As yesterday was the Feast of the Visitation, I wish to continue that theme by posting the following poem by G. K. Chesterton – Regina Angelorum. Strictly speaking, it is not about the Visitation at all – in fact, if anything the Annunciation is the central theme – but the language used and the motif of travelling out into a strange country that Chesterton uses here can equally well be applied to the events of the Visitation, and in a wider sense can be applied to the whole life of the Blessed Virgin Mary (this latter sense being one deliberately invoked by Chesterton himself).
The title of the poem, which translates as ‘Queen of the Angels’, provides the key to understanding the movement of the poem as a whole, and supplies the imaginative lens through which we can then view all of the ‘travels’ that are documented throughout our Our Lady’s earthly life. She went into a ‘strange country’ after all, when she visited her cousin Elizabeth, as despite the fact that this was somewhere she would have visited before, she was going out into the unknown – carrying a child of heavenly origin, and bearing a mysterious message, seeking to discover whether the angel’s words regarding Elizabeth would be confirmed by what she would encounter at the end of her travels.
She also went into a ‘strange country’ when she travelled out to Bethlehem, still not knowing what all she had been told might mean, and wondering what sort of attention her and Joseph might receive from his family there. Later on, as she followed the early life and eventual public ministry of Jesus, still pondering precisely how it would be that He would fulfil the promises given to Israel and to herself, her faith tested to its limits as she sat at the foot of His Cross, she was venturing yet again in a ‘strange country’ – full of confusion, sorrow and concern.
Chesterton puts all this in the perspective of her election as Mother of God, mixing a range of cosmic and mundane images to emphasise the extraordinary nature of her calling, and serving to show that her whole life – that of a humble and (as would appear to the world at the time) insignificant woman chosen before all ages to be Queen of Heaven, higher than the angels, first amongst the saints of God – was all one very strange journey indeed, and not only strange, but beautiful:
OUR LADY went into a strange country,
Our Lady, for she was ours,
And had run on the little hills behind the houses
And pulled small flowers;
But she rose up and went into a strange country
With strange thrones and powers.
And there were giants in the land she walked in,
Tall as their toppling towns,
With heads so high in heaven, the constellations
Served them for crowns;
And their feet might have forded like a brook the abysses
Where Babel drowns.
They were girt about with the wings of morning and evening,
Furled and unfurled,
Round the speckled sky where our small spinning planet
Like a top is twirled;
And the swords they waved were the unending comets
That shall end the world.
And moving in innocence and in accident,
She turned the face
That none has ever looked on without loving
On the Lords of Space;
And one hailed her with her name in our own country
That is full of grace.
Our Lady went into a strange country
And they crowned her queen,
For she needed never to be stayed or questioned
But only seen;
And they were broken down under unbearable beauty
As we have been.
But ever she walked till away in the last high places,
One great light shone
From the pillared throne of the king of all the country
Who sat thereon;
And she cried aloud as she cried under the gibbet
For she saw her son.
Our Lady wears a crown in a strange country,
The crown he gave,
But she has not forgotten to call to her old companions
To call and crave;
And to hear her calling a man might arise and thunder
On the doors of the grave.