GK Chesterton (1874–1936)
The Wise Men
Step softly, under snow or rain,
To find the place where men can pray;
The way is all so very plain
That we may lose the way.
Oh, we have learnt to peer and pore
On tortured puzzles from our youth,
We know all labyrinthine lore,
We are the three wise men of yore,
And we know all things but the truth.
We have gone round and round the hill
And lost the wood among the trees,
And learnt long names for every ill,
And served the mad gods, naming still
The furies the Eumenides.
The gods of violence took the veil
Of vision and philosophy,
The Serpent that brought all men bale,
He bites his own accursed tail,
And calls himself Eternity.
Go humbly…it has hailed and snowed…
With voices low and lanterns lit;
So very simple is the road,
That we may stray from it.
The world grows terrible and white,
And blinding white the breaking day;
We walk bewildered in the light,
For something is too large for sight,
And something much too plain to say.
The Child that was ere worlds begun
(…We need but walk a little way,
We need but see a latch undone…)
The Child that played with moon and sun
Is playing with a little hay.
The house from which the heavens are fed,
The old strange house that is our own,
Where trick of words are never said,
And Mercy is as plain as bread,
And Honour is as hard as stone.
Go humbly, humble are the skies,
And low and large and fierce the Star;
So very near the Manger lies
That we may travel far.
Hark! Laughter like a lion wakes
To roar to the resounding plain.
And the whole heaven shouts and shakes,
For God Himself is born again,
And we are little children walking
Through the snow and rain.
The following text was written by Mike Piff (MPiff@pa.shef.ac.uk, and taken from http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/index.html).
Gilbert Keith Chesterton was born in London, England on the 29th of May, 1874. Though he considered himself a mere "rollicking journalist," he was actually a prolific and gifted writer in virtually every area of literature. A man of strong opinions and enormously talented at defending them, his exuberant personality nevertheless allowed him to maintain warm friendships with people—such as George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells—with whom he vehemently disagreed.
Chesterton had no difficulty standing up for what he believed. He was one of the few journalists to oppose the Boer War. His 1922 Eugenics and Other Evils attacked what was at that time the most progressive of all ideas, the idea that the human race could and should breed a superior version of itself. In the Nazi experience, history demonstrated the wisdom of his once "reactionary" views.
His poetry runs the gamut from the comic The Logical Vegetarian to dark and serious ballads. During the dark days of 1940, when Britain stood virtually alone against the armed might of Nazi Germany, these lines from his 1911 Ballad of the White Horse were often quoted:
I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.
Though not written for a scholarly audience, his biographies of authors and historical figures like Charles Dickens and St. Francis of Assisi often contain brilliant insights into their subjects. His Father Brown mystery stories, written between 1911 and 1936, are still being read and adapted for television.
His politics fitted with his deep distrust of concentrated wealth and power of any sort. Along with his friend Hilaire Belloc and in books like the 1910 What's Wrong with the World he advocated a view called "Distributism" that is best summed up by his expression that every man ought to be allowed to own "three acres and a cow." Though not known as a political thinker, his political influence has circled the world. Some see in him the father of the "small is beautiful" movement and a newspaper article by him is credited with provoking Gandhi to seek a "genuine" nationalism for India. Orthodoxy belongs to yet another area of literature at which Chesterton excelled. A fun-loving and gregarious man, he was nevertheless troubled in his adolescence by thoughts of suicide. In Christianity he found the answers to the dilemmas and paradoxes he saw in life. Other books in that same series include his 1905 Heretics and its sequel Orthodoxy and his 1925 The Everlasting Man.
Chesterton died on the 14th of June, 1936 in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. During his life he published 69 books and at least another ten have been published after his death. Many of those books are still in print.