Tuesday, 17 May 2011
Freedom in love
I love poetry as I love words. Poetry is language at its purest, the rise and fall of words, of assonance and of dissonance, the simple music that lies at the heart of expression. I can't write poetry, it's a talent beyond me, but I simply can't imagine life without it, I can't imagine not appreciating the beauty of the music of the spheres. To have no understanding or appreciation of poetry is, so far as I am concerned, to have lead in the soul.
I can still recite the poems I learned in early school, still be thrilled by those wonderful verses. There are so many poets I admire, both ancient and modern. There is no point in listing them all but Catullus, Virgil, Chaucer, Dante, Shakespeare, Lovelace, Rochester Dryden, Pope, Keats, Swinburne, Christina Rossetti, Tennyson, Yeats, Rilke, Rupert Brooke, T. S Elliot, Stevie Smith and Philip Larkin all come high, though none higher than the sublime John Donne.
But it was Richard Lovelace that I was thinking of recently, the seventeenth century Cavalier poet, specifically of To Althea From Prison, one of the most moving poems ever written, a great tribute to love and to loyalty, the love of a man for a woman, the loyalty of a subject to his king. I find it impossible to say just how much these verses move me, particularly the last. If I have freedom in my love and in my soul am free, angels alone that sore above enjoy such liberty. Is there any finer sentiment than that? God bless your memory, Richard Lovelace, and God bless the memory of King Charles the Martyr.
When love with unconfined wings
Hovers within my gates;
And my divine ALTHEA brings
To whisper at the grates;
When I lye tangled in her haire,
And fetterd to her eye,
The birds, that wanton in the aire,
Know no such liberty.
When flowing cups run swiftly round
With no allaying THAMES,
Our carelesse heads with roses bound,
Our hearts with loyal flames;
When thirsty griefe in wine we steepe,
When healths and draughts go free,
Fishes, that tipple in the deepe,
Know no such libertie.
When (like committed linnets) I
With shriller throat shall sing
The sweetnes, mercy, majesty,
And glories of my King.
When I shall voyce aloud, how good
He is, how great should be,
Inlarged winds, that curle the flood,
Know no such liberty.
Stone walls doe not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Mindes innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage;
If I have freedome in my love,
And in my soule am free,
Angels alone that sore above
Enjoy such liberty.