"All around us is the city of small sins, abounding in backways and retreats, but surely, sooner or later, the towering flame will rise from the harbour announcing that the reign of the cowards is over and a man is burning his ships."
So Chesterton said in his essay "A Defence of Rash Vows". In his most brilliant work, Orthodoxy, he declared that, "I could never conceive or tolerate any Utopia which did not leave me the liberty for which I chiefly care, the liberty to bind myself".
I found myself thinking of Chesterton's attitude towards cheerful recklessness today, when I was recalling the words of Patrick Pearse's poem, The Fool. Pearse, as readers probably know, was the educationalist, writer and poet who led the 1916 Irish Rising against British rule. For many years he was idolised in Ireland; today he often demonised.
Chesterton, in his book Irish Impression, seems to consider the 1916 Rising a tactical mistake by the insurgents. My own attitude towards the Rising has shifted through the years. In my childhood and early teens, an ardent nationalist, I considered it heroic and noble through and through. In my socialist later teens and early twenties, I thought it preposterous and pointless, a romantic diversion from the real business of working class liberation. In my reactionary mid-to-late-twenties, I cheered it again, although by now with rather more misgivings for the legacy of violence it had, possibly, helped to perpetuate. Today, I am more on the fence than ever.
But I've never lost my fascination with Patrick Pearse, or my admiration for his poetry, which I consider some of the most underpraised poetry ever written in the English language. And it certainly lends tongue to a very Chestertonian love of rash vows and drastic courses.
The Fool by Patrick Pearse
Since the wise men have not spoken, I speak that am only a fool;
A fool that hath loved his folly,
Yea, more than the wise men their books or their counting houses or their quiet homes,
Or their fame in men's mouths;
A fool that in all his days hath done never a prudent thing,
Never hath counted the cost, nor recked if another reaped
The fruit of his mighty sowing, content to scatter the seed;
A fool that is unrepentant, and that soon at the end of all
Shall laugh in his lonely heart as the ripe ears fall to the reaping-hooks
And the poor are filled that were empty,
Tho' he go hungry.
I have squandered the splendid years that the Lord God gave to my youth
In attempting impossible things, deeming them alone worth the toil.
Was it folly or grace? Not men shall judge me, but God.
I have squandered the splendid years:Lord, if I had the years I would squander them over again,
Aye, fling them from me!
For this I have heard in my heart, that a man shall scatter, not hoard,
Shall do the deed of to-day, nor take thought of to-morrow's teen,
Shall not bargain or huxter with God ; or was it a jest of Christ's
And is this my sin before men, to have taken Him at His word?
The lawyers have sat in council, the men with the keen, long faces,
And said, `This man is a fool,' and others have said, `He blasphemeth;'
And the wise have pitied the fool that hath striven to give a life
In the world of time and space among the bulks of actual things,
To a dream that was dreamed in the heart, and that only the heart could hold.
O wise men, riddle me this: what if the dream come true?
What if the dream come true? and if millions unborn shall dwell
In the house that I shaped in my heart, the noble house of my thought?
Lord, I have staked my soul, I have staked the lives of my kin
On the truth of Thy dreadful word.
Do not remember my failures,
But remember this my faith
And so I speak.
Yea, ere my hot youth pass, I speak to my people and say:
Ye shall be foolish as I; ye shall scatter, not save;
Ye shall venture your all, lest ye lose what is more than all;
Ye shall call for a miracle, taking Christ at His word.
And for this I will answer, O people, answer here and hereafter,
O people that I have loved, shall we not answer together?
posted by Maolsheachlann