Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Ballad of the White Horse (GK Chesterton)

The latest meeting of the Omaha Chesterton Society featured a lively discussion of GKC's stirring lyrical poem, The Ballad of the White Horse. Indeed, our appreciation of the poem was enhanced many fold by everyone taking turns reading favorite passages. And after all, isn't that the greatest experience of poetry?

The poem stars the noble King Alfred, defender of the realm, giver of English law and education, and devoted servant of his people with the primary scene of action being the fight against the invading Norsemen in the 9th Century. Chesterton's poetic skills are at their highest peak in this lovely, emboldening ballad yet his service as a philosopher is also apparent. He weaves the truths we know about Alfred around the legends (even the one about burning the cakes) and then adds his own up-to-date messages of Christian faith, patriotism and heroic virtue -- virtue that sees beyond the immediate moment and perseveres despite all odds.

And, oh yes, Chesterton is able to do all this and still add another layer of compelling art and argument by setting the battle itself near the ancient White Horse of Uffington. The parallel that GK makes between the English Christians who preserve even the pagan art of the White Horse and modern Christians who must diligently serve Christ and culture because of the divine stamp He has put on all things becomes one of the most moving lessons of the poem

Over here is a text version of the poem available for free on the web but, if you'd rather have a hard copy to linger over and carry to wherever you want to go (my suggestion), then you can purchase one for a paltry $16 or so right here. There are also some nice comments available from American Chesterton Society President, Dale Ahlquist, in Lecture 21 of the University of Chesterton. You'll find that interesting page here.