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Analyzing Richard Lovelace's 'To Lucasta, Going to the Wars'
A Soldier Goes off to War
This poem caught my attention because of its subject matter; a soldier leaving his sweetheart to go to war. Certainly, this scene is not new, and has been replayed countless times throughout human history, and will be many more times before we are done.
It is not exactly known whether Lucasta was a real lover of Richard Lovelace, or an idealized fictional character. There was a woman of Lovelace’s acquaintance named Lucy Sacheverell, whom he sometimes referred to as Lux Casta, translated as “pure or sacred light” (Cummings). Lovelace was a cavalier; a noble who supported king Charles I during the English Civil War and the period afterward. Lovelace began life in a privileged enough position, but because he was a royalist, his life was short, and ended in poverty (Greenblatt 670).
In the first stanza, Lovelace introduces the image of a man pleading with his lover not to reproach him for leaving her side. The next two lines tell us something of the “sweet” lover in question, and how the speaker feels about her:
“Tell me not, sweet, I am unkind,/That from the nunnery/
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind/To war and arms I fly.”(1-4).
The name Lucasta, as well as the words “nunnery” and “chaste” indicate this is a virtuous woman, not a promiscuous one. “Nunnery” and “quiet mind” also lend themselves to the idea of peaceful contemplation. The soldier is taking leave of his virtuous and peaceable companion. It has been suggested that Lovelace’s use of the word “fly” in the fourth line indicates that the speaker is bored and craves the excitement of battle (Cummings).
In the next stanza, the speaker goes on to admit that his new mission is, indeed, more important than staying with his love, and may even have supplanted her in his heart.
“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.” (5-8).
It seems to me that “The first foe in the field” is the mistress the soldier chases; the desire to meet his foe in combat. That is what excites him now, more than his “sweet” and “chaste” companion (Kendall). By describing his determination to go to war in terms of “faith,” the soldier indicates that it is not just youthful restlessness that drives him, but the call of duty. This sentiment is reinforced in the poem’s final stanza:
“Yet this inconstancy is such/As you too shall adore;/
I could not love thee, dear, so much,/Loved I not honor more.”(10-12).
The soldier assures his forlorn lover that she will agree with him, when she realizes that his love of honor is what makes him a good lover to her. He must go and do the honorable thing by fighting for king and country, because that is his duty. If he lacked the strength of character to do that, he would not be a good lover, either.
Cummings, Michael J. "To Lucasta, going to the Wars A Poem by Richard Lovelace: A Study Guide." Cummings Study Guides. Michael J. Cummings, n.d. Web. 21 Sep 2011. <http://www.cummingsstudyguides.net/Guides3/Lucasta.html>.
Kendall, Tim. "Richard Lovelace: 'To Lucasta, Going to the Wars'." War Poetry. 10 Oct 2009. Web. 21 Sep. 2011. <http://war-poets.blogspot.com/2009/10/richard-lovelace-to-lucasta-going-to.html>.
Lovelace, Richard. “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed. Greenblatt, Stephen. Ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006. 670-671. Print.