1

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

5

Saint Athanasius on Mary, Mother of God

 

O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all. O Ark of the New] Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which divinity resides. Should I compare you to the fertile earth and its fruits? You surpass them, for it is written: “The earth is my foostool”. But you carry within you the feet, the head, and the entire body of the perfect God.
 
If I say that heaven is exalted, yet it does not equal you, for it is writen: “Heaven is My throne”, while you are God’s place of repose. If I say that the angels and archangels are great — but you are greater than them all, for the angels and the archangels serve with trembling the One Who dwells in your womb, and they dare not speak in His presence, while you speak to Him freely.
 
If we say that the cherubim are great, you are greater than they, for the cherubim carry the throne, while you hold God in your hands. If we say that the serphim are great, you are greater than them all, for the seraphim cover their faces with their wings, unable to look upon the perfect glory, while you not only gaze upon His face but caress it and offer your breasts to His holy mouth. Continue Reading

Holy Mary, Mother of God

And he saw in a little picture,
Tiny and far away,
His mother sitting in Egbert’s hall,
And a book she showed him, very small,
Where a sapphire Mary sat in stall
With a golden Christ at play.

It was wrought in the monk’s slow manner,
From silver and sanguine shell,
Where the scenes are little and terrible,
Keyholes of heaven and hell.

In the river island of Athelney,
With the river running past,
In colours of such simple creed
All things sprang at him, sun and weed,
Till the grass grew to be grass indeed
And the tree was a tree at last.

Fearfully plain the flowers grew,
Like the child’s book to read,
Or like a friend’s face seen in a glass;
He looked; and there Our Lady was,
She stood and stroked the tall live grass
As a man strokes his steed.

Her face was like an open word
When brave men speak and choose,
The very colours of her coat
Were better than good news.

She spoke not, nor turned not,
Nor any sign she cast,
Only she stood up straight and free,
Between the flowers in Athelney,
And the river running past.

One dim ancestral jewel hung
On his ruined armour grey,
He rent and cast it at her feet:
Where, after centuries, with slow feet,
Men came from hall and school and street
And found it where it lay.

“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?” Continue Reading