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The History of Lies

Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson, Chateaubriand Meditating on the Ruins of Rome. Oil on canvas (ca. 1810s).


Ces ossements n’ont-ils point des modes de vie qu’on ignore?—Chateaubriand, Mémoires d’outre tombe, XXII, 25.

In that ago when believing was being,

Credibility was the least of many truths,

Less last, less never than the short-faced cougar,

Fish-eyed ingenué, or unfaithful wife,

If like the stars suspecting of its life.

Truth was their model when they ripped it up,

A dream of ephemera to embrace,

Not unaccepting of discrete disgrace;

Slick, silly, limited, but funny,

Lies were already there to be phoney.

Although practical, like paper money,

Lies are not fungible like fiction.

That contretemps is just poor diction.

A lie it’s easy to give the truth to, honey.

Something they know elsewhere.

To be fair.

November 25, 2023


Lines prompted by W. H. Auden’s (1958?) poem “The History of Truth.” In the epigraph, Chateaubriand wonders, “Don’t those bones actually have ways of life of which we know nothing?”

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