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Please explain the fourth stanza from "To Althea, from Prison" by Richard Lovelace.To...

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rozh | Student, Undergraduate | Valedictorian

Posted April 23, 2012 at 10:20 PM via web

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Please explain the fourth stanza from "To Althea, from Prison" by Richard Lovelace.

To Althea, from Prison
By Richard 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 fettered to her eye,
The Gods 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.

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K.P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted April 24, 2012 at 12:28 AM (Answer #1)

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A courtier of King Charles I, Lovelace, this Cavalier poet, wrote this famous and oft quoted stanza describing what can not bind freedom and offering an analogy showing what can experience freedom the way he experiences it, the way he knows it. In order to understand the fourth stanza, we have to see it in relationship to the others.

The first three stanzas describe three instances when Lovelace knows unbounded freedom. This is a freedom, a "liberty," that is not rivaled by the freedom of gods of the air,  not known by fish in the deep sea, not felt by storm winds that toss the sea waves.

The Gods that wanton in the Air,
   Know no such Liberty.
[...]
Fishes that tipple in the Deep
   Know no such Liberty.
[...]
Enlargèd Winds, that curl the Flood,
   Know no such Liberty.

The fourth stanza turns and gives the paradoxical counterpoint to the three stanzas going before. In the fourth, instead of saying where he knows and experiences freedom and liberty, as before, Lovelace says, instead, what he will not recognize as a prison; what he will not recognize as a captivity that subdues and robs his liberty.

Lovelace famously says that walls do not rob freedom, do not rob liberty; that iron bars do not bind liberty; and that innocent minds are not harmed by walls and bars. He then summarizes the meaning of the first three stanzas and states that (1) innocence sees imprisoning chains and bars as a religious "Hermitage," a place where divine love is contemplated; (2) that he has freedom in the love he speaks of; (3) that in his hermitage of iron and stone, his soul is free.

The ending analogy states that only Angels "that soar" in the heavens, far above mortal walls and iron bars, know the freedom and liberty he knows. The fourth stanza thus speaks of true liberty and gives comfort to Lovelace's beloved from whom he is separated.

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. 

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