Metaphysical poets, selected poems Contents
- Donne, John
- John Donne's early life
- John Donne - from Catholic to Protestant
- John Donne's marriage and its aftermath
- John Donne - The Reverend Dean
- Herbert, George
- Crashaw, Richard
- Vaughan, Henry
- Marvell, Andrew
- King, Henry
- Lovelace, Richard
- Cowley, Abraham
- Philips, Katherine
- Cleveland, John
- Social / political context
- Religious / philosophical context
- Literary context: ideas and innovations
- Aire and Angels
- A Hymn to God the Father
- A Hymn to God, my God, in my Sicknesse
- A Nocturnall upon St. Lucies day
- At the Round Earth's Imagin'd Corners
- A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Synopsis of Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Commentary on Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Language and tone in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Structure and versification in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Imagery and symbolism in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Themes in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- A Valediction: of Weeping
- Batter my heart
- Death be not Proud
- Elegie XIX: Going to Bed
- Elegie XVI: On his Mistris
- Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward
- Lovers' Infiniteness
- Oh my blacke Soule!
- Satyre III: 'On Religion'
- Show me Deare Christ
- Since She Whom I Lov'd
- Song: Goe, and catche a falling starre
- The Anniversarie
- The Dreame
- The Extasie
- The Flea
- The Good-morrow
- The Sunne Rising
- This is my playes last scene
- Twicknam Garden
- What if this present
- Affliction I
- Easter Wings
- Jordan I
- Jordan II
- Love II
- Prayer I
- The Church-floore
- The Collar
- Hymn in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament
- Hymn to St Teresa
- St Mary Magdalene, or the Weeper
- To the Countesse of Denbigh
- Ascension - Hymn
- The Night
- The Retreate
- The Water-fall
- A Dialogue between Soul and Body
- On a Drop of Dew
- The Coronet
- The Definition of Love
- The Garden
- The Mower Against Gardens
- The Mower to the Glo-Worms
- The Mower's Song
- The Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Faun
- The Picture of Little T.C. in a Prospect of Flowers
- To his Coy Mistress
- Upon Appleton House, to my Lord Fairfax
To Althea, from Prison
Written in prison
Although many of the Metaphysical poets lived through the Civil War period (1642-1650), there are remarkably few poems written about it. Richard Lovelace's is one of these. He was a Royalist, a courtier at times, and fought for King Charles I in Scotland 1639-1640. He was imprisoned by Parliament for a month in 1642 for bringing in a petition to restore the Anglican bishops excluded from Parliament. He decided to leave the country on his release, returning in 1647. He was again imprisoned, for six months this time, and dispossessed of his family estates. He died in poverty in 1658. This poem was written during his first brief imprisonment.
Some famous literature has been written from prison. John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress is one of the more famous examples in English literature, though Sir Thomas Malory was also in prison for some of the period in which his Morte d'Arthur was produced. Lovelace's poem could be considered one of the little poetic gems that have come out of the experience.
Freedom and Captivity
The poem is structured round the paradoxes thrown up by freedom and captivity. For most prison writers, true freedom is internal, not external. This is true for religious writers, too. Donne wrote, ‘I/Except you' enthrall mee, never shall be free' (‘Batter my heart'). Lovelace proposes three such examples of this paradox before deriving his conclusion in the final stanza.
Freedom through love
The first paradox is that of human love. He can lie ‘tangl'd in her hair/ And fetterd to her eye', yet know emotional freedom unknown to the birds (some versions of the poem have ‘gods'), even though the birds are usually a symbol of freedom as they soar in the air. The imagery of the first stanza already suggests a prison visit, with the ‘Gates/ Grates' rhyme. If he does not mean a prison literally, then he presumably is talking about the human body as a figurative prison, a somewhat platonic symbolism.
The second stanza suggests the freedom of alcohol. The alcohol stirs up his patriotism. Maybe they make loyal pledges and toasts (‘Healths'). Again, this freedom is compared to the fish, who move in a liquid medium but do not know this inner freedom of spirit. The third expression of this paradox is to do with freedom of speech. Even when ‘like committed Linnets' (a caged songbird), he can still ‘voyce aloud' his political allegiance. In this he is freer than the wind, that can make as much noise as it likes anywhere, since again it is an inner freedom.
A confident conclusion
This leads him to a very confident – and now well-known - conclusion:
Nor I'ron bars a Cage.
The prison becomes ‘an hermitage'. Hermits were voluntary religious solitaries. This time the comparison is not in terms of ‘I have more liberty than ... ' which is what we expect by now. The comparison is of the ‘as much as ... ' sort: here, the angels. They are in heaven (‘sore above'), so there cannot be greater liberty than that.
- Read through Lovelace's To Althea, from Prison
- Note the song-like quality of the poem
- Would it make a successful song, do you think?
- What does he mean: ‘Our hearts with Loyall Flames'?
- Where does Althea come into it?
- What is actually the captivity of the first stanza, and the freedom in it?
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