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Short poem

John Milton (1608-1674)

Sonnet XVI: To the Lord General Cromwell

On the proposals of certain ministers at the Committee for Propagation of the Gospel

              1Cromwell, our chief of men, who through a cloud
              2     Not of war only, but detractions rude,
              3     Guided by faith and matchless fortitude,
              4     To peace and truth thy glorious way hast plough'd,
              5And on the neck of crowned Fortune proud
              6     Hast rear'd God's trophies, and his work pursu'd,
              7     While Darwen stream with blood of Scots imbru'd,
              8     And Dunbar field, resounds thy praises loud,
              9And Worcester's laureate wreath; yet much remains
            10     To conquer still: peace hath her victories
            11     No less renown'd than war. New foes arise
            12Threat'ning to bind our souls with secular chains:
            13     Help us to save free Conscience from the paw
            14     Of hireling wolves whose gospel is their maw.


1] Though not printed till Phillips's Life of Milton (1694), the sonnet was composed in May, 1652, as the Cambridge MS. states, and on the occasion of the proposals of certain ministers at the Committee for Propagation of the Gospel (of which Cromwell was a member). The Committee was set up by the Rump Parliament to bring some order into the Church by licensing preachers and to examine methods of supporting a ministry other than by tithes, which, however, were to be maintained until the Committee reported. The proposals referred to were offered by a group of moderate Congregational ministers and recommended state support for the Church. Milton by this time was an advocate of the complete separation of Church and State, and relied on Cromwell's agreement, since he had long supported religious toleration.

5-6] The allusion to the overthrow of the monarchy and beheading of Charles I is obvious. God's trophies are memorials of victories in God's cause.

7] Darwen stream: referring to the battle of Preston.

8] Dunbar field: The Scots had acknowledged Charles II, on his father's execution. Cromwell invaded their country and defeated them, September 3, 1650.

9] Worcester: Cromwell's last great victory (1651); his "crowning mercy'' he called it; hence laureate wreath.

13-14] Milton had condemned the Roman Catholic priesthood under the image of the wolf (Lycidas 128-29) and the Episcopal clergy as mere hirelings (ibid. 114-22), then the greed of the Presbyterian ministers (New Forcers of Conscience), and now he couples wolf and hireling in a similar condemnation of the ministers of the Committee.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: John Milton, Letters of State Written by Mr. John Milton (London, 1694). [Published with Edward Phillips' life of Milton.] B-10 702 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
First publication date: 1694
RPO poem editor: Hugh MacCallum, A. S. P. Woodhouse
RP edition: 3RP 1.237.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/24

Composition date: 1652
Form: sonnet
Rhyme: abbaabbacddcee

Other poems by John Milton