As with so many of my favourite poems I first came across “The Lie” while listening to Poetry Please on BBC Radio 4. The poem is usually attributed to Sir Walter Raleigh, however no definitive proof regarding it’s authorship exists, (this is hardly surprising given that the poet satirises the leading institutions of the land which could have led to his imprisonment (or worse) had he been identified.

The poet commands his soul to go out into the world and “give the lie” (I.E. to accuse those who practice dishonesty of lieing). The highest in the land are satirised, “say to the court it glows and shines like rotten wood. Say to the church it shows what’s good but doth no good. If church and court reply then give them both the lie”. Justice should be told of “delay” while charity needs to be informed that it is guilty of “coldness”. If any of the agust institutions satirised attempt to defend themselves then they must be “given the lie” (told that they are guilty of falsehood). One can see why the poet chose to remain in the shadows rather than coming out and claiming authorship!


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 lov’d unless they give;
     Not strong, but by affection.
           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
     Like 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 meets 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 fickle 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 prevention;
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 preferred.
           And if they do reply,
           Spare not to give the lie.

So when thou hast, as I
     Commanded thee, done blabbing;
Because to give the lie
     Deserves no less than stabbing:
           Stab at thee, he that will,
           No stab thy soul can kill!


About kevinmorris101

I live and work in London and blog as a hobby. If you would like to contact me please send an email to animalia at (the address is rendered in this manner in order to try and defeat spammers)!
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