Here under one cover are G.K. Chesterton’s early poetry: Greybeards at Play (1901), The Wild Knight and Other Stories (1901) and The Ballad of the White Horse (1911).
Greybeards at Play deserves far more attention than it has thus far received. In his contribution to G.K. Chesterton: A Centenary Appraisal, the poet W.H. Auden praised it with these words: “I have no hesitation in saying that it contains some of the best pure nonsense verse in English…. Surely it is high time such enchanting pieces should be made readily available.”
The playfulness of Greybeards at Play contrasts dramatically with the historical importance of The Ballad of the White Horse. During one of the darkest moments in World War II, the front page of The Times of London would quote these memorable words from it: “I tell you naught for your comfort, Yea naught for your desire, Save that the sky grows darker yet and the sea rises higher.” They expressed better than anything else the great trials England was passing through just five years after Chesterton’s death.
In his great epic, Chesterton had done with English history what Tolkien would later do with his imaginary history of Middle-earth. He had molded events and placed them in a new light to give meaning and purpose to history. As Chesterton would note on the book’s title page, he agreed with King Alfred that, “I say, as do all Christian men, that there is a divine purpose that rules and not fate.”