In G.K. Chesterton’s “Ballad of the White Horse,” King Alfred the Great is confronted by hordes of godless Northmen. Alfred and his men had suffered numerous defeats at the hands of these raiders; however, what drives him and his men on is a truth far deeper and greater than the nihilistic self-aggrandizement that fuels the Northmen. In the face of mockery and defeat, Alfred stands true to his faith and in that, we hear the Harp of Alfred:
“When God put man in a garden
He girt him with a sword,
And sent him forth a free knight
That might betray his lord;
“He brake Him and betrayed Him,
And fast and far he fell,
Till you and I may stretch our necks
And burn our beards in hell.
“But though I lie on the floor of the world,
With the seven sins for rods,
I would rather fall with Adam
Than rise with all your gods.
“What have the strong gods given?
Where have the glad gods led?
When Guthrum sits on a hero’s throne
And asks if he is dead?
“Sirs, I am but a nameless man,
A rhymester without home,
Yet since I come of the Wessex clay
And carry the cross of Rome,
“I will even answer the mighty earl
That asked of Wessex men
Why they be meek and monkish folk,
And bow to the White Lord’s broken yoke;
What sign have we save blood and smoke?
Here is my answer then.
“That on you is fallen the shadow,
And not upon the Name;
That though we scatter and though we fly,
And you hang over us like the sky,
You are more tired of victory,
Than we are tired of shame.
“That though you hunt the Christian man
Like a hare on the hill-side,
The hare has still more heart to run
Than you have heart to ride.
“That though all lances split on you,
All swords be heaved in vain,
We have more lust again to lose
Than you to win again.
“Your lord sits high in the saddle,
A broken-hearted king,
But our king Alfred, lost from fame,
Fallen among foes or bonds of shame,
In I know not what mean trade or name,
Has still some song to sing;
“Our monks go robed in rain and snow,
But the heart of flame therein,
But you go clothed in feasts and flames,
When all is ice within;
“Nor shall all iron dooms make dumb
Men wondering ceaselessly,
If it be not better to fast for joy
Than feast for misery.
“Nor monkish order only
Slides down, as field to fen,
All things achieved and chosen pass,
As the White Horse fades in the grass,
No work of Christian men.
“Ere the sad gods that made your gods
Saw their sad sunrise pass,
The White Horse of the White Horse Vale,
That you have left to darken and fail,
Was cut out of the grass.
“Therefore your end is on you,
Is on you and your kings,
Not for a fire in Ely fen,
Not that your gods are nine or ten,
But because it is only Christian men
Guard even heathen things.
“For our God hath blessed creation,
Calling it good. I know
What spirit with whom you blindly band
Hath blessed destruction with his hand;
Yet by God’s death the stars shall stand
And the small apples grow.”
Being a great English epic, “The Ballad of the White Horse” ends on a good note. The Northmen are driven back and King Alfred moves upon London town. However, at this point Chesterton inserts a prediction that the struggles of Alfred’s time will be a time of the past, that in time the pagan will again descend upon Christendom in a new way.
“Though I give this land to Our Lady,
That helped me in Athelney,
Though lordlier trees and lustier sod
And happier hills hath no flesh trod
Than the garden of the Mother of God
Between Thames side and the sea,
“I know that weeds shall grow in it
Faster than men can burn;
And though they scatter now and go,
In some far century, sad and slow,
I have a vision, and I know
The heathen shall return.
“They shall not come with warships,
They shall not waste with brands,
But books be all their eating,
And ink be on their hands.
“Not with the humour of hunters
Or savage skill in war,
But ordering all things with dead words,
Strings shall they make of beasts and birds,
And wheels of wind and star.
“They shall come mild as monkish clerks,
With many a scroll and pen;
And backward shall ye turn and gaze,
Desiring one of Alfred’s days,
When pagans still were men.
“The dear sun dwarfed of dreadful suns,
Like fiercer flowers on stalk,
Earth lost and little like a pea
In high heaven’s towering forestry,
—These be the small weeds ye shall see
Crawl, covering the chalk.
“But though they bridge St. Mary’s sea,
Or steal St. Michael’s wing—
Though they rear marvels over us,
Greater than great Vergilius
Wrought for the Roman king;
“By this sign you shall know them,
The breaking of the sword,
And man no more a free knight,
That loves or hates his lord.
“Yea, this shall be the sign of them,
The sign of the dying fire;
And Man made like a half-wit,
That knows not of his sire.
“What though they come with scroll and pen,
And grave as a shaven clerk,
By this sign you shall know them,
That they ruin and make dark;
“By all men bond to Nothing,
Being slaves without a lord,
By one blind idiot world obeyed,
Too blind to be abhorred;
“By terror and the cruel tales
Of curse in bone and kin,
By weird and weakness winning,
Accursed from the beginning,
By detail of the sinning,
And denial of the sin;
“By thought a crawling ruin,
By life a leaping mire,
By a broken heart in the breast of the world,
And the end of the world’s desire;
“By God and man dishonoured,
By death and life made vain,
Know ye the old barbarian,
The barbarian come again—
“When is great talk of trend and tide,
And wisdom and destiny,
Hail that undying heathen
That is sadder than the sea.
“In what wise men shall smite him,
Or the Cross stand up again,
Or charity or chivalry,
My vision saith not; and I see
No more; but now ride doubtfully
To the battle of the plain.”
Today the battle for Christendom in America, or even the Western world, is not a battle of blood and iron. Rather, it is a battle of heart and mind. Today we must be prepared to meet the nihilistic pagans where we work, where we study, where we play, and even in the depths of our own soul where the devil’s lies are constantly at work to bring us down. Some are our dear friends, some our own family, and many more our fellow Americans. The cold winters of the soul and the hollow look in the eyes are no longer external forces assaulting us from the North. They are in our midst. Our humanity is attacked with the millions of aborted children, the pornographic culture, drug addiction, suicide, moral relativism, sexual deviation, and the list goes on.
The loss of the human metaphysic has led to denial, after denial, of man as a created being with a nature appropriate to him (nature then necessitates a teleological end). With this blog I am seeking a revival of the human metaphysic and the strengthening of the Faith; if not for others, at least for myself. To help me, I will be using “The Harp of Alfred” as a theme to guide me in this process.
When Alfred strikes the lyre in response to the barbarian warchiefs, he strikes at the heart of what plagues the human condition and, the solution to that condition. This is most certainly the plague of sin and the solution found in the Gospel. As I contribute to this blog I want to keep that in mind; namely, that man was created for a certain teleological end, fell into sin, and can only be saved by the Gospel. This is not to say that every entry will specifically address one or more of these themes. However, they are meant to be means of focus for me, the end being my intellectual development and the strengthening of my faith.
Blessings to all. Thank you for your time.