A Poem for Palm Sunday: GK Chesterton’s “The Donkey”

The Rev. Patrick Comerford has posted GK Chesterton’s poem “The Donkey” as his Palm Sunday entry in his Lenten Poems series.

The Donkey, by GK Chesterton

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

With monstrous head and sickening cry,
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
Of all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient, crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hours and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

***

Here is a further portion of the full blog entry with a reflection on the poem:

The donkey serves as literary device to link birth and death, Christmas and Easter, We often think of the donkey as the lowly, humble, unattractive beast of burden who carries Christ into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. But the Christ Child also rode on a donkey when he was carried in the womb by his mother, the Virgin Mary, to Bethlehem before his birth.

However, this poem points us, not so much to the donkey, but to our “Beast of Burden,” Christ, who carried the burden that no one else could bear – the sins of the world. Christ looked even more “monstrous” than the donkey (Isaiah 52: 14), he was “starved, scourged, derided,” four times in the Gospels he was “dumb,” but his hour of glory came on the cross.

Is the donkey too hard on himself? But then, most us may be too hard on ourselves. If the lowly beast of burden becomes a bearer of the King, then surely Christ can see through the ways our perceptions of our own worth and understanding are at times awry and distorted.

On this day, 1 April, it might be too easy to think of the donkey as foolish. The donkey may be derided as a stupid animal, yet he is used by God for the most triumphal journey in history, highlighting the difference between God’s wisdom and ours. No matter how humble or crushed in spirit we may feel, we are all God’s beloved children and we are all capable of being raised in glory.

Nobody is truly worthless, no matter what others may think. Just as the donkey is an unsung, unloved and unattractive creature who becomes the hero in Chesterton’s poem, so too the most humble and unattractive people, even though they are without social connections or the appearance of being important, are seen by Christ as who they truly are, made in God’s image and likeness.

The donkey remains dumb and does not declare his moment of greatness to those who deride him. Instead, his experience is an internal knowledge of his true value.

The image of the donkey in his moment of glory carrying Christ speaks of the intrinsic worth of every human, and the glory of every human soul in God’s love. In God’s eyes, we all deserve palms before our feet.

***

I’ve really appreciated the Rev. Comerford’s Lenten poetry series this Lent and encourage you to browse through some of the wonderful poems and reflections.

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3 Responses to A Poem for Palm Sunday: GK Chesterton’s “The Donkey”

  1. […] A Poem for Palm Sunday: GK Chesterton’s “The Donkey” […]

  2. […] A Poem for Palm Sunday: GK Chesterton’s “The Donkey” (2012) […]

  3. […] A Poem for Palm Sunday: GK Chesterton’s “The Donkey” […]

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