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My dear friend, Nebraskaenergyobserver posted in sombre mood yesterday, reflecting, as he often does, a wider sense many of us possess that things are not right, that the world is out of joint; it is the natural reaction of many of us to a world which seems to have gone mad, or at least to have lost its moral bearings.

One of my other friends, the excellent crossingthebosphorus offered us what is one of my favourite G.K. Chesterton quotations, to the effect that Christianity has never really been tried – which struck me as being highly relevant to NEO’s malaise. Together they drove me to one of my favourite Chesterton poems, and my favourite lines.

By now, regular readers will know I am an incurable optimist and Romantic, and I’d really have been happier as a pre-Raphaelite camp-follower (my hair is the right shade of red, when it is not dyed). Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse deals with an episode in what must have seemed at the time the doomed attempts by King Alfred of Wessex to deal with the invading Norsemen. No one did historical-Romantic despair like GKC, and I adore the whole poem. It is far too long to quote in full, but the lines which came back to me as the result of reading the two posts were those Our Lady speaks to King Alfred at the lowest moment of his fortunes:

I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher

The lines are repeated in a different context toward the end as Alfred gathers the Saxons for what will prove the last and successful battle

“And this is the word of Mary,
The word of the world’s desire
`No more of comfort shall ye get,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.’ 

Now it proves the flint against which the iron of resolve is sharpened, and the Saxons rally and they win, even though all had seemed lost. Alfred was not the most charismatic or dramatic of leaders, but he won, and this is why:

And this was the might of Alfred,
At the ending of the way;
That of such smiters, wise or wild,
He was least distant from the child,
Piling the stones all day.

Alfred has faith and he had patience, and he had resilience; he lacked the capacity to despair. In short, he possessed all the Christian virtues. He listened to Our Lady and he understood her advice, and so, at the height of the battle:

The King looked up, and what he saw
Was a great light like death,
For Our Lady stood on the standards rent,
As lonely and as innocent
As when between white walls she went
And the lilies of Nazareth.

And so, through many a sorrow and woe, the steadfast faith of Alfred proved victorious where the charismatic personalities of men with less character failed.

Here there is a lesson for us all – if we will read it.