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sábado, 11 de marzo de 2017

There is a revolutionary confidence in those who would tell us what to expect and what to do, and yet the revolution may betray their confidence.


Chesterton’s “A Ballade of Suicide”


by Titus Techera


Do not expect G.K. Chesterton’s ballade to be any kind of love poem–he wants to something else instead, to raise your eyebrow, not to say hairs on end…

G.K. Chesterton published “A Ballade of Suicide”* in his journal, The Eye-Witness, September 21, 1911. This is a ballade, an old French form comprising three octets and a concluding quatrain, in direct address. The stanzas rhyme a-b-a-b-b-a-b-a. This allows the poet to turn the stanza around the middle—to effect a kind of change in his meaning. The stanzas all end with the same line, at once developed and undeveloped. Do not expect Chesterton’s ballade to be any kind of love poem–he wants to something else instead, to raise your eyebrow, not to say hairs on end. Invention is not now supposed to delight the more knowing among us; the form is supposed to make us laugh at the spectacle of someone taking himself so seriously, whoever this person addressing us may be. Chesterton uses only two rhymes, which adds a sense of levity, of contrived repetition, and he uses the iambic pentameter, an usually serious choice, for the same effect: What would be Shakespeare somewhere else is deadpan here. He means to put to you, matter-of-factly, something terrible. Levity is required, because certain moral forces lead men to look upon terrible things as though they were some mistake, some misunderstanding, something preposterous.

The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall;
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbours–on the wall–
Are drawing a long breath to shout “Hurray!”
The strangest whim has seized me…. After all
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

To-morrow is the time I get my pay–
My uncle’s sword is hanging in the hall–
I see a little cloud all pink and grey–
Perhaps the rector’s mother will not call–I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall
That mushrooms could be cooked another way–
I never read the works of Juvenal–
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

The world will have another washing-day;
The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
And H.G. Wells has found that children play,
And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall,
Rationalists are growing rational–
And through thick woods one finds a stream astray
So secret that the very sky seems small–
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,
The tumbrils toiling up the terrible way;
Even to-day your royal head may fall,
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

I

You can see Chesterton’s intention in the first stanza: to make the shocking seem banal and the banal shocking. He starts with a mere dreadful item–the gallows, then the noose, which nonetheless we had expected since he gave his title. Then he moves to say something to shock—but what should shock us next to suicide? It is the powerlessness of our society to see it coming and prevent it. Chesterton presents something private in a mocking way, making us all spectators to something dreadful. The spectacle of suicide, presented here as though with propriety and according to usage, is private and we would rather it stay that way; we refrain from witnessing or even countenancing executions, much less suicide. The opinion that life is not worth living for a human being is hard to tolerate, but impossible to see in action. There is in such an action an indictment of society that is very hard even to understand.

The strange joke about receiving compliments for one’s gallows and the joke about the necktie party serve to make us wonder where the madness lies, whether with our society and its conventions or with what may be termed an eccentric or unsound fellow. There are arguments on both sides: Our conventions have manifestly failed to make us happy, but then again taking modern boredom so far as to commit suicide seems excessive. One is, doubtless, making a spectacle of oneself in committing suicide, and it can be strangely engrossing—a farewell to life, but not to vanity. But to set one’s mind to end the rule of mind over body is rather a peculiar thing to do, as though to set on purpose to effect the proof that there is no such thing as purpose… Then again, it may be argued, one has to do unquestioningly what one has decided if one is to know with certainty who one is and where one stands. Suicide is a very decisive action, and most of our actions are not of that character, so it is arresting.

This cannot be taken to mean that suicide, even averted, is a public spectacle, like execution surely must be. It is the morrow’s papers, instead, that might publicize it; it is the gossip and the inquest that would constitute a hurray. A sense of pride might require of a man no to give the public this dubious satisfaction. The scandal: How can the people, those who fail most unstintingly the man who contemplates suicide then turn around and say, he had it coming, and has got but what he well deserved! That is the ugly passion behind our conventions–there is something cruel in the moralism. Chesterton has no time for worries about the afterlife. It is society that concentrates his attention and he is not satisfied that we are anything but eager spectators to be stupefied by the suffering of the people who reject society most thoroughly. We have it on the authority of novels and movies, that the moralistic love to gossip. A man like the protagonist of this poem will have his pride, if nothing else, and then how could he give such satisfaction to hyenas? Why, they did not even work for their amusement, but so fondly do they hold themselves esteemed, they think they do deserve it gratis…

Maybe there’s something to that thought—that suicide is like a public execution. Were we to think that we have our own way of life, which we hold to be good–then those who fail to experience or understand its goodness are somehow in the blame. What’s wrong with them? We do applaud those brilliant few who from among us rise to meet our expectations, not to say our dreams. Shall we not then good riddance those who fail impertinently to impress? There is a suggestion in this stanza that society pushes people into excessive actions.

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Read more:www.theimaginativeconservative.org

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