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Ten Poems: Lovelace’s “To Lucasta” 28 September 2006

Posted by ABD in ABD, Poetry, Psychology, Relationships, Reviews.
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The fifth of a ten-part series, preceded by Hughes’ “Harlem”, Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est”, Yeats’ “Second Coming” and Li Bo’s “River-Merchant’s Wife”.

“Love me as I am,” we hear. “Don’t try to change me.” In an era of commonplace love (we don’t love heroes anymore, or maidens or heroines or saints; we love our best friends, our lab partners, our shipping clerks), we promise to love our sweethearts just as they are.

So strange, then, to hear an appeal to love in the service of a higher cause.

TO LUCASTA, GOING TO THE WARS
Richard Lovelace

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 thou too shalt adore;
I could not love thee, Dear, so much,
Loved I not Honour more.

1649

First, a note on the poet: Richard Lovelace (1618-1658) was a nobleman, soldier and court poet at a time when England was at a crossroads between monarchy and representative government (he was a decided royalist, and paid for it in jail time). Although he does not enjoy the literary stature of a William Shakespeare or a John Donne, this one poem is reason enough to include Lovelace in our set of ten (I mentioned it briefly in an earlier post, but subsequently decided that I want to spend more time on it for the questions it raises).

The power of “To Lucasta” stems from an irony: love is subordinated to honor in the battlefield, but is somehow elevated by this association.

I could not love thee, Dear, so much,
Loved I not Honour more.

The attraction of men in uniform is given a philosophical basis here. Romantic love is dramatized by ideals like duty, honor and virtue. To take these ideals seriously, however, is to place them beyond love. Those of you familiar with early Islamic history will see in this a trace of the story of the newlyweds Hanzalah and Jamilah, may God be pleased with them (check MOZAFFAR’s series on the subject).

The deeper insight, it would seem, is that what makes life worth living stands beyond everyday experience. Imperfect as we are, we reach for the perfect and are taller for it. If you were to accept me exactly as I am, my dear, you would get just flesh and bones. And we would both be disappointed.

Robert Bly brings home this point skilfully in Iron John: A Book About Men. He suggests that when a man falls in love with a woman, he is struck not by what he sees in her but rather what he sees through her.

Women participate in the feminine as the water in a jar participates in the light when light passes through it.

Mature lovers, Lovelace and Bly remind us, recognize that there are more important things in life than love. They live by them and ask the same of their beloved. Subordinating love to these ideals does not diminish it, however. Infused by their light, it only shines more brightly.


This piece is also an oblique response to MOZAFFAR’s most recent marriage post on his personal blog.

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Comments»

1. The Turk - 28 September 2006

I think misplaced ideals are wrong. Yes, try to live to them but don’t expect to. This world has seen many ideals come and go. A fraction of a fraction of people have been able to keep those ideals. Most of us fail miserably.

As Ramadan has come and I am fasting. I am also trying to keep my prayers and actions in check as to validate my fast. Otherwise it simply not eating food. As for longest while I have been let myself slide; coming back into the fold is not easy. Praying seems something I have force myself. Curses are my adjectives often in sentances and correct myself not to say it out loud is tough.

Hope for the best and expect the worst. Motto to follow.

2. Irving - 29 September 2006

A Nobelman could not feel any self-worth in England of that time if he did not fight for his country. That love is as great as the love he bears his beloved. Besides, no woman loves a coward. It is a complicated psychological process that drives men to take up arms, and not just for youthful fancies of glory and honor. The battlefield soon bursts that bubble. It is doing what is right for your tribe in the most primitive sense, to protect hearth and home and your women.
There is more to it than a simple choice between love and honor.

3. Carnival of Islam in the West - 10 November 2006

[…] ABD presents Ten Poems: Lovelace’s “To Lucasta” posted at other|matters […]


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