Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Poetry Corner: G.K. Chesterton

You can’t get there from here … at least not straight there …

As I mentioned before, when we headed up north this weekend, we couldn’t go straight there. Because of an accident on Highway 84, we ended up going a roundabout way up Highway 285 and then through the mountains on Highway 64.

In the accident, a 26-year State Police veteran lieutenant on the bomb squad was killed. He had just been on a disposal or retrieval mission in Chama. While, at least as of the most recent news reports I have seen, the authorities are not saying whether there were any explosives in the vehicle, shutting down a major highway for many hours indicates more than just the usual extra concern law-enforcement people have when dealing with one of their own.

Some of the members of the sailing club who were trying to come up to Heron got stuck in traffic; a trip that usually took them less than 2 hours ended up taking more than 6. We got lucky – when we were in Española, we heard on the radio that the highway was blocked, and we took the long way around. That added a mere 30 minutes or so to our travel time, rather than 4 hours.

As we traveled to Tierra Amarilla by way of Tres Piedras, I was reminded of this gem of poetry from G.K. Chesterton, a British poet and author who apparently was a favorite of my paternal grandparents – when they had both died, my parents inherited their massive oak bookshelves, with the condition that they also take the books. There was a lot of Chesterton in the collection.

The year the family lived in England, we learned about the rolling English road. It never goes straight from where one is to where one wants to be. It is full of curves and hills and curves on hills, and hills around curves.

Such roads were quite satisfactory for farmers herding their cattle to market. But when the Romans arrived in Britain, they found the roads exceptionally unsatisfactory for marching armies along. So the Romans built their own roads, straight and wide. In the modern highway system in Britain, one can still tell which ones were the original rolling English roads and which ones were later Roman construction, just by looking at which ones are twisty and which ones are straight.

So here is Chesterton’s homage to the Rolling English Road. For those of you not familiar with British geography, all of the places mentioned are far from each other.

The Rolling English Road

by G.K.Chesterton

Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.

I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.

His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.

My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.

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