As another semester of university ends and life settles into a different rythme, the expanse of free time I always anticipate enjoying never quite seems to arrive. Nonetheless, in stolen moments I have been able to assail my reading list, long neglected in the last few months.
At the moment I am devouring the poetry of G K Chesterton. I have encountered Chesterton before. More than that, in fact; I can say I have greatly profited from his durable and peerless wisdom in reading some of his essays and non-fiction work. A good friend, however, recently exposed me to some of his poems and admittedly, I was instantly snared.
Chesterton was able to write with that unique ability to see the sublime in the commonplace, and the commonplace in the sublime. His roles were multifold – from social critic to novelist – yet each string of words read as a carnival to the imagination, stupefying the mind as much as his sharpened, capricious wit jars our funny bone.
I have to confess too, I’m a sponge for poetry about the natural world and so this particular poem of his easily garnered my eye. It’s theology might be somewhat precarious, but for Chesterton, I believe one is able to overlook such faults. The poem is called Glencoe:
The star-crowned cliffs seemed hinged upon the sky,
The clouds are floating rags across them curled,
They open to us like the gates of God
Cloven in the last great wall of the world.
I looked and saw the valley of my soul
Where naked crests fight to achieve the skies,
Where no grain grows nor wine, no fruitful thing,
Only big words and starry blasphemies.
But you have clothed with mercy like a moss
The barren violence of its primal wars,
Sterile although they be and void of rule,
You know my shapeless crags have loved the stars.
How shall I thank you, O courageous heart,
That of this wasteful world you had no fear;
But bade it blossom in clear faith and sent
Your far flower-feeding rivers: even as here
The peat burns brimming from their cups of stone
Glow brown and blood-red down the vast decline
As if Christ stood on younder clouded peak
And turned its thousand waters into wine.