Friday, October 10, 2008

A Song of Defeat

      THE line breaks and the guns go under,
      The lords and the lackeys ride the plain;
      I draw deep breaths of the dawn and thunder,
      And the whole of my heart grows young again.
      For our chiefs said 'Done,' and I did not deem it;
      Our seers said 'Peace,' and it was not peace;
      Earth will grow worse till men redeem it,
      And wars more evil, ere all wars cease.
      But the old flags reel and the old drums rattle,
      As once in my life they throbbed and reeled;
      I have found my youth in the lost battle,
      I have found my heart on the battlefield.
          For we that fight till the world is free,
          We are not easy in victory:
          We have known each other too long, my brother,
          And fought each other, the world and we.

      And I dream of the days when work was scrappy,
      And rare in our pockets the mark of the mint,
      When we were angry and poor and happy,
      And proud of seeing our names in print.
      For so they conquered and so we scattered,
      When the Devil road and his dogs smelt gold,
      And the peace of a harmless folk was shattered;
      When I was twenty and odd years old.
      When the mongrel men that the market classes
      Had slimy hands upon England's rod,
      And sword in hand upon Afric's passes
      Her last Republic cried to God.
          For the men no lords can buy or sell,
          They sit not easy when all goes well,
          They have said to each other what naught can smother,
          They have seen each other, our souls and hell.

      It is all as of old, the empty clangour,
      The Nothing scrawled on a five-foot page,
      The huckster who, mocking holy anger,
      Painfully paints his face with rage.
      And the faith of the poor is faint and partial,
      And the pride of the rich is all for sale,
      And the chosen heralds of England's Marshal
      Are the sandwich-men of the Daily Mail,
      And the niggards that dare not give are glutted,
      And the feeble that dare not fail are strong,
      So while the City of Toil is gutted,
      I sit in the saddle and sing my song.
          For we that fight till the world is free,
          We have no comfort in victory;
          We have read each other as Cain his brother,
          We know each other, these slaves and we.

      G. K. Chesterton

Dare I ruin such beauty with my own words?  As I've written before, I've been struggling to figure out what to believe about violence and war.  Poetry (at least when it's this good) has a powerful affect on me, both on thought and emotion.  That's why I love the minor prophets of the Torah.  And so more than any philosophical or logical argument, Chesterton has convinced me that war should be avoided at all costs.


Chops said...

Ha! We read this with completely different minds. You see pacifism. I see the glorification of conflict.

This seems to me redolent of >The Napoleon of Notting Hill, a playful book that glorifies conflict and strife and war (albeit bloodless) and placeness and pride.

I'd be surprised to find Chesterton a pacifist in 1907.

inos said...

I make no claim about Chesterton's personal views of war. It is the very fact that here he writes so poignantly of the glory of war (even knowing that wars will only grow more evil with the passage of time) that makes me shudder.