Truth And Falsehood. A Tale

A poem by Matthew Prior

Once on a time, in sunshine weather,
Falsehood and Truth walk'd out together,
The neighbouring woods and lawns to view,
As opposites will sometimes do:
Through many a blooming mead they pass'd,
And at a brook arrived at last:
The purling stream, the margin green,
With flowers bedeck'd, a vernal scene,
Invited each itinerant maid
To rest a while beneath the shade;
Under a spreading beech they sat,
And pass'd the time with female chat;
While each her thoughts, the other feign'd.
At length, quoth Falsehood, Sister Truth,
For so she call'd her from her youth,
What if, to shun yon sultry beam,
We bathe in this delightful stream,
The bottom smooth, the water clear,
And there's no prying shepherd near?
With all my heart, the nymph replied,
And threw her snowy robes aside,
Stripp'd herself naked to the skin,
And with a spring leapp'd headlong in.
Falsehood more leisurely undress'd,
And laying by her tawdry vest,
Trick'd herself out in Truth's array,
And cross the meadows tripp'd away.

From this cursed hour the fraudful dame
Of sacred Truth usurps the name,
And with a vile perfidious mind
Roams far and near to cheat mankind;
False sighs suborns, and artful tears,
And starts with vain pretended fears,
In visits vain still appears most wise,
And rolls at church her saint-like eyes;
Talks very much, plays idle tricks,
While rising stock her conscience pricks;
When being, poor thing, extremely gravell'd,
She secrets ope'd, and all unravell'd.
But on she will, and secrets tell
Of John and Joan, and Ned and Nell,
Reviling every one she knows,
As fancy leads, beneath the rose.
Her tongue so voluble and kind
It always runs before her mind;
As times do serve she slily pleads,
And copious tears still show her needs,
With promises as thick as weeds,
Speaks pro and con, is wondrous civil,
To-day a saint, to-morrow devil.

Poor Truth she stripp'd, as has been said,
And naked left the lovely maid,
Who, scorning from her cause to wince,
Has gone stark naked ever since,
And ever naked will appear,
Beloved by all who Truth revere.

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