Monday, April 18, 2011

The Donkey

~G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

When forests walked and fishes flew
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood,
Then, surely, I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening bray
And ears like errant wings—
The devil's walking parody
Of all four-footed things:

The battered outlaw of the earth
Of ancient crooked will;
Scourge, beat, deride me—I am dumb—
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour—
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout around my head
And palms about my feet.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Compare this to Aesop’s story “The Ass Carrying the Image.”

A sacred Image was being carried to the temple. It was mounted on an Ass adorned with garlands and gorgeous trappings, and a grand procession of priests and pages followed it through the streets. As the Ass walked along, the people bowed their heads reverently or fell on their knees, and the Ass thought the honor was being paid to himself.

With his head full of this foolish idea, he became so puffed up with pride and vanity that he halted and started to bray loudly. But in the midst of his song, his driver guessed what the Ass had got into his head, and began to beat him unmercifully with a stick.

“Go along with you, you stupid Ass,” he cried. “The honor is not meant for you but for the image you are carrying.”

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Do Chesterton and Aesop have the same attitude toward the donkey?


  1. Been thinking about this all morning and having read both renderings several times, I dont think so, but not sure I can explain it succintly.

    Will keep pondering...

  2. I don't think so either. I first read the Chesterton poem several years ago and only read the Aesop story a few weeks ago. When I first read the poem I had the sense that being chosen by Christ was an honor -- that the donkey is forevermore ennobled, in a sense, by having bourne the Christ in his triumphal entry.

    But then I read the fable and wondered if Chesterton was saying the same thing as Aesop. I can't explain it either, but the tone or something about the way the poem comes across makes me think not.

    And then there's the legend that the reason the donkey has a cross on his back is because the little one that carried Jesus into Jerusalem wished he had also been able to carry his cross for him up Calvary. When the shadow of the cross fell over his back, it stayed there because of his love for Christ.

    It's interesting how Christ's death and resurrection changed everything -- even the status of the donkey.

  3. I just took away a moral for myself from each ....

    *dont think more highly of myself than I ought*


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