Poems by G.K. Chesterton
My students just had their speech chorale today, and I love Chesterton’s poems so much that I had my classes pick from several possible choices. The Ballad of the Battle of Gibeon was my first choice, but it was waaaaay too long and rather violent. (I described it as the Biblical version of “300”)
One of the classes chose this lovely poem.
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 right 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 sun 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 the bird flew out of the dead Christ’s hair,
And lit on a lemon-tree.
The other class chose another poem that is familiar with many of my students due to it having appeared in exams on two separate occasions. Granted my understanding of the poem has changed since the first time it appeared in an exam, my appreciation for this poem has only gotten deeper.
THE LAMP POST
Laugh your best, O blazoned forests,
Me ye shall not shift or shame
With your beauty: here among you
Man hath set his spear of flame.
Lamp to lamp we send the signal,
For our lord goes forth to war;
Since a voice, ere stars were builded,
Bade him colonise a star.
Laugh ye, cruel as the morning,
Deck your heads with fruit and flower,
Though our souls be sick with pity,
Yet our hands are hard with power.
We have read your evil stories,
We have heard the tiny yell
Through the voiceless conflagration
Of your green and shining hell.
And when men, with fires and shouting,
Break your old tyrannic pales;
And where ruled a single spider
Laugh and weep a million tales.
This shall be your best of boasting:
That some poet, poor of spine.
Full and sated with our wisdom,
Full and fiery with our wine,
Shall steal out and make a treaty
With the grasses and the showers,
Rail against the grey town-mother,
Fawn upon the scornful flowers;
Rest his head among the roses,
Where a quiet song-bird sounds,
And no sword made sharp for traitors,
Hack him into meat for hounds.
Both of these poems make awesome choral pieces, especially if your students are really committed to producing something awesome. I’m proud of all my students—continue using your talents for the Lord. 😀