Richard Lovelace’s ‘To Lucasta, Going to the Wars’ is a poem about a man who is leaving his lover behind in order to seek glory on the battlefield; the poem first appeared in 1649. Lovelace was an English poet who lived in the early 1600s. Born into a well-established family, Lovelace’s father owned an abundance of land. During the English Civil War, Richard Lovelace fought on behalf of the king. Lovelace is most notably known for this poem, in addition to his lyric poem, To Althea, From Prison, which he wrote while imprisoned for the politics he practiced. He spent multiple stints in jail because of his beliefs. He died at the age of 40 in 1657.
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Summary of To Lucasta, Going to the Wars
In short, this is a very brief poem that Richard Lovelace wrote about a man saying goodbye to his lover before heading to war. He pleads for his lover to understand why he must leave the safe and sweet comfort of her presence, begging her not to think him unkind for going away. While he admits that he very much loves his mistress, he admits that he loves war even more, and he willingly flies to the battlefield.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
Stylistically, this is a very simple poem that is comprised of three stanzas, each containing four lines. ‘To Lucasta, Going to the Wars also has a set rhyme scheme, which has the following pattern: abab cdcd efef. The speaker of the poem, possibly Lovelace himself, since he was a soldier, speaks directly to his lover throughout.
In the first stanza, the speaker is begging his lover not to think he is rude for leaving her. He says:
Tell me not (Sweet) I am unkind,
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
To war and arms I fly.
The use of parentheses and the capitalization of the word “Sweet” in line one is curious, although Lovelace was probably trying to more intimately address his lover her. He pleads with her, telling her not to think poorly of him after he leaves the peacefulness that surrounds her and flies off into the brutal and violent world of war. Lovelace’s diction is also notable here, particularly with his use of the word “nunnery,” which is a religious term for the community in which nuns live. Lovelace probably uses the word here to describe how devoted he and his lover are—even though he later leaves her to go to war.
The second stanza takes on a different tone than the first. In this stanza, Lovelace admits that he is devoted to someone else: war and stalking his foe. He says:
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.
He tells her that he has taken a new lover, which is the first enemy he sees on the battleground. He will chase this enemy down, and because of his obligation as a soldier, he embraces his sword, shield, and horse with even greater faith than he did his lover for her. Again, Lovelace draws attention to religion with his use of the word “faith,” showing his lover and his reader that the religion he now worships is not the woman he has left behind. The speaker now worships war. Lovelace uses alliteration in line six of ‘To Lucasta, Going to the Wars’, repeating the “f” sound in the neighboring words. Lovelace probably implemented this to put an emphasis on how eager the speaker is to get to the battlefield.
The third and final stanza is a brutally honest confession to the speaker’s lover. He says:
Yet this inconstancy is such
As you too shall adore;
I could not love thee (Dear) so much,
Lov’d I not Honour more.
He tells his lover that once she realizes why he is leaving her, she will love and respect his decision. He then leaves her with this bombshell: he tells her that he could not love her as much as he did if he did not love the glories of war more.
As stated earlier, Lovelace was a soldier who fought for the king in the English Civil War. Because of his loyalty to the throne, Lovelace was imprisoned multiple times, and after his last imprisonment, King Charles I was beheaded. While the identity of Lucasta is not known, many suspect Lovelace wrote ‘To Lucasta, Going to the Wars for a woman, Lucy Sacheverell, with whom he was very much in love. Sadly, Lucy thought Lovelace had perished in battle, and she married another man.