Touched Mad

Between Chesterton and The Lays of Ancient Rome (which I was poking through again) and Kipling (who is never far from my consciousness), words have been running through my head with more cadence than usual lately. I can't say it is very good cadence, and as my cold has nearly completely stolen my voice away I can't possibly put any of my lines to music, but there is something splendid and shining and stirring, all the same, in a good clear shaft of poetry.

This is largely for Anna, because of the Chesterton which is still running in my blood, and because Anna has Chesterton in her blood too.

* * * * *

There’s something a bit happy, and something a bit sad
In the faces of the men that God touched mad:
For they know Hell’s torment and they know Hell’s fate,
Though they come not to Heaven’s doors too late.
They shan’t look back, but they still bear
The wounds that Earth and Hell dealt them there.
They know Heaven’s laughter, which sounds like tears;
They know all eternity is shorter than years.
They are the mad ones, laughing sorrow’s laughter,
The motley fools and jesters due to rule hereafter.
They build a house of people, and mortar it with blood,
And make an ark of stone-work for a fiery flood.
You can crush them and they’ll laugh at you—break them and they’ll sing.
Burn them into ashes, cinder—they’ll only mount on wing.
They are the everlasting ones, the ones beyond the grave;
The ones Hell killed a God for, the ones God came to save.

7 ripostes:

  1. Jennifer,
    This is very fine,
    as gold spun upon a wheel,
    but there aren't any magic tricks here,
    simply a heart that feels.

    Hope you are feeling better!
    In His joy,
    I mean it -- exceedingly fine.

  2. This was the first thing I thought of (having read it so recently) when Mr. Farmer commented on poetry today.
    Your imagery is magnificent! Especially this part:
    They build a house of people, and mortar it with blood,
    And make an ark of stone-work for a fiery flood.

  3. This is good, and so true. I don't think I've really connected with a poem like I have with this.

  4. I'm sorry to hear you've got a cold, Jenny! *sends hugs and tea* That is an beautiful poem that seems (for me) for me inexpressible to describe. Perhaps I haven't got it's meaning at all and am completely off, but it is something fine that touched me.

  5. This is brilliantly conceived; I didn't expect the direction you were going, and so had a surprised double-take mid-way through, so on that rubric it's also excellent in execution. And you have a very deft turn of phrase and an eye for imagery that I wish my best work could equal. However, the poem is close enough to a regular meter (iambic hexameter, I think) that the "cadence" kept stumbling over and over (to my ear---but I note that I've been thinking in iambs for much of the time for the past several years, in addition to writing most of my poetry in blank verse, so I've become somewhat sensitized to that rhythm).

  6. To say I enjoy this poem would be a gross inaccuracy. One might as well say that I enjoy being a human with a soul. You have dug deep into the fiber of my existence, the thrum of my heartbeat. People are always so bent on feeling things keenly. This is the sort of keenness that hurts because it is not only feeling, but true and alive.

    They are the everlasting ones, the ones beyond the grave;
    The ones Hell killed a God for, the ones God came to save.

    That last line - Chesterton in the blood, indeed! I think he would have laughed at the irony, since he was so disagreeable about Protestants while he lived. It's the Sort Of Thing that is his kind of poetry. "I did not make the world; I did not make it paradoxical." I know it amuses me.

    I agree that the rhythm could be tweaked here or there - particularly in the third to last line; I can make all the other ones come off trippingly, and their quirks seem to make them better, but perhaps changing 'only' to 'yet' in that third-to-last would help that, tho' I like 'only' better for its sense. Bah. Or don't change anything.

    ...did you know that The Ballad of the White Horse was written to his wife? I suspected as much when I read the dedication, but it gave me a little thrill to be right.

    And whether ye swear a hive of monks,
    Or one fair wife to friend,
    This is the manner of Christian men,
    That their oath endures the end.

  7. Hurrah, Anna! I knew that you would like it. "You and I, man. You and I." We are always poking each other in the soul, aren't we? It is such good, growing fun, and whether it is because of Simon or my own willful imagination, or a bit of both, I am minded of a high cider-apple wood, and you and I, and something blowy and painful and companionable about the whole scene. Yes, it must be Simon. How impressionable I am.

    I have to agree with you and Mr. Lovelace. I recall my English teacher trying to impress poetry on me, and myself trying to understand its construction, but the fact of the matter is that prose is my strength. I don't let this interfere with my poetry, because sometimes (as in this case) some things just have to be expressed through poetry. But I don't for a moment pretend I am much good at it, and your patience, and unexpected approval, of my attempts at it are very warm and encouraging.

    As for Chesterton and the Protestants, and myself and Chesterton, we shall all probably have a good laugh about it some day, having grumbled at each other a good day these days. And I didn't know that he (Chesterton) wrote The Ballad of the White Horse expressly for his wife, but I was aware of his wife being the subject of its dedication. I read it through, and then read over bits and parts of it, and it's so maddeningly lovely. I could almost forgive him if he were a great poet only occasionally, but the whole work is a high-flying flicker of Colours, like sparks, against a sky that is blazing with victory, and it just doesn't seem quite fair that one man should be so good with words.