Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Poems I Journey With 24

Sir Walter Raleigh
Sir Walter Raleigh (or Ralegh) was a most amazing man – a wonderfully alive, creative and swashbuckling Elizabethan who was a soldier, a sailor, a land-owner, a courtier, an explorer as well as being a poet, a writer and a historian. Again, when he was writing his The Historie of the World in the Tower of London he used sources written in some six different languages. It was maintained by some historians that Raleigh was responsible for the introduction of the potato or spud into Ireland. However, this is disputed by other historians. However, he is widely regarded as the one who introduced tobacco and pipe smoking into England. To add to all these accomplishments the fact that he was also a good family man is actually quite astonishing. In short, he was a courageous and ambitious Elizabethan who was truly a Renaissance man, though he rejected the high-flowing style (loaded with classical allusions) of the Italian Renaissance poets in favour of a more direct unornamented fashion of writing known simply as “plain style.”  This was why the critic C.S. Lewis called Sir Walter one of the foremost “Silver Poets” of the seventeenth century.

The poem from Raleigh that I’d like to offer to the reader this evening is one called “The Lie” which, I should imagine, he composed in the Tower of London some time before his execution. That his execution was unjust is the verdict of history. One of the judges at his trial later said: "The justice of England has never been so degraded and injured as by the condemnation of the honourable Sir Walter Raleigh." Raleigh was beheaded in the Old Palace Yard at the Palace of Westminster on 29 October 1618. The accounts of his last comments before his death are indeed very brave and noble: "Let us dispatch", he said to his executioner. "At this hour my ague comes upon me. I would not have my enemies think I quaked from fear."  It is also reported that after he was allowed to see the axe that would be used to behead him, he mused: "This is a sharp Medicine, but it is a Physician for all diseases and miseries." Further, according to biographers, Raleigh's last words (as he lay ready for the axe to fall) were: "Strike, man, strike!"

Ralegh the Soldier
I shall let the poem “The Lie” speak for itself below. One gets a sense of the poet’s nobility, integrity and authenticity in its stanzas. He has little concern, he tells us, for the hypocrisies of either Church or State. We learn that what Raleigh prizes are the virtues of honesty and sincerity.  He also appreciates that we are only pilgrims here on the earth and that our little lives are transient indeed. Like any Elizabethan or Renaissance man he sees the life of the soul as being immortal and imperishable and that of the flesh as mortal and perishable.   This poem will demand that you read it reflectively several times and then perhaps aloud, and then finally you will feel the passion and conviction of a man weighing truthfully and honestly the significance of his life before the axe of execution cuts off his head:

                                                 The Lie

                                Sir Walter Raleigh (1552 –1618)

GO, Soul, the body’s guest,
  Upon a thankless arrant:
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 over-wiseness:
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.

No comments:

Post a Comment