Friday, September 30, 2011


...for the long hiatus in posting. My reading has taken me away from Chesterton at the moment, though not all that far away (can you get far away from Chesterton?), since I am currently reading Mark Shea's Mary: Mother of the Son trilogy, which (like all of Mark Shea's writing) copiously quotes Chesterton. Indeed, he lists him as his hero in the acknowledgements.

It is interesting that Chesterton (who was naturally chivalrous) felt a life-long devotion to the Blessed Mother, even before he became a Christian, never mind a Catholic. Somewhere he says that he enjoyed Swinburne's blasphemous poem Dolores, which features lines like:

Could you hurt me, sweet lips, though I hurt you?
Men touch them, and change in a trice
The lilies and languours of virtue
For the raptures and roses of vice;
Those lie where thy foot on the floor is,
These crown and caress thee and chain,
O splendid and sterile Dolores,
Our Lady of Pain.

However, Chesterton mentally changed the lines to ones more respectful of Our Lady. (I've often found myself mentally changing the lines of song lyrics myself, especially when I find them stupid and petulant, as pop and rock lyrics often are.)

He satirised Swinburne's poem later in these lines:

Cold passions, and perfectly cruel,
Long odes that go on for an hour,
With a most economical jewel
And a quite metaphorical flower.
I implore you to stop it and stow it,
I adjure you, relent and refrain,
Oh, pagan Priapean poet,
You give me a pain.

I am sorry, old dear, if I hurt you,
No doubt it is all very nice
With the lilies and languors of virtue
And the raptures and roses of vice.
But the notion impels me to anger,
That vice is all rapture for me,
And if you think virtue is languor
Just try it and see.

We shall know when the critics discover
If your poems were shallow or deep;
Who read you from cover to cover,
Will know if they sleep not or sleep.
But you say I've endured through the ages
(Which is rude) as Our Lady of Pain,
You have said it for several pages,
So say it again.

"If you think virtue is languor just try it and see". How true that is! My own slow journey towards Christianity began when I accepted, pace Nietzsche and a thousand absinthe-drinking poets and pentagram-wearing heavy metallers, that there was nothing creative or liberating or expansive about evil-- even in the "soft" forms of misanthropy, cynicism, apathy or morbidity, all vices beloved of young aesthetes. Evil narrows. That's what it does, that's what it is. It is a privation, and absence. Whatever adventure we know is all in the striving towards goodness and towards God.

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