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.


anahbird said...

I love the last two lines of this poem. They are simple, but carry a lot of weight.

Santiago said...

I had no idea that Chesterton was such a fine love poet. I knew about his longer stuff but I never encountered this (and the other short one you posted some time ago). Any anthologies in print?

Captain Oblivious said...

Eternity, purpose and love. . . and all in one short poem. How did the man do it?

Sheila said...

Santiago, I got it from the Collected Works set. I think it's by Ignatius Press.

If I knew how Chesterton did it, people would hear a lot more out of me at writers' guild.

Eamonn said...

Failing a print anthology, and if you need a GKC fix in a hurry look at

He has what seems to be an almost complete Opera Omnia Chestertoniensis online, although he lists only 70 poems. Are there lots more than this?

Captain Oblivious said...

Oh yes, much more than 70 poems. Looking briefly at the index in my Collected Poems of G. K. Chesterton I hit 70 poems before I reach the H's. And I know that this little collection does not contain all of his poems. It's much the same with his other works. You may think that holds most of Chesterton's works (I know I did for a while) but you'll find that it barely touches the surface. The man wrote like tommorow was the last day of his life. I think he wrote down his every second thought. The amazing thing is that they are all so good.

Eamonn said...

"The amazing thing is that they are all so good." I'll go half-way with you on that; Chesterton when good was very very good. When overstretched, he's really awful, however. While the Flying Inn is clever, and The Man who was Thursday is a work of genius, what is the point of Manalive? It's his old idea of the strangeness of the familiar but it doesn't seem to go anywhere. On the other hand when a man writes to you from the horror of the trenches in World War I to say that his men got through a bombardment by yelling "Lepanto" - by heart - at the German infantry, you're probably doing well. Especially when the writer was a hard-shell Scots Presbyterian like John Buchan!