What is the theme of "To Althea, From Prison," by Richard Lovelace?  

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The author, Richard Lovelace, was imprisoned for political reasons, and this experience undoubtedly served as the inspiration for his poem "To Althea, From Prison."

The overarching theme of the poem is that even when one is locked behind bars without physical freedom, it is possible to experience freedom in other ways. Each of the four stanzas examines a different experience of this freedom. 

Stanza one says that when the speaker thinks of his beloved Althea and remembers his time with her, he is freer than the birds in the sky who have the freedom to travel anywhere. 

When I lie tangled in her hair,
    And fettered to her eye,
The Gods that wanton in the Air,
    Know no such Liberty.
In the second stanza, the speaker feels free when he remembers the times he and his friends have spent together, drinking merrily and toasting one another's health. 
The third stanza references his allegiance to the king; the speaker says when he thinks about "The sweetness, Mercy, Majesty,/ And glories of my KING," he feels no greater liberty.

Finally, in stanza four, the speaker concludes with his most powerful (and oft-quoted) claim of liberty despite his imprisonment. 
Stone Walls do not a Prison make,
    Nor Iron bars a Cage;
These lines imply a freedom of the soul which exists despite his physical incarceration. It is clear that the speaker believes it is possible to be physically confined without the soul feeling the constraints of that confinement. 
For a more in-depth discussion of related themes in this work, see the excellent eNotes discussion linked below. 


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To Althea, From Prison

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