Sunday, June 28, 2009

i heart GK Chesterton

So, as I was feeling a little guilty about spending my Sunday doing mundane things like watering trees and washing sheets, I took a break to read Heretics by GK Chesterton. And this essay (a rebuttal to Rudyard Kipling's worldliness) made me feel so much better. Here are some excerpts from the essay "On Mr. Rudyard Kipling and Making the World Small":

"The sense that everything is poetical is a thing solid and absolute; it is not a mere matter of phraseology or persuasion. It is not merely true. It is ascertainable...It is common enough that common things should be poetical; it is not so common that common names should be poetical. In most cases it is the name that is the obstacle...The word 'signal-box' is unpoetical. But the thing signal-box is not unpoetical; it is a place where men, in an agony of vigilance, light blood-red and sea-green fires to keep other men from death...The word 'pillar-box' is unpoetical. But the thing pillar-box is not unpoetical; it is the place to which friends and lovers commit their messages, conscious that when they have done so they are sacred, and not to be touched, not only by others, but even (religious touch!) by themselves...A signal-box is only called a signal-box. It is a house of life or death. A pillar-box is only called a pillar-box. It is a sanctuary of human words."

"There is no perfectly epicurean corner; there is no perfectly irresponsible place. Everywhere men have made the way for us with sweat and submission. We may fling ourselves into a hammock in a fit of divine carelessness. But we are glad that the net-maker did not make the hammock in a fit of divine carelessness. We may jump upon a child's rocking-horse for a joke. But we are glad that the carpenter did not leave the legs unglued for a joke."

"The globe-trotter lives in a smaller world than the peasant. He is always breathing an air of locality. London is a place, to be compared to Chicago; Chicago is a place, to be compared to Timbuktu. But Timbuktu is not a place, since there, at least, live men who regard it as the universe, and breathe, not an air of locality, but the winds of the world. The man in the saloon-steamer has seen all the races of men, and he is thinking of the things that divide men - diet, dress, decorum, rings in the noses as in Africa or in the ears as in Europe, blue paint among the ancients, or red paint among the modern Britons. The man in the cabbage field has seen nothing at all; but he is thinking of the things that unite men - hunger and babies, and the beauty of women, and the promise or menace of the sky."

"The more dead and dry and dusty a thing, the more it travels about; dust is like this and the thistle-down and the High Commissioner in South Africa. Fertile things are somewhat heavier, like the heavy fruit trees on the pregnant mud of the Nile. In the heated idleness of youth we were all rather inclined to quarrel with the implication of that proverb which says that a rolling stone gathers no moss. We were inclined to ask, 'Who wants to gather moss, except silly old ladies?' But for all that we begin to perceive that the proverb is right. The rolling stone rolls echoing from rock to rock; but the rolling stone is dead. The moss is silent because the moss is alive."

"The man standing in his own kitchen-garden, with fairy-land opening at the gate, is the man with large ideas. His mind creates distance; the motorcar culture stupidly destroys it."

"And under all this vast illusion of the cosmopolitan planet...the real life of man goes on...totally uncomprehended, totally untouched. And it watches from its splendid parochialism, possibly with a smile of amusement, motorcar civilization going its triumphant way, outstripping time, consuming space, seeing all and seeing nothing, roaring on at last to the capture of the solar system, only to find the sun cockney and the stars suburban."

All this from a man writing before rampant telephone use, space travel and the internet. Motorcar civilization has become electronic civilization but it all still holds true...

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