of web technology. Work like this challenges the reader to consider how he or she is able to recognise language.

reznikoff100.

Reading Charles Reznikoff. A brief demonstration of this poet’s importance in his own right and for the future of the Poem. A very much neglected talent.” title=”reznikoff, an introduction”>Reading Charles Reznikoff. A brief demonstration of this poet’s importance in his own right and for the future of the Poem. A very much neglected talent.

johnm100

Pages pt 2, an open letter to John Matthias in which consideration is given to the cultural clutter that informs our lives and the workings of memory in this brilliant piece of work.

hill100

Growing old playfully with Sir Geoffrey Hill. In which we consider the poignant reflections on aging in the surprisingly enjoyable Ludo.

vanessa100

Vanessa Place’s Tragodia: an introduction. In which we extol this staggering and strategically important conceptual work which throws down a gauntlet to the rest of us.

simonlib100

A tentative introduction to Simon Jarvis’ Night Office (2013) which is a brilliant very long poem that rhymes and addresses the nature of the liturgy and the fate of ruins, a poem that uses constraint to say important things.

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Marvell, Matthias, Sutherland and Information Quality

Not entirely sure where I’m going with this but I’ve come across the above notion which apparently is a growing field of study. It turns out that information quality is thought about in a matrix of different qualities and as soon as I saw these I thought it might be useful to think about The Odes to TL61P in these terms and see where we get to. I then had a closer look at these ‘metrics’ and decided that they wouldn’t fit this particular bill after all because they omit or confuse many of the aspects that I think about in poetry.

So, I’d like to start with what my own headings might look like. I need to emphasise that these qualities appear to me to be the ones I ‘apply’ in my reading this week and is entirely provisional, tentative and obviously subjective. In order to do this properly, I’m going to pay attention to three very different extracts from three poems that I’m reasonably familiar with and see where we get to: Andrew Marvell’s Upon Appleton House, John Mathias’ Laundry Lists and Manifestoes and Keston Sutherland’s Odes to TL61P.

This is Marvell:


But most the hewel's wonders are
Who here has the holt-fester's care.
He walks still upright from the root,
Meas'ring the timber with his foot;
And all the way, to keep it clean,
Doth from the bark the woodmoths glean.
He, with his beak, examines well
Which fit to stand and which to fell.

The good he numbers up, and hacks;
As if he marked them with the axe
but where, tinkling with his beak,
Does find the hollow oak to speak,
That for his building he designs,
and through the tainted sign he mines.
Who could have thought the tallest oak
Should fall by such a feeble stroke!

Nor would it, had the tree not fed
A traitor worm, within it bred.
(As first our flesh corrupt within
Tempts ignorant and bashful Sin.)
And yet that worm triumphs not long
But serves to feed the hewel's young
While the oak seems to fall content,
Viewing the treason's punishment.

And this is Matthias:


           .....while on a promontory broken off
The screensaver image 0f an ancient SE10
Madame C's high cognates gather around boxes dropped
By Ever Afterlife Balloonists working on the script
Of Cargo Cults. They argue (the cognates) that a manifest
Attached to shipment listing all collaterals and cogs
Codes and codices for Mme's Nothing Else Cockaigne Machine
In fact are elegaic poems, that David sings for Jonathan,
Gilgamesh for Enkidu. They inscribe themselves as
Manifestoes which proclaim their faith in algorithms of an
Unkown field of force. They're cognizant and they can glow.
They're coeternal, and they rise to an occasion.
Although they tell no story of their lives,their little trumpets blow.

And this is Sutherland:


The west Irish had nothing but tiny scraps of land with
a cabin; a pig and potatoes; but Belfast and Dublin
had England. Love gets saner, stained into the glass.
All countries must work together toward a mutual
resolution of currency imbalances, or risk war, says the
governor of the Bank of England, tasked with making
the genital stage of Godzilla inevitable; but he is
right, it's the answer Jesus would give if pressed; the
severance will yet amount to minus sweet fuck all.
Your job is to be at that orgy and to experience
maximum anxiety, write, and see what happens; it's not
a joke to say that you learn from that, except you
decline. Synergized to social fact, surplus grout of the
myriad equivalents; at the source I is screaming or am;
prolegomenon to an epigram. Smoke that shit. Yes.
Passion swings both ways, unfixed to be enlarged,
hungry for the majority of the earth, Robert's penis is a
surprise. In my tent, it is more pink than I am. I am 
more red or purple or brown. I had guessed, startling
me, but I sucked it anyway, not to go back; I think it
was an excruciation to him and a probably morally
significant embarrassment, because he never used it
against me when I started punching his face in on the 
couch that my mother pissed herself on; get it back;
why did I do that, smacking around with childish 
fists, deepening our wishes, blunting life in him and
me; and smack that miniscule nameless boy who merely
explained to me that my fantasy car for sale to him
could be given wheels, when I wanted it to be flat and 
just glide? The Victorian English had their more
innocent Green Zones in India, from which to peroroate
on the superiority of peace for trade; indiscreet to go
slaughtering around all over the place like the Russians
via the French and in any case very likely more
overheads to redemption. If sex is the price for that,
be it what you may; after all sex disappears anyway.

Verbal skill.

This is a broad category but, in my view, one of the things that poets do is to make words to a variety of different things at the same time, the words chosen shouldn’t ‘jar’ on the ear, should be precise whilst at the same time carrying a number of different contexts. There’s also the skill of putting words together, in whatever form that enhances both the sound of sense of what’s being written.

Taking Appleton House first, it seems to me that the words are taking us, almost by stealth, from the world of the wood to the world of politics. Unlike the others, Marvell is constrained by both rhyme and meter yet the lines proceed without that sing-song playground effect that seems to be present in too many poems of his period. Tinkle might be thought of as problematic but this is helped a little by the discovery that it can also mean ‘tingle’, especially with regard to the nose. The other concern might be the are/care rhyme in the first quoted verse and long/young in the last. It may well be that these could be credibly made to rhyme in the 17th century ( long/yong) but it still strikes me as clunky.

John Matthias is a superb technician who hardly ever puts a verbal foot wrong. I know this because I’ve been working with him to produced an annotated on-line version of his Trigons and that entire sequence is remarkable for its absence, with one very small exception, of clunk. It could be argued that I’m biased but this mastery is something I’d written about before John got in touch. The poem above is the last from the Laundry Lists sequence and these are the first lines that had me punching the air with delight precisely because of the verbal brilliance of the last line and this uncanny ability to use ordinary/conversational language to do very complex and intelligent things. As well as being a sucker for the great phrase (their tiny trumpets blow) I’m also of the view that poetry, if it’s about anything, is about a ‘mix’ of compression and precision. I have gone on at length about the last 6 and a half lines that conclude the sequence but I still feel the need to emphasise in terms of word-choice, syntax and phrasing how the very difficult to do properly is made to feel relaxed and easy.

Keston Sutherland is the most exciting British poet writing today but he isn’t without his annoyances and the most irritating of these is his tendency to throw in the obscure word or phrase which has always struck me as less than democratic- ‘prolegomenon’ and ‘perorate’ being the only offenders here. This aside, the above is utterly brilliant in that it manages to create a verbal flow that effortlessly takes us from wider public issues to the deeply personal and back again and achieves this by being both precise and economic with the words that are used. The way in which the sophisticated political analysis is smashed to bits by the extraordinary account of Keston as a child sucking off differently-coloured Robert is breathtaking, in the Prynne sense, and profoundly disturbing atleast to this particular reader. In terms of words, those used here are straightforward and clear we are not left in any doubt what is being said although the small and nameless boy at the end might carry some ambiguity. Incidentally, I’ve checked and ‘prolegomenon’ is a classical term for a written preface and I have to wonder whether ‘preface to an epigram’ is more democratic. As far as I can tell, we can reasonably use ‘declaim’ instead of ‘perorate’ and the same argument applies. I don’t find myself feeling the same about Matthias’ cognates because I can’t think of a more accessible substitute.

Tone

One of the surprising things about thinking in this way is that I’ve discovered or refined what seems to be important to me. I used to think of this as ‘voice’ but I now realise that this musical term seems to cover this better. I also realise that, most of the time, I’m attracted to and impressed by a mix of the clever and the playful. I’ll try to use these three extracts to think a bit more about what I mean.

Starting with the woodpecker’s journey through the wood. The first verse reads as a description of this progress and plays with language to create an ostensibly simple and pleasant scene. Things become much more serious by the end of the third verse which makes the subject matter very clear. The language sounds like an attractive melody but (cleverly) carries more than a little ‘bite’ it also conveys a degree of ambiguity which I find satisfying. The creation of these twelve lines of complexity seems quite improvised and conversational yet the ‘message’ is very serious indeed and refreshingly different in its use of play from other poetic efforts of the time.

I now see that it was this combination was what drew me in to Matthias’ work, in his longer work he clearly plays with language and conveys to the reader the pleasure that he takes in this. More so than with Marvell The above is a demonstration of the playfully clever in this pleasure and the verbal exuberance of the opening lines. The concluding image does many things given that the sequence as a whole is about our relationship to a sense of order and the ways in which we struggle with that. I hesitate to say this but “their little trumpets blow” is about as playfully clever as it gets.

Since i first came across his work, I’ve thought of Sutherland as essentially experimental even though he probably views himself as essentially political. The good thing about these experiments is that they mostly work. The beginning of this particular paragraph reads like the beginning of an earlyish Jon Zorn Riff, leaping from target to target at a rapid pace. Then you come across Godzilla’s genital stage which injects some humour into this depiction of Capital and Empire. The one-liners ooze (technical term) with cleverness and there’s clearly more than a little fun with words being had along the way. The most cleverly playful aspect is the insertion of the childhood confessions which tackles the wider theme of how the breaking of secrets can be a powerful and liberating political weapon.

Subject Matter.

I’m against political poems mostly because I find them too ‘viewy’ in the E Pound sense and I have more than enough views of my own. All of these poems ‘do’ politics but accomplish other things as well. Upon Appleton House encompasses landscape and the effects of natural forces, celebrates the life and achievements of his employer, Thomas Fairfax (all-round Civil War good guy) and presents this front row view of one of the most turbulent times in British history. It also does all these things very well indeed. I’m not that interested in the political aspects of the Civil War because I think we continue to give them far too much importance but I am fascinated by how poets responded to those events on either side of the ‘fence’. I am however fascinated by the interplay between the forces of the state and individual agency. Fairfax was on of the most prominent figures on the Roundhead side of the fence yet he was firmly opposed to the trial of Charles I, indeed on the first day of the trial his wife heckled from the gallery. So what Marvell seems to be playing with, as in his An Horatian Ode is the complexities involved in any political strategy/

Laundry Lists and Manifestoes is less obviously political but nevertheless plays along the manifesto / manifest / list and the way in which we ‘lean’ on lists as a kind of prop to calm our various neuroses. It’s not that lists are meaningless and arbitrary collations (as with Perec) but that they are inherently faulty in many kinds of ways. One of the very many clevernesses is that the sequence can itself be read as a long and overlapping list of proper nouns, so it’s a list of listists about lists. Of course, manifestoes are a central part of political life and they have there own frailties between ideology and electoral success.

Keston Sutherland is determinedly political and The Odes present a more considered analysis of the dismal workings of the state than his previous work but also makes use of his personal biography to make a more general but astute point about secrets and the liberating effect of exposing secrets.

One of the ‘big’ secrets of contemporary life is that children are sexual beings with sexual feelings. This isn’t in any way a defence for paedophilia but unleashing this particular secret does cast a lot of adult assumptions about notions of innocence and purity out of the window. In The Odes Sutherland describes in quite graphic detail his own childhood sexual preferences and desires and contrasts these with the desire of his parents to both prevent these being acted upon and to keep them hidden from the world. As well as disliking political poetry, I have a distinct loathing of what we now think of as confessional work so I should really hate this particular mix but it is saved by the strength of the analysis and the wider implications of the confession. I think.

There’s also the issue of wider appeal, we all live under the rule and by the rules of the state, we’re currently watching a couple of states looking increasingly fragile from internal strife and one that has gone beyond the point of self-destruction. We all make lists, nobody is free from the deep need to impose order on the world around us and this takes the form a list of nouns interspersed with a list of their ‘connectors’. We all have a personal manifesto which, whether conscious or not, guides our behaviour. Mine is poorly articulated notion of integrity that contains all of the qualities that I aspire to and it’s there because my previous behaviours have refined down those moral traits that make sense to me. There have been other lists, the clearest being the set of tasks that needed to be done in order to gain as much money in as short a time as possible. Everybody should think more about lists in a much more critical and sceptical manner- Matthias’s sequence prods us into doing that very thing. In a similar fashion we all need to confront our most hidden and awkward secrets and the lies that we tell ourselves about them. It now seems to me absurd that we deny in ourselves what we know to be true and incorporate that denial into our view of the world. Keston’s choice of secret is perhaps extreme but there are many, many others, the way that we deny our racism, our material greed and what Foucault almost described once as the fascist within.

Pointfulness

I read a lot of poetry and I’ve noticed a new demarcation in addition to honest / dishonest line and it’s to do with futility. It seems to me that the vast majority of published work on both sides of the Atlantic is utterly pointless, it makes no positive cultural contribution and is staggeringly complacent even as it glides into its own irrelevance. I’m not going to name names but it does take a lot for work to rise above this dismal morass. None of these three are complacent, the poets involved a clearly challenging themselves to produce work that challenges the staus quo and move things forward in a positive direction. I accept that Marvell’s being dead for a long, long time but nobody yet has picked up the gauntlet that he laid down.

In conclusion, I’m discovering a growing number of components that make up my idea of quality and it is making me read familiar work in new and fascinating eays. I wonder if others have their own readerly criteria…?

In the woods with Andrew Marvell

Weng Naiqiang - scene from the Cultural Revolution

In December Michael Schmidt provided a thoughtful response to the piece on ‘Upon Appleton House’ and I’d like to respond and cover some of the areas that I didn’t cover last year.

The poem is Marvell’s longest and is ostensibly ‘about’ the Fairfax estates in Yorkshire where Marvell was employed as tutor to Mary Fairfax between 1650 and 1652. Last year I focused attention on the woodpecker and what the references to ‘traitor-worm’ and ‘treason’ might signify but now I want to thinks about the section on the estate’s woods in the context of the rest of the poem

The poem seems to be trying to do a number of things, the first being to pay tribute to the Fairfax family and then to use the grounds of Appleton House as both a place of rest from the cares of the world and the site of poetic experimentation

Nigel Smith usefully divides the poem into six main sections:

  • the first ten stanzas deal with the architecure of Appleton House as a reflection of Fairfax’ modesty and humility;
  • the second section tells a story about the union of the Fairfax and Thwaites families and explains how this is tied up with the origins of the house as a convent;
  • this is a description of the garden which is presented (oddly) in military terms;
  • the fourth section is the most technically ambitious and describes the meadows and the effects of the floods that occasionally occur
  • this concerns the woods although the eighteen stanzas are interrupted by three ‘about’ the river;
  • the last sixteen stanzas focus on the river and describe the onset of evening and the arrival of Maria Fairfax- the poem close with further praise of the Fairfax dynasty.

One of the many good things about Andrew Marvell is that he is so difficult to pin down and much critical energy is wasted in trying to position him within the mid to late 17th century. This if further compounded by the conflicted and deeply factional times in which he lived and the fact that he seemed to occupy both ‘camps’ in fairly rapid succession. There’s also the fact that most of the poems seem to point in more than one direction at the same time.

According to Smith, there was a bit of a fashion for writing about landscape during this period and I read the section on the meadows as Marvell’s successful attempt to overgo his peers. We’ll start with the mowers:

To see men through this meadow dive
We wonder how they rise alive.
As, under water, none does know
Whether he fall through it or go.
But, as the mariners that sound,
And show their lead the ground,
They bring up flowers to be seen,
And prove they've at the bottom been.

The above is an example of Marvell the technician, he combines his image with complete control over language and the poetic form. It can be argued that this is mere mimesis but the seafaring analogy sets us up for the flooding in the later part of this section so that the reader is already thinking of the meadows as ocean. There’s also other stuff going on, rising ‘alive’ and providing proof of plumbing the depths both of which have obvious religious connotations – and God was very big indeed during the Protectorate. The most impressive aspect (to me) is the absence of frills, there are no describing words and what needs to be said is said with the minimum fuss.

Before we get to the flooding, we have this political aside:

For to this naked, equal flat,
Which Levellers take pattern at,
The villagers in common chase
Their cattle, which it closer rase;
And what below the scythe increased
Is pinched yet nearer by the beast.
Such, in the painted world, appeared
Dav'nant with th'universal herd.

Smith’s gloss, as is the norm, goes on at great length about the levellers and also throws in the Surrey Diggers and Winstanley but kind of skirts around the central ‘issue’ which appear to be enclosure and the related debates about encroachment on common land. The sub-text would appear to be that the Levellers are campaigning for something that the labourers on the Fairfax estate already have. Given that Fairfax was involved in the suppression of this particular group of eccentrics, I fondly imagine his discussions on all things radical with his daughter’s tutor (when they weren’t discussing Spenser, obviously).

As a fully paid-up Spenserian, I warmly applaud the snook that is cocked at William Davenant (who declared Spenser’s language to be obsolete and the immortal Spenserian stanza to be ‘unlucky’) but I’d also like to point out that this isn’t political per se but a conscious effort to please Fairfax and to efficiently overgo one of the prominent literary figures of the time. Needless to say, Fairfax was a committed Spenserian and would have vehemently disagreed with Davenant’s view.

This isn’t to deny that politics play a part in the poem but that the views expressed or alluded to are more readily attributed to Fairfax than to the poet. I’d also like to argue that it’s technically difficult to get so much stuff into an eight line stanza.

We now move into the wood which has a similar tone to that of ‘The Garden’ (which I’m still claiming as a sequence rather than a single unified poem) but it does have a dedicatory element:

The double wood of ancient stocks
linked in so thick, an unison locks,
It like two pedigrees appears,
On the one hand Fairfax, th'other Vere's:
Of whom though many fell in war,
Yet more to heaven shooting are:
and, as they Nature's cradle decked,
Will, in green age, her hearse expect.

Smith doesn’t gloss ‘green’ and he should because it’s the only way to make any kind of sense of the last two lines, if indeed sense is altogether desirable. As I’ve said before, the seventeenth century was a very different place and we should think much more about these differences rather than about the apparent similarities. Of course, there are poems and bits of poems from the period that we can relate to but there are also some aspects that we’ll never get to grips with. The colour green, for example, was packed which much more ‘meaning’ in 1651 and is likely to have been used so frequently by Marvell because of it’s radical ambiguity and its deployment throughout the cultural landscape. Suffice it to say that ‘green’ here may not mean either natural or young or that it could mean both of these and six or seven more.

I wrote recently about ‘The Garden’ and had a bit of a moan about the current tendency to equate the mention of soul with the Neoplatonic. Marvell’s soul might make an appearance in these woods too-

Thus I, easy philosopher,
Among the birds and trees confer:
And little now to make me, wants
Or of the fowle, or of the plants.
Give me but wings as they, and I
Straight floating on the air shall fly: Or turn me but, and you shall see
I was but an inverted tree.

I’d like to make a claim for a parallel with the soul that flies in ‘The Garden’ but I’d also like to remove the Neoplatonic connotations and supplant it with something about the Edenic quality of the wood and the apparently simple qualities that are explored by the ‘easy philosopher’ but that makes a number of assumptions that I want to make because it fits with what I want to think about with regard to Fairfax’ decision to retire from public life which nicely chimes with the act of reflection that Marvell appears to admire.

A final thought- the line on treason (written about in the first post) is glossed by Smith as a straightforward condemnation of regicide but is it another reflection of the Fairfax family stance on this rather than what Marvell thought? The regicide isn’t equated with treason in the ‘Horatian Ode’ but Charles’ courage on the scaffold is praised….

Andrew Marvell’s Upon Appleton House

It’s a long time since I last wrote about Marvell and have been intending to write more ever since. He is one of those poets that I read for pleasure and he never ceases to amaze me with the amount of stuff that he manages to put into a poem and by his very skilled use of language.
I think tow things have got in the way of Marvell’s reputation, the first being his close association with John Milton and the fact that Milton would overshadow every other poet in the language. Being not as good as Milton does not automatically confine you to the box marked ‘minor’ as has occurred in Marvell’s case. The other problem relates to having written one poem that everybody knows. ‘To His Coy Mistress’ may be a very accomplished and sensitive lyric but it’s not representative of the rest of the work.
The previous post was intended to draw attention to ‘An Horatian Ode’ and this intends to espouse the virtues of ‘Upon Appleton House’ (AH) and to make a case for it as one of the most ambitious and experimental poems of its type.
For several days I’ve been in two minds as to whether to write about AH or about ‘The Last Instructions to a Painter’ which provides a detailed account of the Second Dutch War and our defeat in the Thames. I’ve chosen AH because I think it’s a better poem and because of its ambition.
The poem is long, consisting of 97 eight-line stanzas with each stanza containing four eight-syllable iambic couplets which are used to great effect. The poem is ostensibly about one of the country estates belonging to Thomas Fairfax who was (along with Cromwell) the most successful military commander on the side of Parliament during the English Civil War. Marvell worked for Fairfax between 1650 and 1652 as tutor to Fairfax’ daughter, Maria and Nigel Smith (world expert on all things Marvell) dates the poem to July – August 1651.
Apparently there was a bit of a fashion for country house poems in the 17th century and AH’s most significant forerunner in this regard is ‘To Penshurst’ written in 1612 by Ben Jonson but Marvell expands on this in several different directions. The poem starts with a narrative about two of Fairfax’s ancestors, Isabel Thwaite and William Fairfax and how Isabel was rescued by William from the clutches of wicked and corrupt nuns:

But the glad youth away her bears,
And to the nuns bequeaths her tears:
Who guiltily their prize bemoan,
Like gypsies that a child had stol’n
Thenceforth (as when th’enchantment ends,
the castle vanishes or rends)
The wasting cloister with the rest
Was in one instant dispossessed.

At the demolishing, this seat
To Fairfax fell as by escheat.
And what both nuns and founders willed
‘Tis likely better thus fulfilled.
For if the virgin proved not their’s,
The cloister yet remained her’s.
Though many a nun there made her vow,
‘Twas no religious house till now.

I won’t pretend that I chose these two stanzas at random, I want to use them to illustrate a couple of things. The first (and this is really important) is that the couplet structure does not get in the way of what’s being said. This is important for the sentiment behind these lines is essentially an attempt to exonerate the Fairfax family from profiting from the Reformation and this could easily have been done by means of anti-Catholic bombast. Marvell instead decides to leave his readers to work out the gist of his argument, the nuns are likened to gypsy kidnappers, and Nun Appleton only became a religious house when occupied by the Fairfax line.

The other main element of note occurs in lines 5 and 6 of the first stanza, Smith detects a reference to Britomart’s rescue of Amoret in Book III of the Faerie Queen and reminds us that Marvell’s patron was a Spenserian to the extent of naming his horse ‘Brigadore’ and would have picked up on this allusion. Whether this is the case or not, the reference is fairly gentle and clever without detracting from what’s being said.

I’d also like to highlight a couple of references to property rights, the verb ‘dispossessed’ at the end of the first stanza and the use of ‘escheat’ in the second together with the double meaning of ‘willed’ as in both wanted and bequeathed. These betray an anxiety felt by many noble families in the seventeenth century that they owned houses that had been built from the ruins of religious buildings destroyed during the Reformation.

So, Marvell packs a lot into these sixteen lines and manages to make a number of quite complex points in an elegant and subtle manner. He isn’t in any way hindered by the couplet form and the rhyme isn’t in anyway intrusive or distracting.

The next bit that I’d like to draw attention to refers obliquely to political concerns in quite a sophisticated way. We are in the woods of the AH estate. The ‘he’ that is referred to is a woodpecker.

The good he numbers up, and hacks,
As if he marked them with the axe.
But where he, tinkling with his beak,
Does find the hollow oak to speak,
That for his building he designs,
And through the tainted side he mines,
Who could have thought the tallest oak
Should fall by such a feeble stroke!

Nor would it, had the tree not fed
traitor-worm, within it bred.
(As first our flesh corrupt within
Tempts ignorant and bashful Sin.)
And yet that worm triumphs not long,
But serves to feed the hewel’s young.
While the oak seems to fall content,
Viewing the treason’s punishment.

There’s a lot going on in this. Smith is correct to note that the description of the oak isn’t ‘just’ a straightforward reference to the execution of Charles I but is also pointing to the demise of “a kind of civilisation”. I think it’s doing a bit more than that. The Fairfax family were well known for their opposition to the trial of the king with Lady Anne Fairfax famously shouting her disapproval from the public gallery at the trial. So, Marvell is echoing his employer’s known views and expresses similar regret in the ‘Horatian Ode’. The rhetorical question at the end of the first stanza refers more to a particular idea of national identity than the king.

The second stanza is a more complex analysis of political power and how it functions. The straightforward reading would be that Marvell is identifying the regicides as the villains of the piece and (correctly) prophesying that justice would quite quickly catch up with them. I’d like to point out the use of ‘bashful’ to describe sin and that it our corrupt flesh that is doing the tempting.

The last couplet belies what might also be aimed at. The oak’s contentment, whilst being defeated / altered / transformed, at seeing not the traitor-worm but treason itself receiving the punishment. We then get into the following complexities:
1. Why is it that the oak is said to seem content rather than is content?
2. What or who might the traitor-worm be?
3. Given that I can’t find any other uses of this compound until the age of computer hacking, why did Marvell choose it? He rarely does things by accident.
4. The reference to sin isn’t either ‘orthodox’ or Puritan theology. Is it?

Naturally, I don’t intend to attempt any kind of sensible response to any of the above. I just want to point out that thinking about them is a very satisfying and rewarding thing to do and that Marvell is full of these and always rewards the attention that the reader pays. I also need to observe that 17th century was a fundamentally odd place to be and it continues to elude all our attempts (from either side of the ideological divide) to make sense of it and that this is a Good Thing.
In terms of the ongoing engagement with Simon Jarvis on rhyme, I think that I need to concede (before beginning to think about ‘Sordello’) that it is possible to do sophisticated and complex things within the confines of the couplet- but I still don’t think that Pope is a good example.