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.


Sheila said...

P. S. Can you relate this one to God, Dr. Thursday? I think it fits, myself.

Dr. Thursday said...

It is the mystery of creation. Fr. Jaki says one translation of the Hebrew word bara - this is the verb in Genesis which is usually translated "create" - is to slash or hack...

Ontologically we cannot say that God would not look at Himself... but His love is SO great He even extends it to someone who is NOT Himself... someone He "hacked" into existence: you and me and us, but individually, not corporate. (Does Latin have a pronoun which give this distinction? I'm not sure.)

And He hides Himself, never showing (not even to Adam and Eve) His true form... does He wonder whether we might love Him in return? It's a heartbreakingly appealing poem.

And then, to think about how, finally, He looked up into His mother's eyes and saw His own face... (cf. GKC's "Little Litany") and so then He knew about love too.

Well, there are some things which are to be known by poetry first. Whether we ever know them by other means is not yet revealed.

Curious: we have ontology for the study of being and epistemology for the study of knowledge. Ought there be a "philiology" or "agapology" for th study of love?

Sheila said...

I don't believe there's any such pronoun in Latin. There might be in Quenya, which has three different words for "we."

"Agapology" would probably be better, to avoid confusion with "philology," the study of languages.

I was actually thinking of this poem as someone talking to God. I would not blame God if He did not love me. After all, He knows who I am, while I do not, not really. But I look at Him and have to choose Him, whether He loved me or not.

But your interpretation works surprisingly well. A Chestertonian thought, God wondering whether we would love him in return . . .