G.K. Chesterton Poetry
Gilbert Keith Chesterton
BY THE BABE UNBORN
If trees were tall and grasses short,
As in some crazy tale,
If here and there a sea were blue
Beyond the breaking pale,
If a fixed fire hung in the air
To warm me one day through,
If deep green hair grew on great hills,
I know what I should do.
In dark I lie: dreaming that there
Are great eyes cold or kind,
And twisted streets and silent doors,
And living men behind.
Let storm-clouds come: better an hour,
And leave to weep and fight,
Than all the ages I have ruled
The empires of the night.
I think that if they gave me leave
Within that world to stand,
I would be good through all the day
I spent in fairyland.
They should not hear a word from me
Of selfishness or scorn,
If only I could find the door,
If only I were born.
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.
THE SONG OF THE CHILDREN
The World is ours till sunset,
Holly and fire and snow;
And the name of our dead brother
Who loved us long ago.
The grown folk mighty and cunning,
They write his name in gold;
But we can tell a little
Of the million tales he told.
He taught them laws and watchwords,
To preach and struggle and pray;
But he taught us deep in the hayfield
The games that the angels play.
Had he stayed here for ever,
Their world would be wise as ours–
And the king be cutting capers,
And the priest be picking flowers.
But the dark day came: they gathered:
On their faces we could see
They had taken and slain our brother,
And hanged him on a tree.
THOU SHALT NOT KILL
I had grown weary of him; of his breath
And hands and features I was sick to death.
Each day I heard the same dull voice and tread;
I did not hate him: but I wished him dead.
And he must with his blank face fill my life–
Then my brain blackened; and I snatched a knife.
But ere I struck, my soul’s grey deserts through
A voice cried, ‘Know at least what thing you do.’
‘This is a common man: knowest thou, O soul,
What this thing is? somewhere where seasons roll
There is some living thing for whom this man
Is as seven heavens girt into a span,
For some one soul you take the world away–
Now know you well your deed and purpose. Slay!’
Then I cast down the knife upon the ground
And saw that mean man for one moment crowned.
I turned and laughed: for there was no one by–
The man that I had sought to slay was I.
THE MIRROR OF MADMEN
I dreamed a dream of heaven, white as frost,
The splendid stillness of a living host;
Vast choirs of upturned faces, line o’er line.
Then my blood froze; for every face was mine.
Spirits with sunset plumage throng and pass,
Glassed darkly in the sea of gold and glass.
But still on every side, in every spot,
I saw a million selves, who saw me not.
I fled to quiet wastes, where on a stone,
Perchance, I found a saint, who sat alone;
I came behind: he turned with slow, sweet grace,
And faced me with my happy, hateful face.
I cowered like one that in a tower doth bide,
Shut in by mirrors upon every side;
Then I saw, islanded in skies alone
And silent, one that sat upon a throne.
His robe was bordered with rich rose and gold,
Green, purple, silver out of sunsets old;
But o’er his face a great cloud edged with fire,
Because it covereth the world’s desire.
But as I gazed, a silent worshipper,
Methought the cloud began to faintly stir;
Then I fell flat, and screamed with grovelling head,
‘If thou hast any lightning, strike me dead!
‘But spare a brow where the clean sunlight fell,
The crown of a new sin that sickens hell.
Let me not look aloft and see mine own
Feature and form upon the Judgment-throne.’
Then my dream snapped: and with a heart that leapt
I saw across the tavern where I slept,
The sight of all my life most full of grace,
A gin-damned drunkard’s wan half-witted face.
Chattering finch and water-fly
Are not merrier than I;
Here among the flowers I lie
No: I may not tell the best;
Surely, friends, I might have guessed
Death was but the good King’s jest,
It was hid so carefully.
THE HAPPY MAN
To teach the grey earth like a child,
To bid the heavens repent,
I only ask from Fate the gift
Of one man well content.
Him will I find: though when in vain
I search the feast and mart,
The fading flowers of liberty,
The painted masks of art.
I only find him at the last,
On one old hill where nod
Golgotha’s ghastly trinity–
Three persons and one god.
Why should I care for the Ages
Because they are old and grey?
To me, like sudden laughter,
The stars are fresh and gay;
The world is a daring fancy,
And finished yesterday.
Why should I bow to the Ages
Because they were drear and dry?
Slow trees and ripening meadows
For me go roaring by,
A living charge, a struggle
To escalade the sky.
The eternal suns and systems,
Solid and silent all,
To me are stars of an instant,
Only the fires that fall
From God’s good rocket, rising
On this night of carnival.
g.k. chesterton poetry