Monday, June 26, 2006


by G. K. Chesterton

"A Comforting Reflection"

You might not be in love with me
If I were better than I am.
I might have ten arms like a tree
(You might not be in love with me)
And have all colours like the sea.
Have wings, or horns just like a ram
You might not be in love with me
If I were better than I am.

"My Experiment in Greek Philosophy Recounted"

When I tried to know myself
I discovered I was gone.
Loves and toils and books on shelf
When I tried to know myself
Hats and sticks and wood and delf
Were no longer I and one.
When I tried to know myself
I discovered I was gone.

"Thoughts on the Offer of Being a Fish"

If I were a fish I should
Miss occasional luxury
Such as climbing in the wood
(If I were a fish I should)
Church-going is also good
Mostly I should miss the sea
If I were a fish I should
Miss occasional luxury.

* * *

From these samples we discover some basic facts about the triolet. A triolet rhymes abaaabab, with 8 short lines. The ones I read are in iambic tetrameter. The first line is repeated in the 4th and 7th lines, and the second line is repeated as the last line. It's better if these repetitions fit well into the poem, but often they're parenthetical. A triolet really should be funny, in my opinion, and it's a bonus if it's deep too.

I don't know where the triolet originally comes from, and the rules I just made up for it are based solely on Chesterton, the only writer of triolets I've heard of. I think that's a real shame, and therefore I came up with the idea of having a triolet contest. It's inspired by my participation in the clerihew contest at the Chesterton conference a week and a half ago.

[The clerihew is a form of poetry invented by a friend of Chesterton's (Edmund Clerihew Bentley) with a strict format. An example is this:

When the judges asked Bacon
How many bribes he had taken
He at least had the grace
To get very red in the face.

My clerihews didn't win anything, so far as I know. I had to go home before the awards were given, and I haven't heard anything about them.]

Anyway, here's the plan: each person can write as many triolets as he wants, following the rules above to the best of his ability. You can email them to me at the address on my sidebar, or leave them in my comment box. Please leave some name attached to the poem, for me to attach your laurels to, if you win any. I will judge the poems on their faithfulness to the form and humor. Depth, where applicable, is a bonus.

I'll post my favourites. I may have a vote to decide who wins the all-around Best Triolet award. There may even be a prize, if I can think of one that I can give you without getting up from the computer. At the very least, a small spiritual bouquet will be in order.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

In the Valley of Cauteretz

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

All along the valley, stream that flashest white,
Deepening thy voice with the deepening of the night,
All along the valley, where thy waters flow,
I walked with one I loved two and thirty years ago.
All along the valley while I walked to-day,
The two and thirty years were a mist that rolls away;
For all along the valley, down thy rocky bed,
Thy living voice to me was as the voice of the dead,
And all along the valley, by rock and cave and tree,
The voice of the dead was a living voice to me.

* * *

This is a rather random poem, having nothing to do with anything I've said recently, nor with the new series I'm going to start once I've thought a little more about it. (I'll give you a hint: it's religious and rather obscure. No more politics for me, not for a good long while!)

But this poem was going through my head because I was thinking how time can seem "a mist that rolls away" when we find ourselves in familiar circumstances. Every time I come home from college, it seems I've never left. And every time I return, it seems I was only gone a very short time. I hardly ever feel that I've changed, or that any time has passed. Talking to the same old people makes everything feel as it used to -- a comforting feeling.

I wouldn't think that feeling would remain even after a friend had died. But apparently it did, at least for Tennyson.

Speaking of dying, pray for a Christendom friend of mine whose father died two days ago. Requiescat in pace.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Invisible

by G. K. Chesterton

God knows I would not blame you, dear,
    I do not know what thing am I
How hard a burden on your back,
    How stale an eyesore to your eye.

I never knew myself at all,
    I trod the mystic woods, but ne'er
Came to the mystic well or saw
    What monster might be mirrored there.

I saw all faces save my own--
    How should I see it now, who rise,
Stand between Heaven and Earth and Hell
    And only see the brave blue eyes.

* * *

I just can't seem to stop posting Chesterton. I guess it's partly because I'm excited for the conference starting Thursday. Also, Chesterton is addictive.

This poem is dated in the mid 1890's, before his marriage with Frances, I assume.

"I would not blame you" I think means, "I would not blame you if you did not love me." Chesterton demonstrates an incredible humility in this poem. This humility is far beyond that of the man who says, "I am a wretch, I am the worst creature that ever lived." Instead, he admits that he does not even know if he is a wretch or not. Why? Simply because he has never looked at himself. He is looking at her instead.

This kind of humility was a habit with Chesterton. In his autobiography, he spends a great deal of time describing all the people he has known in his life. He talks about his father, about Belloc, about famous people he has met, so that he seems almost to forget that he is supposed to be writing about himself.

And that, I have always thought, is the real humility -- to forget oneself. As long as a man looks at himself, even if he criticises himself, he leaves himself open to pride. A little self-examination is healthy, of course, but a focus on oneself can easily destroy humility and love for others. Better far Chesterton's ignorance, to see all faces but his own.

Friday, June 09, 2006

There Is a Heart

by G. K. Chesterton

There is a heart within a distant town
Who loves me more than treasure or renown
Think you it strange and wear it as a crown.

Is not the marvel here; that since the kiss
And dizzy glories of that blinding bliss
One grief has ever touched me after this.

* * *

I meant to blog this on Wednesday. I was going to make it up to Chesterton for not celebrating his birthday by celebrating him on my own birthday. But my birthday was too busy, and yesterday Blogger didn't feel like cooperating. So here is a nice little love poem of his. He wrote this for Frances before he met her.

I think, looking back at his life, Chesterton would have considered winning Frances's heart the greatest achievement of his life. He was a success at so many things, but that was the one thing he seemed to care about the most.

Happy belated birthday, G.K.C!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Who Goes Home?

by G.K. Chesterton

In the city set upon slime and loam
They cry in their parliament 'Who goes home?'
And there comes no answer in arch or dome,
For none in the city of graves goes home.
Yet these shall perish and undersand,
For God has pity on this great land.

Men that are men again; who goes home?
Tocsin and trumpter! Who goes home?
For there's blood on the field and blood on the foam
And blood on the body when Man goes home.
And a voice valedictory. . . . Who is for Victory?
Who is for Liberty? Who goes home?

* * *

I didn't really understand this poem when I first saw it in The Flying Inn. I don't understand all of it yet. But I thought it would make a good end to this series of political poems I've been posting. Tomorrow, I think I'll post a romance lyric or something.

All of Chesterton's theories and ideas led back to the home. His theories on economics, on politics, and women, all aimed toward protecting the home and the family.

The family happens to be my center too, even at this point in my life where I don't have a family of my own. I'm naturally domestic, and when I'm political, I'm political to defend the family. There is no point in the state, so far as I see it, apart from the family.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Nursery Rhymes No. 1: Property

by G.K. Chesterton

Little Bo-Peep has lost her Sheep
But hopes that mutton will soon be cheap
When so many cooks are nothing loth
For the task of spoiling the mutton-broth.
And the lords of the Meat Trust, she has been told,
Have cornered mutton and "got it cold"
Through experts, each guaranteed as fit
For the duty of making a hash of it,
In mutton cutlets and mutton pies
She endeavours in vain to recognise
The face of a single personal pet . . .
. . . But Woolen Goods Will Be Cheaper Yet
In shirts and shapes of every size
For pulling the wool over mortal eyes;
And Bradford mills are a lovely sight
Rows and rows of them, brisk and bright . . .
. . . But somehow or other they never recall
The days she walked on the mountain wall
Where the Shepherd Kings of an elder sky
Hoary as hills on the hills trailed by
And something went with her march along
Of David's valour and Virgil's song
When her voice was a clarion calling a clan
And her crook was a sceptre, the sceptre of man,
To gather her flock where the eagles fly
Or lay down her life when the wolf went by.

Little Bo-Peep is paid in full
Stuffed with mutton and choked in wool
But little Bo-Peep has lost her Sheep
And cannot do anything else but weep.

* * *

This poem brings us down to the root of the conflict between distributism and the capitalist/socialist theories. (John wrote about this on This Red Rock, and I'm assuming that you've already read that.) The distributists will not deal in numbers -- a fact that frustrates economists raised on mathematics -- simply because they think there are things more important that cannot be measured in numbers.

Certainly capitalism produces more than other economic systems. There is plenty of wool and mutton to go around without the small shepherd. But something is lost when the small shepherd is exchanged for a conglomerate. "Merely poetry and sentiment," perhaps the capitalists will scoff, and go back to their numbers. "One of the perfections of human nature," would say a distributist philosopher.

Man is not made to be a cog or a number. He is a man, and he is made to be free. The Church has always taught that private property is a good for man. Capitalism allows private property, but does not make it easy to get or maintain. There must be a system in which it may be encouraged, so that it is easier for a single man to own a single farm or business than it is for a group of millionaires to own vast tracts of land, enormous factories, or chains of stores.

It is not important to me whether the system that will allow this is exactly what was planned by the distributists of the early twentieth century, or whether in our circumstances other means must be found. But it is important that man is given the opportunity to possess property of his own, hindered neither by an over-powerful government, nor by over-powerful businessmen.