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“The Lie” by Sir Walter Raleigh

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Sir Walter Raleighs The Lie is a Renaissance poem which explores universal political and social ideas. The poem was written in the year 1618, as the poet awaited his execution in a chamber in the Tower of London.

Raleigh says Tell men of high condition, that manage the estate, their purpose is ambition; their practise only hate. Raleigh speaks of customs no longer followed as he refers to the rich as owning an estate, but also comments upon human nature and the universal theme of selfishness and greed. The poet uses a semi-colon to emphasise the separation of his commentary their practice only hate to indicate that this is the most important part of the poem. Raleigh also writes: Tell them that brave it most, they beg for more by spending, who in their greatest cost, seek nothing but commending. Again, Raleighs social commentary is in the last line of the stanza, and is emphasised through the use of an ABAB rhyme scheme. This quote shows the poet accusing the wealthy of superficiality in buying material possessions simply in an attempt to attract commendation. This is a concept which is still extremely relevant in todays society.

Raleigh attacks both the court and church in the second stanza as he writes: Say to the court it glows, and shines like rotten wood, say to the church it shows, whats good and doth no good: If church and court reply, then give them both the lie. Raleigh uses repetition of the popular seventeenth century saying give them both the lie, meaning to publicly denounce as lying. Although the church may have a less discernible impact upon modern life, the theme of corruption is very prevalent.

Raleighs political and social views can be found particularly in the first five stanzas. For example, when Raleigh says Tell men of high condition, that manage the estate, their purpose is ambition; their practise only hate. In this stanza Raleigh uses a semi-colon to emphasise the separation of the line, their practise only hate. from the flow of the rest of the stanza. By doing so he emphasise the part of the stanza in which he expresses his own opinion, illustrating that his commentary is the most important part of the poem. What Raleighs opinion is, is that people who chase only ambition are willing to live their lives with little concern for others, stepping on whoever they need to to get to the top. How much more relevant could this be in a world were we are conditioned from a very young age to measure success in life by how much money we earn, what our postcode is, what job titles we hold. Far too often this way of life goes unquestioned and this was the problem Raleigh was trying to fix.

We see this repeated again in stanza 5 when Raleigh says,Tell them that brave it most, they beg for more by spending, who in their greatest cost, seek nothing but commending.Again Raleighs social view is in the last line which is given most emphasis through the rhyme scheme, ABAB, in this stanza this has the effect of making the last rhyming couplet the most powerful. In this stanza Raleigh accuses people who are rich of buying superficial things, or dressing in superficial ways, only to receive praise from others, for no other reason then to be commended by their peers.

This resonates deeply with people living in the kind of world which puts such a high emphasis on looking good, and on having the best, newest stuff. What Raleigh is saying is harsh, the straightforward delivery and unchanging level of high modality makes his message unquestionable, it is bold, it is confronting and in most cases it is full of truth. Thats what makes this poem so great, what Raleigh is saying, what he is so passionate and angry about arent all of these dead causes which were only important 400 years ago, hes talking about things that people are still very passionate about today.

Raleighs intentions are not only to convey solid political and social commentary, but also to convey all of his anger and frustration through emotive tone and language which makes the poem compelling. Raleigh intended it to make people aware of what the world was really like, and that is what is meant by, give them both the lie. This was a popular saying in the 1600s, which meant; publicly announce them to be lying. Such an emotional poem guarantees an emotional response from readers. One neednt look any further then the second stanza to realise this. Here Raleigh says,Say to the court it glows, and shines like rotten wood, say to the church it shows, whats good and doth no good: If church and court reply, then give them both the lie.

The use of a simile in the second line compares the courts to rotten wood. Those words are full of emotion, power and passion, they contrast violently with the words in the line before, glows and shines and through this contrast the writer is highlighting his point, which is that on the surface the courts appear to be one thing, however, in reality it is rotten wood, corrupt and evil. The use of high modality coupled with negative suggestions and accusations is a perfect illustration of his anger and frustration.

The Lie is a powerful poem because whilst writing it the poet was awaiting his death, what we have here isnt only a critique of society and philosophies, of concepts and institutions, of emotions and passions; its a condemned mans final thoughts. This poem illustrates this mans desire to detach from the world, so that when he is gone there is nothing to miss. Raleigh begins by criticizing politics, and society, however, he goes on to criticize love, fortune, honour, wit, so many concepts which do not seem to be at fault for anything. It is Raleighs blatant attack on everything that this world has to offer, which suggests his bitterness, a bitterness which is a response to the knowledge that very soon; he wont have any of this. When Raleigh says, Tell fortune of her blindness; tell nature of decay; Tell friendship of unkindness: Tell justice of delay. he begins with positive concepts, fortune, nature, friendship and justice and then contrasts by concluding with negative concepts, blindness, decay, unkindness, delay.

By doing so he suggests that even the best that life has to offer is contaminated. The fact that he lists all of these concepts, very briefly, only sparing a line for each, suggests that he is not concerned with them, but rather trying to find every possible thing that we perceive as good, and trying to show us that it can be bad as well, that everything that makes us happy, will make us sad. One can see how to a dying man leaving behind a world which is broken is far easier then acknowledging all that he is going to leave behind. However, the writers circumstances arent what make this poem special; after all, hes not the first dying man whos written a poem, it is his reaction to his circumstances which is so powerful.



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