“The Wise Men”

by G. K. Chesterton

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 the labyrinthine lore,
We are the three wise men of yore,
And we know all things but truth.

We have gone round and round the hill
And lost the wood among the trees,
And learnt long names for every ill,
And serve the made 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.

“A Christmas Carol”

by G. K. Chesterton

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s breast
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world’s desire.)

The Christ-child stood on Mary’s knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down

The House of Christmas

by Gilbert Keith Chesterton [1874-1936]

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honor and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam,
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Hating on the “Beowulf” movie

We finally watched the “Beowulf” movie. It was bad in so many ways, I hardly know where to begin. First, I do not like that technique of blending real actors with computer animation. It makes for interesting special effects, but, at this stage of technology, the faces have static expressions with dead eyes. Thus, the technology gets rid of actual acting! Worse, the “Beowulf” movie tried to dramatize a great work of literature without the filmmakers having any idea what it means. (All they would have had to do is read J. R. R. Tolkien’s brilliant critical essay “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.”) Even worse, the filmmakers thought they could tell a better story than the ancient bard, but all they did was fall into absurdity. (King Hrothgar is Grendel’s father? Beowulf and Grendel’s mother were the parents of the dragon? So the story is about heroes killing their children, without a trace of conflict or angst? It doesn’t make sense!) But worst of all, the filmmakers made a movie about an ancient time, making it void of its values, without any sense of honor, glory, magic, or mystery. Yes, it’s about barbarians, but we are far more barbarous than they were.

The Burning Babe

You liked that Christmas poem I posted earlier by the metaphysical poet Robert Southwell. Here is another one by him, one that stranger, even more vivid, and even more powerful. It’s called “The Burning Babe”:

As I in hoary winter’s night
Stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat
Which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye
To view what fire was near,
A pretty babe all burning bright
Did in the air appear;
Who, scorched with excessive heat,
Such floods of tears did shed,
As though His floods should quench His flames,
Which with His tears were bred:
“Alas!” quoth He, “but newly born
In fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts
Or feel my fire but I!

“My faultless breast the furnace is;
The fuel, wounding thorns;
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke;
The ashes, shames and scorns;
The fuel Justice layeth on,
And Mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought
Are men’s defiled souls:
For which, as now on fire I am
To work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath,
To wash them in my blood.”
With this He vanished out of sight
And swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I called unto mind
That it was Christmas Day.

This little Babe

Our Patrick Henry Chorale did a Christmas program, a “Lessons & Carols” service, which consists of Bible readings interspersed with Christmas songs, held at the local Episcopal church. They did splendidly. One of their numbers was from Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, a musical version of Robert Southwell’s “This Little Babe.” Southwell was a 17th century metaphysical poet of the sort I specialize in, but I had forgotten this poem:

This little Babe so few days old is come to rifle Satan’s fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake though he himself for cold do shake;
For in this weak unarmèd wise the gates of hell he will surprise.

With tears he fights and wins the field, his naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries, his arrows looks of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns Cold and Need and feeble Flesh his warrior’s steed.

His camp is pitchèd in a stall, his bulwark but a broken wall;
The crib his trench, haystacks his stakes; of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus, as sure his foe to wound, the angels’ trump alarum sound.

My soul, with Christ join thou in fight, stick to the tents that he hath pight.
Within his crib is surest ward, this little Babe will be thy guard.
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy, then flit not from this heavenly Boy.

This has inspired me to post some more Christmas literature over the next weeks of Advent, so watch for those.


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