Sunday, September 25, 2005


by G.K. Chesterton

If the stars fell; night's nameless dreams
Of bliss and blasphemy came true,
If skies were green and snow were gold,
And you loved me as I love you;

O long light hands and curled brown hair,
And eyes where sits a naked soul;
Dare I even then draw near and burn
My fingers in the aureole?

Yes, in the one wise foolish hour
God gives this strange strength to a man.
He can demand, though not deserve,
Where ask he cannot, seize he can.

But once the blood's wedding o'er,
Were not dread his, half dark desire,
To see the Christ-child by the cot,
The Virgin Mary by the fire?

* * *

This poem came into my mind during a discussion whether a man can ever be good enough for a lady. The men I know all said No. He can never be worthy. He can only hope that she puts up with him anyway.

I once asked my father if it was important to marry someone equal in virtue. He said, "If that were true, your mom could never have married me." Then he added, "And no woman could find a man good enough."

From my point of view, I don't entirely see it: men don't have the same virtues as we do, but they definitely have virtues. On the other hand, it is enobling for men to treat the woman as so highly superior.

Chesterton gives his attitude here: although he cannot be worthy of the woman, he still must have the courage to claim her anyway.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Three Realities

by G.K. Chesterton

We tattered rhymers of the trade
Work with weak symbols for great power;
We paint a flower and call it Spring,
But Spring is more than any flower.

But ‘mid the feeble names of things
The pallid types of tree and star,
God made three symbols on the earth
That truly mean the thing they are.

The first the circle—endlessness,
God’s compass traced in sun and flower;
The next the cross, the eternal twain
Cross-purposes that make a power.

The third—your face—that single face,
Had I but seen it pictured well
On frescoes older than the gods,
It might have saved my soul from hell.

God made three signs in that mean and are
Alone in all the world, these three;
God made two signs that mean the world,
And one that means the world to me.

* * *

Here is another of Chesterton's touching love poems. He somehow manages to say extreme things with a simple sincerity, so that we know he isn't just flattering.

Chesterton's mind works by symbols. His essays go on and on about the symbolism of the cross or the circle. Yet a face can also be symbol, a symbol for the person, where the person is everything to him.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Dover Beach

by Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

* * *

This has always been a favorite of mine, and not just because the poet, according to family tradition, is some sort of distant uncle. It's because I identify so easily with the sentiments expressed. When I stand by the shores of any lake or ocean, this "eternal note of sadness" pulls at me. It is as if I felt the sorrows of everyone in the world, all at once.

The world can be like the ocean: turbulent, cold, unpredictable. One comfort is given: love. When one is not alone on the shore, but with someone else, it is much easier to face life unshaken. "Ah, love, let us be true to one another!" cries the poet. "The world is enormous, frightening, and all is dark. I cannot see what I should do or where I should go. Yet if you were with me, somehow, I feel I can face it."

Monday, September 05, 2005

Epithalmium Argentum

by G.K. Chesterton

I need not say I love you yet:
You know how doth my heart oppress
The intolerable tenderness
That broke my body when we met.
I need not say I love you yet.

But let my say I fear you yet:
You the long years not vulgarise,
You open your immortal eyes
And we for the first time have met.
Cover your face, I fear you yet.

* * *

This poem was going through my head the other day. It shows how Chesterton loved Frances so much that he still honored her mystery. He never was so proud as to say he knew her completely, even after twenty-five years. He maintained that healthy fear, that reverence, for the depths she had that he was still only beginning to understand.