The Lie

The Lie

By Sir Walter Ralegh

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 honor how it alters;
Tell beauty how she blasteth;
Tell favor 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 overwiseness.
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.

Summary of The Lie

  • Popularity of “The Lie”: “The Lie” by Sir Walter Raleigh, an English soldier, writer, explorer, and poet, is a classic in the poetic rendition. It was first published way back in 1592 or around. The popularity of the poem rests on the veracity of social relations about which it speaks. It shows that the social elite of the society often takes to lies to make the relations smooth and form an image among the masses.
  • “The Lie” As a Representative of Didactic Poetry: All the thirteen stanzas of the poem comprise instructions to the soul of the poet. The poem opens with “Go…” addressing the soul to seek the truth with each stanza ending on the refrain of “And give the world the lie” with slight changes in the wording. Different stanzas, then, present different things to the soul to seek the truth yet each stanza comprises the same paradox that truth is hard to come by. First, the poet asks the soul to see the court and the church to observe artificiality and pretension and explore the truth beneath the surface. Secondly, the poet asks the soul to find the same gentry, asking and meeting different people in the hierarchy, and in the fourth one, he asks the soul to go beneath the illusions such as zeal, love, and time and find out the truth. The final stanza ends these three-phased instructions, saying that the soul should stab the lie and that nobody or nothing can stab the soul.
  • Major Themes in “The Lie”: Pretention and false life are two major thematic strands that pervade the poem. When the poet opens the poem, he asks the soul to find the truth that becomes a search for the soul. It goes through three phases but finds all pretensions and artificiality in life whether the soul is to visit the courts or the church to go beneath the surface of the things or the people. Everything is bedecked with pretension and false life. The anaphoric use of “Tell…” accompanies by some suggestions shows that the poet wants to end this life of falsehood and pretension and thinks that even if a lie is behind the stabling, nothing can stab such an exploring soul.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “The Lie”

literary devices are literary tools essential for poetic or prose writing to make the texts beautiful and worth reading. The analysis of these devices in the poem as given below shows this fact.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /o/ in “Go, soul, the body’s guest” and again the sound of /o/ in “Fear not to touch the best,” while the sound of /a/ is “Acting by others’ action.”
  2. Alliteration: It is the use of successive consonant sounds in the initials of the successive words such as /t/ in “Tell time” that has created a melodious quality in the poem.
  3. Anaphora: The poem shows the use of anaphora through the constant usage of “Tell…” in all of the last stanzas.
  4. Abstractions: The poem shows the use of abstractions such as friendship, goodness, hate, ambition, justice, zeal, love, lust and esteem, etc.
  5. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /t/ and /f/ in “Tell faith it’s fled the city”, /t/ in “Stab at thee he that will.”
  6. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. The poem shows the use of imagery such as “Tell faith it’s fled the city”, “Tell how the country erreth” and “Tell manhood shakes off pity.”
  7. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects that are different. The poem shows the use of metaphors of soul, faith, country, and virtue, etc.
  8. Personification: The poet has used the soul, faith, country, and manhood as if they have life and emotions of their own.
  9. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from literal meanings. Here the soul, the lie, and the truth are symbols of the social representations.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “The Lie”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Rhyme Scheme: The poem shows the rhyme scheme of ABABCC in every stanza until the last one.
  2. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are thirteen stanzas in this poem with each comprising six verses.
  3. Repetition: The poem shows the use of repetition such as “Tell…” which becomes an anaphora and repetition of the line “Then give them all the lie” with some changes.
  4. Refrain: The poem shows the use of the refrain “Then give them all the lie” at the end of each stanza with some amendments.

Quotes to be Used 

These lines are suitable to use when advising young men about career growth and career choice to point out that they need to pay attention to their career and not these transient things.

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