Thursday, October 7, 2010

Victory at Lepanto

by G.K. Chesterton

White founts falling in the Courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard;
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips;
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross.
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.

Dim drums throbbing, in the hills half heard,
Where only on a nameless throne a crownless prince has stirred,
Where, risen from a doubtful seat and half attainted stall,
The last knight of Europe takes weapons from the wall,
The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has sung,
That once went singing southward when all the world was young.
In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,
Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.
Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far,
Don John of Austria is going to the war,
Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold
In the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold,
Torchlight crimson on the copper kettle-drums,
Then the tuckets, then the trumpets, then the cannon, and he comes.
Don John laughing in the brave beard curled,
Spurning of his stirrups like the thrones of all the world,
Holding his head up for a flag of all the free.
Love-light of Spain--hurrah!
Death-light of Africa!
Don John of Austria
Is riding to the sea.

Mahound is in his paradise above the evening star,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
He moves a mighty turban on the timeless houri's knees,
His turban that is woven of the sunsets and the seas.
He shakes the peacock gardens as he rises from his ease,
And he strides among the tree-tops and is taller than the trees;
And his voice through all the garden is a thunder sent to bring
Black Azrael and Ariel and Ammon on the wing.
Giants and the Genii,
Multiplex of wing and eye,
Whose strong obedience broke the sky
When Solomon was king.

They rush in red and purple from the red clouds of the morn,
From the temples where the yellow gods shut up their eyes in scorn;
They rise in green robes roaring from the green hells of the sea
Where fallen skies and evil hues and eyeless creatures be,
On them the sea-valves cluster and the grey sea-forests curl,
Splashed with a splendid sickness, the sickness of the pearl;
They swell in sapphire smoke out of the blue cracks of the ground,--
They gather and they wonder and give worship to Mahound.
And he saith, "Break up the mountains where the hermit-folk can hide,
And sift the red and silver sands lest bone of saint abide,
And chase the Giaours flying night and day, not giving rest,
For that which was our trouble comes again out of the west.
We have set the seal of Solomon on all things under sun,
Of knowledge and of sorrow and endurance of things done.
But a noise is in the mountains, in the mountains, and I know
The voice that shook our palaces--four hundred years ago:
It is he that saith not 'Kismet'; it is he that knows not Fate;
It is Richard, it is Raymond, it is Godfrey at the gate!
It is he whose loss is laughter when he counts the wager worth,
Put down your feet upon him, that our peace be on the earth."
For he heard drums groaning and he heard guns jar,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
Sudden and still--hurrah!
Bolt from Iberia!
Don John of Austria
Is gone by Alcalar.

St. Michaels on his Mountain in the sea-roads of the north
(Don John of Austria is girt and going forth.)
Where the grey seas glitter and the sharp tides shift
And the sea-folk labour and the red sails lift.
He shakes his lance of iron and he claps his wings of stone;
The noise is gone through Normandy; the noise is gone alone;
The North is full of tangled things and texts and aching eyes,
And dead is all the innocence of anger and surprise,
And Christian killeth Christian in a narrow dusty room,
And Christian dreadeth Christ that hath a newer face of doom,
And Christian hateth Mary that God kissed in Galilee,--
But Don John of Austria is riding to the sea.
Don John calling through the blast and the eclipse
Crying with the trumpet, with the trumpet of his lips,
Trumpet that sayeth ha!
Domino gloria!
Don John of Austria
Is shouting to the ships.

King Philip's in his closet with the Fleece about his neck
(Don John of Austria is armed upon the deck.)
The walls are hung with velvet that is black and soft as sin,
And little dwarfs creep out of it and little dwarfs creep in.
He holds a crystal phial that has colours like the moon,
He touches, and it tingles, and he trembles very soon,
And his face is as a fungus of a leprous white and grey
Like plants in the high houses that are shuttered from the day,
And death is in the phial and the end of noble work,
But Don John of Austria has fired upon the Turk.
Don John's hunting, and his hounds have bayed--
Booms away past Italy the rumour of his raid.
Gun upon gun, ha! ha!
Gun upon gun, hurrah!
Don John of Austria
Has loosed the cannonade.

The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke,
(Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke.)
The hidden room in man's house where God sits all the year,
The secret window whence the world looks small and very dear.
He sees as in a mirror on the monstrous twilight sea
The crescent of his cruel ships whose name is mystery;
They fling great shadows foe-wards, making Cross and Castle dark,
They veil the plumèd lions on the galleys of St. Mark;
And above the ships are palaces of brown, black-bearded chiefs,
And below the ships are prisons, where with multitudinous griefs,
Christian captives sick and sunless, all a labouring race repines
Like a race in sunken cities, like a nation in the mines.
They are lost like slaves that sweat, and in the skies of morning hung
The stair-ways of the tallest gods when tyranny was young.
They are countless, voiceless, hopeless as those fallen or fleeing on
Before the high Kings' horses in the granite of Babylon.
And many a one grows witless in his quiet room in hell
Where a yellow face looks inward through the lattice of his cell,
And he finds his God forgotten, and he seeks no more a sign--
(But Don John of Austria has burst the battle-line!)
Don John pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,
Purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate's sloop,
Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,
Thronging of the thousands up that labour under sea
White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.

Vivat Hispania!
Domino Gloria!
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!

Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight for ever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade....
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)

When we speak of the great moments in the history of Western Christendom, we would be neglectful to ignore the miraculous victory of Lepanto. Indeed, this was a victory five centuries in the making, the culmination of all the hard work, bloodshed, prayer, and strategic thinking engaged in in the West since the Turks at Manzikert ate a large chunk out of the Byzantine Empire, our buffer state against the Muslims and the statist East, thus imperilling our nascent civilisation. Thus, we crusaded, which did not in the end stop the Turks, but slowed them down enough that we should no longer be an easy target of raiding by Vikings, Magyars, or Saracens, but that we should be strong enough to defend our civilisation, our land, our religion from any and all comers. Thus the Normans, once Viking marauders, took and fortified the vulnerable Sicilies, Iberia was reconquered, and galleons rounded the Cape, opened the Americas, and traversed the world, returning with gold and stores. We were ready; let the heathen dare to enter our part of the sea.

Indeed we were victorious, but it was not quite the victory we had hoped, for Christendom had begun to break down. The eldest daughter prevaricated, even allying herself to the Turks for some time. England, lost to heresy, was actively persecuting the Church. Dutchmen, proclaiming their preference of Turk to Pope, revolted against Spain and turned to piracy on the high seas. Our external war may have ended, but our civil war was just beginning. Today servile states exist all about us, and a sort of slavery seems to be the status quo; one might justly wonder if the Turks had won.

We saved our civilisation though, and though all to many are willing to betray that for the generic and bland yet hostile "multiculuralism" so prevalent nowadays, I for one am proud to say, "I am still a Catholic and a Westerner." Yes, in spite of Lady Gaga, brutalistic architecture, polo shirts, ballcaps, and self-help books, I remember that we were once greater than this. Not only have we such great victories as Lepanto, Malta, and Vienna, we have the Church, and her saints throughout time. God willing, I will soon have a Mass said near me that reflects the way we worshipped from time immemorial until the Baby Boom came of age. We have our literature, our Shakespeares, Dantes, and Cervantes; our music, our Palestrinas, Bachs, and Mozarts; our Gothic cathedrals and our Baroque chapels; our manners and our interpersonal customs; our feasts and our fasts. Though we have lost broad society today, we have our memory, and thus know that we are not ephemeral as so many desire to be nowadays. Great men and women have shaped our society long before any of us were born; let us never break trust with them.

I should last note that credit for this great victory was universally given to Our Lady's intercession. Rosaries for the success of the fleet were offered throughout Christendom, and Pope St. Pius V declared this day, the anniversary of the battle, the feast of Our Lady of Victory, later Our Lady of the Rosary. Perhaps it was that the Turks were to conquer us, and that we should have had a period of Babylonian captivity under their yoke. But our merciful mother heard our prayers, and gave us instead our modern Thermopylae. Let us therefore take to our beads this evening, in gratitude for all this glorious heritage we have received, and in hope that Our Lady of Victory be also our intercessor for a restoration of the grandeur and beauty and faith that once so animated our society.

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