Monday, July 20, 2009

A Second Childhood

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 thorugh
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.


- a poem by Gilbert Keith Chesterton

4 comments:

jon said...

This poem has always been a favourite of mine. Noticing it in my latest Gilbert magazine, I read it aloud to my wife the other evening while we sat with our twins in the grass on the curbside and watched our older boys circle the cul-de-sac in their bicycles. It was like a perfect moment.

forrest said...

I see that.

This is a great piece.

"That a man grow used to grief and joy
But not to night and day"

a strong theme, one often thought on, but not so often well put.

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

I picked up a collection of Chesterton's poems once, and remember enjoying how intentionally and perversely conventional he was. But it's been a while since I read anything from that collection.

"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."

Hung crazily? Incredible rafters? I laughed out loud, and he's talking about dying.

Chesterton!

jon said...

"intentionally and perversely conventional". yeah that's about right. except he would say the perversion is our loss of fascination with the conventional, and made it is goal to reinvest with wonder.

i like that you are picking out lines. My problem with poetry is that i don't tend to dwell on the lines long enough but take in the whole. you are helping me to slow down and capture even more.

forrest: i hadn't even thought of that as a theme, but it is for chesterton an obsession, now that you mention it.

matthew: I think this phrase you have quoted refers to Chesterton's recurring idea that if we stand on our heads we see the world as it truly is: as Dependent, as Hanging perilously from Above. So I think this is his little dig back into that theme, that when he's dead in the ground he'll see the world as it really is, and be able to appreciate it because the inversion is real, and involves the inversion also of death even unto life.

Maybe I just ruined it for you. But that's my best guess at how radically and, one might even say ridiculously, Chesterton means those lines. You can see he is drunk with their meaning for him, even as he comes to die.

"Chesterton!" is right.