Walter Raleigh’s “The Lie”


The Buddha teaching The Four Noble Truths. Sanskrit Astasahsrika Prajnaparamita Sutra   manuscript, written in the Ranjana script,  Nalanda, Bihar, India, circa 700-1100 CE

AG: I’d like to go with  (Walter Raleighs) “The Lie” because that gets into the heavy-metal suffering – The First Noble Truth – when people really are on the verge of death and seeing life as a maya, samsara, evidence of shadow, even in Elizabethan days. So it’s First Noble TruthSecond Noble Truth, suffering, transitoriness. However, the Third Noble Truthun-atman – the Buddhist notion of un-atman (no soul, emptiness, liberation from self poison) is here translated into Heaven (there’s a hope of God, or there’s a hope of salvation, or Christ, generally). So it’s interesting to see the progression for some of them are theistic and looking for God at the end of death, and some are non-theistic and have a kind of a grandeur involved in the death, where there’s no recourse. So what has he got here? – “The Lie”

“Go, Soul, the body’s guest,/Upon a thankless errand;/Fear not to touch the best;/The truth shall be thy warrant”  –  page 135, page 135 –  I’ll start again. And I guess this must have been a song, possibility in the form of a song (tho’  likely he wrote it in a tower when he was about to be killed. –  and that’d be a chance to practice the chords!)

[Beginning at approximately twenty-seven-and-a quarter minutes in  (and continuing until approximately thirty-and-three-quarter minutes in) AG reads Walter Raleigh’s “The Lie” in its entirety] – 

Sir Walter Raleigh (c.1552-1615)

“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; [Allen editorializes here  – “Tell potentates” – that’s  (Jimmy) Carter and (Leonid) Brezhnev now” (1980)]- “/If potentates reply,/Give potentates the lie.
“Tell men of high condition,/That manage the estate,/Their purpose is ambition,/That 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 s chools 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.”

Well he’s still got the line about “the soul” there..  That’s pretty great construction, and sometimes dazzlingly outrageous – that thing about “Tell time it is but motion/Tell flesh it is but dust”. By the time you get to there, it really is, you know, like, taking an axe to everybody’s mind.. going  like, you know, like striking every possible reference point and sense of reality. And absolutely real. I mean it really is. He’s speaking ardor at the door of death.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately twenty-five-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-one-and-a-quarter minutes in]

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