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Another Antidote

Laughter. G.K. Chesterton’s poems, Patrick Kurp writes, are full of it, and its primary function is to subvert “self-importance”:

I’m reading The Collected Poems of G.K. Chesterton systematically for the first time, cover to cover. This is the Methuen & Co. third edition, published in 1933, three years before the poet’s death. Chesterton’s poems are rhymed and metrically regular. Even during his lifetime his verse was judged old-fashioned, out of step with literary Modernism, yet his poems are never less than entertaining and sometimes rousing. I noticed how often Chesterton mentions laughter, always with approval. In “The Skeleton” he writes: “Here among the flowers I lie / Laughing everlastingly.” In “A Novelty”: “To me, like sudden laughter, / The stars are fresh and gay.” “The Secret People”: “There are no folk in the whole world so helpless or so wise. / There is hunger in our bellies, there is laughter in our eyes.” There’s even a “Ballade of Laughter,” which begins:

I count all laughter terrible and true,
A thunder of God given before the Fall,
A flaming sword from which the devils flew,
A red hot poker to make the pedants squall.

The third line contains a clue.  For “devils” of any species – fanatics, ideologues, common criminals, bores, boors, boobs – laughter is a reliable repellant.


about the author

Micah Mattix is the literary editor of The American Conservative and an associate professor of English at Regent University.  His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, The Weekly Standard, Pleiades, The Washington Times, and many other publications. His latest book is The Soul Is a Stranger in this World: Essays on Poets and Poetry (Cascade). Follow him on Twitter.

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