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"LIE, THE" Sir Walter Raleigh (ca. 1592) This poem is typical of Sir Walter Raleigh's combination of moral commonplaces and strong direct moral assertions. It takes as its initial premise the traditional religious dualism of body and soul—the soul is described merely as the "body's guest"—and from that he builds a mounting rejection of the world in which he spent most of his career as politician, soldier, and courtier. Raleigh's personal ambitions and the recklessness with which he pursued them found the glittering surfaces and unpredictability of the court an alluring place to try to fashion himself. "The Lie" is written in the voice of an embittered courtier—rejected by the court and acknowledging his own mortality—who chooses to "give the lie"—that is, openly defy an enemy, even at the risk of death—to it and all its members and fashions. He accuses the court of "glow"ing, not with gold or glory, but like "rotten wood" (ll. 7-8); he accuses "potentates" and "men of high condition" (ll. 13, 19) and all the apparent impressive aspects of the court, even those apparent glories—like the arts, medicine, love, and religious devotion—of being corrupt and deceiving. The poem concludes with an acknowledgement that "giving the lie" is such an insulting rejection of the court, it deserves a response "no less than stabbing," but nevertheless he affirms that stabbing would kill only the body, not the soul, since "no stab the soul can kill" (ll. 76, 78).
"The Lie" can be read as a direct ejaculation of masculine anger, as Raleigh—never one to avoid confrontation—saw his career at Elizabeth I's court thwarted by his enemies. It is a statement of deep frustration, as if no other way of living is possible. It is also a violent expression of nihilism, offering nothing positive as an alternative. In "The Lie's" direct diction, simple verse form, its style reflects the simplicity of its sentiments.
See also court culture.
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