The Poetry of Sir Thomas Fairfax
Oh let that day from time be blotted quite . . .
In deepest silence th'act concealed . . .
So that the Kingdom's credit might be saved
Whilst his that bred him on by most men’s trodden.
(Bohams/The Cromwell Museum)
Their silken ensigns each displays,
And dries its pan yet dank with dew,
And fills its flask with odours new.
These as the Governor goes by,
In fragrant volleys they let fly.
Similarly, the estate’s harvest meadows are presented as a field of battle:
Where, as the meads with hay, the plain
Lies quilted o’er with bodies slain:
The women that with forks it fling
Do represent the pillaging.
At 97 verses, Marvell’s poem was a fitting tribute to a wealthy patron. Fairfax penned his own poem, 'Upon the New-Built House at Appleton' as response, perhaps, to Marvel. Fairfax's poem is, comically, a mere six line long, and its tone very different from Marvell's:
Think not, O man that dwells herein,
This house a stay, but as an inn.
See'st thou how these waters flow,
How soon away again it glides,
So worldy glory's but a show
That never long with us abides.
O how I love these Solitudes
In places silent as the night,
There, where no thronging multitudes
Disturb with noise the sweet delight.
But the mood gradually becomes more sinister:
How pleasant is it to behold
These ancient, ruinated towers,
. . .
There, on a curséd beam might see
The horrid skeleton of some poor lover
Which, for his mistress cruélty,
Hanged himself, since naught could move her.
I'th' Sacred Ark reason of state should lie,
But rules of state should not religion tie.
In his ‘Hymn to Christ the Messiah’, Fairfax depicts soldiers,
As men besieged with mines about,
Ready to spring and ruin all,
. . .
And by the blast in ruins sink,
Vanquished are when they least think.
[when] In England long no war we see
Then without earth the world shall be.
Sir Thomas Fairfax is remembered as a Civil War general, and it is not surprising that histories have found little room for other, less warlike, aspects of his character. To this day his manuscript remains unpublished in its entirety. But Fairfax's self-imposed exile and his poetic themes of solitude, transience and inexorable fate would seem the legacy of his Civil War. It is a regret that this creative, private side of his character has never been explored fully as it allows us a much closer, personal understanding of a key figure of the 17th Century.
Fairfax, T. Original Memoirs. London: Longman (1810)
Hopper, A. J. ‘Fairfax, Charles (1597-1673)’, in: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: University Press (2004)
Marvell, A. The Complete Poems. London: Penguin Books (1972)
Gentles, I. ‘Fairfax, Thomas, Third Lord Fairfax of Cameron (1612-1671)’, in: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: University Press (2004)
Reed, E. B. The Poems of Thomas, Third Lord Fairfax. Yale: University Press (1909)
Images of Fairfax's poems from Bonham's Auctioneer Website [online] [Accessed, 1 July 2014] Available at: http:www.bonhams.com/auctions/16204/lot/389