Friday, January 13, 2006

Wine and Water

by G.K. Chesterton

Old Noah he had an ostrich farm and fowls on the largest scale,
He ate his egg with a ladle in an egg-cup big as a pail,
And the soup he took was Elephant Soup and the fist he took was Whale,
But they all were small to the cellar he took when he set out to sail
And Noah he often said to his wife when he sat down to dine,
"I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the wine."

The cataract of the cliff of heaven fell blinding off the brink
As if it would wash the stars away as suds go down a sink,
The seven heavens came roaring down for the throats of hell to drink,
And Noah he cocked his eye and said, "It looks like rain, I think,
The water has drowned the Matterhorn as deep as a Mendip mine,
But I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the wine."

But Noah he sinned, and we have sinned, on tipsy feet we trod,
Till a great big black teetotaller was sent to us for a rod,
And you can't get wine at a P.S.A., or chapel, or Eisteddfod,
For the Curse of Water has come again because of the wrath of God,
And water is on the Bishop's board and the Higher Thinker's shrine,
But I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the wine.

* * *

This poem is in honour of what I believe is our 26th day of rain here in the Seattle area. Our street, which is here pictured, is under a foot of water in some places. All of what appears to be a lake is actually paved. Behind the mailbox a few feet is our drainage ditch, which is several feet deep but which nonetheless overflowed. Behind that is a marshy area, usually, which currently is a lake several feet deep. I don't know how deep it is exactly, because I don't have a good boat in which to go measure, but I know the marsh grass is two to three feet high and it's all covered.

We're still able to get in and out, although I'm sure it's not good for our car. The mailman has stopped delivering, though, since it's at least a foot at the mailbox. (I know; I waded out barefoot once to check the mail. Brr! Fresh rainwater in January is pretty chilly!) We've been flooded like this for three days or so, and much looking forward to some recession of the water. But the prognosis is for more rain for awhile. We're working on breaking a record for the most consecutive days raining.

Of course, Chesterton was talking about wine more than about water. The sin of Noah referred to is the sin of drunkenness: Noah was the first to grow grapes and make wine, and he made himself drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. It's fairly early on in Genesis. G.K.C's point is that when drinkers become drunk, they lose the privilege of being able to drink at all. Prohibitionists become necessary to make us drink water when we have forgotten how to drink wine with moderation. Chesterton was all for drinking, but this is proof he was not for drunkenness.

The poem is taken from The Flying Inn, a book worth reading, so long as you've already read The Ball and the Cross and The Napoleon of Notting Hill. Of course, if you haven't read those already you're anathema anyway. Go read them.


Leah said...

Tell me which of the three is the best and I'll order it from Amazon. That way I won't be anathema anymore. :) Seriously, I've been wondering what I'll read after I finish the book I'm on (Henry James' "The Wings of the Dove") and a Chesterton novel sounds good.

I just added you to my links. Hope the floods go down soon!


Sheila said...

Oh, thanks!

The Ball and the Cross is my favourite. After that is the Napoleon of Notting Hill, and The Man Who Was Thursday takes third.

A warning about Chesterton novels: the endings are often very weird. Just roll with it. You don't always understand it on the first reading.

Sheila said...

Well, the rain broke for a day a couple days ago, so no record. There are still ducks in our street though. My dad said he pictured the lady duck saying to the drake, "I like the new addition you've added to our home, dear." They really are quite at home swimming around the mailbox and across the street.

Mark said...

That's quite a picture. Even our old house in New Orleans doesn't look like that.

Sheila said...

You're from New Orleans? I thought you lived near Fidelio. ??