Richard Lovelace: Biography & Poems

Instructor: Natalie Purcell

Natalie teaches high school English and French and has a master's degree in teaching.

In this lesson, we'll cover the life of English poet Richard Lovelace, a loyal supporter of King Charles I. We'll also explore two of Lovelace's representative poems, which reflect his lifelong commitment to loyalty, integrity, and honor.


Richard Lovelace (1618-1657) was born into a wealthy family, and his charming personality apparently won him favor with King Charles I. The king ordered Oxford University to grant Lovelace his degree before he even completed his studies! While at Oxford, however, Lovelace did develop his talents by writing a play, painting, and playing music.

Unfortunately, Lovelace lived at a time when the English monarchy was under violent attack. In 1644, when Parliament challenged the king's authority and civil war broke out, Lovelace was chosen to go to Parliament and demand that Charles I be restored to power. This didn't go over very well, and he was immediately arrested and imprisoned by Parliament.

Later that year, after his release, Lovelace rejoined King Charles' cause, spending all of his personal fortune to equip the king's army. In 1645, upon Charles's defeat, Lovelace joined France in the wars against Spain. When he returned to England years later, Lovelace was again imprisoned, this time by the Puritans, who were battling against the Church of England. He died, imprisoned and in poverty, at the age of 39.

Richard Lovelace

Now, let's examine two of Lovelace's poems, To Althea, From Prison and To Lucasta, on Going to the Wars.

''To Althea, From Prison''

While imprisoned the first time, Lovelace wrote a poem called To Althea, From Prison, reaffirming his belief in the value of maintaining his integrity, even in prison. The lyrical poem has a traditional structure, with three stanzas and alternating rhyming lines.

In the first stanza, he writes that being ''tangled'' and ''fettered'' by his love for Althea is actually a freedom that no bird in the sky can even imagine. In the second stanza, he compares himself to a caged bird, but declares that he'll still sing the praises of his king, feeling more freedom than the fish in the sea or the wind itself. Then in the final stanza, he reinforces his belief that ''stone walls'' and ''iron bars'' cannot imprison him if he thinks of this as an opportunity for reflective seclusion. He concludes by saying that if his heart and soul are free to love whomever he chooses, only the angels in heaven can experience the boundless level of freedom that he feels.

''To Lucasta, on Going to the Wars''

Lovelace prepared To Lucasta, on Going to the Wars for publication during his second imprisonment by the Puritans, after returning from the wars with Spain. It's also a traditionally structured lyrical poem of three stanzas with alternating rhyming lines.

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