G K Chesterton
We currently have eight poems by G K Chesterton. You can listen to them all one after the other using the playlist below or if you prefer you can click the links further down to read a specific poem whilst listening to it.
Read and listen to A Song of Defeat
The line breaks and the guns go under,
The lords and the lackeys ride the plain;
I draw deep breaths of the dawn and thunder,
And the whole of my heart grows young again.
For our chiefs said ‘Done,’ and I did not deem it;
Our seers said ‘Peace,’ and it was not peace;
Earth will grow worse till men redeem it,
And wars more evil, ere all wars cease.
But the old flags reel and the old drums rattle,
As once in my life they throbbed and reeled;
I have found my youth in the lost battle,
I have found my heart on the battlefield.
For we that fight till the world is free,
We are not easy in victory:
We have known each other too long, my brother,
And fought each other, the world and we.
And I dream of the days when work was scrappy,
And rare in our pockets the mark of the mint,
When we were angry and poor and happy,
And proud of seeing our names in print.
For so they conquered and so we scattered,
When the Devil road and his dogs smelt gold,
And the peace of a harmless folk was shattered;
When I was twenty and odd years old.
When the mongrel men that the market classes
Had slimy hands upon England’s rod,
And sword in hand upon Afric’s passes
Her last Republic cried to God.
For the men no lords can buy or sell,
They sit not easy when all goes well,
They have said to each other what naught can smother,
They have seen each other, our souls and hell.
It is all as of old, the empty clangour,
The Nothing scrawled on a five-foot page,
The huckster who, mocking holy anger,
Painfully paints his face with rage.
And the faith of the poor is faint and partial,
And the pride of the rich is all for sale,
And the chosen heralds of England’s Marshal
Are the sandwich-men of the Daily Mail,
And the niggards that dare not give are glutted,
And the feeble that dare not fail are strong,
So while the City of Toil is gutted,
I sit in the saddle and sing my song.
For we that fight till the world is free,
We have no comfort in victory;
We have read each other as Cain his brother,
We know each other, these slaves and we.
Read and listen to Elegy in a Country Churchyard
The men that worked for England
They have their graves at home:
And birds and bees of England
About the cross can roam.
But they that fought for England,
Following a falling star,
Alas, alas for England
They have their graves afar.
And they that rule in England,
In stately conclave met,
Alas, alas for England
They have no graves as yet.
Read and listen to Modern Elfland
I cut a staff in a churchyard copse,
I clad myself in ragged things,
I set a feather in my cap
That fell out of an angel’s wings.
I filled my wallet with white stones,
I took three foxgloves in my hand,
I slung my shoes across my back,
And so I went to fairyland.
But lo, within that ancient place
Science had reared her iron crown,
And the great cloud of steam went up
That telleth where she takes a town.
But cowled with smoke and starred with lamps,
That strange land’s light was still its own;
The word that witched the woods and hills
Spoke in the iron and the stone.
Not Nature’s hand had ever curved
That mute unearthly porter’s spine.
Like sleeping dragon’s sudden eyes
The signals leered along the line.
The chimneys thronging crooked or straight
Were fingers signalling the sky;
The dog that strayed across the street
Seemed four-legged by monstrosity.
‘In vain,’ I cried, ‘though you too touch
The new time’s desecrating hand,
Through all the noises of a town
I hear the heart of fairyland.’
I read the name above a door,
Then through my spirit pealed and passed:
‘This is the town of thine own home,
And thou hast looked on it at last.’
Read and listen to The Ballad of God Makers
A bird flew out at the break of day
From the nest where it had curled,
And ere the eve the bird had set
Fear on the kings of the world.
The first tree it lit upon
Was green with leaves unshed;
The second tree it lit upon
Was red with apples red;
The third tree it lit upon
Was barren and was brown,
Save for a dead man nailed thereon
On a hill above a town.
That night the kings of the earth were gay
And filled the cup and can;
Last night the kings of the earth were chill
For dread of a naked man.
‘If he speak two more words,’ they said,
‘The slave is more than the free;
If he speak three more words,’ they said,
‘The stars are under the sea.’
Said the King of the East to the King of the West,
I wot his frown was set,
‘Lo, let us slay him and make him as dung,
It is well that the world forget.’
Said the King of the West to the King of the East,
I wot his smile was dread,
‘Nay, let us slay him and make him a god,
It is well that our god be dead.’
They set the young man on a hill,
They nailed him to a rod;
And there in darkness and in blood
They made themselves a god.
And the mightiest word was left unsaid,
And the world had never a mark,
And the strongest man of the sons of men
Went dumb into the dark.
Then hymns and harps of praise they brought,
Incense and gold and myrrh,
And they thronged above the seraphim,
The poor dead carpenter.
‘Thou art the prince of all,’ they sang,
‘Ocean and earth and air.’
Then the bird flew on to the cruel cross,
And hid in the dead man’s hair.
‘Thou art the son of the world.’ they cried, `
‘Speak if our prayers be heard.’
And the brown bird stirred in the dead man’s hair
And it seemed that the dead man stirred.
Then a shriek went up like the world’s last cry
From all nations under heaven,
And a master fell before a slave
And begged to be forgiven.
They cowered, for dread in his wakened eyes
The ancient wrath to see;
And a bird flew out of the dead Christ’s hair,
And lit on a lemon tree.
Read and listen to The Convert
After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white.
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead
The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.
Read and listen to The Rolling English Road
Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.
I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.
His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.
My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.
Read and listen to The Song of Right and Wrong
Feast on wine or fast on water
And your honour shall stand sure,
God Almighty’s son and daughter
He the valiant, she the pure;
If an angel out of heaven
Brings you other things to drink,
Thank him for his kind attentions,
Go and pour them down the sink.
Tea is like the East he grows in,
A great yellow Mandarin
With urbanity of manner
And unconsciousness of sin;
All the women, like a harem,
At his pig-tail troop along;
And, like all the East he grows in,
He is Poison when he’s strong.
Tea, although an Oriental,
Is a gentleman at least;
Cocoa is a cad and coward,
Cocoa is a vulgar beast,
Cocoa is a dull, disloyal,
Lying, crawling cad and clown,
And may very well be grateful
To the fool that takes him down.
As for all the windy waters,
They were rained like tempests down
When good drink had been dishonoured
By the tipplers of the town;
When red wine had brought red ruin
And the death-dance of our times,
Heaven sent us Soda Water
As a torment for our crimes.
Read and listen to The Donkey
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
G K Chesterton - 1874 - 1936
Gilbert Keith Chesterton was an English writer, philosopher, lay theologian, and literary and art critic. He has been referred to as the “prince of paradox”. Time magazine observed of his writing style: “Whenever possible Chesterton made his points with popular sayings, proverbs, allegories—first carefully turning them inside out.”
Chesterton created the fictional priest-detective Father Brown, and wrote on apologetics. Even some of those who disagree with him have recognized the wide appeal of such works as Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man. Chesterton routinely referred to himself as an “orthodox” Christian, and came to identify this position more and more with Catholicism, eventually converting to Catholicism from High Church Anglicanism. Biographers have identified him as a successor to such Victorian authors as Matthew Arnold, Thomas Carlyle, Cardinal John Henry Newman, and John Ruskin.
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