Saturday, January 21, 2006

A new Chesterton poem

The title of this post is not accurate.

The poem was first published in 1922, in The Ballad of St. Barbara, and Other Verses. This book is out of print, and only selections from it have been reprinted in The Complete Works series. It was with considerable glee that I discovered not only an edition of St. Barbara while out rummaging yesterday, but a first edition at that. There are a number of pieces therein that I shall be transcribing for the benefit of the world. These, once added to the running file I have been keeping of "fresh" Chestertonia, will eventually be forwarded to Martin Ward for addition to his marvelous site.

It is not a new poem, but it is new to the Internet.

Anyhow, here is "Nightmare," a poem that has no relation to the Chesterton essay of the same name.


The silver and violet leopard of the night
Spotted with stars and smooth with silence sprang;
And though three doors stood open, the end of light
Closed like a trap; and stillness was a clang.

Under the leopard sky of lurid stars
I strove with evil sleep the hot night long,
Dreams dumb and swollen of triumphs without wars,
Of tongueless trumpet and unanswering gong.

I saw a pale imperial pomp go by,
Helmet and hornèd mitre and heavy wreath;
Their high strange ensigns hung upon the sky
And their great shields were like the doors of death.

Their mitres were as moving pyramids
And all their crowns as marching towers were tall;
Their eyes were cold under their carven lids
And the same carven smile was on them all.

Over a paven plain that seemed unending
They passed unfaltering till it found an end
In one long shallow step; and these descending
Fared forth anew as long away to wend.

I thought they travelled for a thousand years;
And at the end was nothing for them all,
For all that splendour of sceptres and of spears,
But a new step, another easy fall.

The smile of stone seemed but a little less,
The load of silver but a little more:
And ever was that terraced wilderness
And falling plain paved like a palace floor.

Rust red as gore crawled on their arms of might
And on their faces wrinkles and not scars:
Till the dream suddenly ended; noise and light
Loosened the tyranny of the tropic stars.

But over them like a subterranean sun
I saw the sign of all the fiends that fell;
And a wild voice cried "Hasten and be done,
Is there no steepness in the stairs of hell?"

He that returns, He that remains the same,
Turned the round real world, His iron vice;
Down the grey garden paths a bird called twice,
And through three doors mysterious daylight came.


There will be a few more of these in the future, most likely.

1 comment:

Jerome said...

Very much obliged for the text of the poem "nightmare".
Thanks! A Xmas blessing.