Hilaire Belloc’s Poems on Courtesy: His Poignant Humility before Our Lady and Child

Dr. Robert Hickson

28 August 2022

Saint Augustine of Hippo (d. 430 AD)

Anthony S. Fraser (d. 2014)

Epigraphs

“For you that took the all-in-all the things you left were three. /A loud voice for singing and keen eyes to see, / And a spouting well of joy within that never yet was dried! / And I ride.” (Hilaire Belloc’s “The Winged Horse,” Stanza IV)

***

“I challenged and I kept the Faith, / The bleeding path alone I trod; / It darkens. Stand about my wraith, / And harbor me—almighty God.” (Hilaire Belloc’s “The Prophet Lost In The Hills At Evening” —the Last Stanza)

***

“The frozen way those people trod / It led towards the Mother of God; / Perhaps if I had travelled with them / I might have come to Bethlehem.” (Hilaire Belloc’s “Twelfth Night,” —the Last Stanza)

***

While I recently re-read a selective brief anthology of Hilaire Belloc’s verse, I found myself recurrently moved by his gracious depictions of the Blessed Mother and Her Consoling Child. It prompted me, as well, to recall the new Beatitude as expressed in Georges Bernanos’ spiritual novel, The Diary of a Country Priest (1936 in French, 1937 in English) The main character, recalling his lonely childhood, suddenly said: “Blessed be he who has saved a child’s heart from despair.

In view of his adventurous and rumbustious manhood, Hilaire Belloc gradually disclosed his “manly spiritual childhood.

I wish now to present some representative examples from Hilaire Belloc’s own varied verses, starting with his verses entitled “In a Boat,” “Twelfth Night, and some other exemplars, until we finally and happily face the gracious words of “Courtesy” and the counterpointing CODA on Sorrow of Soul.

All references are to 1951-selection, as published before Belloc died on 16 July 1953. (See H. Belloc’s Songs of The South Country (London: Gerald Duckworth & CO., 1951), pages 32.)

Hilaire Belloc’s evocative Marian Verse is called “In a Boat”:

Lady! Lady! / Upon Heaven-height, / Above the harsh morning / In the mere light. / Above the spindrift / And above the snow, / Where no seas tumble, / And no winds blow. / The twisting tides, / And the perilous sands / Upon all sides / Are in your holy hands. / The wind harries / And the cold kills; / But I see your chapel / Over far hills. / My body is frozen, / My soul is afraid: / Stretch out your hands to me, / Mother and maid. / Mother of Christ, /And Mother of me, / Save me alive / From the howl of the sea. / If you will Mother me / Till I grow old, / I will hang in your chapel / A ship of pure gold.

Hilaire Belloc’s additional Verse, touching upon Sacred History, is entitled “Twelfth Night”:

As I was lifting over Down / A winter’s night to Petworth Town, / I came upon a company / Of Travellers who would talk with me. /

The riding moon was small and bright, / They cast no shadows in her light. / There was no man for miles a-near. / I would not walk with them for fear. /

A star of heaven by Gumber glowed, / An ox across the darkness lowed, / Whereas a burning light there stood / Right in the heart of Gumber Wood. /

Across the rime their marching rang, / And in a little while they sang; / They sang a song I used to know, / Gloria in Excelsis Domino. /

The frozen way those people trod / It led towards the Mother of God; / Perhaps if I had travelled with them / I might have come to Bethlehem.

Such art and such faith and implicitness help prepare us to savor Belloc’s poem, “Courtesy.”

Courtesy”

by Hilaire Belloc

Of Courtesy, it is much less / Than Courage of Heart or Holiness, / Yet in my Walks it seems to me / That the Grace of God is in Courtesy. /

On Monks I did in Storrington fall, / They took me straight into their Hall; / I saw Three Pictures on a wall, / And Courtesy was in them all. /

The first the Annunciation; / The second the Visitation; / The third the Consolation, / Of God that was Our Lady’s Son. /

The first was of St. Gabriel; / On Wings a-flame from Heaven he fell; / And as he went upon one knee / He shone with Heavenly Courtesy. /

Our Lady out of Nazareth rode – / It was Her month of heavy load; / Yet was her face both great and kind, / For Courtesy was in Her Mind. /

The third it was our Little Lord, / Whom all the Kings in arms adored; / He was so small you could not see / His large intent of Courtesy. /

Our Lord, that was Our Lady’s Son, / God bless you, People, one by one; / My Rhyme is written, my work is done.

CODA

The Prophet Lost In The Hills At Evening

Strong God which made the topmost stars
To circulate and keep their course,
Remember me; whom all the bars
Of sense and dreadful fate enforce.

Above me in your heights and tall,
Impassable the summits freeze,
Below the haunted waters call
Impassable beyond the trees.

I hunger and I have no bread.
My gourd is empty of the wine.
Surely the footsteps of the dead
Are shuffling softly close to mine!

It darkens. I have lost the ford.
There is a change on all things made.
The rocks have evil faces, Lord,
And I am awfully afraid.


Remember me: the Voids of Hell
Expand enormous all around.
Strong friend of souls, Emmanuel [Christ],
Redeem me from accursed ground.

The long descent of wasted days,
To these at last have led me down;
Remember that I filled with praise
The meaningless and doubtful ways

That lead to an eternal town.

I challenged and I kept the Faith,
The bleeding path alone I trod;
It darkens. Stand about my wraith,
And harbour me — almighty God.

–Finis–

© 2022 Robert D. Hickson

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