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Lovelace’s ‘From Prison’

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lovelace

When Love with unconfinèd wings
Hovers within my gates,
And my divine Althea brings
To whisper at the grates;
When I lie tangled in her hair
And fetter’d to her eye,
The birds 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,
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.

Richard Lovelace, To Aletha, from Prison (1642) first published in Lucasta (1649)(Despite the metaphorical language — “stone walls do not a prison make,/Nor iron bars a cage,” — these lines were in fact composed, like much of Lovelace’s amazing poetical work, while he was imprisoned for his political views. Lovelace was a headstrong Cavalier who had the misfortune repeatedly to be taken by the Roundheads.)

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