Sunday, 17 April 2011

The Donkey

As it's Palm Sunday, I thought I'd post one of my favourite poems by G.K. Chesterton, which fits the day very well. It appeared in 1900 in his collection "The Wild Knight and Other Poems". It is written to be read out loud, and I like its strong pace, and the way in which Chesterton tells the story no one else had - the humble donkey's story, from the donkey's point of view. But it can also be seen as a parable of how the most derided and neglected people can also have moments of greatness which no one else can see, in which they play a part in great events, and emerge into the light in ways in ways that make a mockery of those who would deride them and say they would come to nothing.

The other feature which I like is the understatement of the poem - the reader knows that the final stanza is is the story of Jesus riding the donkey into Jerusalem and the people laying down palms and crying Hosanna - but it is never stated explicitly. That holding back, that reserve, makes it a greater poem that one which thrusts the Christian story in the readers face; instead, we are brought to the story afresh, with freshness that brings it to life - "one far fierce hour and sweet".

The Donkey

When fishes flew and forests walked
    And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
    Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
    And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
    On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
    Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
    I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
    One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
    And palms before my feet.

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