Tag Archives: G.K. Chesterton

The poetry of a wise man might crack your shell.

Many people seem to think that politics will save us, that if we could just get the right people, or “our people” in office, they would begin to set things right, however we envision that. Anthony Esolen in the article Listening Up, in the Nov-Dec 2019 issue of Touchstone magazine, discusses some reasons for this idea, and its often corresponding impulse to judge our human forefathers for their sins, judgment not “by eternal verities, but by the cheap modern substitute, the ‘political.'”

He believes we lack historical imagination, and he sets out to consider the different ways one might make better use of stories and history in general, giving examples first from antiquity:

So to attempt to transpose Xenophon or Cyrus to the current day, and to grill him with “political” questions, is not to think politically at all, but to replace reality with a caricature. You will learn nothing from Xenophon that way. You may instead be out to teach him a lesson, him, that is, being the cartoon Xenophon you have made. At no time do you allow yourself to be still and to learn, so that the poetry of a wise man might penetrate your shell, crack it open, and show you the stars.

Once you enter the world of history, you encounter the maddening complexity of human affairs, not to mention that labyrinth called the human heart. With hindsight we can say, with some confidence, that the young Octavius was far better suited for governing the Roman world than was the elder and more experienced Antony. We cannot be so sure of ourselves, though, when it comes to the noble-minded Brutus, and the ambitious and capable Julius Caesar, whom he assassinated.

Esolen goes on to mention American leaders of note, and of complex history and character, such as William Tecumseh Sherman, and Stonewall Jackson, “a genuinely kindly owner of slaves.” And then he comes to his “three broad categories of modern man, each of them characterized by the stories they listen to and tell”: The Man of Faith, The Man of Wistful Unbelief, and the Man of Superstition.

I found his categories to be very helpful in understanding differences between people in the first two groups especially, and their stories that nourish our hearts. Oh, if only the third group would quiet down and listen to some true stories! But they don’t like the stories of the other two groups, and have their own ever-changing and doubtful heroes.

“History is too dark and tangled a forest for them, sacred Scripture too high a mountain to climb. Therefore they fall into worship of the biggest or most prominent things near them: sex, themselves, the State.”

“They are not brave enough to enter the dark caverns of the human heart…. they cannot forgive what men and women really are. They have no sense of sin, which afflicts everyone, including themselves, but they grasp at being among the elect, by having the most up-to-date pseudo-political opinions.”

You can read the whole article here: “Listening Up.”

People who make history know nothing about history.
You can see that in the sort of history they make.
-G.K. Chesterton

 

Under a woman’s authority.

For I remember with certainty this fixed psychological fact; that the very time when I was most under a woman’s authority, I was most full of flame and adventure. Exactly because when my mother said that ants bit they did bite, and because snow did come in winter (as she said); therefore the whole world was to me a fairyland of wonderful fulfillments, and it was like living in some Hebraic age, when prophecy after prophecy came true.

I went out as a child into the garden, and it was a terrible place to me, precisely because I had a clue to it: if I had held no clue it would not have been terrible, but tame. A mere unmeaning wilderness is not even impressive. But the garden of childhood was fascinating, exactly because everything had a fixed meaning which could be found out in its turn. Inch by inch I might discover what was the object of the ugly shape called a rake; or form some shadowy conjecture as to why my parents kept a cat.

-G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy

(From Emily at Children of God blog)

A discipline in pleasure.

I’m in a good mood, because I cleared the driveway of weeds this morning, and brought sunflowers into the house. My foot feels all better, which had been slightly gimpy merely from wearing sandals instead of boots while gardening last week.

The Monarch caterpillars are thriving on giant leaves of the showy milkweed that I bring to them in their mesh cage almost every day. If they had hatched out on the spindly narrowleaf variety where Mama Monarch had laid the eggs, they’d have run out of food fast. I bought a new tropical milkweed plant when I went shopping for begonias last Sunday, but they don’t seem to care for its leaves. (At the bottom of the page is a milkweed I encountered in the mountains some years ago.)

I’ve been too busy to write good sentences about All The Things. I am trying hard to learn to say NO to myself sometimes: “Remember, Dearest Self, you can’t do ALL the things ALL of the time!” Finally after four months, in the middle of which we think the city lost my application, we got the building permit for my remodeling project that I’ve been preparing for over the last year. It’s taking hours and hours to choose paint and cabinets and faucets and mirrors, and more time to watch caterpillars munch, so naturally there have been fewer hours with which to read, write, and cook.

I don’t know how to apply the principle that wise GKC is telling us about in this quote that I thought was simply lovely when I put it in a draft a while back. The word austerity doesn’t seem to fit with the way I behave, though pleasure and gratitude are the world I live in. I’d like to know what you all think about his twist on these qualities of our existence.

 

 

Purification and austerity are even more necessary for the appreciation of life and laughter than for anything else. To let no bird fly past unnoticed, to spell patiently the stones and weeds, to have in the mind a storehouse of sunsets, requires a discipline in pleasure, and an education in gratitude.

-G.K. Chesterton — Twelve Types (1903)

 

 

She danced in with a leafy surprise.

I was following a Cabbage White around the kale patch, when I happened to look into a squash blossom. It was pointing straight up like a cup, and I saw a hoverfly in the bottom, not hovering at that moment, but I assume drinking nectar…? He didn’t move. While I was pointing my camera down there, another hoverfly zipped right in. For a moment they were piled up, but soon arranged themselves one on either side of the cup. Who knows how long they might have sat companionably at their juice bar if a third insect, flying so fast I couldn’t see, hadn’t flown in, and quickly out again; that agitated the fellows and they departed.

On the same tour of my estate I noticed bees at the dwarf pomegranate bushes. They would buzz around slowly checking out various blooms; I soon realized that they were looking for flowers that were at the right stage of opening, because they have to crawl deep into the narrow cave to get what they want. The flowers don’t seem to be open very long before they start to wilt, and then there is no way to get in.

I never believed in Mother Nature before this week, when I found a gift that was so clearly chosen with my particular gardening eccentricities in mind, I thought immediately that she would be the one who left it for me. But — I went back to that quote from Chesterton, following St. Francis of Assisi, who said we should think of Nature more as our little dancing sister,” who delights us into laughter. We have the same Father, we and Nature. Okay then, I’ll say it was my Little Sister who gave it to me: a tomato plant.

I used to grow the absolute best flavored tomatoes that you could find anywhere. A big part of my method was to dry-farm them, the way the Italian immigrants to California used to do. You water when you plant them, deeply, but then not again all summer. I tweaked that system and usually gave mine a drink every month or so.

But in my new garden, I haven’t found a way to do this, or a place. This year I didn’t plant one tomato, and I gave away all my tomato cages. Recently I saw my neighbor Kim’s tomato “garden” which is all in big pots, and it gave me the idea to try that next summer, and I could put the pots in my nice hot utility yard, on the gravel.

This week I went out to the clothesline and saw a tomato already planted in that very space. I’m thinking it must have a deep root, as it’s not near a water source. I did laugh, I can tell you. Whether or not I get a tomato from this plant, it was a very sweet and thoughtful gift from my little sister, and I take it as a pointed word of encouragement about my idea for next summer’s tomato experiment.