"The Lie" by Sir Walter Raleigh

Essay by justinh_99High School, 11th gradeA+, September 2007

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Sir Walter Raleigh’s 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, Raleigh’s 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 today’s 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, what’s 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.

Raleigh’s political and social views can be found particularly in the first five stanzas. For example,