|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:
Sir Walter Raleigh (1552 –1618)