Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gloria in Profundis

by G.K. Chesterton

There has fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendour is spilt on the sand.

Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all-
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?

For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountain of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.

Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate-
Where thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightning fears to be late:
As men dive for sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.

* * *

I was going to blog on this poem, and then I found that the Blog of the American Chesterton Society had done it already. So I'll just say a few words about it, and then let you go over there and see what they have to say.

I think the key to this topsy-turvey poem is the second stanza. The problem is, the second stanza is mostly composed of questions, and we tend to read poetry wanting answers. I think the answer to these rhetorical questions is something along the lines of "Nobody good!" If God, who is highest, now makes Himself lowest, who would exalt themselves? Well, the third stanza answers, "The bad angels." And not just them, either--bad people, too. If God has shown us what it is to be highest--falling down lowest--than all of our attempts to climb to the heights are resulting in the worst kind of fall: a fall where we imagine ourselves to be on a lofty mountain, which turns out to be Hell. Reminds me of Paradise Lost.

I think my favorite line is, "He has strayed like a thief or a lover." Both thieves and lovers might sneak around, but for different purposes. God has gone where He does not "belong," but out of love.

Okay, now you can go over and read the ACS blog. There are some good comments; I wrote one. But I forgot one, which is my thought as to what first gave Chesterton the idea of wine spilt on sand: simply that the colors look good together. Remember the last patriot in The Napoleon of Notting Hill, who took an advertisement for mustard and put some blood on it, because red and yellow were the colors of his country? Chesterton always loved the heraldry inherent in that kind of combination. Just a thought -- though I could be wrong, and I must say I do usually frown on the mind-reading of poets by their critics.

3 comments:

Nancy C. Brown said...

Great to see your other insightful thoughts here about this lovely poem. Thanks for sharing them with us.

Warren said...

The wine-in-the-sand line brings to my mind the image of a picnic on the beach, and the mingling of wine and sand, the sense of regret of the lostness, the scattering, the spoiling of good things.

I love the phrase "inverted in insolence, scaling the hanging mountain of hell". I see angels upside down, climbing up (towards power, which Lucifer wanted, and saw as a pinnacle), and Christ, who has the power over all, obtained it by taking on the cloak of human frailty first.

Now that's topsy-turvy.

W

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