Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Little-Known Chesterton Ballade...

...and a good one, too.

I came across it in a book entitled Father Brown on Chesterton. The apparently paradoxical title is explained (as many of you will have guessed right away) by the fact that the author is Father John O'Connor, the Irish Catholic priest who was the inspiration for Father Brown (and this long before Chesterton became a Catholic himself; Father O'Connor was instrumental in that conversion, too, being in fact the priest who received him.)

The book is a rather frustrating one. I read it hoping to see Chesterton through the eyes of one who knew him personally, and while there are a few interesting revelations about life in the Chesterton household, it is only a very narrow chink to peer through.

Also, Father O Connor's prose style is of a kind that I find especially irksome; the oblique, allusive, ironical style of the man of letters who merely deigns to write. He also seemed to be one of those Catholics who enjoy shattering conventions of piety, all the while remaining serenely orthodox. (Of course, Chesterton and Belloc liked to do this, too, and I find it hardly less tiresome in them; the whole "break the conventions, keep the commandments" game seems to overlook the fact that conventions can be highly civilised and vivifying things in themselves, and the game can verge on boorishness.)

But he quotes a fine ballade in which Chesterton responds to those who lamented him wasting his literary power on controversy. I think "the strong incredible sanities of the sun" is one of Chesterton's most poetic lines. But I don't understand the penultimate line of the second verse, and I would appreciate it if anyone could explain it to me.

A Ballade of Ephemeral Controversy

I am not as that Poet that arrives,
Nor shall I pluck the Laurel that persists
Through all perverted Ages and revives;
Enough for me, that if with feet and fists
I fought these pharisaic atheists,
I need not crawl and seek when all is done
My motley pennon trampled in the lists
It will not matter when the fight is won.

If scratch of mine amid a war of knives
Has caused one moment's pain to pesimmists,
Poisoned one hour in Social Workers' lives,
I count such comforts more than amethysts
But less than claret, and at after trysts
We'll meet and drink such claret by the tun
Till you and I and all of us (What? Hists!).
It will not matter when the fight is won.

When men again want women for their wives
And even woman owns that she exists,
When people ask for houses and not hives
When we have climbed the tortured ivy's twists
To where like statues stand above the mists
The strong incredible sanities of the sun,
This dazed and overdriven bard desists.
It will not matter when the fight is won.


Prince, let me place these handcuffs on your wrists
While common Christian people get some fun,
Then go and join your damned Thesophists.
It will not matter when the fight is won.


  1. That (What? Hists!) I think is the line you are asking about. That is as if prudes were listening and they started to make hissing sounds when he was suggesting that the victory of goodness would involve drinking a tun of wine. But these complaints against drinking that people make, while anoying, can be endured becasue when the battle is won it that idea will not mater. People will see they were wrong when the wine does come out on that day. Is that what you were looking for?

  2. That is exactly the line that confused me...and I wouldn't in a million years have worked it out for myself. Thank you, Father!