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The Lie -- Sir Walter Raleigh

(Poem #1289) The Lie
 Go, Soul, the body's guest,
   Upon a thankless errand:
 Fear not to touch the best;
   The truth shall be thy warrant:
 Go, since I needs must die,
 And give the world the lie.

 Say to the court, it glows
   And shines like rotten wood;
 Say to the church, it shows
   What's good, and doth no good:
 If church and court reply,
 Then give them both the lie.

 Tell potentates, they live
   Acting by others' action;
 Not loved unless they give,
   Not strong, but by a faction:
 If potentates reply,
 Give potentates the lie.

 Tell men of high condition,
   That manage the estate,
 Their purpose is ambition,
   Their practice only hate:
 And if they once reply,
 Then give them all the lie.

 Tell them that brave it most,
   They beg for more by spending,
 Who, in their greatest cost,
   Seek nothing but commending:
 And if they make reply,
 Then give them all the lie.

 Tell zeal it wants devotion;
   Tell love it is but lust;
 Tell time it is but motion;
   Tell flesh it is but dust:
 And wish them not reply,
 For thou must give the lie.

 Tell age it daily wasteth;
   Tell honour how it alters;
 Tell beauty how she blasteth;
   Tell favour how it falters:
 And as they shall reply,
 Give every one the lie.

 Tell wit how much it wrangles
   In tickle points of niceness;
 Tell wisdom she entangles
   Herself in over-wiseness:
 And when they do reply,
 Straight give them both the lie.

 Tell physic of her boldness;
   Tell skill it is pretension;
 Tell charity of coldness;
   Tell law it is contention:
 And as they do reply,
 So give them still the lie.

 Tell fortune of her blindness;
   Tell nature of decay;
 Tell friendship of unkindness;
   Tell justice of delay;
 And if they will reply,
 Then give them all the lie.

 Tell arts they have no soundness,
   But vary by esteeming;
 Tell schools they want profoundness,
   And stand too much on seeming:
 If arts and schools reply,
 Give arts and schools the lie.

 Tell faith it's fled the city;
   Tell how the country erreth;
 Tell, manhood shakes off pity;
   Tell, virtue least preferreth:
 And if they do reply,
 Spare not to give the lie.

 So when thou hast, as I
   Commanded thee, done blabbing --
 Although to give the lie
   Deserves no less than stabbing --
 Stab at thee he that will,
 No stab the soul can kill.
-- Sir Walter Raleigh
Today's poem makes an interesting companion piece to Chidiock
Tichborne's elegy "My prime of youth is but a frost of cares" (Minstrels
Poem #144). Both poems were written in the Tower of London, while their
authors awaited execution. But whereas Tichborne's earlier piece is
suffused with an air of 'what might have been', Raleigh's offering is
all bitter defiance. This is the outpouring of a man who, more than
most, knew the ups and downs of Fortune, from favoured courtier to
condemned prisoner. And it shows; there's an edge to his satire --
especially in the attacks on court, church, potentates and men of high
estate -- that's noteworthy given his reputation as dashing gallant.



Raleigh, Sir Walter (1552?-1618) English explorer, courtier, poet, and
prose writer. One of the favorites of Queen Elizabeth between 1581 and
1592, Raleigh helped his friend Edmund Spenser arrange for the
publication of the first three books of The Faerie Queene; also during
this period he sent several expeditions to North America, though the
Queen would not allow him to make the voyages himself. He fell from
Elizabeth's favor in 1592, according to legend, because of his seduction
of one of her maids of honor. He took advantage of being in the Queen's
bad graces by making in 1595 an expeditionary voyage to South America,
which he described in the colorful (and fanciful) Discovery of Guiana.
He was reinstated at court during the last years of Elizabeth's reign,
but at the accession of James I he was imprisoned on a flimsy charge of
treason. He narrowly escaped execution, and was detained in the Tower
(though in reasonable comfort) for the next thirteen years. In 1616 he
was released on the promise to James I to discover gold in South
America, providing that he neither intruded on Spanish possessions nor
pirated Spanish ships, Unfortunately, Raleigh attacked a Spanish
settlement, and on his return to England was condemned and executed. A
true courtier poet, Raleigh did not publish his poetry but had it
circulated in manuscript. As a result, only a few of his poems have come
down to the present day, "Cynthia," a long poem in honor of the Queen,
was highly praised by Spenser, but only a fragment has survived. Among
his best-known poems are "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd," an answer
to Christopher Marlowe's "Passionate Shepherd"; "The Lie"; "The
Passionate Man's Pilgrimage"; and the sonnet beginning "Methought I saw
the grave where Laura lay," prefixed to Spenser's Faerie Queene. In
addition to a prose History of the World (of which only one volume was
completed), Raleigh wrote a narrative of the sea baffle between the
Revenge and a Spanish warship in which his cousin, Sir Richard
Grenville, was killed; Tennyson's ballad "The Revenge" is largely based
on Raleigh's account. The legend of the courteous Sir Walter spreading
his cloak over a puddle that the Queen might cross dry-shod is mentioned
by Sir Walter Scott in Kenilworth.

        -- [broken link] ...
... engsurveyindex/biography/16century/biowraleigh.htm

More biographies can be found here:

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Mcclintockem29 said...

so what would you say the lie is? anything we tell ourselves to make our lives easier? or would you say society itself is the lie?

dey anthony said...

Beautiful history.I'm wondering whether Sir Walter Raleigh's actions are well understood considering his unflinching devotion and dedication to the Queen and King and his fall from their favour.I need to read more about him.
But the phraise 'tell the lie', what does it rally mean?

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