Sir Walter Ralegh – “The Lie”

I’ve just discovered a printing error in my copy of the NAEL – page 919 is printed twice, once in its proper place and once instead of page 926, which means I have a fragment of “The Lie” printed twice, but “The Discover of El Dorado” is cut short. Well, I guess I’ll just have to make do with what I have. In this poem the poet addresses his soul, asking her to go around the world and address various people, institutions and ideas, accusing them essentially of their falseness and triviality, and if they reply, give them the lie (i.e. accuse them of lying) – this final couplet in its various permutations ends each stanza. The poet can afford to be so brave because he is about to die, although the poem probably was written long before his actual death – it’s just an imaginary situation. So he’s not afraid to tell the church that though it shows what’s good, it does not do what it teaches, the monarchs that they are loved only when they give and their power is based on a faction, or the members of the government that their only motivation is ambition and so on. But in this rather bitter poem (similar in this note to the poems I read yesterday) there is a tiny note of hope at the end. Of course all those people you gave the lie will want to stab you at least, but “stab at thee he that will/No stab thy soul can kill.” The world is completely rotten from bottom to the top, but the eternity is above the sordid life on this earth.

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