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The Ballad of the White Horse - Essay Example

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Dale Ahlquist in the lecture series XXI of the American Chesterton Society explains that "it is up to us to choose the right side even if there is a risk that it is not the winning side. It is enough to know what we are fighting for. That is the meaning of faith and hope…
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The Ballad of the White Horse
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Order 133823 Topic: "The Ballad of the White Horse" By: UMADEVI (a) the speaker, (b) the situation (if there is no speaker, then theWhen and Where (c) the meaning and (d)significance of
1. Book I line starts at 231
"The men of the East may spell the stars
And times and triumphs mark,
But the men signed of the cross of Christ
Go gaily in the dark."
Dale Ahlquist in the lecture series XXI of the American Chesterton Society explains that "it is up to us to choose the right side even if there is a risk that it is not the winning side. It is enough to know what we are fighting for. That is the meaning of faith and hope. That is the meaning of "going Gaily in the dark." In contrast are, the "Men of east", supposed to be wise, and smug who can foretell the future and feel therefore, either a despair or a triumph.
The apparition of the Lady speaks to Alfred these lines, appearing before Alfred, who asks her about the outcome of the battle.
2. Book I starts line 254
"I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet,
And the sea rises higher."

These lines have become very famous as they became applicable during the times of World War, when there seemed to be no hope for any good happening to mankind. These lines were quoted by leading journals which were carrying war news.
The Lady appearing before Alfred tells him that there is nothing much to look forward to, if it is only comfort that he is desiring. Things would only get tougher and man has to keep fighting as evil would only return stronger each time to engulf.
These lines speak Chesterton's message that the fight against Nihilism and Despair is constant and there is no giving up.
3. Book III starts on line 226
"And you that sit by the fire are young,
And true love waits for you;
But the king and I grow old, grow old,
And hate alone is true."
Earl Ogier of the Stone and Sling, a General in King Gurthrum's army sings these lines in reply to the sentimental songs sung earlier by another Earl Elf, and Prince Harold before him who sang of the pleasures of this earth. He refutes their songs in which they speak about gods and women. Here he says that when all the pleasures are enjoyed , in life there is only Hate left. Having grown old, men like him and King Guthrum know that there is no such thing as true love.
Chesterton with his strong faith in Roman Catholicism writes such lines to underline the state of Hell in side the minds of men of no belief. There is only despair and no faith in God to relieve the despair.
4. Book III starts on line 256
"For this is a heavy matter,
And the truth is cold to tell;
Do we not know, have we not heard,
The souls is like a lost bird,
The body a broken shell
And a man hopes, being ignorant,
Till in white woods apart
He finds at last the lost bird dead;
And a man may still lift up his head
But never more his heart."
This is King Gurthrum's song which express the bleakness of his heart. He sings in reply to the songs of Ogier and Elf before him , that, by now men have grown up to realize that there is no comfort of truth in any of the fanciful tales of gods and youth. The cold truth is that even gods die; even the mightiest kingdoms are raced down. There is nothing to Life, which just ends with Death. With death the body is a broken shell and the life itself which some call the soul, is like a Bird lost in the woods and dead too. Only courage and bravery are true.
Thus these lines show the pessimistic pleasure seeker like Harold and his men with their desolate philosophy .Theirs is the religion of unhappy people. (Chesterton)
5. Book IV starts line 248
"Now here is a good warrant,"
Cried_____, "by my sword;
For he that is struck for an ill servant
Should be a kind lord.
"He that has been a servant
Knows more than priests and kings
But he that has been an ill servant,
He knows all earthly things."
These lines are uttered by King Alfred who is struck by the peasant woman on his face, for his neglecting his duty of minding the baking ; he had let it to burn due to preoccupations with war.
Her striking him across the face leaves a mark, and the king instead of giving way to fury, sees the humor in the situation. He also realizes that it is a lesson to him and a sign .Having learnt this lesson in humility he vows that he would return the same blow that he received from the woman as punishment for neglect, to his enemies.
6. Book VI starts line 95
Centre and right the Wessex guard
Grew pale for doubt and fear,
And the flank failed at the advance
For the death-light on the wizard lance--
The star of the evil spear.
"Stand like an oak," cried
"Stand like a Roman wall.
Eldred the Good is fallen.
Are you too good to fall"
The lines are spoken by Marcus the Roman, One of the three chieftains fighting along side of Alfred at Ethundane. The first of the chieftains Eldred the Saxon had fallen dead. He held the flank against the Danes. The Wessex men stand demoralised and frightened as the Dane Elf comes charging on them with his spears which are believed to have been designed and forged by the magical sea gods themselves. Then Marcus the Roman another of the three chieftains of Alfred, rallies them all together with this war cry. He orders them to stand like oaks which withstand storm, and like the Roman wall, which was built to withstand the onset of the Danes, built by the great Roman conquerors in British islands. He orders them to stand and fight and not run away in fear; for , if Eldred the generous and good hearted man could be slain, then why not us.
The Oak is believed to be the symbol of Imperial Rome, and Christianity.
7. Book VII starts line 115
"To sweat a slave to a race of slaves,
To drink up infamy
No brothers, by your leave, I think
Death is better ale to drink,
And by all the stars of Christ that sink,
The Danes shall drink with me."
This is Alfred speaking in the chapter titled "The Last Charge". The three chiefs of the Saxons having been slain, the Danes were having the upper hand. It was twilight time; some in the army of Alfred were about to run away from battle. Alfred blew his horn and addressed his demoralized men thus.
He asks them whether it is worth living on as slaves of the Danes. He tells them that it is inglorious to live on as slaves, and save their lives only to raise a race of slaves. It is far better to die and take as many Danes (with them) to die .But die as dignified Christians.
8. Book VII line 200
Over the iron forest
He saw Our Lady stand;
Her eyes were sad withouten art
And seven swords were in her heart--
But one was in her hand.
The appearance of the Virgin Mary before Alfred, just before his last charge begins. At the Battle of Ethan dune, the battle seems lost for the Saxons, and Danes seem ready to kill all. Just then Alfred sees above the forest the Image of the Lady. Her eyes are sad may be because of the death and cruelty. She seems to have a sword in her hand.
The symbolic number of Seven represents "Completeness" in the Roman Catholic tradition. Seven swords may also stand for the 7 Roman emperors whom the Pope consecrated as saviors of the Holy church.
9. Book VII line 241
"The high tide,"
"The high tide and the turn!
As a tide turns on the tall grey seas,
See how they waver in the tress,
How stray their spears, how knock their knees.
How wild their watch fires burn!
"The Mother of God goes over them,
Walking on wind and flame,
And the storm-cloud drifts from city and dale,
And the White Horse stamps in the White Horse vale,
And we all shall yet drink Christian ale
In the village of our name.
The battle of Ethan dune takes an about turn as soon as the Vision of the Virgin Mary appears before Alfred's EYES. He Slays down the dreaded Dane Ogier.It is then that Alfred cries out that the tide of fortune was turning in their favor. The very warfare and the weapons thrown by the enemies were going wrong. It is as though Mary mother of God was guiding the battle for the Saxons .The figure of the White Horse on the valley of Uffington Hill seems to be stamping its feet in triumph as the Saxons were having it their way.
After all the Saxons now could return to the villages and drink their peaceful ale like Christians and not sweat it out like slaves.
10. Book Vii line 367
Far out to the winding river
The blood ran down for days,
When we put the cross on Guthrum
In the parting of the ways.
These lines mark the end of the battle of Ethan dune, where many men were slain and victory won by the Saxons. Guthrum alone among the chiefs survived. The battle took place under a hill of thorn trees, where two ways parted. Guthrum is soon to be turned into a Christian, as these lines foretell here.
11. Book VIII line 78
And...Seeing such embassies,
Spake with the King and said:
"The steel that sang so sweet a tune
...on Ethan dune,
...Why hang it scab barded so soon...
Why dwell the Danes in North England,
And up to the river ride
Three more marches like thine own
Would end them..."
After winning the battle of Ethan dune, King Alfred did not pursue his enemies but made a pact with them; he allowed them to live in North of England, and gave rest to his weapons. Many of his men who had traveled over the world used to ask him why he had to spare them thus, while he could have easily won several lands and become a great conqueror.
12. "Wherefore I am a great king
And waste the world in vain,
Because man hath not other power,
Save that in dealing death for dower,
He may forget it for an hour
To remember it again."
These lines as spoken by King Alfred express his faith that kingship is only for doing good to people. Man is capable of great destruction and he may often forget it. But he should always remember that he should not be destructive
The theme of the White Horse Ballad is that, there is a purpose in creation and God's grace attends all of man's actions. There is nothing called mere fate or chance, and the fight against Despair and Nihilism are always continuous. Man need only to know that he is on the right side while fighting.
The apparition of the Holy Mary comes as Vision to Alfred twice. First time is before he sets out to gather the forces together for war against the Danes. He is friendless and the Danes seem like unconquerable foes. He wishes to know the future. But the apparition of Mary (described in this Ballad like a Marian Painting, sitting in a low stool with a book in hand) reminds him that only the struggle is his, the end is left to God. That makes Alfred filled with purpose and sense of happiness.
The second apparition is when the Lady appears at the time the battle which is all but lost for Alfred. She is shown as walking calmly as though walking amid the walled streets of Bethlehem. Alfred also sees her as walking over the fighting hoard spreading havoc over the Danes' army.
The appearance of the Lady spells the turn of tide and fortunes for the Saxons. She is carrying seven swords in her hand.
The Vision of Mary symbolizes in Christian Literature; submission to the will of God. Mirror of Justice, she is a model of "Interiority" i.e. aware of God who dwells within.
EoM Umadevi. Read More
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