G. K. Chesterton: A Poem on Saint Joseph and the Holy Family

Today, the Feast of the Holy Family, was instituted by Pope Leo XIII in order to provide a day within the year where we may reflect on how the particular virtues of Jesus, Mary and Joseph found expression and mutual enrichment as a family unit, and thereby all the better imitate them in our own families. In willing to grow up just like one of us in every way, which includes those formative years of learning and working in the family home, Our Lord thus consecrated all family life, and the roles of Our Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph remain models of parental strength and the mutual support that comes from true charity and fidelity between spouses.

G. K. Chesterton wrote a poem early on in his life, entitled Joseph. In this poem he uses his own experience in falling in love with the woman he would go on to marry (and who helped him take the final steps to convert to Christianity) – Frances – to enter into the experience of Saint Joseph. We do not have here a description of the duties that Joseph would have had as guardian of Our Lord and protector of Our Lady, but Chesterton conveys beautifully the sense of yearning and of infinite possibility that accompanies one when falling in love. It is in this context – of Joseph’s pure love for Mary (modelled in part on Chesterton’s own love for Frances) – that we read of the ‘strange strength‘ that God gives a man in order to become a husband, and are given intimations of the great fidelity shown by Saint Joseph as husband of the Mother of God.

As for Mary herself, she does admittedly play something of a passive role in this poem, but it is only so that we may consider just how pure of heart and great of soul (as well as physically beautiful) she is – the Joseph of this poem is led to speak with such reverence as he does because of the greatness of the Lady he loves, and her unsurprising virtue is thereby implicit. Finally though, in the last stanza, Chesterton makes a bold move and considers the feelings of Saint Joseph after ‘the blood’s wild wedding o’er‘ – i.e.; after the emotions of love had subsided somewhat, and he is left with the awesome task of protecting and providing for the Christ-child and the Blessed Virgin. The image employed here invokes a feeling of homeliness, but is also accompanied by a fearfulness, for he is not only now shouldering the responsibilities that any husband and father must, but is watching over the Word of God and the sinless one who bore Him:


If the stars fell; night’s nameless dreams
Of bliss and blasphemy came true,
If skies were green and snow were gold,
And you loved me as I love you;

O long light hands and curled brown hair,
And eyes where sits a naked soul;
Dare I even then draw near and burn
My fingers in the aureole?

Yes, in the one wise foolish hour
God gives this strange strength to a man.
He can demand, though not deserve,
Where ask he cannot, seize he can.

But once the blood’s wild wedding o’er,
Were not dread his, half dark desire,
To see the Christ-child in the cot,
The Virgin Mary by the fire?


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