Friday, May 16, 2008

A Marriage Song

by G.K. Chesterton

Why should we reck of hours that rend
While we two ride together?
The heavens rent from end to end
Would be but windy weather,
The strong stars shaken down in spate
Would be a shower of spring,
And we should list the trump of fate
And hear a linnet sing.

We break the line with stroke and luck,
The arrows run like rain,
If you be struck, or I be struck,
There's one to strike again.
If you befriend, or I befriend,
The strength is in us twain,
And good things end and bad things end,
And you and I remain.

Why should we reck of ill or well
While we two ride together?
The fires that over Sodom fell
Would be but sultry weather.
Beyond all ends to all men given
Our race is far and fell,
We shall but wash our feet in heaven.
And warm our hands in hell.

Battles unborn and vast shall view
Our faltered standards stream,
New friends shall come and frenzies new,
New troubles toil and teem;
New friends shall pass and still renew
One truth that does not seem,
That I am I, and you are you,
And Death a morning dream.

Why should we reck of scorn or praise
While we two ride together?
The icy air of godless days
Shall be but wintry weather.
If hell were highest, if the heaven
Were blue with devils blue,
I should have guessed that all was even.
If I had dreamed of you.

Little I reck of empty prides,
Of creeds more cold than clay;
To nobler ends and longer rides,
My lady rides to-day.
To swing our swords and take our sides
In that all-ending fray
When stars fall down and darkness hides.
When God shall turn to bay.

Why should we reck of grin and groan
While we two ride together?
The triple thunders of the throne
Would be but stormy weather.
For us the last great fight shall roar,
Upon the ultimate plains,
And we shall turn and tell once more
Our love in English lanes.

* * *

This may well be my favorite Chesterton poem, and that's saying a lot. It's almost a warlike love poem. Or a loving brave poem. I guess the theme is what I would call "teamwork." Gilbert and Frances were a team: "the strength is in us twain." And so they were able to back one another up in tight places.

Too often we think of love as an idle, romantic thing; something that's nice but completely optional. Really, it's essential, and I don't mean just essential to the species. Of course some people have to have children, but if you don't have any you won't die. Without love, though, a part of the soul begins to wither. We are not creatures created for a vacuum. It is not good for man to be alone.

Chesterton said in The Man Who Was Thursday that two is not twice one, it is a thousand times more than one. (Or something like that.) Mr. Syme, in that book, was alone and terrified at his loneliness. Once he had a single companion, he stopped being terrified and started being able to think, to plan the next step. That's the idea Chesterton is conveying in his poem here. Marriage is not something people do out of a romantic interest. Instead, it is the highest kind of spear-friendship--like the comitatus of the Anglo-Saxons. The kind of friendship where you put your back against your friend and hold your sword out to the enemy. Alone, you had no chance. With one single other person you can count on completely, you are invulnerable. It doesn't matter what anyone else does, so long as you have your one friend who is still completely loyal.

To Chesterton, the babblings of modern creeds and the fires of the end of the world alike have no terror for him, "while we two ride together." He and his lady will face out the worst the world has to offer, and at the end they will be unchanged, still able to turn again and tell their love in English lanes.

I think all married people should think of their love this way. Marriage is a curious thing, a "four-footed creature," where there is one common goal and a pair of inseparable people who will fight together for that goal. Two people, in a house like an embattled castle, braving out the terrors of the world, seeking out allies, changing what they can, all the while depending on one another absolutely. This is not just "romantic" in the same sense that knighthood, at its best, was not just romantic. A good knight was a grim-faced individual who had something which needed to be done, and did it. The armor, the titles, the pennants, were all just trappings. It's a tragedy when the trappings come to be confused with the reality. The real romance of knights, as of the romance of married people, comes from the real virtues: courage, loyalty, dedication even when unnoticed and unthanked.

Someday I'd better write a much longer post about romance and knights. Until then, reread this poem a few times and think about every line. It really is worth it.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Lucasta Replies to Lovelace

by G. K. Chesterton

Tell me not, friend, you are unkind,
If ink and books laid by,
You turn up in a uniform
Looking all smart and spry.

I thought your books one horrid smudge,
Your books one pile of trash,
And with less fear of smear embrace
A sword, a belt, a sash.

Yet this inconstancy forgive,
Though gold lace I adore,
I could not love the lace so much
Loved I not Lovelace more.

* * *

There's Chesterton for you. But there's a nice touch at the end: Lucasta doesn't love Lovelace because of his uniform; she loves the uniform because Lovelace is inside it.