Richard Lovelace, the poet behind this amazing works, puts down this poem while in prison in Westminster, London. At the time, he was confined there for seven weeks during the period of power struggle in England (Judson). In the poem, he writes that although in prison, he is freer than the birds that fly at will. He imagines his love, Althea being so close to him that he is entangled in her hair. Not even the fishes that have the whole sea to drink from have as much freedom' to drink as he does', he says. His imagination makes bottomless cups flow with wine as he and his friends wear rosy wreaths and toast the king. He concludes by saying that though he is in prison, no wind can produce a greater sound than the one he does when praising his monarch. The three major characters depicted are; the speaker who is confined in prison but can never stop himself from dreaming, Althea, the woman to whom the poem is addressed to and the King, who seems to have every support of the speaker. . From this, the poet brings out the power and ability he holds to reason and dream endlessly.
Richard Lovelace seeks to pass across the point that no one can imprison the human mind no matter how hard they may try. Not even holding them captive physically can restrict their minds from wandering away to wherever they please. Richard Lovelace's speaker says,' Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage; Minds innocent and quiet...' He emphasizes that his mind remains free no matter where he may be. This goes to prove that the human mind has limited mobility and is not limited to dream, think or even to hold controversial opinions. According to the speaker, not even the birds of the air or the fishes enjoy such freedom (Inglis). In fact he keeps repeating the words that these creatures 'Know no such liberty' and only the angels enjoy as much freedom as he does. Imagination provides him with Althea to caress and lie down together while he was still imprisoned far away from his love. No circumstance whatsoever whether physical disability, geographic isolation, economic deprivation can cause captivity of the mind unless you allow yourself to. In other words, such things do not happen unconsciously without your will.
The poet was experiencing hard times at the time he wrote down the poem. At the beginning, he held inherited estates and freely used his resources to support the king in any way he could. Then there arose political strife in England, Their Homeland, between the king and the parliament. Charles, the king at that time believed that his authority was God given, a statement that did not augur well with the parliamentarians. Richard maintained his loyalty to the king and eventually when the members of parliament had a chance, they had him imprisoned in gatehouse. This did not however deter him from supporting the king. In the poem, he writes,' And glories of my King; when I shall voice aloud how good He is, how great should be.' His imagination drives him to long for the day when he shall return to show his loyalty to his majesty, the king and sing praises. He sees no limitation in how far his mind can wonder and considering his whereabouts at the time he wrote the poem, nothing should be a barrier to mental freedom unless one suffers mental illness.
The poem has four stanzas each with eight lines. In these lines, there is an alteration between iambic tetrameter that is with eight syllables and four iambic feet and iambic trimester which is six syllables and three iambic feet (Probst). An iambic foot usually consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one. The poet in this case was careful to look for words that harmonized thus bringing out the iambic pattern (Hayes). It helps lessen the stiffness of the poem as the poet seems to have inclined too much on the severity of the matter though it also brings out the emotion the poet had when he wrote the poem.
Such a rhyme scheme brings musicality to the poem hence making it interesting for the reader to read and gets more understanding.
The author also uses internal rhyme as shown below:
When I lie tangled in her hair (line 5)
And fetter'd to her eye (line 6)
Know no such liberty (line 8)
When flowing cups run swiftly round (line 9)
When thirsty grief in wine we steep (line 13)
When I shall voice aloud how good (line 24)
The poet appears to be good in the way he manipulates language to bring out major themes. Most evident is his use of repetition in the poem to emphasize and support his theme. On a closer look or analysis of the poem, a keen reader observes that the first three stanzas end with Know no such liberty while the last stanza ends with Enjoy such liberty. His ultimate goal is to draw his audience's attention on the theme Freedom and to depict that not a single creature holds as much liberty as the human mind. Paradox is also key in the poem serving to bring clarity to the matter at hand; that the imprisoned is in real sense very free. The poem is majorly founded on the paradoxes thrown up by freedom and captivity. Not even the physical unattainability of the lady could stop his mind from cuddling with her and lying in each other's arms. In response to this, the speaker wanders about everything he so desires just like free men around. He claims to have more freedom compared to the fish that have the whole sea to swim in as they know not the inner freedom of the spirit. Even when 'caged like the committed Linnets' he still finds the strength to voice out his political allegiance.
Imagery is also well put especially in the first stanza where he suggests a prison visit. He presumably is talking of the human body as a figurative prison but one not able to hold him from loving and having values. The ambiguity in this statement serves to cause the reader to reason thus exercise the freedom of the mind. The alliteration effected allows for sound effects which draw the reader to the poet's work and evoke the sensory experience (Rae).
Richard Lovelace basically writes about poems that he feels. He seems to draw inspiration from his personal experiences. This in a way draws the attention of the reader as the poet creates some form of connection with his audience. The author clearly shows that whatever the circumstances one can go through like in this case being imprisoned, the mind remains free to think, wander and dream. The author was limited to do things like meeting people and moving around but his mind thought about his love, Althea and how he would praise and adore Charles- the King of England as his acts of loyalty towards him. He shows and explains the feelings and attitudes effectively by use of the various stylistic devices and forms of poetic writing. Richard Lovelace is successful in expressing in what he stands up for and what he believes in is freedom (company).
He has a strong conclusion and instead of following the expectations of the reader by saying he has more freedom, he chooses to halt at he has 'as much as..' the angels in heaven as there can be no greater freedom than that. It is only through withdrawal or rather disconnection from the world that one is able to obtain such kind of freedom- freedom of the spirit that is unknown to many. His main concern is reaching out to a majority of the people who are usually imprisoned in their own allusions and are most of the time unwilling to come out of their cocoons. All his words would better be summarized as freedom, specifically freedom of one's spirit is a matter of the mind and nothing can act as a hindrance to one's liberty.