G. K. Chesterton – A Second Childhood

Following yesterday’s post, which, in light of Pope Francis’ comments regarding Catholic collusion with the secular culture, considered the fundamental duty of all humankind (but particularly Catholics) to stand up for the rights of the unborn, I was inevitably drawn back to the enduring and enlivening philosophy of G. K. Chesterton. This philosophy – that authentic human experience is to be awestruck at the sheer wondrous improbability of being alive at all, and to have the sense of life as a continuous reception of divine gratuity – runs throughout most all of his work, but is expressed with particular vividness in his poetry.

One of these – By The Babe Unborn – has particular resonance with the life-issues discussed in my previous post; but A Second Childhood is perhaps even more poignant, insofar as it interprets the Chestertonian philosophy from the point of view of someone who has lived life and felt its grief, endured its disappointments, and borne the weariness that comes from being a fallen human being. Whilst the former poem draws our attention to the potential for joyous embracing of the world that exists in each and every life yet to be born, A Second Childhood suggests to those of us who have been on this earth for a while now (and are maybe feeling a little more tired than we used to) to stop and look outside of ourselves for a moment – the wonder is still there, and life is always worth living:

 

When all my days are ending

And I have no song to sing,

I think that I shall not be too old

To stare at everything;

As I stared once at a nursery door

Or a tall tree and a swing.

 

Wherein God’s ponderous mercy hangs

On all my sins and me,

Because He does not take away

The terror from the tree

And stones still shine along the road

That are and cannot be.

 

Men grow too old for love, my love,

Men grow too old for wine,

But I shall not grow too old to see

Unearthly daylight shine,

Changing my chamber’s dust to snow

Till I doubt if it be mine.

 

Behold, the crowning mercies melt,

The first surprises stay;

And in my dross is dropped a gift

For which I dare not pray:

That a man grow used to grief and joy

But not to night and day.

 

Men grow too old for love, my love,

Men grow too old for lies;

But I shall not grow too old to see

Enormous night arise,

A cloud that is larger than the world

And a monster made of eyes.

 

Nor am I worthy to unloose

The latchet of my shoe;

Or shake the dust from off my feet

Or the staff that bears me through

On ground that is too good to last,

Too solid to be true.

 

Men grow too old to woo, my love,

Men grow too old to wed;

But I shall not grow too old to see

Hung crazily overhead

Incredible rafters when I wake

And I find that I am not dead.

 

A thrill of thunder in my hair:

Though blackening clouds be plain,

Still I am stung and startled

By the first drop of the rain:

Romance and pride and passion pass

And these are what remain.

 

Strange crawling carpets of the grass,

Wide windows of the sky;

So in this perilous grace of God

With all my sins go I:

And things grow new though I grow old,

Though I grow old and die.

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