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The Ballad of the White Horse

4.24 of 5 stars 4.24  ·  rating details  ·  681 ratings  ·  53 reviews

Written in the 1950s, this book defines and anticipates, in a prophetic way, the role of the laity in the Church, and the intimate relationship between the Church and the world. These two themes were recognized by the Second Vatican Council especially in the two constitutions "On the Church" and "The Church in the Modern World."

Von Balthasar's "bastions" are barriers erect

Hardcover, 231 pages
Published December 1st 2001 by Ignatius Press (first published January 1st 1911)
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Your Favourite Book of Poetry.
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Community Reviews

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Once upon a time there was a king who ruled a small country. He was a good king who loved his people, his country, and God. But he was beset with enemies on every side. He fought and lost many battles against these enemies and was on the brink of absolute defeat. Then one day, as he walked through the woods, a vision appeared to him of a beautiful woman. She encouraged him to take heart and go into battle once more. She did not promise him victory, but her appearance filled him with hope, and he ...more
This book. Just go read it. NOW. Especially if you're a Catholic. Even if you're not, you'll still love it. It's just go so much: the legendary tale of Kind Alfred the Great and his exploits (which include getting slapped in the face with a hotcake by an angry peasant woman), the never-ending battle between Christianity and paganism, and poetry that's so rich and beautiful it just makes you cry. It's one of those books which just make life a little better. Chesterton was a genius, mkay? I'm defi ...more
I've pretty much always known that I would love Chesterton's books. I just have. However, this being the very first of Chesterton's books that I've read, it's official.

How on earth he managed to tell a brilliant but bloody tale in beautiful verse, I'll never know. (Also, my giddy heart filled with glee every time he rhymed a word with a name of a person or place. I don't even know why, but I really like that.)

I started this book and immediately had proof that I would love it when I read this:

“Pride flings frail palaces at the sky,
As a man flings up sand,
But the firm feet of humility
Take hold of heavy land."
Chesterton's poetry packs the same elegant punch as his fiction writing. As a Protestant, I wasn't as keen on the Catholic themes (for instance, the continual description of Christianity as something that originated in Rome), but overall the poem was marvelous. I loved the way Chesterton sketches the characters of the chieftains on both sides, so that the reader is thoroughly involved in their fate by the time they go into battle—and the language is full of breathtaking imagery and lines that st ...more
This is my favorite poem of all time... How's that for a wide, sweeping statement? I'm sure I will have other favorites eventually, but I love it today ;)I listen to it whenever I get the opportunity in my audiobooks app. I had to take it with a grain of salt at first due to the overt Catholic tendencies, but I have since come to love the poem and its ponderings on life. Beautiful and thank you, Chesterton! I think this was my intro to G.K. Chesterton.

The Ballad of the White Horse by G.K. Chesterton
Listened to the poem and followed along with the text. I'm not much for epic poetry as a rule. Hearing it read aloud this way, I can imagine the thrill it used to give ancient peoples when oral recitation was the sole entertainment of the tribe.
Gwen Burrow
Chesterton's poetry rhymes like Modern English, but stalks with bold strides and rolls with deep rumbling like Old.
Poetry is not a genera I read with any frequency, and thus I was pleasantly surprised to find myself rather enjoying this long ballad concerning Alfred, an obscure (to me, anyway) and at least semi-mythical English king of yore. (In the foreword, Chesterton freely admits that historicity was not his foremost concern: the myth itself is more important to him than the facts of this king, long lost in the dark ages.) In it, Alfred and a small group of his men fight a vastly superior force of Danes ...more
An excellent, poignant work of verse and thought. The story is of Alfred the Great's wanderings in the darkest days of the Viking invasion of England (all the "classic" tales of Alfred from this time are represented, i.e. the woman and the cakes, the harping while disguised in the Viking camp), his mustering of his men, and the final assault and victory of the English over the Northmen. It is an extremely meaningful work, with much contemporary applicability and expression of thought -- it is no ...more
Michael Jones
This is one I read over and over when I retire but before sleep takes me. Truly one of Chesterton's greatest poetic works! In my estimation one of the best poetic works ever.

The fun part is that while it is terrific poetry, Chesterton also knew his stuff.

One of my favorite parts:

And as he wept for the woman
He let her business be,
And like his royal oath and rash
The good food fell upon the ash
And blackened instantly.

Screaming, the woman caught a cake
Yet burning from the bar,
And struck him sud
Peter B.
A fine tale of Christian faith against barbarianism, written with Chesterton's and our own struggle against materialistic nihilism in mind, in the form of the legend of King Alfred.

"The men of the East may spell the stars,
And times and triumphs mark,
But the men sign of the cross of Christ
Go gaily in the dark." (p. 13)

Guthrum, with his nihilist perspective:
"Death blazes bright above the cup,
And clear above the crown;
But in that dream of battle
We seem to tread it down.

Wherefore I am a great Ki
Yuri Bernales
"I am Alfred of Wessex,/ And I am a conquered king."
Chesterton is called a master without a masterpiece, but I think more aptly he has too many masterpieces on his resumé for one to pick one before the rest. There just isn't something to correspond in length and scope to Don Quixote or something like that. I have yet to read a work of his that lacks brilliance, wit, or general "master-ness," and his two-and-a-half-thousand-line ballad is no exception. This might be the first work of poetry that
Absolutely masterful poetry and simply delightful turns of phrase. This is a wonderful little book of grand adventure and historical romance, at times reminiscent of C.S. Lewis's Narnia or Tolkien's Middle Earth. Despite the at-times faulty theology and literary license with historical fact, Chesterton is a master storyteller.
Mark Adderley
This is the story of King Alfred the Great's victory over the Danish invaders. The verse is beautiful, and hard to catch--it keeps slipping away. Particularly beautiful is the scene in which Alfred, mistaken by the Danes for a bard, defends the Christian view of the world against the pagan.
Jesse Broussard
Epic poem of King Alfred. What words are in this book. Truly, in the ancient sense of the word, awesome.
Epic poetry is hard, especially for those of us who don't come from a strong oral storytelling tradition. The opening and closing chapters were strong, but in the middle I kind of struggled to keep going with it. I read this on my kindle at night and was also intermittently listening to the Illiad as an audio book in the car. The Ballad of the White Horse didn't compare well -- the timing was just slightly off, and it didn't have the polish of so many, many centuries of re-telling. Still, it was ...more
The Ballad of the White Horse is a romanticized telling of the actual Battle of Ethandun (AKA Battle of Edington) which took place in England in 878. In English History it is considered the battle that created the nation of England. In it, Alfred the Great defeated a great heathen army of Vikings (Danes) in a battle in which they faced a much larger and better equipped force.
According to historical accounts, the Vikings usually captured a fortified town and then waited for the Anglo-Saxons to s
I read this edition first (ASIN: B00JL0PG6I).

Chesterton's account is clearly romanticized, and Chesterton projects his own modern concerns about secularism and nihilism. But the whole thing is a lot of fun. I know that I would not have enjoyed it so much if I had not been thinking about Alfred a lot already for an Old English presentation. Having read Ben Merkle's The White Horse King really helped prepare me to read Chesterton's poem.

I also read (and own) this edition (from April 4-13), which h
This ballad tells the story of King Alfred and his fight against the Danes. G.K.Chesterton said in his introduction that he didn't intend to be historically accurate when he wrote this, but to use the common stories of King Alfred. He wrote a gorgeous epic, I was immediately drawn into this poem. Epic poems are not my usual fare (I'm a fiction person), but I enjoyed this one very much.

This ballad is divided into eight books.
It begins by King Alfred (who was defeated by the danes) having a vision
"His harp was carved and cunning, His sword prompt and sharp, And he was gay when he held the sword, Sad when he held the harp. For the great Gaels of Ireland Are the men that God made mad, For all their wars are merry, And all their songs are sad." I loved this poem. It is not my favorite, but it is starkly beautiful. The language is perhaps the best thing of this work; it is gloriously romantic and draws the reader in deeper through the tale of Alfred, King.
Victoria Goddard
I always feel that I shouldn't give Chesterton five stars, because there's so much that's problematic about his works ... but I love the ones I love very much, and I have to say I love his sense of wonder in the ordinary, the poetry of the prosaic. I also like the fact that he wrote a thumping sort of ballad about The White Horse and King Alfred.
I didn't realize it was en epic poem when I decided to read it but I'm glad I stuck with it because it was really quite fantastic.
Richard R., Martin
Good ballad but sometimes hard to follow because, not knowing the history, I could not follow who was on which side of the conflict.
Oct 20, 2010 Rhonda rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Sarah Camp
Recommended to Rhonda by: Rich Dixon
This epic poem recounts the story of the English King Alfred and his battle against the Danes in 878 A.D. There is some legend incorporated, but much of it is historical. It comments on the larger picture with commentary on nihilism, heathenism, and morality. Some think this poem influenced and inspired Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy. This is one of Chesterton's most famous poems and one of the great epic poems of the twentieth century.

It is worth getting a copy with the historical not
Didn't take long to read, but can be difficult to understand.
This book is a great read!
Evan Hays
This was a perfect follow up to reading the history of Alfred. Chesterton makes no claim to be doing history with his epic poem, but instead uses the story of Alfred as a backdrop to draw a picture of pre-Norman England as a mosaic of Celtic, Roman, and Anglo-Saxon life and culture. The Danes are not mocked or ridiculed either.

I had not read any lengthy poetry by Chesterton yet, and it was well-worth it. Chesterton is just so prolific.
Normally, I wrestle my way through one work of poetry a year. Today, January first, I picked up this ballad and finished it in a few hours. In ten years I have not enjoyed a work of poetry this much.
Chesterton's ballad reminded me somehow of Tolkien's Middle-Earth: a time of heraldry and courage, a time of faith and a time of battle.
Dec 27, 2012 Alex rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Christians, history buffs, people who like poetry
Though GK Chesterton is not known as well for his poetry, he wrote it well and profusely, and his ballad is an excellent sample. It tells the story of King Alfred and the Danes, and is both inspirational and exciting. It is well-written and very uplifting, though it is certainly Catholic. There are many quotable lines in it.
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Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) was born in London, educated at St. Paul’s, and went to art school at University College London. In 1900, he was asked to contribute a few magazine articles on art criticism, and went on to become one of the most prolific writers of all time. He wrote a hundred books, contributions to 200 more, hundreds of poems, including the epic Ballad of the White Horse, fi ...more
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“The great Gaels of Ireland are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry, and all their songs are sad.”
“The men of the East may spell the stars,
And times and triumphs mark,
But the men signed of the cross of Christ
Go gaily in the dark.”
More quotes…