Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Crusader Returns from Captivity by GK Chesterton

Well, I am headed off on another trip overseas, and my time has been taken up with packing and finishing off some projects, so I don't have a review today. Instead, I have a poem, and an announcement.

The announcement comes first. We haven't run a feature week here at Vintage Novels for a little while, but I've been cooking something up lately, and I'll be thrilled to present--Deo volente and as soon as I get home and have the time--a whole new feature week dedicated to contemporary home educated authors! There'll be reviews, there'll be interviews, there'll be some really wonderful books to discover. I'll be talking to an array of folks from our old friend John J Horn to the amazing and talented KM Weiland of Helping Writers Become Authors. Check back in a couple of weeks for more news!

And now for the poem. This is another one by GK Chesterton, who might be my favourite poet ever. This one is so evocative. I love the long and slow rhythm of the stanzas (which have a John Masefield flavour to them). Those of you who've read Orthodoxy will recognise some typical Chestertonian philosophy in here. He spoke in that book of the difference between Christianity and rationalism (which he linked closely to madness) as being the difference between a cross--a dynamic and infinite, all-encompassing shape--and a circle, which is endless but narrow, turned in upon itself:
A small circle is quite as infinite as a large circle; but, though it is quite as infinite, it is not so large. In the same way the insane explanation is quite as complete as the sane one, but it is not so large. [...] There is such a thing as a narrow universality; there is such a thing as a small and cramped eternity; you may see it in many modern religions.


As we have taken the circle as the symbol of reason and madness, we may very well take the cross as the symbol at once of mystery and of health. Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal: it breaks out. For the circle is perfect and infinite in its nature; but it is fixed for ever in its size; it can never be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox in its centre it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travellers.
Later in the book, Chesterton linked rationalism directly to unitarianism, and unitarianism to Islam:
[T]here is nothing in the least liberal or akin to reform in the substitution of pure monotheism for the Trinity. The complex God of the Athanasian Creed may be an enigma for the intellect; but He is far less likely to gather the mystery and cruelty of a Sultan than the lonely god of Omar or Mahomet. The god who is a mere awful unity is not only a king but an Eastern king. [...] If this love of a living complexity be our test, it is certainly healthier to have the Trinitarian religion than the Unitarian. For to us Trinitarians (if I may say it with reverence)—to us God Himself is a society. It is indeed a fathomless mystery of theology, and even if I were theologian enough to deal with it directly, it would not be relevant to do so here. Suffice it to say here that this triple enigma is as comforting as wine and open as an English fireside; that this thing that bewilders the intellect utterly quiets the heart: but out of the desert, from the dry places and the dreadful suns, come the cruel children of the lonely God; the real Unitarians who with scimitar in hand have laid waste the world. For it is not well for God to be alone.
That is a lot of philosophy to fit into one short poem, but that's what Chesterton does her, and with the greatest ease:

The Crusader Returns from Captivity
GK Chesterton 

I have come forth alive from the land of purple and poison and glamour,
Where the charm is strong as the torture, being chosen to change the mind;
Torture of wordless dance and wineless feast without clamour,
Palace hidden in palace, garden with garden behind;

Women veiled in the sun, or bare as brass in the shadows,
And the endless eyeless patterns where each thing seems an eye....
And my stride is on Caesar's sand where it slides to the English meadows,
To the last low woods of Sussex and the road that goes to Rye.

In the cool and careless woods the eyes of the eunuchs burned not,
But the wild hawk went before me, being free to return or roam,
The hills had broad unconscious backs; and the tree-tops turned not,
And the huts were heedless of me: and I knew I was at home.

And I saw my lady afar and her holy freedom upon her,
A head, without veil, averted, and not to be turned with charms,
And I heard above bannerets blown the intolerant trumpets of honour,
That usher with iron laughter the coming of Christian arms.

My shield hangs stainless still; but I shall not go where they praise it,
A sword is still at my side, but I shall not ride with the King.
Only to walk and to walk and to stun my soul and amaze it,
A day with the stone and the sparrow and every marvellous thing.

I have trod the curves of the Crescent, in the maze of them that adore it,
Curved around doorless chambers and unbeholden abodes,
But I walk in the maze no more; on the sign of the cross I swore it,
The wild white cross of freedom, the sign of the white cross-roads.

And the land shall leave me or take, and the Woman take me or leave me,
There shall be no more Night, or nightmares seen in a glass;
But Life shall hold me alive, and Death shall never deceive me
As long as I walk in England in the lanes that let me pass.


Guy Fawkes said...

Unless you review 'Till We Have Faces', I will blow up a small city. I will only warn you once.

Guy Fawkes said...

Thank you for the wonderful poem.

Tolstoy's Top Hat said...

Nice poem. I love Chesterton since reading The Man Who Was Tuesday.
Keep up the good work
Tolstoy's Top Hat

Suzannah said...

Ha! I certainly will, when I get around to re-reading the book--it's much too good a book to review without having it fresh in my mind.


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