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Richard Lovelace chose his words well in the poem "To Lucasta, on Going to the Wars" to convey inner turmoil between love and honor. The critic Christopher S. Nassaar implies that this poem is as much a battle of the sexes, man dominates woman, as it is man dominates man, in war (44). An alternative view to Nassaar's critique is a poem of chivalry and honor, and why love cannot be true if honor is not achieved first. Lovelace chooses the words that dig deep into the heart to describe the honorable love he seeks for Lucasta. This quatrain, an English sonnet, is of love and honor that comes from war. By using the metaphor of "war" with a "new mistress" brings romance to his words, not a battle between the sexes or the escape of a man who is looking for the excitement of dueling with men in the throes of war.
The romantic tone gives the reader the feeling that the narrator is almost pleading for her understanding. The narrator starts the sonnet by asking Lucasta for her understanding of his choice. He writes "Tell me not, Sweet, I am unkind" (1). He does not want her to think he is unkind by making the choice to go to war. Instead, he puts her on a pedestal by using the words: "That from the nunnery / Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind" (2-3). The narrator uses the word nunnery which is a convent of nuns, a house of ladies with a pure heart. The narrator then furthers his admiration of Lucasta by implying she is with "chaste breast and quiet mind" (3). He believes Lucasta to have a clean, uncorrupted heart and a simple mind capable of understanding why he must make the choice to fly into war and pick up arms for his country.
In the second stanza, Lovelace uses a metaphor to compare war and honor to a new mistress. The narrator's use of the comparison is quite accurate, but holds a twist of light humor. To him, war has mystery, intrigue, fear, excitement, and challenge. All of these things are found in a new mistress. He will lust after the battle like he would a mistress. He must search for the passion that feeds his existence. This gives a deeper meaning to his heading off to war. It implies that what he is about to do is intimate in nature and of great importance to him. The narrator writes of his excitement for battle by describing it as "the first foe in the field" (6). He cannot wait for that first kill. The narrator must have a stronger faith in his sword, horse, and shield, and he must embrace them because his very life will depend on them in battle.
In the final stanza, Lovelace ties line five to line nine by using the relating terminology, "new mistress" and "inconstancy," which continues the thought of an affair. The narrator chose to use words that reassure Lucasta that she is his first true love. Going off to war will not change his strong feelings for her, and she will adore the outcome of his new affair. The narrator expresses this thought by writing: "Yet this inconstancy is such / As you too shall adore" (9-10). Replacing the word "inconstancy" with the more familiar word infidelity gives a more clear meaning of this statement. The narrator is pointing out that Lucasta has not been replaced by another woman, but by a higher priority, "Honor." The remaining two lines of this stanza are from the very heart: "I could not love thee, Dear, so much, / Loved I not Honor more" (11-12). Going off to war was an honor and a privilege to men in the 1600's. When soldiers returned from war, they were honored and respected for their sacrifices in battle. This also reflected onto the family of the soldiers. The narrator was not about to love Lucasta without honor first. He had to go to war to prove his love for her and bring home the honor and respect he thought she deserved.
Richard Lovelace's poem "To Lucasta" is an English sonnet from his time period. In this sonnet, Lovelace uses the first stanza to admire Lucasta. In the second stanza, he uses the metaphor of war and honor with a new mistress that shows the perspective of men during that period and where their priorities stood. The third and final stanza expresses to Lucasta what she has to love about his choice. This poem is of love and war and the choice between the two. The romantic undertone creates a pleading for understanding from the narrator's lover to accept his choice of duty and honor before love.
Lovelace, Richard. "To Lucasta, On Going to Wars." Literature: An Introduction to Fiction,
Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia 6th ed. New York:
Longman, 2010. 443. Print.
Nassaar, Christopher S. Lovelace's "To Lucasta, Going to The Wars." Explicator 39.3 (Spring
1981): 44. Literary Reference Center. Web. 28 January 2010.