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CHESTERTON, G.K.


The Wife of Flanders


Low and brown barns, thatched and repatched and tattered,

Where I had seven sons until to-day,

A little hill of hay your spur has scattered. . . .

This is not Paris. You have lost your way.


You, staring at your sword to find it brittle,

Surprised at the surprise that was your plan,

Who, shaking and breaking barriers not a little,

Find never more the death-door of Sedan --


Must I for more than carnage call you claimant,

Paying you a penny for each son you slay?

Man, the whole globe in gold were no repayment

For what you have lost. And how shall I repay?


What is the price of that red spark that caught me

From a kind farm that never had a name?

What is the price of that dead man they brought me?

For other dead men do not look the same.


How should I pay for one poor graven steeple

Whereon you shattered what you shall not know?

How should I pay you, miserable people?

How should I pay you everything you owe?


Unhappy, can I give you back your honour?

Though I forgave, would any man forget?

While all the great green land has trampled on her

The treason and terror of the night we met.


Not any more in vengeance or in pardon

An old wife bargains for a bean that's hers.

You have no word to break: no heart to harden.

Ride on and prosper. You have lost your spurs.


Eternities

I cannot count the pebbles in the brook.

Well hath He spoken: "Swear not by thy head.

Thou knowest not the hairs," though He, we read,

Writes that wild number in His own strange book.

I cannot count the sands or search the seas,

Death cometh, and I leave so much untrod.

Grant my immortal aureole, O my God,

And I will name the leaves upon the trees,

In heaven I shall stand on gold and glass,

Still brooding earth's arithmetic to spell;

Or see the fading of the fires of hell

Ere I have thanked my God for all the grass.


The Praise of Dust


"What of vile dust?" the preacher said.
  Methought the whole world woke,
The dead stone lived beneath my foot,
  And my whole body spoke.

"You, that play tyrant to the dust,
  And stamp its wrinkled face,
This patient star that flings you not
  Far into homeless space.

"Come down out of your dusty shrine
  The living dust to see,
The flowers that at your sermon's end
  Stand blazing silently.

"Rich white and blood-red blossom; stones,
  Lichens like fire encrust;
A gleam of blue, a glare of gold,
  The vision of the dust.

"Pass them all by: till, as you come
  Where, at a city's edge,
Under a tree--I know it well--
  Under a lattice ledge,

"The sunshine falls on one brown head.
  You, too, O cold of clay,
Eater of stones, may haply hear
  The trumpets of that day

"When God to all his paladins
  By his own splendour swore
To make a fairer face than heaven,
  Of dust and nothing more ."


A Hymn

O God of earth and altar,

Bow down and hear our cry,

Our earthly rulers falter,

Our people drift and die;

The walls of gold entomb us,

The swords of scorn divide,

Take not thy thunder from us,

But take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches,

From lies of tongue and pen,

From all the easy speeches

That comfort cruel men,

From sale and profanation

Of honour and the sword,

From sleep and from damnation,

Deliver us, good Lord.

Tie in a living tether

The prince and priest and thrall,

Bind all our lives together,

Smite us and save us all;

In ire and exultation

Aflame with faith, and free,

Lift up a living nation,

A single sword to thee.


An Answer to Frances Cornford

Why do you rush through the field in trains,

Guessing so much and so much.

Why do you flash through the flowery meads,

Fat-head poet that nobody reads;

And why do you know such a frightful lot

About people in gloves as such?


The Last Hero

The wind blew out from Bergen from the dawning to the day,

There was a wreck of trees and fall of towers a score of miles away,

And drifted like a livid leaf I go before its tide,

Spewed out of house and stable, beggared of flag and bride.

The heavens are bowed about my head, shouting like seraph wars,

With rains that might put out the sun and clean the sky of stars,

Rains like the fall of ruined seas from secret worlds above,

The roaring of the rains of God none but the lonely love.

Feast in my hall, O foemen, and eat and drink and drain,

You never loved the sun in heaven as I have loved the rain.

The chance of battle changes -- so may all battle be;

I stole my lady bride from them, they stole her back from me.

I rent her from her red-roofed hall, I rode and saw arise,

More lovely than the living flowers the hatred in her eyes.

She never loved me, never bent, never was less divine;

The sunset never loved me, the wind was never mine.

Was it all nothing that she stood imperial in duresse?

Silence itself made softer with the sweeping of her dress.

O you who drain the cup of life, O you who wear the crown,

You never loved a woman's smile as I have loved her frown.

The wind blew out from Bergen to the dawning of the day,

They ride and run with fifty spears to break and bar my way,

I shall not die alone, alone, but kin to all the powers,

As merry as the ancient sun and fighting like the flowers.

How white their steel, how bright their eyes! I love each laughing knave,

Cry high and bid him welcome to the banquet of the brave.

Yea, I will bless them as they bend and love them where they lie,

When on their skulls the sword I swing falls shattering from the sky.

The hour when death is like a light and blood is like a rose, --

You never loved your friends, my friends, as I shall love my foes.

Know you what earth shall lose to-night, what rich uncounted loans,

What heavy gold of tales untold you bury with my bones?

My loves in deep dim meadows, my ships that rode at ease,

Ruffling the purple plumage of strange and secret seas.

To see this fair earth as it is to me alone was given,

The blow that breaks my brow to-night shall break the dome of heaven.

The skies I saw, the trees I saw after no eyes shall see,

To-night I die the death of God; the stars shall die with me;

One sound shall sunder all the spears and break the trumpet's breath:

You never laughed in all your life as I shall laugh in death.