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John Cleveland (1613–1658) was an English poet and satirist who rose to prominence in the mid-17th century during the tumultuous period of the English Civil War. Known for his biting satires and loyalist poems, he was a staunch Royalist who wrote vigorously in defense of King Charles I.

Literary Background

Cleveland was educated at Cambridge University, where he became known for his scholarly achievements and his early poetry. His work reflects the learned wit and densely allusive style that characterized much of the metaphysical poetry of the period. Though not as well-known today as some of his contemporaries like John Donne or Andrew Marvell, Cleveland was celebrated in his time for his erudition and the vigor of his verse.

Early Influences

Cleveland's work was influenced by the metaphysical poets, known for their elaborate conceits and intellectual playfulness. His poetry and satirical writing are marked by an ornate style and a use of classical allusions, reflecting a strong grounding in classical literature and history, typical of a well-educated man of his era.

Poetic Schools or Movements

Cleveland is often associated with the "Cavalier poets," a group of writers who were loyal to the English monarchy during the Civil War. Although the Cavalier poets are generally known for their lighter, more courtly verses, Cleveland's work is distinguished by a more aggressive tone, befitting the turbulent times in which he lived.

Poetic Oeuvre

Cleveland's poetry is characterized by its strong satirical bent, complex use of metaphors, and loyalty to the Royalist cause. His most famous works include poems like "The Rebel Scot" and "To the King," which reveal his political leanings and his disdain for the Parliamentarian forces. His verse often employs a strong rhetorical style and is noted for its incisive wit and dark humor.

Themes in Cleveland’s poetry include:

*Political Conflict: Much of his poetry is directly related to the events of the English Civil War and the Interregnum, reflecting his Royalist sympathies.

*Satire and Critique: His satirical works spared no one, attacking both political and religious targets with sharp wit.

*(Love and Honor: As was common among poets of his era, Cleveland also wrote on themes of love and honor, though often with a more sardonic or ironic tone than his Cavalier contemporaries.

Cleveland's poetry is often difficult for modern readers due to its heavy use of contemporary references and allusions. His work reflects the charged political atmosphere of his time, capturing the passion and the urgency of the Royalist cause.


While John Cleveland's work does not occupy a prominent place in the modern literary canon, he was influential in his time, particularly among Royalist readers. His satires were celebrated for their wit and their bold defense of the monarchy, and his style influenced subsequent generations of satirical writers.


Cleveland's fame in his own time was significant, as his poems circulated widely in manuscript and in print. Though he never held an official position as a poet laureate or similar title, his popularity among Royalist circles ensured that his work was disseminated and celebrated during and immediately after the English Civil War.


John Cleveland’s poetry offers a window into the complex political and social dynamics of 17th-century England, characterized by its intellectualism and sharp wit. His Royalist sympathies and his place in the metaphysical tradition make his work of historical interest, providing insight into the mindset and culture of his era. While not as enduring as some of his peers in terms of literary fame, Cleveland's work remains an important part of the tapestry of English literature from a period of great conflict and change.

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