Friday, December 17, 2010

A Ballade of Suicide

I was reminded of one of Chesterton's funniest poems today by reading about the Season Six DVD of the Office, my favourite TV show (the US version, which is even better than the British version). Apparently fans were up in arms because one scene-- a pre-credits sequence which was wildly popular-- has been dropped from the DVD. The reason? It features Steve Carell's character, Michael Scott, play-acting a suicide for the benefit of some schoolchildren. (The fact that it's spectacularly inappropriate is part of the joke-- the office workers are arranging a Halloween surprise for the kids.)

I don't necessarily think NBC were wrong to drop the scene, but it made me think of Chesterton's willingness to joke about almost anything. In Orthodoxy, he wrote: "Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin. It is the ultimate and absolute evil". And yet he could pen a blithe ditty like this on the same subject (my favourite line is "rationalists are growing rational").

A Ballade of Suicide

The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall;
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbours on the wall
Are drawing a long breath to shout "Hurray!"
The strangest whim has seized me. . . After all
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

To-morrow is the time I get my pay
My uncle's sword is hanging in the hall
I see a little cloud all pink and grey
Perhaps the rector's mother will NOT call
I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall
That mushrooms could be cooked another way
I never read the works of Juvenal
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

The world will have another washing-day;
The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
And H.G. Wells has found that children play,
And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall;
Rationalists are growing rational
And through thick woods one finds a stream astray,
So secret that the very sky seems small
I think I will not hang myself to-day.


Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,
The tumbrils toiling up the terrible way;
Even to-day your royal head may fall
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

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