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

Posts tagged ‘poetry’

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.

Chesterton on What to Drink


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.


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


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.

A nice little poem

I’ve been on a rather negative spree of late, both on this blog and in real life.  I don’t think you can blame me.  The world has been on a negative spree of late.  Plunging stock markets, mass shootings in Norway, lethal heat waves, economic turmoil in Europe, ridiculous compromises on federal spending, …  In any case, I need something to cheer myself up and you probably do too.  Here’s a nice little poem that I remember from childhood.

Alphabet Stew

Words can be stuffy, as sticky as glue,
but words can be tutored to tickle you too,
to rumble and tumble and tingle and sing,
to buzz like a bumblebee, coil like a spring.

Juggle their letters and jumble their sounds,
swirl them in circles and stack them in mounds,
twist them and tease them and turn them about,
teach them to dance upside down, inside out.

Make mighty words whisper and tiny words roar
in ways no one ever had thought of before;
cook an improbably alphabet stew,
and words will reveal little secrets to you.

– Jack Prelutsky

Another Robert Service poem

Well, it’s been three days since I posted anything.  Normally I’d at least have an excuse, but I can’t say that I’ve been busy.  I had oodles of spare time this weekend.  I just couldn’t come up with any great thoughts that were worth posting.  In lieu of those, I offer another Robert Service poem.


The Spell of the Yukon

I wanted the gold, and I sought it,
  I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
Was it famine or scurvy — I fought it;
  I hurled my youth into a grave.

I wanted the gold, and I got it —
  Came out with a fortune last fall, —
Yet somehow life’s not what I thought it,
  And somehow the gold isn’t all.

No! There’s the land. (Have you seen it?)
  It’s the cussedest land that I know,
From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it
  To the deep, deathlike valleys below.

Some say God was tired when He made it;
  Some say it’s a fine land to shun;
Maybe; but there’s some as would trade it
  For no land on earth — and I’m one.

You come to get rich (damned good reason);
  You feel like an exile at first;
You hate it like hell for a season,
  And then you are worse than the worst.

It grips you like some kinds of sinning;
  It twists you from foe to a friend;
It seems it’s been since the beginning;
  It seems it will be to the end.

I’ve stood in some mighty-mouthed hollow
  That’s plumb-full of hush to the brim;
I’ve watched the big, husky sun wallow
  In crimson and gold, and grow dim,

Till the moon set the pearly peaks gleaming,
  And the stars tumbled out, neck and crop;
And I’ve thought that I surely was dreaming,
  With the peace o’ the world piled on top.

The summer — no sweeter was ever;
  The sunshiny woods all athrill;
The grayling aleap in the river,
  The bighorn asleep on the hill.

The strong life that never knows harness;
  The wilds where the caribou call;
The freshness, the freedom, the farness —
  O God! how I’m stuck on it all.

The winter! the brightness that blinds you,
  The white land locked tight as a drum,
The cold fear that follows and finds you,
  The silence that bludgeons you dumb.

The snows that are older than history,
  The woods where the weird shadows slant;
The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery,
  I’ve bade ’em good-by — but I can’t.

There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
  And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
  And deaths that just hang by a hair;

There are hardships that nobody reckons;
  There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There’s a land — oh, it beckons and beckons,
  And I want to go back — and I will.

They’re making my money diminish;
  I’m sick of the taste of champagne.
Thank God! when I’m skinned to a finish
  I’ll pike to the Yukon again.

I’ll fight — and you bet it’s no sham-fight;
  It’s hell! — but I’ve been there before;
And it’s better than this by a damsite —
  So me for the Yukon once more.

There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;
  It’s luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting
  So much as just finding the gold.

It’s the great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder,
  It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
  It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

– Robert Service


Chesterton on Fish

I find myself needing something light-hearted to cheer me up.  If you feel the same way, I hope this can do the job.

The Fish

Dark the sea was: but I saw him,
One great head with goggle eyes,
Like a diabolic cherub
Flying in those fallen skies.

I have heard the hoarse deniers,
I have known the wordy wars;
I have seen a man, by shouting,
Seek to orphan all the stars.

I have seen a fool half-fashioned
Borrow from the heavens a tongue,
So to curse them more at leisure–
–And I trod him not as dung.

For I saw that finny goblin
Hidden in the abyss untrod;
And I knew there can be laughter
On the secret face of God.

Blow the trumpets, crown the sages,
Bring the age by reason fed!
(He that sitteth in the heavens,
‘He shall laugh’–the prophet said.)

– G. K. Chesterton, The Wild Knight

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