In the Anglican tradition – I’m not sure if the Ordinariates pick this up – today King Alfred the Great is commemorated, on the anniversary of his death. He was a pivotal figure in the history of England, and a scholar who, among other things, translated the Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius.
Some years ago, during a trip to Blighty, I zoomed down a road to a meeting of clergy, which I fondly remember, inter alia, for the fellowship. As we zoomed, I exclaimed, “What’s that?”
I was looking at the enormous figure of a white horse on a hillside. It was one of the great chalk figures, which dot the countryside, the turf cut down to the chalk to expose the shape. It was striking. I understand that there are quite a few in southern England and I’d like to see all of them someday.
In any event, do you know G.K. Chesterton’s poem, The Ballad of the White Horse? King Alfred is the subject of the work.
This is an epic poem, and, as such, it runs contrary to the spirit of our time, in that it is, well, an epic, and not a tweet. However, as an epic, it is also an antedote to our day.
As Chesterton wrote of it in a prefatory note:
Alfred has come down to us in the best way (that is, by national legends) solely for the same reason as Arthur and Roland and the other giants of that darkness, because he fought for the Christian civilization against the heathen nihilism.
Isn’t that the struggle we are engaged in now?
We are in a situation where we even see, within the Church, the agents of heathen nihilism at work, much as the Red Guards did in China’s Cultural Revolution. There are new catholic Red Guards now. HERE
King Alfred fought an important battle on a field which, today, is overlooked by one of the great chalk horses. It must be an enormous task to keep these horses clear of overgrowth by weeds. Chesterton uses the image of tending the horses in his poem.
Here is a taste from Book VIII: “The Scouring of the Horse”. As you read, think of Fishwrap… Martin… Spadaro… Faggioli… Mickens… La Civiltâ Cattolica… Amerika… (my emphases):
“I know that weeds shall grow in it
Faster than men can burn;
And though they scatter now and go,
In some far century, sad and slow,
I have a vision, and I know
The heathen shall return.
“They shall not come with warships,
They shall not waste with brands,
But books be all their eating,
And ink be on their hands.
“Not with the humour of hunters
Or savage skill in war,
But ordering all things with dead words,
Strings shall they make of beasts and birds,
And wheels of wind and star.
“They shall come mild as monkish clerks,
With many a scroll and pen;
And backward shall ye turn and gaze,
Desiring one of Alfred’s days,
When pagans still were men.
“The dear sun dwarfed of dreadful suns,
Like fiercer flowers on stalk,
Earth lost and little like a pea
In high heaven’s towering forestry,
—These be the small weeds ye shall see
Crawl, covering the chalk.
They crawl… covering the whiteness of the chalk.
They crawl. And they don’t fight like men.