Richard Lovelace

Richard Lovelace (1618-1658)external image richard-lovelace-1618-1658-granger.jpg

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Richard Lovelace was born in 1618, however, the exact location of his birth is unknown. He was born into a Kentish family, the majority of whom was involved in the military lifestyle. His father, Sir William Lovelace was honored by King James I with knighthood for his service in the Low Countires. Together, Sir William Lovelace and his wife, Anne Barne Lovelace had eight children, with Richard Lovelace being the eldest. When Lovelace was just eleven years old, he attended Sutton’s Foundation at Charterhouse School. He spent five years here before being appointed as a “Gentleman Wayter Extraordinary” to the King. His time spent at the Charterhouse is questioned because there is no record of his attendance due to the fact that he did not need financial assistance to remain a student.

After being appointed as a “Gentleman Wayter Extraordinary” to the King, Lovelace went on to study at the University of Oxford. He achieved the Master of Arts degree at Oxford when he was just eighteen years old. Defining himself as a Cavalier poet, he focused greatly on the emotional aspect of humanity, including love and relationships. Following his time at the University of Oxford, Lovelace continued his studies at the University of Cambridge. This was only the beginning of a period of trouble for Lovelace, specifically with his introduction to a man named Lord Goring.

Richard Lovelace’s fame has been kept alive by the romance of his career. His poems are commonly spoken of as careless improvisations, and merely the amusements of an active soldier. (Citation?)However, due to his unhappiness with life he found verse-making to be a hobby of his in his leisure time. By 1640, Richard Lovelace was considered one of the most distinguished of the company of courtly poets that gathered around Queen Henrietta. Some of Lovelace’s first works, that stemmed during this portion of his life, included The Scholar and The Soldier.

Subsequently, as Lovelace became closer to royalty there was a rupture between the king and parliament. Upon returning to his estates in Kent in 1642, Lovelace was chosen in the king’s favor to travel to the Gatehouse at Westminster and present a petition to the Commons from Kentish royalists. Unfortunately for Lovelace, he was sent to jail in London. During this time he wrote to Althea, from Prison. This would become one of his most famous poems of all time. After being released on a bail for 40,000 pounds he was considered a prisoner on patrol. He contrived to render considerable service to the king’s cause. He was generous to scholars and musicians and among his associates in London was Andrew Marvell. No Citations

In 1646 after the surrender of the city, Lovelace raised a regiment for the service of the French King. During this battle in Dunkirk Richard was wounded and returned to England. He was then imprisoned again at Petre House in Aldersgate. However, during this very exclusive time Lovelace collected and complied a volume of occasional poems for the press. (which may or may not have appeared in various publications). In 1649, Lucasta, the potential name of this volume, was published.

Unfortunately, the last 10 years of Lovelace’s life were passed with uncertainty and obscurity. His fortune had been exhausted in the king’s interest. He died in 1658 due to an unknown cause. The exact date and location of his death remains unclear however, it has been said that Lovelace died in a cellar in Long Acre. After his death, in 1659 his brother, Dudley, published Lovelace’s Posthune Poems.

Spoken by both critiques and contemporaries, Lovelace has been praised for being “the most amiable and beautiful person that ever eye beheld; a person of innate modesty, virtue, and courtly deportment”. Lovelace was a Cavalier poet and highly respected in the beginning of his life. His poems were written to praise fellow poets or friends, to give advice in grief or love, to define a relationship, to articulate precise amount of attention a man owes a woman, to celebrate beauty, and to persuade love. Lovelace had potentiates of greatness but rather redeemed himself as an amateur. His life was rather subtle and estranged, but his works of poetry have forever lived on to be analyzed for their value and great quality.

Historical Context:

The group of poets that Richard Lovelace is associated with is known as the Cavaliers. The term ‘Cavalier’ is derived from several factors that all connect these poets. The most important reason historically, is their political affiliation of being loyal to Charles I during the English Civil War. Thematically, Cavalier poets are known for writing love letters, or about the glory and honor found in war. Sometimes they combined both such as Lovelace does in his poem, “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars.” Cavaliers were courtiers, or people who held regular attendance in the cour. The term Cavalier may have been one that was given as an insult that grew to be their accepted name.

The Cavalier poetry was inspired by poets like Ben Jonson. When comparing Lovelace’s “Amarantha sweet and fair” to Jonson’s “Queen and Huntresse, chaste and faire,” John R. Cooper states, “Lovelace’s poem is simpler, more sensuous, and more passionate than Jonson’s poem and Jonson’s tetrameter lyrics in general … There are obvious Jonsonian features here, including the seven syllable tetrameter line that Jonson favored ” (Cooper 208-209).

Cavalier poetry tends to be freer and more open than the work of other major poets during this time period. Cavalier poetry shows a characteristic of promoting the idea of carpe diem, or seize the day. It also tends to be very romantic, bordering on eroticism at times. A famous line from cavalier poetry that shows this carpe diem attitude comes from Robert Herrick’s “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time”: “Gather ye rose-buds while ye may” (line 1). Citation?

Other celebrated Cavalier poets are: Robert Herrick, Thomas Carew, Sir John Suckling, and Edmund Waller.

English Civil War

The English Civil War began in 1642 and continued until about 1651. When the war began, it split the nation into a Royalist north and west (commonly called Cavaliers), and the Parliamentary south and east (commonly called Roundheads) which were in support of the British Commonwealth led by Oliver Cromwell. Richard Lovelace, as well as the rest of the Cavalier poets, advocated King Charles I, and opposed the Parliament.

The English Civil War did not just involve England. Ireland and Scotland were both involved in the conflict, although at later times than the onset of the war. Scotland proved more than once to be a pivotal faction in the war, not only by supporting the Parliament in the capture of Charles I, but also by supporting Charles I ,after he was captured up until he was beheaded for treason, as well as his son.

King Charles I was beheaded in 1649 after being captured and tried for treason. Charles I’s oldest son fled to Scotland where he would be crowned Charles II. He later led an invasion into England where he failed and was forced to retreat and hide out in France. Charles II would later return to England after General Oliver Cromwell’s death to restore the monarchy in 1660.

Battleof Naseby
Battleof Naseby
To Lucasta, Going to the Wars =

Tell me not, sweet, I am unkind,
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
To war and arms I fly.

True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.

Yet this inconstancy is such
As you too shall adore;
I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not honor more.

To Lucasta, Going to the Wars is a poem that has a very personal tone almost as if it was originally a letter written from Richard Lovelace to the possibly real or fictitious woman Lucasta. Throughout the poem, Lovelace is describing how he must leave his love, Lucasta, to go to war. The war Richard Lovelace would have left Lucasta to fight in was the English Civil War. Resembling the poem’s themes of duty versus love, Lovelace in reality would have had to make the hard decision of leaving loved ones in order to support his King, Charles I, who Lovelace fought for as part of the Cavaliers from 1643-46 in both France and Holland. Richard Lovelace was captured and placed in jail by the royalists in 1648; “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars” would have been among the poems Lovelace began to prepare and collect while imprisoned which he published under the volume title Lucasta in 1649.


“To Lucasta, Going to the Wars” consists of three stanzas all written in alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and trimeter; tetrameter is four iambs of stressed and unstressed syllables while trimeter is three iambs. Each stanza is presented in a quatrain and the rhyme scheme is abab cdcd efef and uses end rhyme as well as internal rhyme. It uses alliteration such as “first foe in the field” (line 6) and “new mistress now” (line 5), and metaphors such as “That from the nunnery/ of thy chaste breast” (lines 3-4). The tone as well seems to be conversational since the narrator uses phrases such as “Tell me” (line 1), “sweet” (line 1), “True” (line 5), and “dear” (line 11) addressing Lucasta directly as if he were speaking only to her.
Tell me not, sweet, I am unkind,————– A
That from the nunnery—————————B
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind——–A
To war and arms I fly—————————–B

True, a new mistress now I chase————C
The first foe in the field;————————-D
And with a stronger faith embrace————C
A sword, a horse, a shield———————–D

Yet this inconstancy is such——————–E
As you too shall adore;—————————F
I could not love thee, dear, so much,——–E
Loved I not honor more.————————–F

The end rhyme can be seen in bold in lines one and three, lines five and seven, and lines ten and twelve as just a few examples of the line alternating rhyming.

As well, the internal rhyme can be seen through the lines
Line 1- Tell me not, sweet
Line 2- That from the nunnery
Line 5- True, a new
Line 7- faith embrace

To further analyze “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars,” in Stanza one, Lovelace is telling Lucasta to not be angry that he has to leave her to go to war. By comparing Lucasta to a “nunnery” (line 2) and describing her breast as being “chaste” (line 3), the narrator, whom may possibly be Richard Lovelace himself, is referring to her chastity and how he is leaving “the breast” of this pure and faithful woman in exchange for the “arms” of war, which are neither “chaste,” since war is more of a public rather than private domain, nor “quiet,” since war is a violent undertaking. Overall, this stanza reflects the idea that the narrator doesn’t want Lucasta to disdain or hate him for leaving her comforting, faithful presence for the inconstant, vicious presence of many.
Stanza Two refers to this “new mistress” (line 5) he will chase while at war, which he describes as “the first foe in the field.” (line 6) This goes along with the theme of chastity and faithfulness since the narrator is replacing the relationship with Lucasta for this fleeting, and always changing opponent in war which are the foe’s he will meet in battle making this new mistress constantly unfaithful. And since there is this sense of unfaithfulness coming from this new mistress, he will “with a stronger faith embrace” (line 7) the other utilities of war such as the items he can count on to keep him alive such as “a sword, a horse, a shield” (line 8). In the third stanza, Lovelace or the narrator addresses this “inconstancy” (line 9) or unfaithfulness coming from war directly as something Lucasta will appreciate as well because he will not be able to love her if he did not first honor his commitment to his country through defending it in the war as he states through the lines “I could not love thee, dear, so much/ Loved I not honor more” (line 11-12).

The conflict between love and honor appears to be one of the main themes throughout Lovelace’s poem. Lovelace consistently returns to this idea of faithfulness to his lover, Lucasta, versus the faithfulness he is required to show for his country. In this poem, love and honor seem to go hand in hand since, as his last line states, the narrator has to first fulfill his duty to his country before he can be with Lucasta especially since, if he did not honor this first commitment, he would feel too much shame to be able to be with Lucasta. The way the poem is presented seems to be like Lovelace is convincing himself while he is convincing Lucasta that he needs to go war since he constantly goes back and forth between the divide of love for his country versus Lucasta, and duty to his country versus Lucasta. He seems to resolve upon the fact that his duty to his country outweighs his duty to Lucasta, and his commitment to his country came before his commitment to Lucasta, so he decides to honor it.The irony in this is that in order to honor his commitment to his country or be faithful to it, he will have to be unfaithful to Lucasta since he is leaving her for war. Throughout the poem, Lovelace presents three different types of faithfulness: the faithfulness Lucasta has for him, the faithfulness he has for her, and the faithfulness he has for his country. The love Lucasta has for him is described as being pure and constant based on her chastity. The faithfulness Lovelace, or the narrator, has for Lucasta results from love, but in comparison to her love for him, he describes it as unfaithful since he “flies” to the arms of a “new mistress,” or war. Lastly, the faithfulness the narrator has for his country comes from this love of honor, and he needs to remain faithful or true to it for his own honor, his duty to his country, and for Lucasta. However, Lovelace does seem to also touch on the idea of his country’s faithfulness to him, since many of his comparisons and descriptions of war seem to present his country as unfaithful to him while Lucasta is considerably chaste and faithful in comparison.

Listen to the poem: The recitation below, spoken by Carolou Schlegel, shows characteristics of Lovelace’s work through the portraits of himself showing how he portrayed himself as a poet, through his peaceful and reverent body language, and as a soldier, which can be seen through the armor he appears to be wearing; through the photo of the battle of Marston Moor that took place during the English Civil War, this is connected to Lovelace’s main subject throughout the poem.

To Althea, From Prisonby Richard Lovelace


Stone Walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage
Image courtesy of:

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

When flowing cups pass 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,
Enlargèd 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.

The speaker is in a prison and is imagining Love bringing his beloved Althea to him on “unconfined” wings. He imagines hearing her voice and touching her skin but unfortunately it is all in his head. The speaker then talks about attending a celebration where they drink from cups that have been watered down with water from the river Thames. They wear roses on their heads and have hearts filled with passion. Then the speaker is once again talking about being in prison where he will sing praises to the king (King Charles I) from his confinement. He then finishes off by saying that no physical structure can keep him confined, because he has love and love is freedom.

Stanza 1: The speaker is imagining a physical embodiment of love bringing his beloved Althea to him. He sees himself touching her and hearing her voice. While this is all in his head, simply imagining his love for Althea keeps him sane while he is in prison and that his love for her is his freedom. He even compares to his love and freedom that he feels with that love to the gods in the air and that they will never experience freedom such as he does. This is powerful because gods are considered higher than man and the fact that the speaker feels that he is freer than the gods shows just how powerful love can be.

Stanza 2: The speaker is talking about attending some sort of celebration with other people. The reader can assume that the other people are others that are in the same prison as the speaker. They drink wine that has been watered down by the river Thames to which they drink away their sorrows about being stuck in prison. Because even though they are in prison they celebrate that they are not dead. The line “our hearts with loyal flames” (line 12) is an allusion to Charles I what was king during the time of the poem. The reader can guess that the prisoners are prisoners of war and are still loyal to their king. The speaker ends with saying that fish in the deep won’t know the liberty. This is once again telling the reader that even though the speaker is in jail, these other beings (gods in stanza 1) the speaker is freer than all these other creatures.

Stanza 3: The speaker once again talks about being locked away in a prison by comparing himself to “committed linnets” (line 17) which are caged finches. However, the speaker is comparing himself to the bird because even though a bird is stuck in a cage does not stop its voice. The speaker is saying that even though he is in prison it will not stop him from singing praises to his king. The end of the poem uses and inanimate object, the wind, as showing that the speaker is freer than the wind. The wind that has no limitations or boundaries is not as free as the speaker.

Stanza 4: This stanza is a little different than the others because he is not speaking hypothetically but rather about the prison and freedom itself. He describes the prison and that even though he is physically in a prison the prison is not a prison to him. He sees it this way because he says he has “freedom in my love” (line 29) which means that as long as he has love, nothing, not a prison or cage can keep him from being free. The stanza also ends differently than the previous stanzas because the previous stanzas shows things that would never experience freedom like he does while this stanza tells that the only thing that can experience true freedom like he does are angels.

“To Althea, From Prison” consists of four octaves. The rhythm of the poem is unique because the odd lines are written in iambic tetrameter and the even lines are in iambic trimeter. This just simply means that the odd lines have four beats of measure while the even lines have three.

Freedom: Freedom is a huge theme seen in “To Althea, From Prison.” The speaker is in a prison but he does not let than bring him down. He uses his imagination to imagine being with his love, Althea, which, metaphorically, sets him free. The speaker is free, just the same as anyone else, even though he is in a prison. The speaker understands that it does not matter where you are, freedom is entirely mental. A person can be physically free but mentally confined. The speaker is physically confined but free mentally and that makes him freer than almost anyone else. When he talks about liberty, he is also talking about freedom. Every stanza of the poem ends in “know such liberty” except for the last stanza which ends in “enjoy such liberty.” He talks about liberty saying that other creatures will never know the liberty of being “free” in the sense that the speaker is. The speaker states in the last stanza that the only other beings that can understand the freedom as he does are the “Angels alone that soar above.” Freedom is by far the most prominent theme seen in the poem.

Love: The other main theme in the poem is love. Obviously the most obvious form of love is the love the speaker has for Althea. His love for Althea is his only form of freedom while he is in prison. The very first sentence of the poem says “When Love with unconfined wings/Hovers within my gates” (line 1) so he is imagining love as an actual object that will bring the speaker Althea. But other forms of love are mentioned in the poem. The speaker talks about his love for his king by singing him praises and “glories for my king” (line 20). Love is very similar to the theme of freedom because for the speaker, love is his freedom.

Listen to the poem:

Additional List of Popular Works:


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