Richard Lovelace – “To Althea, from Prison”,”Love Made in the First Age. To Chloris”

“To Althea, from Prison” is the celebration of the freedom of human mind. The imprisoned poet imagines his lover to come visit him in prison. Being metaphorically tangled in her hair and fettered by her eye gives him a greater feeling of liberty than the gods in the sky. Similarly, when he enjoys drinking with his friends (I didn’t know the Commonwealth prisons were so relaxed) he feels more free than fishes. And when he sings the praises of his king, he feels more free than winds. All that because, as the famous lines from the last stanza state, “Stone walls do not a prison make/Nor iron bars a cage”. If he is free to love and to think whatever he wants, his freedom can be compared only with that of angels.

“To Chloris” ruined my image of Lovelace as a chivalric Cavalier. It paints the image of the Golden Age as a sexual paradise, something along the lines of the Elysium in Carew’s “Rapture“. In this first happy age people wooed in Hebrew (which was believed in Lovelace’s times to be the first language in the world), and since Hebrew is written from right to left, it seems that now we speak and woo backwards. No girl every said no, “and naught forbade but to forbid” (Lovelace thus anticipating the slogan “Il est interdit d’interdire” of 1968). Men pick girls as easily as picking flowers, get “wine from the bunch, milk from the nipple/Paps tractable as udders were” (yuck!) and the “wholesome jellies” are as easily squeezed from “olive trees and bellies”. Everybody is equal, there are no princesses in palaces and there are no love torments or jealousy, although Lovelace does not explain quite clearly how. The poet then addresses Chloris, the scornful lover, who is now going to crave for the offered bliss, but the speaker got so engrossed in this fantasy he prefers masturbation – “crowned with mine own soft beams/Enjoying of my self I lie”.

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