Tag Archives: G. K. Chesterton

The Mystery

Homage to Asher B. Durand. Thomas Locker.


The Mystery

G.K. Chesterton


If sunset clouds could grow on trees

It would but match the may in flower;

And skies be underneath the seas

No topsyturvier than a shower.


If mountains rose on wings to wander

They were no wilder than a cloud;

Yet all my praise is mean as slander,

Mean as these mean words spoken aloud.


And never more than now I know

That man’s first heaven is far behind;

Unless the blazing seraph’s bloq

Has left him in the garden blind.


Witness, O Sun that blinds our eyes,

Unthinkable and unthankable King,

That though all other wonder dies

I wonder not at wondering.

To a Fat Lady Seen from the Train

The Train in the Country. Claude Monet. 1871.


To a Fat Lady Seen from the Train

Frances Cornwell


O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,

Missing so much and so much?

O fat white woman whom nobody loves,

Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,

When the grass is soft as the breast of doves

And hsivering sweet to the touch?

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,

Missing so much and so much?


Frances Cornwell was the daughter of Charles Darwin. I am posting her heavy-handed poem only for the fun of sharing G. K. Chesterton’s devastating rejoinder.


The Fat White Woman Speaks

G. K. Chesterton


Why do you rush through the field in trains,

Guessing so much and so much?

Why do you flash through the flowery meads,

Fat-headed poet that nobody reads;

And why do you know such a frightful lot

About people in gloves as such?

And how the devil can you be sure,

Guessing so much and so much,

How do you know but what someone who loves

Always to see me in nice white gloves

At the end of the field you are rushing by,

Is waiting for his Old Dutch?


Had you noticed Cornwell’s snobbish hypocrisy?

The Two Women

Woman with a Pearl. Camille Corot. 1870.


The Two Women

G.K. Chesterton


Lo! very fair is she who knows the ways

Of joy: in pleasure’s mocking wisdom old,

The eyes that might be cold to flattery, kind;

The hair that might be grey with knowledge, gold.


But thou art more than these things, O my queen,

For thou art clad in ancient wars and tears.

And looking forth, framed in the crown of thorns,

I saw the youngest face in all the spheres.


Women have a special beauty who experience joy throughout their lives, but more beautiful still is the woman who emerges serene from trial and tribulation.

Variations on an Air

King Cole.


Variations on an Air

G.K. Chesterton


Old King Cole was a merry old soul,

And a merry old soul was he;

He called for his pipe,

and he called for his bowl,

and he called for his fiddlers three.


Ater Lord Tennyson.

Cole, that unwearied prince of Colchester,

Growing more gay with age and with long days

Deeper in laughter and desire of life

As that Virginian climber on our walls

Flames scarlet with the fading of the year;

Called for his wassail and that other weed

Virginian also, from the western woods

Where English Raleigh checked the boast of Spain,

And lighting joy with joy, and piling up

Pleasure as crown for pleasure, bade me bring

Those three, the minstrels whose emblazoned coats

Shone with the oyster-shells of Colchester;

And these three played, and playing grew more fain

Of mirth and music; till the heathen came

And the King slept beside the northern sea.


After W.B. Yeats.

Of an old King in a story

From the grey sea-folk I have heard

Whose heart was no more broken

Than the wings of a bird.


As soon as the moon was silver

And the thin stars began,

He took his pipe and his tankard,

Like an old peasant man.


And three tall shadows were with him

And came at his command;

And played before him for ever

The fiddles of fairyland.


And he died in the young summer

Of the world’s desire;

Before our hearts were broken

Like sticks in a fire.


After Robert Browning.

Who smoke-snorts toasts o’ My Lady Nicotine,

Kicks stuffing out of Pussyfoot, bids his trio

Stick up their Stradivarii (that’s the plural

Or near enough, my fatheads, nimium

Vicina Cremonæ; that’s a bit too near.)

Is there some stockfish fails to understand?

Catch hold o’ the notion, bellow and blurt back “Cole”?

Must I bawl lessons from a hornbook, howl,

Cat-call the cat-gut “fiddles”? Fiddlestick!


After Walt Whitman.

Me clairvoyant,

Me conscious of you, old camarado,

Needing no telescope, lorgnette, field-glass, opera-glass, myopic pince-nez,

Me piercing two thousand years with eye naked and not ashamed;

The crown cannot hide you from me,

Musty old feudal-heraldic trappings cannot hide you from me,

I perceive that you drink.

(I am drinking with you. I am as drunk as you are.)

I see you are inhaling tobacco, puffing, smoking, spitting

(I do not object to your spitting),

You prophetic of American largeness,

You anticipating the broad masculine manners of these States;

I see in you also there are movements, tremors, tears, desire for the melodious,

I salute your three violinists, endlessly making vibrations,

Rigid, relentless, capable of going on for ever;

They play my accompaniment; but I shall take no notice of any accompaniment;

I myself am a complete orchestra.

So long.


After Swinburne.

In the time of old sin without sadness

And golden with wastage of gold

Like the gods that grow old in their gladness

Was the king that was glad, growing old:

And with sound of loud lyres from his palace

The voice of his oracles spoke,

And the lips that were red from his chalice

Were splendid with smoke.


When the weed was as flame for a token

And the wine was as blood for a sign;

And upheld in his hands and unbroken

The fountains of fire and of wine.

And a song without speech, without singer,

Stung the soul of a thousand in three

As the flesh of the earth has to sting her,

The soul of the sea.


Chesterton notes this series was “Composed on Having to Appear in a Pageant as Old King Cole.” The familiar, solid simplicity of the original rhyme is reworked in the styles of five popular poets. Chesterton’s parodies are devastatingly humorous in their imitation of each poet’s style, perspective, and ego. This irreverent exercise reminds me of Chesterton’s remark about “higher culture”: “It means taking literature seriously, a very amateurish thing to do.”

The Sword of Surprise

Anatomical Studies of the Shoulder. Leonard da Vinci. 1510.


The Sword of Surprise

G. K. Chesterton


Sunder me from my bones, O sword of God

Till they stand stark and strange as do the trees;

That I whose heart goes up with the soaring woods

May marvel as much at these.


Sunder me from my blood that in the dark

I hear that red ancestral river run

Like branching buried floods that find the sea

But never see the sun.


Give me miraculous eyes to see my eyes

Those rolling mirrors made alive in me,

Terrible crystals more incredible

Than all the things they see.


Sunder me from my soul, that I may see

The sins like streaming wounds, the life’s brave beat

Till I shall save myself as I would save

A stranger in the street.


“Men go abroad to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering.” —Saint Augustine of Hippo

“I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” Psalm 139:14

“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intent of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” Hebrews 4:12-13

A Little Poetry—The English writer Gilbert Keith Chesterton did much to reveal the delightful strangeness of things we find too ordinary. “We are perishing for want of wonder,” he wrote, “not for wonders.”