Kevin Saving on
'To Lucasta, Going To The Wars'
by Richard Lovelace (1618-1657)
Tell me not, sweet, I am unkind
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
To war and arms I fly.
True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.
Yet this inconstancy is such
As you too shall adore;
I could not love thee, Dear, so much,
Loved I not honour more.
War, honour and (courtly) love are celebrated in this poem by one of the foremost of the Cavalier Poets.
Lovelace came from a wealthy Kentish family and, after attending Charterhouse school (then situated in London), studied at Gloucester Hall, Oxford - from where he took his M.A. in 1636. A contemporary, Anthony Wood, described him at this time as being "the most amiable and beautiful person that ever eye beheld, a person also of innate modesty, virtue and courtly deportment, which made him then, but especially after, when he retired to the great city, much admired and adored by the female sex". This paragon joined the regiment of Lord (later general) Goring in 1639. Something of Goring's protege, he followed him to the Bishop's wars - at first as a senior Ensign, before promotion to captain. Returning to Kent in 1640 to a land seething with political and religious discontent, Lovelace was appointed as a Justice of the Peace. The next year he led a body of men to seize and destroy an anti-episcopalian petition comprising around 15,000 signatures. This, and other actions, resulted in his being imprisoned in the Gatehouse at Westminster which meant - though he was soon released on bail - his missing the opening phase of the Civil War.
'To Lucasta' dates from this period (c.1642) when Lovelace would have been in his early twenties. He is supposed to have been engaged to a girl by the name of Lucy Sacheverell - his 'pet name' for her being 'Lux Casta' (or 'chaste light'). Hearing a false rumour of his death (he would be wounded at the siege of Dunkirk, 1646) she promptly married another suitor.
Lovelace would be active on behalf of the royalist cause - impoverishing himself in the process. In the September of 1642 he accompanied Goring to Holland and (probably) spent much of the next four years on the continent. Having picked the 'wrong side' in the contest between Parliament and King, Lovelace would again see the inside of prison and lose much of his wealth and land. He is known to have written almost 200 other poems (from his time as a student onwards) - though 'To Lucasta' and 'To Althea, from Prison' ('Stone walls do not a prison make/ Nor iron bars a cage') remain his best known. 'To Lucasta' was first published on May 14th, 1649, and a posthumous volume (Lucasta: Posthume Poems) would be brought out by his brother, Dudley, two years after Lovelace died in poverty ('in a cellar in Longacre', according to John Aubrey).
Aubrey, J. (1972) Brief Lives, Penguin
Maclean, H. (Ed.), (1975) Ben Jonson and the Cavalier Poets, Norton
Kevin Saving © 2012