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Mary Our Contemporary

"Mother of God," the wanderer said,
          "I am but a common king,
          Nor will I ask what saints may ask,
          To see a secret thing.

          "The gates of heaven are fearful gates
          Worse than the gates of hell;
          Not I would break the splendours barred
          Or seek to know the thing they guard,
          Which is too good to tell.

          "But for this earth most pitiful,
          This little land I know,
          If that which is for ever is,
          Or if our hearts shall break with bliss,
          Seeing the stranger go?

          "When our last bow is broken, Queen,
          And our last javelin cast,
          Under some sad, green evening sky,
          Holding a ruined cross on high,
          Under warm westland grass to lie,
          Shall we come home at last?"

          And a voice came human but high up,
          Like a cottage climbed among
          The clouds; or a serf of hut and croft
          That sits by his hovel fire as oft,
          But hears on his old bare roof aloft
          A belfry burst in song.

          "The gates of heaven are lightly locked,
          We do not guard our gain,
          The heaviest hind may easily
          Come silently and suddenly
          Upon me in a lane.

          "And any little maid that walks
          In good thoughts apart,
          May break the guard of the Three Kings
          And see the dear and dreadful things
          I hid within my heart.

          "The meanest man in grey fields gone
          Behind the set of sun,
          Heareth between star and other star,
          Through the door of the darkness fallen ajar,
          The council, eldest of things that are,
          The talk of the Three in One.

          "The gates of heaven are lightly locked,
          We do not guard our gold,
          Men may uproot where worlds begin,
          Or read the name of the nameless sin;
          But if he fail or if he win
          To no good man is told.

          "The men of the East may spell the stars,
          And times and triumphs mark,
          But the men signed of the cross of Christ
          Go gaily in the dark.

          "The men of the East may search the scrolls
          For sure fates and fame,
          But the men that drink the blood of God
          Go singing to their shame.

          "The wise men know what wicked things
          Are written on the sky,
          They trim sad lamps, they touch sad strings,
          Hearing the heavy purple wings,
          Where the forgotten seraph kings
          Still plot how God shall die.

          "The wise men know all evil things
          Under the twisted trees,
          Where the perverse in pleasure pine
          And men are weary of green wine
          And sick of crimson seas.

          "But you and all the kind of Christ
          Are ignorant and brave,
          And you have wars you hardly win
          And souls you hardly save.

          "I tell you naught for your comfort,
          Yea, naught for your desire,
          Save that the sky grows darker yet
          And the sea rises higher.

          "Night shall be thrice night over you,
          And heaven an iron cope.
          Do you have joy without a cause,
          Yea, faith without a hope?"

          Even as she spoke she was not,
          Nor any word said he,
          He only heard, still as he stood
          Under the old night's nodding hood,
          The sea-folk breaking down the wood
          Like a high tide from sea.

          He only heard the heathen men,
          Whose eyes are blue and bleak,
          Singing about some cruel thing
          Done by a great and smiling king
          In daylight on a deck.

          He only heard the heathen men,
          Whose eyes are blue and blind,
          Singing what shameful things are done
          Between the sunlit sea and the sun
          When the land is left behind.

GK Chesterton, The Ballad of the White Horse

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

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