A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Poem of the Day: Richard Lovelace

To Althea, from Prison 

When Love with unconfinéd wings 
Hovers within my gates, 
And my divine Althea brings 
To whisper at the grates; 
When I lie tangled in her hair 
And fettered to her eye, 
The gods that wanton in the air 
Know no such liberty. 

When flowing cups run swiftly round, 
With no allaying Thames, 
Our careless heads with roses bound, 
Our hearts with loyal flames; 
When thirsty grief in wine we steep, 
When healths and draughts go free, 
Fishes, that tipple in the deep, 
Know no such liberty. 

When, like committed linnets, I 
With shriller throat shall sing 
The sweetness, mercy, majesty, 
And glories of my King; 
When I shall voice aloud how good 
He is, how great should be, 
Enlargéd winds, that curl the flood, 
Know no such liberty. 

Stone walls do not a prison make, 
Nor iron bars a cage; 
Minds innocent and quiet take 
That for an hermitage. 
If I have freedom in my love, 
And in my soul am free, 
Angels alone, that soar above, 
Enjoy such liberty.
--Richard Lovelace 

Sometimes I'm surprised that anyone survived the 17th century, what with poets being sent to prison and all. But that enforced leisure sometimes made for wonderful verse. Lovelace did two spells in stir, in 1642 and again in 1648-49. "To Althea" was written during the first one. Althea may or may not have been a woman named Lucy Sacheverell, and she may or may not have been the same woman he called Lucasta, in his other "familiar quotations" poem, "To Lucasta, Going to the Wars." (The one with the lines "I would not love, dear, so much, / Loved I not honor more." I've always wondered if the writer named Honor Moore had parents with a literary sense of humor.) And then there was Amarantha, whom he wanted to dishevel her hair. In short, Lovelace wasn't. But he wittily turned his love poems in ardently idealist directions, celebrating freedom and honor.