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Inscribed Poem and Chapter One

A study of a book by GK Chesterton.

Inscribed Poem and Chapter One

Postby The Bigsleep J » 04 Jan 2006, 11:18

The book begins (though some publications omit this) with a poem dedicated to Edmund Clerihew Bentley, a friend of Chesterton. The poem is as far as I can guess (off all the aspects of Chesterton this is the one I thought about the least, mostly because my original copy of the book didn’t have the poem) is about the moral climate at the turn of the century Europe when the Anarchists were terrorizing most cities hoping to bring about the fall of government.

Here, however, are some notes on the chapter.

Not all unhelped we held the fort, our tiny flags unfurled;
Some giants laboured in that cloud to lift it from the world.
I find again the book we found, I feel the hour that flings
Far out of fish﷓shaped Paumanok some cry of cleaner things;


(2nd verse)
Interesting about the poem is the names that pop up during the second verse. I had to search them in detail to find their meanings. One word that slightly eluded me was Paumanok, an old name for Long Island where several Boroughs of New York city is located. It indicates the respect that Chesterton held for the United States, a country he defended from all its detractors (although he has been known to criticize it as well). Chesterton seems to suggest that England’s former colony is indeed a Christian country.

Truth out of Tusitala spoke and pleasure out of pain.
Yea, cool and clear and sudden as a bird sings in the grey,
Dunedin to Samoa spoke, and darkness unto day.


This is a reference to Robert Louis Stevenson, who was called by the Samoan Tribe in which he was inaugurated a Tusitala, a word meaning story-teller. Stevenson was born in Edinburgh (which at some point was called Dùn Éideann, of which Dunedin is an Anglicisation) and who defended a Catholic missionary for his mission work against his fellow Presbyterians. I’m not really familiar though with Stevenson’s beliefs (most of the above is courtesy of the Wikipedia) and would like to know more about his beliefs, especially if he wrote any apologetics.

Finally the poem also mentions the City of Mansoul, the allegorical setting of John Bunyan’s “The Holy War” (unread by me, but I have it in my library).

Chapter One: The Two Poets of Saffron Park
Quick Synopsis

The story begins with a young poet named Lucien Gregory holding a party in the Suburb of Saffron Park. Gregory considers himself a poet of lawlessness and anarchy and everyone in the suburb are enamoured by his words. But then arrives Gabriel Syme who declares himself a poet of law and order. Syme continuous to attack Gregory until he finally manages to irritate him. The final blow is saying to Gregory that he is not serious about his beliefs. Syme then spends the rest of the evening with Lucien’s sister, Rosamond.

On his way home Syme is waylaid by Gregory who says that he’s going to prove to Syme that he’s serious about his anarchism. But first he makes Syme swear before God that he would not reveal anything shown to him that night to the police or anyone else. Syme agrees by saying “Your offer is far too idiotic to refuse”. After making the vow Syme and Gregory climb into a cab and travel towards the mysterious destination.


Saffron Park is most likely based on Bedford Park, a suburb of London created by an eccentric millionaire who created it as an artist colony and who was bankrupted in the process. Chesterton has lived there at some point, which explains why he paints such an affectionate picture of the fictional neighbourhood. Chesterton begins to the chapter describing Saffron park, and does a curious thing. He describes three residents of Saffron Park, one of whom fits Lucien Gregory’s description and the other Professor de Worms who would come in later in the story. The third character I suspect is possibly the Secretary who is the first of the council members met by Syme later on, although I could be wrong. I find it odd that he would only relate two members (possibly) of the Anarchist Council.

Syme’s first name, Gabriel, is that of an archangel, while Gregoy’s name is Lucien, a name that is suspiciously similar to Lucifer, the fallen archangel. This also is something of a set-up for the final chapters when Gregory and Lucien meet again. It is interesting to know that the word Lucifer means ‘bringer of light’ and was also an old name applied to matches.

One thing that struck me about this story is how similar certain elements are to a James Bond movie. In those movies Bond would provoke or embarrass his enemies to ultimately have them reveal something about themselves. Syme provokes Gregory by making his examples look both ridiculous and absurd, finally making him reveal that he is a serious anarchist. The Bond movies have used this element so many times it has become an accidental form of self-parody is most movies but here is it also used by Chesterton show that the idea of revolt is not all its cracked up to be.

“There again,” said Syme irritably, “what is there poetical about being in revolt? You might as well say that it is poetical to be sea﷓sick. Being sick is a revolt. Both being sick and being rebellious may be the wholesome thing on certain desperate occasions; but I’m hanged if I can see why they are poetical. Revolt in the abstract is—revolting. It’s mere vomiting.”


At this stage the dream-feel of the story hasn’t come to the forefront yet, but there are hints at it, like the bloodred sunset, the fantastical description of the suburb and Syme ‘falling out of the sky’. Yet there will be more to come.
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Lucien

Postby Tuirgin » 04 Jan 2006, 19:10

The Bigsleep J wrote:...Lucien, a name that is suspiciously similar to Lucifer...


Online Etymology Dictionary has an entry on Lucien:

masc. proper name, from L. Lucianus (cf. Fr. Lucien), a derivative of Roman Lucius, from lux (gen. lucis) "light" (see light (n.)).


Lucifer is found in the Bible, Isaiah 14:12:

How you are fallen from heaven,
O Lucifer, son of the morning!
How you are cut down to the ground,
You who weakened the nations!


Lucifer means "daystar" or "bringer of light."

p.s. Those wonderfully reliable *snicker* baby-names sites often say that Lucien is a French variant of Luke. But this doesn't hold up. From Online Etymology Dictionary:

masc. proper name, from L. Lucas (Gk. Loukas), contraction of Lucanus lit. "of Lucania," district in Lower Italy, home of the Lucani, a branch of the Sabelline race.


p.s.s. The Greek equivalent of Lucifer would be phosphoros, "light bearer." (Christopher comes from kristophoros, "Christ bearer."
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A few rambling throughts on Chap1

Postby Tuirgin » 04 Jan 2006, 20:45

We have Syme, a red-headed anarchist poetaster, ranting to a gathering. And we have Gregory, described as having a pale, pointed beard, meek eyes, and humility (the sign of which was that he talks too much).

[Syme] said he was a poet of respectability. So all the Saffron Parkers looked at him as if he had that moment fallen out of that impossible sky.

In fact, Mr. Lucian Gregory, the anarchic poet, connected the two events.

"It may well be," he said, in his sudden lyrical manner, "it may well be on such a night of clouds and cruel colours that there is brought forth upon the earth such a portent as a respectable poet. You say you are a poet of law; I say you are a contradiction in terms. I only wonder there were not comets and earthquakes on the night you appeared in this garden."

The man with the meek blue eyes and the pale, pointed beard endured these thunders with a certain submissive solemnity.


In this scene it's the "poet of respectability" which falls from the sky into a "garden," Gabriel's word, of red hues at ground and around the horizon and irridescent shades against gray above. Plumes, feathers. Is this a scene of a (still good) angel's fall into hell?

What's the argument they have... nature as the icon of anarchy, the railroad as the icon of order.

The thing is... I don't really like what either have to say. Poetry isn't about anarchy and nihilism. Without order (rhythm, meter, consonance) poetry is... well, that's a big argument among some, but Auden said that "you need an infallible ear" to write successful free verse... and some of what is called poetry has even less order than free verse... but *always* there is some organizing principle. Even with dadaism, one could argue that the very random nature of it is an organizing principle... it's purposefully chaotic... but that purpose is an organizing principle in itself. It's a rather heavy handed one at that, since it cares not for the aesthetic or emotiveness but for the concept of practicing arbitrariness.

On the other hand order can be drudgery. And Gabriel is right... maybe I'm sick and tired of seeing Victoria. Here's the thing, though... the problem isn't with the organization, per se, but rather the particular way things are organized. And there's choice in this on our parts, to some extent. We go to Victoria because that is our habit. If we choose to, we could decide not to go to Victoria. We could go elsewhere limited by our circumstances, no doubt, but we make our circumstances out to be far more limiting than needed.

And another thing... a tree is not an act of chaos. A tree is the particular working out of the organic ordering of it's treeness. (Say 'Hi' to Plato for me, would you?) At no time does a tree grow into a pig -- thus is limitation and order, and in such, its beauty.

Still... poetry of order? Hrm... Order is merely the tool, or the state of being, and not the thing itself.

Random thoughts.
To read only children's books, treasure / Only childish thoughts, throw / Grown-up things away / And rise from deep sorrows.
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Something Fishy About Long Island

Postby Kanakaberaka » 05 Jan 2006, 06:42

The Bigsleep J wrote:
...Far out of fish-shaped Paumanok some cry of cleaner things;



Interesting about the poem is the names that pop up during the second verse. I had to search them in detail to find their meanings. One word that slightly eluded me was Paumanok, an old name for Long Island where several Boroughs of New York city is located. It indicates the respect that Chesterton held for the United States, a country he defended from all its detractors (although he has been known to criticize it as well). Chesterton seems to suggest that England’s former colony is indeed a Christian country.


Here's a map of Long Island to illustrate what is meant by "fish-shaped" :

Image

I live in Queensboro at the Western end of the island (the "head" of the fish). Brooklyn is the other New York City Borough located on Long Island.

However, I am certain that Chesterton had one particular Long Islander in mind when he wrote this introduction poem. It was Walt Whitman who said "Starting from fish-shape Paumanok, where I was born,...". You can look up Whitman's full poem at this link :
http://www.bartleby.com/142/10.html
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Re: A few rambling throughts on Chap1

Postby The Bigsleep J » 05 Jan 2006, 07:56

Tuirgin wrote:The thing is... I don't really like what either have to say.


Yes, neither sides are really entirely correct but both make points. The anarchist believes that poeple might enjoy if the next station is Bakers Street - they might be amazed and filled with a sense of wonder, but they might ultimately feel also confused and irritated because they might have had something important to do. Its maybe too naive to suppose that they'd enjoy going to Bakerstreet instead of Victoria. I think most people these days would just feel and inconvienced by these forces of Chaos instead of the wonder Gregory believes it would bring.

Tuirgin wrote:And another thing... a tree is not an act of chaos. A tree is the particular working out of the organic ordering of it's treeness. (Say 'Hi' to Plato for me, would you?) At no time does a tree grow into a pig -- thus is limitation and order, and in such, its beauty.


As said before, most people believe that anarchy (or chaos) is the natural state of the universe. It is an interesting (and somewhat effective) example that the anarchist gives, but as you pointed out there is still order in nature and beauty in it. The example given earlier (He sees how much more valuable is one burst of blazing light, one peal of perfect thunder, than the mere common bodies of a few shapeless policemen) is very monstrous and certainly not beautiful, but it is not a natural anarchy - it was caused by dynamite created, ignited and thrown by a man. It's interesting, but his examples seem to defeat themselves (although most of what he said before could have been part of his act as a not-too-serious anarchist).
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Re: Something Fishy About Long Island

Postby The Bigsleep J » 05 Jan 2006, 08:19

Kanakaberaka wrote:Here's an old map of Long Island to illustrate what is meant by "fish-shaped" :

I live in Queensboro at the Western end of the island (the "head" of the fish)


I knew you were going to say that. ;)

Kanakaberaka wrote:However, I am certain that Chesterton had one particular Long Islander in mind when he wrote this introduction poem. It was Walt Whitman who said "Starting from fish-shape Paumanok, where I was born,...". You can look up Whitman's full poem at this link :
http://www.bartleby.com/142/10.html


To quote Homer J Simpson: CURSE YOU, WALT WHITMAN!

Hmmm. Once again my lack of knowledge of poetry becomes apparent. ;) However this does give me a new thing to think of.

I find again the book we found, I feel the hour that flings
Far out of fish‑shaped Paumanok some cry of cleaner things;
And the Green Carnation withered, as in forest fires that pass,
Roared in the wind of all the world ten million leaves of grass;


Wasn't Leaves of Grass a poetry collection by Walt Whitman? Interesting, given the context of this poem, what do you supposes it means?
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re: Inscribed Poem and Chapter One

Postby Tuirgin » 05 Jan 2006, 17:31

It's been years since I've read any Whitman. But if memory serves me well, he's a rather affirming writer.

I've got Leaves of Grass... it's a shame I haven't touched it in over 10 years.

Here's the Academy of American Poets (which isn't just Am. poets) page on Whitman: http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/126
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Re: Something Fishy About Long Island

Postby Sven » 05 Jan 2006, 20:55

The Bigsleep J wrote:

I find again the book we found, I feel the hour that flings
Far out of fish‑shaped Paumanok some cry of cleaner things;
And the Green Carnation withered, as in forest fires that pass,
Roared in the wind of all the world ten million leaves of grass;


Wasn't Leaves of Grass a poetry collection by Walt Whitman? Interesting, given the context of this poem, what do you supposes it means?


To continue the poetry allusions, 'Green Carnation' refers to Oscar Wilde. Wilde wore carnations dyed green, and in his 'crowd', they came to symbolize the decandent attitude of 'art for art's sake'. Something in the way the Blue Flower came to represent sehnsucht, homesickness, for the German Romantics.

Further, the mention a bit further on of the City of Mansoul is, as you mentioned, a reference to John Bunyan, but it also may refer to Rudyard Kipling's poetry.

Rudyard Kipling wrote:The Holy War

A tinker out of Bedford,
A vagrant oft in quod,
A private under Fairfax,
A minister of God--


Two hundred years and thirty
Ere Armageddon came
His single hand portrayed it,
And Bunyan was his name!


He mapped for those who follow,
The world in which we are--
"This famous town of Mansoul"
That takes the Holy War.

Her true and traitor people,
The Gates along her wall,
From Eye Gate unto Feel Gate,
John Bunyan showed them all.


All enemy divisions,
Recruits of every class,
And highly-screened positions
For flame or poison-gas;
The craft that we call modern,
The crimes that we call new,
John Bunyan had 'em typed and filed
In Sixteen Eighty-two.


Likewise the Lords of Looseness
That hamper faith and works,
The Perseverance-Doubters,
And Present-Comfort shirks,
With brittle intellectuals
Who crack beneath a strain--
John Bunyan met that helpful set
In Charles the Second's reign.


Emmanuel's vanguard dying
For right and not for rights,
My Lord Apollyon lying
To the State-kept Stockholmites,
The Pope, the swithering Neutrals
The Kaiser and his Gott--
Their roles, their goals, their naked souls--
He knew and drew the lot.


Now he hath left his quarters,
In Bunhill Fields to lie,
The wisdom that he taught us
Is proven prophecy--
One watchword through our Armies,
One answer from our Lands:--
"No dealings with Diabolus
As long as Mansoul stands!"


A pedlar from a hovel,
The lowest of the low --
The Father of the Novel,
Salvation's first Defoe,
Eight blinded generations
Ere Armageddon came,
He showed us how to meet it,
And Bunyan was his name!


My guess is that Chesterton is alluding to different ways or styles of communicating truth, via poetry and prose, to lead into his own rather different style in this book.
Rat! he found breath to whisper, shaking. Are you afraid?
Afraid? murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love.
Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet -- and yet -- O, Mole, I am afraid!
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.
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re: Inscribed Poem and Chapter One

Postby Robert » 06 Jan 2006, 04:25

Concering the first chapter, it seems that Chesterton really manages to set the stage for 'good' 'sound' ideas vs. the 'bad' unrealistic' ideas. How he goes into painstaking detail describing Gregory, but Syme is more of a transparent figure. A regular Joe. It would almost appear as though he were arguing, albeit ina subtle manner, that Syme's thoughts are so common sensical they are shared by, perhaps not the majority, but at leas the down to earth persons in the world. Everyone knows that revolutions are revoltuing in and of themselves. They are not to be an end without serious qualification.

One is drawn immediately into the story in virtue of the extreme contrast in views. One characterized as being the cuase of this extremeness, the other, commonplace and so obvious and almost simple in its profundity. I love it! I love it! All books should begin like this one. The language, like drinking exquisite wine...the whimsical commentary and short quips, utterly delightful...wow! (although I have it read it several times before).
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Re: re: Inscribed Poem and Chapter One

Postby The Bigsleep J » 06 Jan 2006, 13:22

Robert wrote:Concering the first chapter, it seems that Chesterton really manages to set the stage for 'good' 'sound' ideas vs. the 'bad' unrealistic' ideas. How he goes into painstaking detail describing Gregory, but Syme is more of a transparent figure. A regular Joe. It would almost appear as though he were arguing, albeit ina subtle manner, that Syme's thoughts are so common sensical they are shared by, perhaps not the majority, but at leas the down to earth persons in the world. Everyone knows that revolutions are revoltuing in and of themselves. They are not to be an end without serious qualification.


In all honesty I don't really see Syme all that much as a regular Joe. He's recruited and serves in a special-police-force but he's also a poet. I don't know - he stikes me more as an eccentric as a regular person.

Edit: although Syme's beliefs are more humane than Gregory's, whose beliefs are incredibly nihilistic.
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re: Inscribed Poem and Chapter One

Postby The Bigsleep J » 06 Jan 2006, 13:26

Thanks for the poem, Sven. It might be possible that Chesterton got it from there. :) Suddenly I think it might have been prudent to devote a whole study to the poem. D'oh!

Sven the Terrible wrote:My guess is that Chesterton is alluding to different ways or styles of communicating truth, via poetry and prose, to lead into his own rather different style in this book.


I think it is possible, because Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde, as far as I know, don't fall under the subject of 'great Christians' (even if Wilde recanted at the end of his life). But their world view, even if different from Chesterton's, does contain some truth in it. So your theory is quite possible.
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re: Inscribed Poem and Chapter One

Postby pwtucker » 06 Jan 2006, 16:05

What a fun forum. I have been a Chesterton fan since my youth. I am glad to join in the discussion.

It seems to me that Chesterton makes it clear in the first paragraph that this is a dream. But I find that disturbing because he is exploring our anxiety over our lack of control in our lives. Like the Book of Job and the agreement between God and Satan, Chesterton lets the anarchists supposedly reign. However by the end of the Book of Job all is returned to normalcy; also in TMWWT. I find the lack of control barely endurable as it is. The thought that God, at his own whim, would let Satan rule for even a small amount of time unendurable. I suppose I must remember that the Book of Job is in the Old Testament when God's presence was not always a pleasant experience.
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Giddy Yup!

Postby Kanakaberaka » 07 Jan 2006, 06:43

pwtucker wrote:
It seems to me that Chesterton makes it clear in the first paragraph that this is a dream. But I find that disturbing because he is exploring our anxiety over our lack of control in our lives.


Take Chesterton's advice on nightmares :

Therefore I see no wrong in riding with the Nightmare to-night; she whinnies to me from the rocking tree-tops and the roaring wind; I will catch her and ride her through the awful air. Woods and weeds are alike tugging at the roots in the rising tempest, as if all wished to fly with us over the moon, like that wild, amorous cow whose child was the Moon-Calf. We will rise to that mad infinite where there is neither up nor down, the high topsy-turveydom of the heavens. I will ride on the Nightmare; but she shall not ride on me.

--G.K.Chesterton
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Re: re: Inscribed Poem and Chapter One

Postby Robert » 07 Jan 2006, 13:49

The Bigsleep J wrote:
Robert wrote:Concering the first chapter, it seems that Chesterton really manages to set the stage for 'good' 'sound' ideas vs. the 'bad' unrealistic' ideas. How he goes into painstaking detail describing Gregory, but Syme is more of a transparent figure. A regular Joe. It would almost appear as though he were arguing, albeit ina subtle manner, that Syme's thoughts are so common sensical they are shared by, perhaps not the majority, but at leas the down to earth persons in the world. Everyone knows that revolutions are revoltuing in and of themselves. They are not to be an end without serious qualification.


In all honesty I don't really see Syme all that much as a regular Joe. He's recruited and serves in a special-police-force but he's also a poet. I don't know - he stikes me more as an eccentric as a regular person.

Edit: although Syme's beliefs are more humane than Gregory's, whose beliefs are incredibly nihilistic.


I think that maybe what I meant to say was that his ideas were representative of the regular Joe, not his circumstances or status in life. It's as if Gregory's ideaology is the grotesque, bizarre and most unusual, and Syme is the hero of the average Joe Catholic and Christian whose way of life is threatened by the Gregorys of the world. Somewhat like the one represents the anit-church, which is irrational and abnormal, while the other is the norm and reasonable. I think the reason that it is presented this way is by observing the way in which Chesterton presents the two approaches to argument. Gregory seems to try to win his argument by appeals to the extreme and rhetoric (longwindedness), while Syme argues with such ease and poise that it is as if the two are engaged in a sword fight with Gregory slashing with wild circular movements this way and that, and Syme is simply jabbing straight and precise. I think this is the way Chesterton viewed Anarchism and Atheism, with the thouught that it was out of desperation and 'wildness', not out of intelligent thought.
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re: Inscribed Poem and Chapter One

Postby Boyd Britton » 08 Jan 2006, 19:16

I'm glad this topic and threads have begun -- other than touting in on the books/films page I had little chance to discuss this GKC gem, and when I saw this begin the other day I had no starting point...no one had started.

Can I suggest a bit of historical positioning for both the topic and treatment? At the turn of the last century Europe and especially England (which gave them a tolerant home) were beset with real anarchists, from philosophes like Kropotkin to hard core terrorists as in Russia, Austria-Hungary, not to mention the US (Czolgocsz). Pulp fiction and serious (Conrad's "The Secret Agent") as well as social/ethical discussion were full of anarchists and their feared "invisible networks".

(See also: Tuchman, "The Proud Tower".)

A perfect time, place and subject for Chesterton to attract an audience, entertain it and challenge its preconceptions. The novella is both nightmare and fun.

(Modern tangent: John LeCarre's post-Cold War tales?)

A special thanks for the download info. It took weeks for my library to forward a copy.

(PS -- Syme: A cockney pun on Same?)
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