Thursday, June 15, 2006

Reasons to live - GKC style

After the last few weeks of dwelling on GKC’s life, I thought it would be amusing to read one of his reflections on “death” (or at least putting it off!).

A Ballade of Suicide

The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall;
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbours--on the wall—
Are drawing a long breath to shout "Hurray!"
The strangest whim has seized me. . . . After all
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

To-morrow is the time I get my pay—
My uncle's sword is hanging in the hall—
I see a little cloud all pink and grey—
Perhaps the rector's mother will not call—
I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall
That mushrooms could be cooked another way—
I never read the works of Juvenal—
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

The world will have another washing-day;
The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
And H.G. Wells has found that children play,
And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall,
Rationalists are growing rational—
And through thick woods one finds a stream astray
So secret that the very sky seems small—
I think I will not hang myself to-day.


Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,
The tumbrils toiling up the terrible way;
Even to-day your royal head may fall,
I think I will not hang myself to-day.


Anonymous said...

Did GKC struggle with suicide?
I'm sorry, but I've never read a bio on him and wonder if he did since he seems to be interested enough to write this poem....
Thanks, Lily.

Nick Milne said...

Well, when dealing with GK, it's important to remember that he was interested in everything, in one way or another, so his choice of topics should possibly not be read into so thoroughly.

However, from what I've read of him, he never struggled with suicide, and considered it, even at the height of his agnostic mysticism, to be the supreme act of treason. There were struggles, of course, and trying ones; but I don't think suicide was one of them.

Anonymous said...

Thanks furor.

A Secular Franciscan said...

I have read in a few places that as an adolescent he "struggled with thoughts of suicide."

But then, how many teens have done likewise? I have never read that he seriously considered it.

As an adult, however, he clearly opposed the idea of suicide.

This poem is, in his collected poems, part of a series of "Ballades" ("A Ballade of an Anti-Puritan," "A Ballade of a Book-Reviewer," "Ballade D'une Grande Dame," etc.), all of which are humorous.

I believe the same holds true of this poem.