The Ballad of God-Makers

By G. K. Chesterton 1874–1936
A bird flew out at the break of day
   From the nest where it had curled,
And ere the eve the bird had set
   Fear on the kings of the world.

The first tree it lit upon
   Was green with leaves unshed;
The second tree it lit upon
   Was red with apples red;

The third tree it lit upon
   Was barren and was brown,
Save for a dead man nailed thereon
   On a hill above a town.

That night the kings of the earth were gay
   And filled the cup and can;
Last night the kings of the earth were chill
   For dread of a naked man.

‘If he speak two more words,’ they said,
   ‘The slave is more than the free;
If he speak three more words,’ they said,
‘The stars are under the sea.’

Said the King of the East to the King of the West,
   I wot his frown was set,
‘Lo, let us slay him and make him as dung,
   It is well that the world forget.’

Said the King of the West to the King of the East,
   I wot his smile was dread,
‘Nay, let us slay him and make him a god,
   It is well that our god be dead.’

They set the young man on a hill,
   They nailed him to a rod;
And there in darkness and in blood
   They made themselves a god.

And the mightiest word was left unsaid,
   And the world had never a mark,
And the strongest man of the sons of men
   Went dumb into the dark.

Then hymns and harps of praise they brought,
   Incense and gold and myrrh,
And they thronged above the seraphim,
   The poor dead carpenter.

‘Thou art the prince of all,’ they sang,
   ‘Ocean and earth and air.’
Then the bird flew on to the cruel cross,
   And hid in the dead man’s hair.

‘Thou art the son of the world.’ they cried,         `
   ‘Speak if our prayers be heard.’
And the brown bird stirred in the dead man’s hair
   And it seemed that the dead man stirred.

Then a shriek went up like the world’s last cry
   From all nations under heaven,
And a master fell before a slave
   And begged to be forgiven.

They cowered, for dread in his wakened eyes
   The ancient wrath to see;
And a bird flew out of the dead Christ’s hair,
   And lit on a lemon tree.

Source: The Collected Poems of G. K. Chesterton (1927)

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Poet G. K. Chesterton 1874–1936

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Modern

Subjects Religion, Social Commentaries, Christianity

Poetic Terms Ballad

 G. K. Chesterton

Biography

G. K. Chesterton was one of the dominating figures of the London literary scene in the early twentieth century. Not only did he get into lively discussions with anyone who would debate him, including his friend, frequent verbal sparring partner, and noted Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, but he wrote about seemingly every topic, in every genre, from journalism to plays, poetry to crime novels. "He said something about . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Religion, Social Commentaries, Christianity

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Modern

Poetic Terms Ballad

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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