To complement yesterday’s post, which contained an excerpt from Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man (which discusses how the perennially unpopular dogmatism of Catholicism is necessary if the ‘nice bits’ – e.g.; God is Love – are to be preserved and not swept away by the passage of time), I here present one of my favourite of his poems – The Sword of Surprise.
Using some startling imagery, Chesterton captures one of his most persistent and enduring themes – the recurrent feeling of strangeness at being alive, and indeed of there being anything at all. His verses are a plea to God to let him see and appreciate how utterly miraculous man really is, by taking him outside of himself, so to speak. This is a vision that we are granted very seldom – most of the time we are so absorbed in a cloud of self-preoccupation that we do not grasp (and therefore repeatedly take for granted) how singularly strange we humans are.
This theme is concluded, in the final stanza, with words that always leave me reeling slightly, as they drive home a message that should by now be tattooed onto my heart. Human nature, alas, is forever prone to ignore the most obvious things about itself. Anyway, here is the poem:
Sunder me from my bones, O sword of God
Till they stand stark and strange as do the trees;
That I whose heart goes up with the soaring woods
May marvel as much at these.
Sunder me from my blood that in the dark
I hear that red ancestral river run
Like branching buried floods that find the sea
But never see the sun.
Give me miraculous eyes to see my eyes
Those rolling mirrors made alive in me
Terrible crystals more incredible
Than all the things they see
Sunder me from my soul, that I may see
The sins like streaming wounds, the life’s brave beat
Till I shall save myself as I would save
A stranger in the street.