For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious

Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Black Virgin

I am off to gentle Norfolk today, staying over until the Ordinariate pilgrimage to Walsingham on Saturday. The following is from one of G.K. Chesterton's greatest poems, The Black Virgin: one feels shattered after reading it all, as if one had an exhilarating and painful ride down a set of rapids.

The second stanza:

Burn deep in Bethlehem in the golden shadows,

Ride above Rome upon the horns of stone,
From low Lancastrian or South Saxon shelters
Watch through dark years the dower that was shine own:
Ghost of our land, White Lady of Walsinghame,
Shall they not live that call upon thy name
If an old song on a wild wind be blowing
Crying of the holy country whence they came?

But my favourite line, and the key to the whole poem I think, is the third line of the sixth stanza, "Something not evil but grotesque and groping". It is a line that reconciles one to all the weird and outlandish and childlike manifestations of the devotion one may see in any little niche in any corner of the world. There are no demons lurking; just a strange energy of crude but Holy Life that is striving towards Form, the child's wisdom that is beyond the wisdom of the wise.

There runs a dark thread through the tapestries

That time has woven with all the tints of time
Something not evil but grotesque and groping,
Something not clear; not final; not sublime;
Quaint as dim pattern of primal plant or tree
Or fish, the legless elfins of the sea,
Yet rare as this shine image in ebony
Being most strange in its simplicity.

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