"To Althea From Prison"

To Althea From Prison
Richard Lovelace (1618-1658)

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

When flowing cups pass swiftly round
With no allaying Thames,
Our careless heads with roses crowned,
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, linnet-like confined,
With shriller throat shall sing
The mercy, sweetness, majesty
And glories of my King;
When I shall voice aloud how good
He is, how great should he,
The 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 famous lines (the first two of the last stanza) also express a legal truth: you can be "falsely imprisoned" without any sign of stone walls or iron bars.


david said...

What do you think about the rhymes that don't work in modern English?

- eye/liberty
- Thames/flames
- free/liberty
- good/flood
- he/liberty
- cage/hermitage

There's also the puzzling break in the rhyme scheme with confined/majesty. It's challenging to figure out which rhymes are simply conventional and which ones reflect French pronunciations still lingering in English. All of that aside, though, I think I'd bet that "eye" is still pronounced /i:/ or /ij/.

John Cowan said...

I think the -y ones are just conventional, for Lovelace as for Blake: "What immortal hand or eye / Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?"

One of Lewis Carroll's parodies writes "e'e" for "eye", presumably meaning /i/, but this too is poetic diction, not an unaccountable delay of over a century in the Great Vowel Shift.

"Thames" might well have still be "Tames" in his day (the "h" has always been silent there, as in "Thomas"), and I'll bet that the vowel of "hermitage" was not yet reduced.

Anonymous said...

to explain the break in the rhyme scheme:
it's a translation error.

the begining of the third stanza should read:

When, like commmittes linnets, I

Anonymous said...

medieval pronunciation has been changed; so reading the poem with modern english is different. This accounts for the fact that some lines don't rhyme.

Isabel said...

What kinds of imagery does Lovelace use? and why is the poem typical of Cavalier poetry/