Tag Archives: GK Chesterton

The Good Riddle GK Chesterton

Image by Linda Richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

I am continuing my series of posts for Advent,  in which I read each day’s poem to accompany my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, alongside a series of reflective images kindly provided by Linda Richardson. In today’s poem, which is an extract from GK Chesterton’s Ballad of the white Horse I am continuing yesterday’s theme; the paradox that the God who is rightly our Lord and Master, comes to us, out of his sheer love, as a servant.

Linda writes about today’s image:

How beautifully the subject of servant continues from yesterday, but in this poem we are served by God, not through human hands but through the material of our bodies and the environment. Perhaps we consider our bodies as our own possessions, unique down to our very DNA. But here we can ponder the thought that God sealed our skull and made our ribs. We are the created ones, we don’t create ourselves however much contemporary culture tells us otherwise.

Making an image every day is quite a challenge on top of family and work life. I already had this image in the studio and felt it suited the poem very well as it has a bark-like surface hinting at oaks on the upland, and primordial slumber. The words that sprung into my mind were, ‘who…shall speak of the Holiest’, and Psalm 139, ‘thou hast knit me together in my mother’s womb.   I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made’. I considered how I am a marvellous work, I am created by Him, utterly unique with my own fingerprint, and how His fingerprint is upon all His creation if only we took the time to see it. The art work was completed when I cut a square in the centre and placed a fingerprint upon it.

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or on the title, and read my reflective essay in Waiting on the Word

From the Ballad of the White Horse

And well may God with the serving-folk

Cast in His dreadful lot;

Is not He too a servant,

And is not He forgot?

 

For was not God my gardener

And silent like a slave;

That opened oaks on the uplands

Or thicket in graveyard gave?

 

And was not God my armourer,

All patient and unpaid,

That sealed my skull as a helmet,

And ribs for hauberk made?

 

Did not a great grey servant

Of all my sires and me,

Build this pavilion of the pines,

And herd the fowls and fill the vines,

And labour and pass and leave no signs

Save mercy and mystery?

 

For God is a great servant,

And rose before the day,

From some primordial slumber torn;

But all we living later born

Sleep on, and rise after the morn,

And the Lord has gone away.

 

On things half sprung from sleeping,

All sleeping suns have shone,

They stretch stiff arms, the yawning trees,

The beasts blink upon hands and knees,

Man is awake and does and sees-

But Heaven has done and gone.

 

For who shall guess the good riddle

Or speak of the Holiest,

Save in faint figures and failing words,

Who loves, yet laughs among the swords,

Labours, and is at rest?

 

But some see God like Guthrum,

Crowned, with a great beard curled,

But I see God like a good giant,

That, laboring, lifts the world.

4 Comments

Filed under christianity, literature, Poems

‘GKC’ on ‘Thought For The Day’

– (C) BBC – Photographer: Rolf Marriott

GK Chesterton would have been a perfect contributor to the Today Program’s ‘Thought For the Day’ His wit, originality, brilliant shifts of perspective, his whole dazzling combination of absurdity and grace would have been perfect for it. But no doubt even if the great man had been at his coruscating best in the Today Studio, John Humphrys would have been as smug and condescending to Chesterton as he has been to the likes of John Bell and Jonathan Sacks, the great communicators of our day, and declared himself to be ‘bored’. Why? Because its ‘religion’ and we all know, without needing to know anything about any religion, that ‘religion is boring’.  Humphrys’ unfortunate and graceless tirade against Thought for the Day, published in this week’s Radio Times has met with a brilliant and considered response by Nick Baines, a TFTD contributor, in his excellent blog ‘Musings of a Restless Bishop. It was interesting to note that Archbishop Justin Welby also responded warmly to Nick’s piece and praised him for it.

Nick Baines deals with the substantive points, but though I don’t usually go in for topical satire, I wondered what GKC, in his mishcevious Ballade-making mode, would have made of all this and have composed, in his spirit, the following Ballade of  the Bored Presenter. As usual you can hear me read it by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.

 


Ballade of the Bored Presenter

 

Thought For The Day! let it begin!

My new perspective on today

Three minutes on the state we’re in

A breath of spirit through the clay

A chance for those to have their say

On whom such constant scorn is poured

We listen, lifted on our way,

Except John Humphrys who is bored

 

For after all the slant and spin

The petty postures and display,

Two second sound bites, bleak and thin

We yearn for thought, Thought For The Day

Jonathan Sacks shows Wisdom’s way

And John Bell rings a rousing chord

We all find courage for the fray

Except John Humphrys, who is bored

 

They don’t have any votes to win

Or points to score on polling day

They simply know the place you’re in

And stand with you and help you  pray.

Some thoughts may fly and some may stay

And some we stand up and applaud

And some we grapple with all day,

Except John Humphrys who is bored

 

Prince you have spoken of the day

When Gates will open wide and broad

And we’ll ascend that splendid way

Except John Humphrys who’ll be bored.

16 Comments

Filed under imagination

The Ballad of the White Horse: a complete reading for King Alfred’s Day

October 26th is the day the Church remembers Alfred, King and Scholar who founded places of learning, translated Boethius’ consolation of philosophy and strove to preserve the Christian faith in the midst of the pagan Danish invasions. He is also the subject of GK Chesterton’s wonderful poem The Ballad of the White Horse. I recorded a reading of the whole poem back in 2011, on its 100th anniversary, and I thought I would repost it here, with links to the readings, in honour of Alfred’s day.This great poem is as much about modern times as it is a ballad of the days of King Alfred. In 1911 Chesterton foresaw that the modern Nihilism and worship of the ‘superman’ embodied in the writings of Nietzsche together with false worship of race and a cult of violence, would likey wreak unimaginable damage in the new century, as proved to be the case. He also saw that a renewal of the vision of joy and humility that is at the heart of the Christian creed was the only way to resist the death-wish which is the shadow side of our fallen humanity. He wrote a poem at whose heart is a call to courage kindled not by probable chances of success but by what he called ‘the joy without a cause’. Many Englishmen called to combat in the two world wars, went out with this poem in their pockets and were greatly strengthened by it. The Times quoted it twice in leaders each at key points in the second world war; “nought for your comfort” was the leader headline after the disaster of Crete and Alfred’s great cry ‘The high tide’ and the turn’ was the headline after the D Day landings. And yet this poem, once so centrally part of the national consciousness, is now hardly known at all or read, but its time must suely come again.

Chesterton had a big influence on the Inklings, the writers who clustered around Tolkien and Lewis and there are a number of echoes between the Ballad of the White Horse and the Lord of the Rings. Especially the descriptions of Colan the Celt and his people, who, like the elves, are always haunted by the sound of the sea and have their hearts in an undying land. Likewise the detail of battle in which Alfred and his Celtic allies are sundered and the Celts, given up for lost, re-emerge as though they were the armies of the dead and put their foes to flight, that meeting on the field of battle against all odds is very like the events on the fields of the Pelanor. But perhaps the greatest similarity is in the ending of the two tales. In the final book of the Ballad, ‘The Scouring of the Horse’ Chesterton deals with the problem of the peace, the problem that after winning on the battle the wariors find corruption at home and have to confront evil in another form and in their own native place. Whilst Alfred leaves Wessex to confront the Danes in London the weeds are allowed to grow over the White Horse and at this point Chesterton gives Alfred a vision of the future and calls England to an eternal vigilance. I think the very namng, let alone the plot features, of Tolkien’s ‘Scouring of the Shire’ are derived from this.

You can read and download the entire text of the poem here, though better still buy an old hardback copy. They are very cheap and still widely available.

My reading of each of the episodes can be found through the links below and you will find, on my podomatic page, that I have also given a brief introduction to each book. I have left the settings so that the episodes can be downloaded, so you can listen to them off line or even, if you wish, burn them to a cd and use them to while away the hours on long car journeys! I hope you enjoy them, let me know what you think.

The Ballad of the White Horse, read by Malcolm Guite:

The Dedication

Book I The Vision of the King

Book II The Gathering of the Chiefs

Book III The Harp of Alfred

Book IV The Woman in the Forest

Book V Ethandune: The First Stroke

Book VI Ethandune: The Slaying of the Chiefs

Book VII Ethandune: The Last Charge

Book VIII The Scouring of the Horse

4 Comments

Filed under christianity, imagination, literature, Poems

The Good Riddle GK Chesterton

Image by Linda Richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

I am continuing my series of posts for Advent,  in which I read each day’s poem to accompany my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, alongside a series of reflective images kindly provided by Linda Richardson. In today’s poem, which is an extract from GK Chesterton’s Ballad of the white Horse I am continuing yesterday’s theme; the paradox that the God who is rightly our Lord and Master, comes to us, out of his sheer love, as a servant.

Linda writes about today’s image:

How beautifully the subject of servant continues from yesterday, but in this poem we are served by God, not through human hands but through the material of our bodies and the environment. Perhaps we consider our bodies as our own possessions, unique down to our very DNA. But here we can ponder the thought that God sealed our skull and made our ribs. We are the created ones, we don’t create ourselves however much contemporary culture tells us otherwise.

Making an image every day is quite a challenge on top of family and work life. I already had this image in the studio and felt it suited the poem very well as it has a bark-like surface hinting at oaks on the upland, and primordial slumber. The words that sprung into my mind were, ‘who…shall speak of the Holiest’, and Psalm 139, ‘thou hast knit me together in my mother’s womb.   I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made’. I considered how I am a marvellous work, I am created by Him, utterly unique with my own fingerprint, and how His fingerprint is upon all His creation if only we took the time to see it. The art work was completed when I cut a square in the centre and placed a fingerprint upon it.

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or on the title, and read my reflective essay in Waiting on the Word

From the Ballad of the White Horse

And well may God with the serving-folk

Cast in His dreadful lot;

Is not He too a servant,

And is not He forgot?

 

For was not God my gardener

And silent like a slave;

That opened oaks on the uplands

Or thicket in graveyard gave?

 

And was not God my armourer,

All patient and unpaid,

That sealed my skull as a helmet,

And ribs for hauberk made?

 

Did not a great grey servant

Of all my sires and me,

Build this pavilion of the pines,

And herd the fowls and fill the vines,

And labour and pass and leave no signs

Save mercy and mystery?

 

For God is a great servant,

And rose before the day,

From some primordial slumber torn;

But all we living later born

Sleep on, and rise after the morn,

And the Lord has gone away.

 

On things half sprung from sleeping,

All sleeping suns have shone,

They stretch stiff arms, the yawning trees,

The beasts blink upon hands and knees,

Man is awake and does and sees-

But Heaven has done and gone.

 

For who shall guess the good riddle

Or speak of the Holiest,

Save in faint figures and failing words,

Who loves, yet laughs among the swords,

Labours, and is at rest?

 

But some see God like Guthrum,

Crowned, with a great beard curled,

But I see God like a good giant,

That, laboring, lifts the world.

1 Comment

Filed under christianity, literature, Poems

The Good Riddle GK Chesterton

I am continuing my series of posts for Advent,  in which I read each day’s poem to accompany my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, alongside a series of reflective images kindly provided by Lancia Smith. You can enjoy these and more on her Excellent Website Cultivating the True the Good and the Beautiful.

In today’s poem, which is an extract from GK Chesterton’s Ballad of the white Horse I am continuing yesterday’s theme; the paradox that the God who is rightly our Lord and Master, comes to us, out of his sheer love, as a servant. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or on the title.

From the Ballad of the White Horse

Leave a comment

Filed under christianity, literature, Poems

The House of Christmas GK Chesterton

The sequence of my selection of poems for Advent, Waiting on the Word, resumes on the 1st December, but on this last day of November, a little pause between Advent Sunday and December the 1st, I am prompted by a lovely image from Lancia Smith, which Draws on GK Chesterton’s poem, The House of Christmas, a poem which contemplates the way that God made himself homeless that we might at last come home, to record that poem for you here, though it is not in the anthology. As always you can hear it by either clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.

The House of Christmas

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 on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour 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.

3 Comments

Filed under christianity, literature, Poems

A Website Revamp (and cheese…)

poets curdle words until they bite

poets curdle words until they bite

This is just to let you know that I have had a little go at simplifying and improving this website. The blog works just as it always did and still gives you new poems and a searchable archive of all the old ones, together with recordings of them all. You can now use the tabs above to navigate to the Books Events and Home pages which have all been updated. There is a new page (also clickable on the tabs above called ‘Interviews‘ which gathers in one place links to various interviews I have given about my work, life and faith, particularly to the sequence of interviews on Lancia Smith’s excellent website Cultivating The True The Good and the Beautiful.

The other new thing is that I now have a dedicated email address for any enquiries about readings, lectures or performances, which is malcolmguite@gmail.com and can be found permanently on the Home Page. I hope these simplifications and improvements will be helpful.

In other news, here is a poem about cheese (and poetry)! As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.

‘The Poets Have Been Mysteriously Silent About Cheese’ GK Chesterton

 

Poets have been silent about cheese

Because whilst every  subject is the message,

Cheese is the very medium of their work.

We drink in language with our mothers milk,

But poets curdle words until they bite,

With substance and a flavour of their own:

So Donne is sharp and Geoffrey Hill is sour,

Larkin ascerbic, Tennyson has power

(But only taken late at night with port.)

,I like them all and sample every sort

From creamy Keats with his ‘mossed cottage trees’,

Tasting the words themselves like cottage cheese,

To Eliot, difficult, in cold collations,

Crumbling, and stuffed with other folk’s quotations.

7 Comments

Filed under imagination, Poems