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G. K. Chesterton’s best Christmas poem

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Fr. Michael Rennier - published on 12/24/17

At this time of year especially we are to be like little children who see and trust.

G.K. Chesterton was a prolific spiritual writer with a great love for Christmas. Although he had a giant intellect, when it came to Christmas he focused on its simplicity. I love reading all his newspaper articles and poems about Christmas because I always find in them some new insight that helps me appreciate the celebration more. In specific, every year I re-read one simple, beautiful poem called The Wise Men.

To me, it’s one of his best. Whenever I read it, I’m reminded of how world-shattering an event Christmas really is and the fact that the universe is a grand, magnificent, and sometimes strange place.

In the poem Chesterton writes, “We are the three wise men.” Just like the Magi who set out to find the newborn King whose sign was the star in the sky, our faith, too, means that we are always searching and open-minded. Like little children who see and trust, the truth is unwrapped and right before our eyes on Christmas. It’s in the joyful wide-eyed expression of the kids as they tear into their presents, in the simple but thoughtful gift from a co-worker, and in the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes in the manger of the Nativity under the Christmas tree. It’s in the feeling you had when you were a child bundled up and making a snowman. Without fail, that same experience returns no matter how much we age. We are all at once small and innocent, a single spot of color amid a field of white, and yet all of it seems to have been made just for us.

Today of all days, we don’t need to over-think or over-analyze. We can simply be children again. Here is Chesterton’s poem:

Step softly, under snow or rain,
To find the place where men can pray;
The way is all so very plain
That we may lose the way.

Oh, we have learnt to peer and pore
On tortured puzzles from our youth,
We know all labyrinthine lore,
We are the three wise men of yore,
And we know all things but the truth.

We have gone round and round the hill
And lost the wood among the trees,
And learnt long names for every ill,
And served the mad gods, naming still
The furies the Eumenides.

The gods of violence took the veil
Of vision and philosophy,
The Serpent that brought all men bale,
He bites his own accursed tail,
And calls himself Eternity.

Go humbly … it has hailed and snowed …
With voices low and lanterns lit;
So very simple is the road,
That we may stray from it.

The world grows terrible and white,
And blinding white the breaking day;
We walk bewildered in the light,
For something is too large for sight,
And something much too plain to say.

The Child that was ere worlds begun
(… We need but walk a little way,
We need but see a latch undone …)
The Child that played with moon and sun
Is playing with a little hay.

The house from which the heavens are fed,
The old strange house that is our own,
Where trick of words are never said,
And Mercy is as plain as bread,
And Honour is as hard as stone.

Go humbly, humble are the skies,
And low and large and fierce the Star;
So very near the Manger lies
That we may travel far.

Hark! Laughter like a lion wakes
To roar to the resounding plain.
And the whole heaven shouts and shakes,
For God Himself is born again,
And we are little children walking
Through the snow and rain.

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