PEOPLE, if you have any prayers,
Say prayers for me
And lay me under a Christian stone
In this lost land I thought my own,
To wait till the holy horn be blown
And all poor men are free.
'Ballad of Alfred.'
WHY should I care for the Ages
Because they are old and grey?
To me like sudden laughter
The stars are fresh and gay
The world is a daring fancy
And finished yesterday.
Why should I bow to the Ages
Because they are drear and dry?
Slow trees and ripening meadows
For me go roaring by,
A living charge, a struggle
To escalade the sky.
The eternal suns and systems,
Solid and silent all,
To me are stars of an instant,
Only the fires that fail
From God's good rocket rising
On this night of carnival.
'A Novelty' ('The Wild Knight').
NOR shall all iron doors make dumb
Men wondering ceaselessly,
If it be not better to fast for joy
Than feast for misery?
'Ballad of Alfred.'
WHEN fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will,
Starve, scourge, deride me I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools, for I also had my hour,
One far fierce hour and sweet,
There was a shout about my ears
And palms before my feet.
'The Donkey' ('The Wild Knight').
JESUS Christ made wine, not a medicine, but a sacrament. But Omar makes it, not a sacrament, but a medicine. He feasts because life is not joyful; he revels because he is not glad. 'Drink,' he says, 'for you know not whence you come nor why. Drink, for you know not when you go nor where. Drink, because the stars are cruel and the world as idle as a humming-top. Drink, because there is nothing worth trusting, nothing worth fighting for. Drink, because all things are lapsed in a base equality and an evil peace.' So he stands offering us the cup in his hands. And in the high altar of Christianity stands another figure in whose hand also is the cup of the vine. 'Drink,' he says, 'for the whole world is as red as this wine with the crimson of the love and wrath of God. Drink, for the trumpets are blowing for battle, and this is the stirrup cup. Drink, for this is my blood of the New Testament that is shed for you. Drink, for I know whence you come and why. Drink, for I know when you go and where.'
AND well may God with the serving folk
Cast in His dreadful lot.
Is not He too a servant,
And is not He forgot?
Wherefore was God in Golgotha
Slain as a serf is slain;
And hate He had of prince and peer,
And love He had and made good cheer,
Of them that, like this woman here,
Go powerfully in pain.
'Ballad of Al/red.'
THE Cross cannot be defeated for it is defeat.
'The Ball and the Cross.'
I SAID to my companion the Dickensian, 'Do you see that angel over there? I think it must be meant for the Angel at the Sepulchre.'
He saw that I was somewhat singularly moved, and he raised his eyebrows.
'I daresay,' he said. 'What is there odd about that?'
After a pause I answered, 'Do you remember what the Angel at the Sepulchre said?
'Not particularly,' he replied; 'but where are you off to in such a hurry?'
'I am going,' I said, 'to put pennies into automatic machines on the beach. I am going to listen to the niggers. I am going to have my photograph taken. I will buy some picture postcards. I do want a boat. I am ready to listen to a concertina, and but for the defects of my education should be ready to play it. I am willing to ride on a donkey; that is, if the donkey is willing. For all this was commanded me by the angel in the stained glass window.'
'I really think,' said the Dickensian, 'that I had better put you in charge of your relations.'
'Sir,' I answered, 'there are certain writers to whom humanity owes much, whose talent is yet of so shy and delicate or retrospective a type that we do well to link it with certain quaint places or certain perishing associations. It would not be unnatural to look for the spirit of Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill, or even for the shade of Thackeray in old Kensington. But let us have no antiquarianism about Dickens for Dickens is not an antiquity. Dickens looks not backward but forward; he might look at our modern mobs with satire, or with fury, but he would love to look at them. He might lash our democracy, but it would be because, like a democrat, he asked much from it. We will not have all his books bound up under the title 'The Old Curiosity Shop.' Rather we will have them all bound up under the title of 'Great Expectations.' Wherever humanity is he would have us face it and make something of it, swallow it with a holy cannibalism and assimilate it with the digestion of a giant. We must take these trippers as he would have taken them and tear out of them their tragedy and their farce. Do you remember now what the Angel said at the Sepulchre? 'Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here; He is risen.'
WHAT is the difference between Christ and Satan?
It is quite simple. Christ descended into hell; Satan fell into it. One of them wanted to go up and went down; the other wanted to go down and went up.
'The Ball and the Cross.'
I HAVE a far more solid and central ground for submitting to Christianity as a faith, instead of merely picking up hints from it as a scheme. And that is this; that the Christian Church in its practical relation to my soul is a living teacher, not a dead one. It not only certainly taught me yesterday, but will almost certainly teach me to-morrow. Once I saw suddenly the meaning of the shape of the cross some day I may see suddenly the meaning of the shape of the mitre. One fine morning I saw why windows were pointed; some fine morning I may see why priests were shaven. Plato has told you a truth; but Plato is dead. Shakespeare has startled you with an image; but Shakespeare will not startle you with any more. But imagine what it would be to live with such men still living. To know that Plato might break out with an original lecture to-morrow, or that at any moment Shakespeare might shatter everything with a single song. The man who lives in contact with what he believes to be a living Church is a man always expecting to meet Plato and Shakespeare to-morrow at breakfast. He is always expecting to see some truth that he has never seen before.
THE meanest man in grey fields gone
Behind the set of sun,
Heareth between star and other star,
Through the door of the darkness fallen ajar,
The Council eldest of things that are,
The talk of the Three in One.
'Ballad of Alfred.'
ALL great spiritual Scriptures are full of the invitation not to test but to taste; not to examine but to eat. Their phrases are full of living water and heavenly bread, mysterious manna and dreadful wine. Worldliness and the polite society of the world has despised this instinct of eating, but religion has never despised it.