If trees were tall and grasses short,
As in some crazy tale,
If here and there a sea were blue
Beyond the breaking pale,

If a fixed fire hung in the air
To warm me one day through,
If deep green hair grew on great hills,
I know what I should do.

In dark I lie: dreaming that there
Are great eyes cold or kind,
And twisted streets and silent doors,
And living men behind.

Let storm-clouds come: better an hour,
And leave to weep and fight,
Than all the ages I have ruled
The empires of the night.

I think that if they gave me leave
Within that world to stand,
I would be good through all the day
I spent in fairyland.

They should not hear a word from me
Of selfishness or scorn,
If only I could find the door,
If only I were born.

G. K. Chesterton

This is the most beautiful poem I know. And once you understand Chesterton’s philosophy, it becomes so much more beautiful.

If trees were tall and grasses short,
As in some crazy tale,
If here and there a sea were blue
Beyond the breaking pale,

If a fixed fire hung in the air
To warm me one day through,
If deep green hair grew on great hills,
I know what I should do.

Chesterton had a “fairy philosophy”. It sounds very mystical, but it is actually very logical. He thought – and it makes a lot of sense when you think about it – that a fairy land presents the way things might to be. In this fairy world the ocean may be red, the skies pink, trees short and grass as long as mountains. You might have flying whales and wingless eagles. In a similar vein, in our modern world, science fiction would also be a good analogy. In a good sci-fi film you might find a planet with three blue suns! And two moons! The people of this alien planet might be living in purely crystal palaces, and only live off acid rather than water. I remember reading a series of books called the Sage of Seven Suns. In it the author had aliens living within gas giants, and other aliens within stars! How peculiar it must have been for them to find aliens living on the surface of a rock.

A reflection on fairy land (or Dune if you wish) makes one realise that in a very real sense, we are living in a fairy land. Our oceans are blue! Isn’t that amazing? It could just as easily have been orange. Trees are tall! Wow! I thought they are always short! In my world there are a lot of flying pigs, but in your world you have a rhinoceros. Ask yourself, doesn’t a rhino look rather… out of this world? It really looks like it shouldn’t exist, should it? We live off bread and not wood, our money consists of gold rather than spice.

When I first encountered this idea of Chesterton, that we are living in a fairy land, I considered it to be merely some romantic idea of a long dead journalist. But the more I think about it, the more I realise how true this is. This truly is a fairy land. I mean this in a very real sense.

Yes this fairy land is broken, just as Sleeping Beauty was poisoned, the giant killed, the pigs eaten and Goldilocks homeless. Most fairy tales have a condition: “He shall be a beast until he finds true love”, “You, a disrespected daughter serving your coldhearted stepmother, may dance the night away with a prince… as long as you are home by twelve”. It is this somewhat odd or peculiar condition which makes fairy land brittle. Something so beautiful but so breakable. For Rapunzel (in the Disney movie), her hair can heal as long as it is not cut. In our world we can live forever as long as we don’t taste the apple.

Return to the poem again and you see the child dreaming of earth as a very real fairyland. A place of wonder. A baby’s eyes are always full of wonder! Everything is to him a new creation. Just as we would be stunned at seeing another moon tomorrow night, this baby is stunned that there exists a moon!

In dark I lie: dreaming that there
Are great eyes cold or kind,
And twisted streets and silent doors,
And living men behind.

Let storm-clouds come: better an hour,
And leave to weep and fight,
Than all the ages I have ruled
The empires of the night.

This baby is not some naive optimist. He is aware of fairy land being ruled by the evil stepmother. He is a realist. He knows of the evil in the world among all the beauty. He is aware of goblins and orcs, and Sauron, living next door to Elfland and the Shire.

Yet still he will take this broken creation over the darkness within which he lives, within the darkness of his non-existence. He would much rather suffer though some periods of pain, than not having had known fairyland at all.

I think that if they gave me leave
Within that world to stand,
I would be good through all the day
I spent in fairyland.

They should not hear a word from me
Of selfishness or scorn,
If only I could find the door,
If only I were born.

If only they will allow him to enter fairyland he would be good through every moment of it. If only they will allow him to see it. He would never be mean, or ungrateful. If only he is born.

The message is one of beautiful, clear minded hope being expressed by the most innocent of all beings: a child, among a world of blind, cold and ungrateful people.

P. S. This short piece by Chesterton on “worshiping” babies is both insightful in further appreciating the poem, and beautiful in its own right.

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