Auguries of Insolence

I was asked my age in class the other day, and wheeled out the old lie/joke that really means, I’d rather you didn’t ask.

‘Twenty-one,’ I said.

‘You look like you’re forty-six,’ the eleven year old girl replied.

That number was no accident – she knows for a fact I’m thirty-six.

I explained to her (though surely she already knew), that it is polite to tell people they look younger than they are.

‘Okay,’ she said. ‘You look sixteen.’


I think the ideal lie is something like, guess someone’s age, then subtract ten years, but if I told her that then she would tell me I looked thirty-six, so I took a different tack.

Next lesson, in the back of her book I wrote the following lines from Blake’s Auguries of Innocence.

A truth that’s told with bad intent

Beats all the lies you can invent.

‘Special homework just for you,’ I said. ‘Read the poem and explain the meaning to me.’

‘It means don’t tell lies.’

‘No it doesn’t. Read it.’

‘But I can’t understand…’


‘Your handwriting.’

‘Ah…’ I read it out to her.

A minute later she handed her book to me with her gloss on the poem:

It means be nice to the old teacher.


(Just a short, light-hearted post this one. If you’re looking for a more serious consideration of Blake’s poem, um, I dunno – try Google or something? More substantial posts to follow soon ^^)



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2 responses to “Auguries of Insolence

  1. That’s a great story, Andy….and, seriously, do any kids read handwriting anymore?

    I once taught a class in theatre arts to young teenagers. In a unit on facial make-up for the stage (considering distance, lighting, if a character needs to be “aged”, etc..) I asked them to create what is known as a Make-up Morgue: an album in which they would collect photos of all races and ages of people, from magazines and elsewhere, and arrange them in age categories young, middle-aged and old. When they turned-in their collections to me, every one of them had “young” as babies and toddlers, “Middle-aged” at about twenty-five to thirty, and “old age” at about fifty. Perspective is all.

  2. Very nice… parring down this seven ages of man malarky down to three.

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