(Poem #1892) 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 neighbors - 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 gray - 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. ENVOI 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.
Note: The ballade (ba-LAHD, from the French) is a verse form consisting of three stanzas of 8 or 10 lines, each with the same metre, rhyme sounds and last line. A shorter concluding stanza (an envoi) is usually addressed to a prince. It's not that great a shock to discover a Chesterton poem I haven't read before - the man was a prolific poet (and writer) after all. Discovering today's poem did surprise me, though - it's easily good enough, and easily memorable enough that it should have been one of his popular poems, and definitely one of his more anthologised ones. One of the things that I find most noticeable about Chesterton's writing, both his poetry and his prose, is how 'easy' it is, without any apparent compromises. Chesterton has the rare talent of being able to write about weighty matters, utilise a full and complex vocabulary, and nonetheless lead the reader along effortlessly and indeed almost unnoticingly. Today's poem illustrates this nicely - there is a surface lightness that bears the narrative along, counterbalanced by an undercurrent of greyly philosophical reflection that makes the superficially humorous phrasing "I think I will not hang myself today" more sincere than flippant. The repeated rhymes are used to very good effect, lending a cohesion to the poem that allows the lines themselves to flit from topic to topic without sounding disconnected. This, in turn, gives the narrator's stream of consciousness a surprising density, so that the individual glimpses add up very quickly to a picture of the man and his concerns. And then there's the startlingly beautiful image in the last two lines: And through thick woods one finds a stream astray, So secret that the very sky seems small - one that marks a sudden exaltation in tone from the banality of the earlier verses, and prepares the way for the stern foreboding of the envoi. Altogether, a marvellous poem and one I'm pleased to be doing my part to spread. martin [Links] Wikipedia on the ballade: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballade And on Chesterton: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G.K._Chesterton