Richard Lovelace was a big fan of his king, Charles I. "To Althea, from Prison" is as much about Lovelace's ability to overcome his circumstances as it is about the "loyal flames" that he and his buddies display for their king. In the third stanza especially, Lovelace describes the king's "sweetness, mercy, majesty" and says he is not afraid to voice "aloud" his loyalty to His Majesty. As it happens, this poem came about as a result of Lovelace doing that very thing—for which he was thrown in jail, which is the setting of this poem… in which he praises his king. It's an endless loop, really.
Questions About Loyalty
Do you think the speaker's loyalty is sincere? Why?
Might the speaker be more loyal to his own sense of himself—or to his poetry—than the king? Why or why not?
What about Althea? Is the speaker more loyal to her than the king? Why or why not?
Is there a difference between loyalty to the king and patriotism? Why do you think so?
Chew on This
Watch your step! The poem celebrates loyalty but implies that it can be dangerous. The phrase "loyal flames," for example, implies something at once both powerful and potentially harmful.
Nice try, Lovelace. Such loyalty to one's king, or to one's leader, means that one can never be 100% free.