Poem #15: To Althea, From Prison by Richard Lovelace, 1642

“Poetry is the language in which man explores his own amazement.”~Christopher Fry

When Love with unconfined 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,
Enlarged 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 was a so-called “Cavalier Poet”, loyal to King Charles I during the English CIvil war of the 17th century. Other cavalier poets included Thomas Carew, Robert Herrick, and Sir John Suckling. Lovelace wrote this poem in 1642 while he was in Gatehouse Prison for petitioning to have the Clergy Act 1640 annulled which annulment would have returned the Anglican bishops to the House of Lords from which they had been excluded for their loyalty to King Charles. Althea may or may not have been a real person, but imagination provided Lovelace with Althea to caress, wine to drink, voice to praise the king, and freedom to live in peace and solitude.

This song is Lovelace’s words put to folk music by a group called Fairport Convention, music by Dave Swarbrick. The video clips are from the movie Fly Away Home.

Study guide to this poem.

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