"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." – G. K. Chesterton

Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

An obscure Chesterton gem

I just encountered this little poem for the first time today.

Ballad of the Sun

O well for him that loves the sun
That sees the heaven-race ridden or run,
The splashing seas of sunset won,
And shouts for victory.

God made the sun to crown his head,
And when death’s dart at last is sped,
At least it will not find him dead,
And pass the carrion by.

O ill for him that loves the sun;
Shall the sun stoop for anyone?
Shall the sun weep for hearts undone
Or heavy souls that pray?

Not less for us and everyone
Was that white web of splendor spun;
O well for him who loves the sun
Although the sun should slay.

-G. K. Chesterton

Short and sweet and very meaningful, as Chesterton’s poems always are.  (Well they’re not always short, but they’re always good.)  Chesteron was a lover of nature.  At the same time, he was careful to divide that from worship of nature.  Nature has great beauty and provides many good things for us.  This is because God created nature in order to allow us life and enjoyment, and God has mercy and goodness.  But nature itself does not have moral properties such as mercy and goodness.  In fact, much in nature can be lethal.

Here Chesterton illustrates this with the example of the sun.  The first two verses celebrates what’s good about the sun.  Verse three points out that the sun is not a deity, as many of the ancients would have it.  Praying to the sun, or expecting it to care about any person or thing, is pointless.  Verse four ties it all together.

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Chesterton on commiting suicide

A Ballade of Suicide

The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall;
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbours–on the wall–
Are drawing a long breath to shout “Hurray!”
The strangest whim has seized me. . . . After all
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

To-morrow is the time I get my pay–
My uncle’s sword is hanging in the hall–
I see a little cloud all pink and grey–
Perhaps the Rector’s mother will not call–
I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall
That mushrooms could be cooked another way–
I never read the works of Juvenal–
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

The world will have another washing-day;
The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
And H.G. Wells has found that children play,
And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall;
Rationalists are growing rational–
And through thick woods one finds a stream astray,
So secret that the very sky seems small–
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

– G. K. Chesterton

Chesterton on the shape of the Earth

Enyvoy

Clear was the night: the moon was young:
The larkspurs in the plots
Mingled their orange with the gold
Of the forget-me-nots.

The poppies seemed a silver mist:
So darkly fell the gloom.
You scarce had guessed yon crimson streaks
Were buttercups in bloom.

But one thing moved: a little child
Crashed through the flower and fern:
And all my soul rose up to greet
The sage of whom I learn.

I looked into his awful eyes:
I waited his decree:
I made ingenious attempts
To sit upon his knee.

The babe upraised his wondering eyes,
And timidly he said,
“A trend towards experiment
In modern minds is bred.

“I feel the will to roam, to learn
By test, experience, nous,
That fire is hot and ocean deep,
And wolves carnivorous.

“My brain demands complexity.”
The lisping cherub cried.
I looked at him, and only said,
“Go on. The world is wide.”

A tear rolled down his pinafore
“Yet from my life must pass
The simple love of sun and moon,
The old games in the grass;

“Now that my back is to my home
Could these again be found?”
I looked on him, and only said,
“Go on. The world is round.”

– G. K. Chesterton, Greybeards at Play

Chesterton on What to Drink

THE SONG OF RIGHT AND WRONG

Feast on wine or fast on water
And your honour shall stand sure,
God Almighty’s son and daughter
He the valiant, she the pure;
If an angel out of heaven
Brings you other things to drink,
Thank him for his kind attentions,
Go and pour them down the sink.

Tea is like the East he grows in,
A great yellow Mandarin
With urbanity of manner
And unconsciousness of sin;
All the women, like a harem,
At his pig-tail troop along;
And, like all the East he grows in,
He is Poison when he’s strong.

Tea, although an Oriental,
Is a gentleman at least;
Cocoa is a cad and coward,
Cocoa is a vulgar beast,
Cocoa is a dull, disloyal,
Lying, crawling cad and clown,
And may very well be grateful
To the fool that takes him down.

As for all the windy waters,
They were rained like tempests down
When good drink had been dishonoured
By the tipplers of the town;
When red wine had brought red ruin
And the death-dance of our times,
Heaven sent us Soda Water
As a torment for our crimes.

– G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton on Turning Around

The tagline of by blog is a quote (from Chesterton of course): “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.”  Nevertheless I fear that my posts have been growing deadly serious of late.  I’ve piled up studies and statistics, political opinions, and social commentary.  Little of it has been light, and even my attempts to be light probably haven’t reached that goal.  Chesterton himself, on the other hand, never had trouble taking a light-hearted approach to an important topic.  In this poem he puts a spin (yuk yuk) on the religious life as opposed to worldly pursuit of fame and praise.

BEHIND

I saw an old man like a child,
His blue eyes bright, his white hair wild,
Who turned for ever, and might not stop,
Round and round like an urchin’s top.

‘Fool,’ I cried, ‘while you spin round,
‘Others grow wise, are praised, are crowned.’
Ever the same round road he trod,
‘This is better: I seek for God.’

‘We see the whole world, left and right,
Yet at the blind back hides from sight
The unseen Master that drives us forth
To East and West, to South and North.

‘Over my shoulder for eighty years
I have looked for the gleam of the sphere of spheres.’
‘In all your turning, what have you found?’
‘At least, I know why the world goes round.’

 

Not a bad little dialogue to be squeezed into sixteen lines with perfect rhyme and meter.  It brings home the central point of the Christian understanding of God.  God is unseen, at least most of the time, but is the cause and driving force of the world and everything that happens.  Those who devote their lives to God will miss out on the easily visible measures that the world cares about: prestige and wealth and so forth.  From the world’s perspective, they will appear to be accomplishing nothing, as if they were moving in circles.  Yet at the end, they will truly know why the world goes round.

Your weekly Chesterton

A NOVELTY

Why should I care for the Ages
  Because they are old and grey?
To me, like sudden laughter,
  The stars are fresh and gay;
The world is a daring fancy,
  And finished yesterday.

Why should I bow to the Ages
  Because they were drear and dry?
Slow trees and ripening meadows
  For me go roaring by,
A living charge, a struggle
  To escalade the sky.

The eternal suns and systems,
  Solid and silent all,
To me are stars of an instant,
  Only the fires that fall
From God’s good rocket, rising
  On this night of carnival.

Another Christmas poem from G. K. Chesterton

A Christmas Carol

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap,
  His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
  But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s breast,
  His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
  But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s heart,
  His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
  But here the world’s desire.)

The Christ-child stood at Mary’s knee,
  His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at him.
  And all the stars looked down.

– G. K. Chesterton

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