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The Ballad of the White Horse

4.22  ·  Rating Details  ·  825 Ratings  ·  59 Reviews
The Ballad of the White Horse is one of the last great epic poems in the English language. On the one hand it describes King Alfred's battle against the Danes in 878. On the other hand it is a timeless allegory about the ongoing battle between Christianity and the forces of nihilistic heathenism. Filled with colorful characters, thrilling battles and mystical visions, it i ...more
Hardcover, 231 pages
Published December 1st 2001 by Ignatius Press (first published January 1st 1911)
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Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn WaughThe Power and the Glory by Graham GreeneThe Screwtape Letters by C.S. LewisThe Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. TolkienThe Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
Catholic Fiction
116th out of 408 books — 341 voters
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AoSHQ Horde Recommended - Fiction
33rd out of 235 books — 22 voters

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Community Reviews

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Debbie Zapata
May 25, 2016 Debbie Zapata rated it it was amazing
Shelves: pg
The GR blurb for this book prepared me for both the last great epic poem in the English language and a timeless allegory about the ongoing battle between Christianity and the forces of nihilistic heathenism.

I admit I was not too thrilled to read that last bit. Since I have my own opinions about organized religion and the way it has affected the people of the world, I was not sure I really wanted to read something that would try to say that Christianity is The Only Answer.

But I could not pass th
Sep 18, 2011 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 20, 2015 Elevetha rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone
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:

Oct 30, 2013 Alexandra rated it it was amazing
“Pride flings frail palaces at the sky,
As a man flings up sand,
But the firm feet of humility
Take hold of heavy land."
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
Apr 17, 2015 Elisabeth rated it really liked it
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
Michael Jones
Apr 28, 2012 Michael Jones rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 07, 2012 Watergirl rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 26, 2013 booklady rated it really liked it
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
Jan 07, 2011 Gwen Burrow rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, poetry
Chesterton's poetry rhymes like Modern English, but stalks with bold strides and rolls with deep rumbling like Old.
Apr 06, 2012 Annette rated it really liked it
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
Bonnie Lass
Mar 13, 2016 Bonnie Lass rated it it was amazing
"One other consideration needs a note. Alfred has come down to us in the best way (that is, by national legends) solely for the same reason as Arthur and Roland and the other giants of that darkness, because he fought for the Christian civilization against the heathen nihilism." -G. K. Chesterton.
Such an excellent and exciting read, shedding keen light on one of my favorite and most respected historical figures. The ballad's light is keen indeed for it is both beautiful to behold and is yet inst
There is about this epic poem a sense at once of darkening, deepening gloom, and brightness maintained by hard but hearty labor. I do not think this is an accident: for the main theme of Chesterton's retelling of the legend of the English King Alfred's battled against the Danish Guthrum at Ethandune is life as a battle, as a neverending struggle against encroaching evil, without and within. Hence the name The White Horse: the horse, a huge image cut from a chalky hill in Wiltshire, is a symbol o ...more
Peter B.
Jul 06, 2015 Peter B. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: stories-poetry
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
Jun 08, 2016 John rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
I don't think the ballad format works for epic and in any event the poem was too long for the ballad format. The religious (read: Roman Catholic) content was a little too obvious for my liking. I like my battle scenes Homeric. I was also troubled by Alfred's "prophecy" of a future heathen invasion of England by people "with scroll and pen/And grave as a shaven clerk,/By this sign you shall know them,/That they ruin and make dark ... etc. I suspect Glenn Beck thinks this poem is great...
Yuri Bernales
Feb 14, 2015 Yuri Bernales rated it it was amazing
"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
Feb 16, 2016 Todd rated it liked it
As poetry per se goes, this one ranges from so-so to pretty good. But as an epic poem, it is more successful. Chesterton doesn't concern himself with historical accuracy, making instead a sympathetic, and at times gripping story of King Alfred's battles with Guthrum and his Viking invaders. Still, don't expect Beowulf. Worth reading. A couple of lines I felt more memorable are sampled below, the references are to The G.K. Chesterton Collection 34 Books , from which I read this:

For the great Gael
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
Jan 13, 2010 Mark Adderley rated it really liked it
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
Mar 29, 2008 Jesse Broussard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: excellent
Epic poem of King Alfred. What words are in this book. Truly, in the ancient sense of the word, awesome.
Apr 08, 2015 Amelia rated it really liked it
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
Apr 15, 2014 Michael rated it really liked it
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
Feb 22, 2013 Melissa rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, favorites
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
Jun 03, 2016 Josh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
This was a delight. I picked it up solely by virtue of Chesterton's reputation, having previously enjoyed Orthodoxy and his Father Brown mysteries. I had never read any of his poetry, however — so what a surprise to discover this treasure! Chesterton manages to weave a poem, a saga, an exposition of Christian virtue and courage, and a parable of the eternal clash between good and evil all into 175 pages of epic verse. I will definitely reread this one!
Mar 10, 2015 Meg rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015, march-2015
"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
Mar 27, 2015 Victoria Goddard rated it it was amazing
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.
Lynn Joshua
Apr 27, 2016 Lynn Joshua rated it it was amazing
"The men of the East may spell the stars,
And times and triumphs mark,
But the men who sign of the cross of Christ
Go gaily in the dark."
"I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher."
Jul 31, 2014 Paul rated it it was amazing
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.
Andrew Votipka
Jan 12, 2016 Andrew Votipka rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Poetry that rhymes! And is readable! And tells a wonderful story in a way that prose can't!
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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…