It took me awhile to sit down and write another blog post; mostly from lack of subject-matter which managed to grab my imagination, and fire me up for a session of writing. I tried everything; Morris, Sayers, tv shows, movies – I even reached out for a song. In the end, I gave up pretences for finer literature, with Deep Meaning and Profound Themes, and rather went to one of my favourite poems: To Lucasta, Going to the Wars. The poet of this wonderfully short verse was Richard Lovelace, a cavalier; and I do mean a cavalier, he fought for Charles I in the Bishops Wars, and, though already imprisoned or exiled and thus unable to fight for the king during the English Civil War, Lovelace gave his support wholeheartedly.
I’m not quite sure when this was written, and the act of googling for the date seems far too daunting, so I’ll merely that it was written at some point during the seventeenth century, thus narrowing it down rather remarkably for the Dear Reader. This was one of two poems that made Lovelace a renowned poet of his time; the other is entitled To Althea, From Prison, written, unsurprisingly, from Lovelace’s own incarcerated experiences. As one may clearly see, Lovelace had an apparent love of addressing poems to oddly-named women; really, it does create a dashingly romantic image of the cavalier he was.
Now, To Lucasta! The poem is short, simple, and reads easily and pleasantly. It isn’t the most brilliant poem one shall ever see in one’s life, but it is enjoyable and expresses a… I was about to say ‘cute,’ but that really is not the word I’m looking for. I suppose one may say that it expresses a romantically chivalrous idea, of the knight leaving his lover, since he must to arms fly. The first stanza is nothing to remarkable, unless, like me, you are left pondering how Lovelace managed to rhyme ‘nunnery’ and ‘fly.’ Perhaps a half-rhyme; perhaps they were pronounced differently; perhaps something entirely different. Nevertheless, it is a nice enough image, one very much of its time – the depiction of the Lucasta as a quiet and chaste woman; perhaps ‘nunnery’ is only a word describing the woman’s quiet and chaste life, or else a depiction of the refuge and sanctity the narrator finds in her.
God Speed by Edmund Leighton; I feel it captures the poem’s sentiment brilliantly.
Anyway, the second stanza I like; I enjoy the dichotomy of depicting the ‘new mistress:’ the first enemy the narrator spies on the battlefield. The last two lines are rather good, describing how he will hold to his weaponry and steed as a lover, and with greater faith than he had for Lucasta – he shall not leave these, and depart them for long.
The last stanza, though, is the best. The first two lines introduce the last two well, bringing the reader to the whole essence of the poem; the dichotomy of telling Lucasta that, though he is unfaithful to her when there are arms and foes to lover, it is due to this that he loves her so mcuh: because the narrator’s leaving to go to war is proof of his greatest love, honour. And, as anyone in the seventeenth century knows, honour is what everyone loves, or should love, and it is because of the narrator’s own honour that Lucasta loves him so, and that he holds faith and love in her. Although some may say that this poem is only Very Shallow, given its Old World love for war, and, perhaps, rather empty depiction of Lucasta save as the time’s ideal of woman, I think it creates feeling and sorrow within it. Lucasta, one can definitely see, is hurt by the narrator’s departure, his breach of faith; ‘Tell me not, sweet, I am unkind.’ Yet, I feel the narrator’s own sorrow for the departure – while she may be sad, as, no doubt is he, he knows that this is his duty, and honour tells him he must come; it is probably my own, personal, reading of the poem, but the line ‘This inconsistency is such/As you too shall adore’ claims, to me, that the narrator knows himself to be good, since he would follow honour and leave Lucasta, and calls for Lucasta to remember the call of honour, and love him for his own departure. Not, I feel, the words of a man happy to leave, but those of a sorrowful one, asking his lover to understand and love him despite it.
And that is Lovelace! He is not necessarily a brilliant poet, but he writes simply and pleasantly; which, really, is what I would think his aim to be, anyway. This poem does not leap out as a masterpiece of literature, but it is enjoyable to read, whether for one’s own sentiments of honour and suchlike, or for the ideal of Romantic Chivalry present in the poem, which comes through from Lovelace’s own ideals to the various dramatic scenes when people must away to war (Return of the King comes to mind, when Faramir leads the Knights of Gondor to charge Osgiliath. In the movie, the image of the knights tragic faces as they take flowers from the women at the balconies is really well done; that whole scene is brilliant and incredibly tragic). I enjoy the poem, partly for its old world sentiment, and also for its imagery, and hope the Dear Reader does as well.