Friday, June 11, 2010

The Donkey

 The Donkey

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood,
Then surely I was born;

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears
And palms beneath my feet.


I put this poem up in light of yesterday’s blog. The donkey’s moment of glory - Palm Sunday, carrying Jesus into Jerusalem in what appeared a triumphal march. Ahead lay betrayal and crucifixion. But briefly, the animal carried the Messiah.

We learnt this poem at school. Chesteron’s rollicking rhyme entered my literary midden. Also, obnoxious child I must have been, I pointed out that the animal could not be dumb if it had a sickening cry. A teacher’s dread – a smart alec pupil.

I’m awake early – every now and then I have these nights. Plus tooth-ache. I’m having a loose tooth taken out this afternoon. The third this year. Not a good harbinger. The writing of ‘Eagles at Delphi’ has etched that donkey’s bray into the memory midden.

My heart went out more to a poor donkey in Iran. Part of that 1970s trip we spent time in Ishfahan, the ancient capital of Iran (Persia). The magnificent mosques and surrounding architecture was a mind-boggling experience. Again we took a taxi and a guide and went to remote mountain villages My wife questioned about the qanats, the underground water channels, that had been running for centuries. In response our guide instructed the driver to turn aside to a small village, walls of sun-dried brick, topped with rough thatch.

A blindfolded donkey circled endlessly a primitive wheel from which water flowed to a few green fields. The animal, mangy coat, ulcerated knees, trudged endlessly round and round. Under a thorn tree a small boy watched a few scrawny sheep scavenging for food - the permanence of poverty. A crow jeered from the top of a deserted pigeon loft. After the rich splendour of the days before it was a depressing sight. But it had enabled survival. As did the row of apricot trees, setting fruit discernible, watered by the beast's efforts.

When I was a young man I read a lot of Chesterton's prose. His Christian apologetics bolstered my cause though his conversion to Catholicism was a bother. In those days that church was presented romantically. Not just Chesterton but also Evelyn Waugh and even Graeme Greene. Chesterton’s delight in paradox captivated me.

‘The whole modern world has divided itself into Progressives and Conservatives. The business of the Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.’

Would that politics were so simple. In the name of austerity the so-called Conservatives world-wide now act radically. Conservatives have rarely been just 'hands off'. And the radicals come in many guises, one of which is yesterday's causes. Chesterton’s ‘fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense’ is all very well. But when you have child abuse in the church and MPs showing little comprehension of the limits of credit card spending that sunny country looks more like a bedraggled winter scene. Sunniness is little comfort to the fishermen and brown pelicans of the Gulf of Mexico. Human arrogance has turned a hazard into a disaster. 

[Checking this blog later in the day I had the radio on. A commentator was making a valid point. There was a huge pile of credit card receipts. It's is only a few who have not used them correctly. Yes! The mind is rather jaundiced when the body's reluctant to sleep]

Chesterton's comment about sex is both interesting and noteworthy if sexist. ‘All healthy men, ancient and modern, Western and Eastern, hold that in sex there is a fury that we cannot afford to inflame; and that a certain mystery must attach to the instinct if it is to continue delicate and sane.’

Ah daylight! I’ll read The Economist on line.

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