Liars and lovers often find themselves to be bedfellows. It seems to follow that government officials will forever have to publicly disentangle the lies they tell about their lovers. But a scandal, after all, means evidence or admission, the end of the lie. Only the person who kept it secret so long knows the real terror of the birth and life of the lie, and perhaps it is poetry, rather than the news cycle, that is sensitive enough to trace a portrait of such a slippery subject.
After hearing about the resignation of David Petraeus on Friday, I immediately turned to the Dylan Thomas poem “I Have Longed to Move Away.” I first read it, by chance, when I was harboring a huge lie myself, one that had seemed to follow me into the pages of an innocuous-looking poetry book on a friend’s shelf, opened at random. From the first line, the poem not only captures the feeling one gets from living the worst lies; it seduces liars themselves. Like the speaker, I longed in that moment to move away to some foreign place, at least on the page, but once I’d begun the journey, I was led back where I’d come from: there was my lie, staring me down again in the next line. The steady meter interrupts on the unexpected and sinister “hissing,” then come the strong two beats of that unavoidable “spent lie” which is equated to a “continual cry.” It is not just a lie; it has been assigned a heavy weight and value by meter, rhyme, and meaning.