Thursday, August 7, 2008

Book Review: The White Horse Ballad

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, not 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?

from Book 1: The Vision of the King

I just love this ballad by G.K. Chesterton. It is an inspiring tale of the victory of a feeble light over powerful darkness: a chronicle of the legend of King Alfred of England.

Beginning with Alfred's vision (partially quoted above) during the dark days when the Danes had conquered and laid waste his kingdom, the poem follows Alfred's progress as he gathers his troops, burns the famous pot of stew and, after many failures, leads his men to victory over their oppressors.

One of the most delightful parts is when King Alfred disguises himself as a poor bard and enters the Danish camps. There he looked on his conqueror-King Guthrum of the Danes-as he sang old tales of happier days for England. The Danish, scoffing, took the harp and sang of the joy of battle, the power of the sword and the vanity of life...for death is dealt to all.

As King Guthrum finishes his song, the disguised king of England takes the harp and sings:

Sirs, I am but a nameless man,
A rhymester without home...
But you are more tired of victory,
Than we are tired of shame.

That though you hunt the Christian man
Like a hare on the hillside
The hare has yet more heart to run
Than you have heart to ride...

The poem ends triumphantly with Alfred ruling over England and the Danish king vanquished and converted.

Not only is the Ballad of the White Horse delightfully and wittily written, it was such an encouragement to me. How can I be discouraged when I serve the God who will reign over all? Though looking at politics, the economy, the state of many churches and especially my own heart is often so discouraging, yet this book inspires me to keep pressing on, knowing that...

We do have joy with a Cause
And faith with greatest Hope.

[Though I definitely think this book worth buying, you can download the text for free or listen to a free audio version that Joshua recorded for Librivox.]

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