This poem was written in the Tower of London, while its author awaited execution.  Raleigh’s offering is all bitter defiance. This is the outpouring of a man who, more than most, knew the ups and downs of Fortune, from favoured courtier to condemned prisoner. And it shows; there’s an edge to his satire — especially in the attacks on court, church, potentates and men of high
estate — that’s noteworthy given his reputation as dashing and gallant.



Courtier, colonist, explorer, soldier, historian and philosopher, Sir Walter Raleigh was born in England in 1552. He is said to have fought in Ireland, Supervised the colonization of Virginia and introduced potatoes as well as tobacco to Europe. This brilliant courtier enjoyed special favors from Queen Elizabeth I that, in 1585, he was conferred with a knighthood. These favors would, however, last only for a short while.

In 1603, when king James I ascended the English Monarchical throne, there was a huge turnaround in the working systems of the English court, and Sir Raleigh soon fell out of favor with the king; he was targeted for punishment and imprisoned (in that same year) for fifteen years in the tower of London. While in prison, he conducted scientific experiments, wrote a history of the world, and in 1617, led an unsuccessful expedition to Guiana (present day Peru) in search of gold. This failed attempt, ultimately, led to his execution in 1618; he was found guilty of treason.

Also in some editions entitled “The Lie,” “The Soul’s Errand” is among his last set of poems said to have been scribbled down on the eve of his execution. The poem, a satirical one, nominates his soul as the protagonist on an errand to the world. He ridicules his country’s social classes and institutions; all which are founded on lies and deceits. He hurriedly put the poem together as he became aware of his imminent death.


The 16th century England is the physical setting for this poem. It was an era when social classes and institutions were considered the ideal cultural pattern, and when certain human traits, which were considered superior and ennobling, were given priority. It was also a time when religion, fashion, opulence, wit, charm, humanism and the arts were highly rated and consciously inculcated.

Sir Raleigh’s poem mocks these refined human values, the social institutions that propagate them and the social classes which feed on them. The poet employs the use of irony, metaphor, personification, repetition, satire and rhyme to get his message across.

Structure of the Poem

The poem comprises 13 stanzas; each stanza is made up of 6 lines. In traditional English folklore, the number “13” is a jinxed one. It is usually associated with an evil or an unfortunate circumstance, and since Sir Raleigh wrote this poem on the eve of his execution, it is highly probable that he was well aware of this belief

by Nwachukwu Lawson Luke


A-forrow, before.    
Aggrate, please.    
Amantium Irae, Lovers’ quarrels.    
Amate, confound, dismay.    
Assoile, absolve.            5
At, as.    
A-teending, kindling.    
Attonce, at once.    
Aulfe, a changeling.    
Bairn, a child.            10
Bale, woe.    
Balk, a strip of ground left unploughed.    
Ballating, making ballads.    
Bauzon, a badger.    
Belappit, enveloped, enfolded.            15
Bene, are.    
Bewis, bows.    
Bin, are.    
Birth, kind.    
Blonkis, poetic word for horse.            20
Boulden, swollen.    
Bowster, bolster.    
Brandons, torches.    
Brere, briar.    
Busk, dress up.            25
Canker, worm.    
Carpe Diem, Seize the opportunity.    
Carrier, course.    
Cessile, ceasing, yielding.    
Champian, open country.            30
Chevisaunce, a wall flower.    
Chough, jackdaw.    
Cleped, called.    
Cloggit, clogged.    
Cockers, a kind of rustic high shoe.            35
Coil, confusion or tumult.    
Cointree, obs. form of Coventree, kind of thread.    
Corseris, corselet, encircling.    
Coral, a toy made of coral, usually with the addition of bells.    
Cordiwin, Spanish leather made originally at Cordova.            40
Coronemus Nos Rosis Antequam Marcescant, Let us crown ourselves with roses before they wither.    
Couth, could.    
Cramasie, crimson cloth.    
Crampis, to champ.    
Crank, sprightly.            45
Cutted, curt.    
Dauphin, dolphin.    
Dazie, dais, daisy.    
Decore, decorate.    
Deid, death.            50
Diapred, decorated.    
Dichtis, make ready.    
Dings, slaps.    
Dois, does.    
Doxy, a mistress.            55
Dreriment, drear.    
Ducdame, bring him to me (Hanmer).    
Echone, each one.    
Empery, absolute dominion.    
Feater, neater.            60
Featously, neatly, adroitly.    
Feidis, feeds.    
Fere, companion, comrade.    
Fire-drake, a fiery dragon of mythical Germany.    
Firth, park.            65
Flittis, cast, thrown.    
Flos Florum, Flower of flowers.    
Fortunati Nimium, Too happy ye!    
Franzy, frenzy.    
Friekis, warriors.            70
Gars, causes.    
Garth, garden.    
Glowffin, stare.    
Gowans, daisies.    
Graffed, grafted.            75
Greets, great.    
Grutch, grudge.    
Gryde, horrified.    
Hairtis, hart or red deer, hearts.    
Handsel, earnest money.            80
Hald, hold.    
Harlock, a flower not identified.    
Heben, ebon.    
Heill, obs. form of hele, salvation.    
Hight, called, named.            85
Hindis, female of red deer.    
Hips and haws, fruit of wild rose and hawthorn.    
Howp, hope.    
Hurchonis, hedgehogs.    
Hyd, skin.            90
In Die Nativitatis, On the Day of Nativity.    
Ingenrit, born.    
In Imagine Pertransit Homo, Man passes into the shadow.    
In Obitum M. S., X. Maij, 1614Œ1667, On death of M. S., May 10, 1614–1667.    
Integer Vitae, Blameless in life.            95
Invart, inward.    
Jaspis, jasper.    
Knap, to break.    
Kirk, church.    
Lady-cow, lady bug.            100
Laif, something left behind.    
Lampis, to go quickly.    
Lairn, learn.    
Leese, lose.    
Leif, live.            105
Leir, lore.    
Levin, lightning.    
Liever, rather.    
Lichter, lighter.    
Lichtlie, to make giddy.            110
Limbeck, alembic.    
Lin, desist from.    
Lingel, waxed thread.    
Lither, supple.    
Lives, lively.            115
Loke, fleece of wool.    
Low, flame.    
Lubrican, obs. form of leprechaun, a pigmy sprite.    
Lythe, light.    
Maikis, mates.            120
Make, mate.    
March-pine, usually spelled marchpane, a kind of sweet biscuit usually composed of almonds and sugar.    
Marvis, a well-known thrush common in Europe.    
Mazer, drinking-cup.    
Melitoe, melilot (?), sweet clover.            125
Melling, mingling.    
Mene, moan.    
Merle, common European blackbird.    
Mickle, much.    
Minivere, a kind of fur.            130
Misprision, contempt.    
Miserrimus, Most wretched.    
Moly, a fabulous herb of magic power.    
Nappy, heady.    
Neare, near.            135
N’oserez-vous, mon bel ami, Wilt thou not dare, my beautiful friend.    
Nox Nocti Indicat Scientiam, Night unto night showeth knowledge.    
O Crudelis Amor, Oh Cruel Love.    
Offuskit, obscured.    
Ouer, over.            140
Ourhailit, overspread.    
Oxter, a hug with the arms.    
Paddock, toad or frog.    
Pairly, mate.    
Palmer, Pilgrim returning from the Holy Land.            145
Parcae, The Three Fates.    
Pari jugo dulcis tractus, Sweet drawing in equal yoke.    
Pardy, By God.    
Paunce, obs. form of pansy.    
Peat, pet.            150
Perigall, adequate, worthy.    
Persever, persevere.    
Preluciand, brightly shining.    
Pricket, a buck in his second year.    
Priefs, proof.            155
Pugging, thieving.    
Puisne, a judge of inferior rank.    
Pyght, past participle of pitch.    
Quhair, where.    
Quhen, when.            160
Quhilk, which.    
Quhom, whom.    
Quhy, why.    
Quhyte, white.    
Ramage, bird-song.            165
Rascal, an inferior beast, unworthy of the chase.    
Raunch, wrench.    
Reistis, rest.    
Respas, raspberry.    
Rone, rowan.            170
Rovde, looked.    
Saif, save.    
Sawis, sows.    
Say, a fine thin serge used in the 16th century.    
Schouris, showers.            175
Seely, innocent, harmless.    
Seld, seldom.    
Sen, same as since.    
Setywall, garden valerian.    
Shaid, parted.            180
Shalm, an instrument resembling the clarinet.    
Shawis, a thicket, a small wood.    
Shroudis, conceals, envelops, takes shelter.    
Sicht, sight.    
Sic Transit, Thus passes away.            185
Simplex Munditiis, Plain in neatness.    
Sithe, season.    
Skaillis, clears.    
Skails, clears.    
Smale, small.            190
Smicker, elegant, fine, gay.    
Soote, sweet.    
Sops-in-wine, striped pinks.    
Speiris, spears.    
Stare, starling.            195
Steir, stir.    
Stound, blow.    
Strouting, swelling.    
Suaif, suave, sweet.    
Suckets, sweetmeats.            200
Swad, a country lout.    
Syne, then, thereupon, therefore.    
Tabbies, a kind of thick-threaded watered silk.    
Tead, torch.    
Theorbo, a musical instrument.            205
Thilk, this same.    
Threaves, handfuls.    
Thyrse, The Bacchic wand.    
Til, into.    
Trental, service lasting 30 days in which 30 masses were said for the repose of the soul.            210
Trone, throne.    
Tursis, carry.    
Tutties, nosegays.    
Tyndis, the horns of a hart, antlers.    
Ubique, everywhere.            215
Uncrudded, uncurdled.    
Vanitas vanitatum, Vanity of vanities.    
Venust, elegant, beautiful.    
Verges, rods.    
Ver, spring.            220
Via Amoris, The way of Love.    
Vivamus Mea Lesbia, atque Amemus, Let Us Live and Love, My Lesbia.    
Vively, brightly.    
Vixi Puellis Nuper Idoneus, Not so long ago, I was acceptable to maids.    
Waly, expressive of lamentation, alas.            225
Wapins, weapons.    
Wight, swift, stout.    
Wiss, wish.    
Wonned, dwelled.    
Yconned, versed.            230
Yfere, together.




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