The Lye

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The Lye
by Walter Raleigh
"The Lye," by Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618), is one of the strongest and most appealing poems a teacher can read to her pupils when teaching early American history. The poem is full of magnificent lines, such as "Go, soul, the body's guest." The poem never lacks an attentive audience of young people when correlated with the study of North Carolina and Sir Walter Raleigh. The solitary, majestic character of Sir Walter Raleigh, his intrepidity while undergoing tortures inflicted by a cowardly king, the ring of indignation--- all these make a weapon for him stronger than the ax that beheaded him. In this poem he "has the last word."

    Goe, soule, the bodie's guest,
      Upon a thanklesse arrant;
    Feare not to touche the best--
      The truth shall be thy warrant!
        Goe, since I needs must dye,
        And give the world the lye.

    Goe tell the court it glowes
      And shines like rotten wood;
    Goe tell the church it showes
      What's good, and doth no good;
        If church and court reply,
        Then give them both the lye.

    Tell potentates they live
      Acting by others' actions--
    Not loved unlesse they give,
      Not strong but by their factions;
        If potentates reply,
        Give potentates the lye.

    Tell men of high condition,
      That rule affairs of state,
    Their purpose is ambition,
      Their practice only hate;
        And if they once reply,
        Then give them all the lye.

    Tell zeale it lacks 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 lye.

    Tell wit how much it wrangles
      In tickle points of nicenesse;
    Tell wisdome she entangles
      Herselfe in over-wisenesse;
        And if they do reply,
        Straight give them both the lye.

    Tell physicke of her boldnesse;
      Tell skill it is pretension;
    Tell charity of coldnesse;
      Tell law it is contention;
        And as they yield reply,
        So give them still the lye.

    Tell fortune of her blindnesse;
      Tell nature of decay;
    Tell friendship of unkindnesse;
      Tell justice of delay;
        And if they dare reply,
        Then give them all the lye.

    Tell arts they have no soundnesse,
      But vary by esteeming;
    Tell schooles they want profoundnesse,
      And stand too much on seeming;
        If arts and schooles reply,
        Give arts and schooles the lye.

    So, when thou hast, as I
      Commanded thee, done blabbing--
    Although to give the lye
      Deserves no less than stabbing--
        Yet stab at thee who will,
        No stab the soule can kill.

This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.