Man Alive!

(i.e., Good Lord!)

Oh My Word! All day I’ve been racking my brain to recall the name of a poem me and my man did analyse a semester or two ago. I actually wrote a post about this memory lapse earlier on today: Within the hour /, see how I began,


I’ll not lie… the poem that is obsessing my thoughts now… its name I cannot recall.

Well as the British do say in a non-literal way, “fuck me!” The poem I’ve been hunting is called: ‘The Lie.’ It was there in plain sight ( { [ Lie ] } ), it was on the tip of my tongue but my brain didn’t allow me to know so ( { [ LIE ] }.

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 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 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 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
And 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.

— Sir Walter Ralegh

This is sublime, fucking sublime. At first I thought what the fuck’s going on here, but — as we say — step by step, it all became clearer and clearer and then dearer and dearer to me. As I say here:


Literature, like other forms of cultural production, is not created in a vacuum. It is created in a specific context (time, place, and situation), and therefore it is a product of specific historical, cultural, and social circumstances. …it is widely argued that without an understanding of the given text’s social, cultural, and historical context the experience and significance of the work may well be diminished.

In short, this poem is about betrayal, about how everyone turned on Walter as he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Luckily for us, for posterity they allowed him to have and use pencil and paper whilst he awaited mortem eius.


p.s.

“Wracking” or “Racking” Your Brain?
If you are “racked” with pain or guilt or you feel nerve-racked, you are feeling as if you were being stretched out to snapping point on a medieval instrument of torture: the rack. It isn’t surprising that ‘rack’ was adopted as a verb meaning to cause pain and anguish. You rack your brains when you stretch them vigorously to e.g., remember the name of a poignant poem. On the other hand, “wrack” has to do with ruinous accidents — meaning “to ruin or wreck” it is recorded in print from the 1560s onward and initially it specifically meant “to be shipwrecked.” — so if the stock market is wracked by rumours of imminent recession, it is wrecked. n.b., if things are wrecked, we can say they’ve gone to “wrack and ruin.”

“Did I do that? Did I say that? Yes, yes I confess!”