What is the meaning of stanza II of To Althea from Prison by Richard Lovelace?
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Stanza II runs as follows:
When flowing Cups run swiftly round
With no allaying Thames,
Our carelesse heads with Roses bound,
Our hearts with Loyall Flames ;
When thirsty griefe in Wine we steepe,
When Healths and draughts go free,
Fishes that tipple in the Deepe,
Know no such Libertie.
This lyric poem the Cavalier poet Richard Lovelace wrote in 1642 while held for seven weeks in London's Gate Prison for opposing the anti-royal actions of the Puritan Parliament. Its essential theme rests on this paradox: Even though a captive, the poet is a free man - free to dream, free to think and write, free to love. Thus, he is free to embrace his beloved Althea, though confined to a prison cell. Thus he is free to swear fealty to his embattled king, though unable to physically defend him. The astute reader finds a similar paradox in stanza II:
'Though fish have a whole ocean from which to drink, they are not as free as the poet who, through his gamboling imagination, can drink draughts and raise toasts of loyalty to the king from bottomless cups of wine undiluted by the water of the Thames'.
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