Gilbert Keith Chesterton Poems >>
The Ballad of St. Barbara
When the long grey lines came flooding upon Paris in the plain,
We stood and drank of the last free air we never could love again;
They had led us back from a lost battle, to halt we knew not where,
And stilled us; and our gaping guns were dumb with our despair.
The grey tribes flowed for ever from the infinite lifeless lands,
And a Norman to a Breton spoke, his chin upon his hands:
"There was an end to Ilium; and an end came to Rome;
And a man plays on a painted stage in the land that he calls home.
Arch after arch of triumph, but floor beyond falling floor,
That lead to a low door at last: and beyond there is no door."
The Breton to the Norman spoke, like a little child spake he,
But his sea-blue eyes were empty as his home beside the sea:
"There are more windows in one house than there are eyes to see;
There are more doors in a man's house, but God has hid the key;
Ruin is a builder of windows; her legend witnesseth
Barbara, the saint of gunners, and a stay in sudden death."
It seemed the wheel of the worlds stood still an instant in its turning,
More than the kings of the earth that turned with the turning of Valmy mill,
While trickled the idle tale and the sea-blue eyes were burning,
Still as the heart of a whirlwind, the heart of the world stood still.
"Barbara the beautiful had praise of lute and pen,
Her hair was like a summer night, dark and desired of men,
Her feet like birds from far away that linger and light in doubt,
And her face was like a window where a man's first love looked out.
"Her sire was master of many slaves, a hard man of his hands;
They built a tower about her in the desolate golden lands,
Sealed as the tyrants sealed their tombs, planned with an ancient plan,
And set two windows in the tower, like the two eyes of a man."
Our guns were set towards the foe; we had no word for firing;
Grey in the gateways of St. Gond the Guard of the tyrant shone;
Dark with the fate of a falling star, retiring and retiring,
The Breton line went backwards and the Breton tale went on.
"Her father had sailed across the sea from the harbour of Africa,
When all the slaves took up their tools for the bidding of Barbara;
She smote the bare wall with her hand, and bade them smite again,
She poured them wealth of wine and meat to stay them in their pain,
And cried through the lifted thunder of thronging hammer and hod:
'Throw open the third window in the third name of God!'
Then the hearts failed and the tools fell; and far towards the foam
Men saw a shadow on the sands; and her father coming home."
Speak low and low, along the line the whispered word is flying,
Before the touch, before the time, we may not lose a breath.
Their guns must mash us to the mire and there be no replying
Till the hand is raised to fling us for the final dice to Death.
"'There were two windows in your tower, Barbara, Barbara,
For all between the sun and moon in the lands of Africa.
Hath a man three eyes, Barbara, a bird three wings,
That you have riven roof and wall to look upon vain things?'
Her voice was like a wandering thing that falters, yet is free,
Whose soul has drunk in a distant land of the rivers of liberty.
There are more wings than the wind knows, or eyes than see the sun,
In the light of the lost window and the wind of the doors undone;
For out of the first lattice are the red lands that break
And out of the second lattice, sea like a green snake,
But out of the third lattice, under low eaves like wings
Is a new corner of the sky and the other side of things.'"
It opened in the inmost place an instant beyond uttering,
A casement and a chasm and a thunder of doors undone,
A seraph's strong wing shaken out the shock of its unshuttering
That split the shattered sunlight from a light behind the sun.
"Then he drew sword and drave her where the judges sat and said:
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Based on Topics: Man Poems, God Poems, World Poems, Night Poems, Light Poems, Time Poems, Death & Dying Poems, War & Peace Poems, Faces Poems, Kings & Queens Poems, Home Poems
Based on Keywords: witnesseth, breton, sea-blue, gond, valmy