According to scholar Dale Ahlquist, Chesterton considered his epic poem, The Ballad of the White Horse to be his “greatest literary accomplishment.” Ahlquist writes, “I have two reasons for saying that. First of all, it is a masterpiece. But it was the only one of his works that he felt worthy enough to dedicate to his wife. The Ballad of the White Horse is one of the last great epic poems in the English language. It deserves a high place in literature. It is should be studied in depth and discussed at length and appreciated far and wide. But as is the case with most of Chesterton’s writings, too few of us have figured this out.The Ballad is the story of the English King Alfred, who fought the Danes in the year 878. But it is also the story of Christianity battling against the destructive forces of nihilism and heathenism, which is the battle we are still fighting.”
Here is an excerpt for just a taste:
The gates of heaven are lightly locked,
We do not guard our gold,
Men may uproot where worlds begin,
Or read the name of the nameless sin;
But if he fail or if he win
To no good man is told.The men of the East may spell the stars,
And times and triumphs mark,
But the men signed of the cross of Christ
Go gaily in the dark. . .
The wise men know what wicked things
Are written on the sky,
They trim sad lamps, they touch sad strings,
Hearing the heavy purple wings,
Where the forgotten seraph kings
Still plot how God shall die. . .
But you and all the kind of Christ
Are ignorant and brave,
And you have wars you hardly win
And souls you hardly save.
I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.
Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?
Read more from Ahlquist at the American Chesterton Society. Enjoy!
For an extra special delight, hear poet and priest, Dr. Malcolm Guite read the entire poem here: The Ballad of the White Horse a Complete Reading in Nine Podcasts