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The Ballad of the White Horse

4.25 of 5 stars 4.25  ·  rating details  ·  574 ratings  ·  44 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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Community Reviews

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Michael
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
Toria
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
Volsung
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
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.
booklady
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.
Alexandra
“Pride flings frail palaces at the sky,
As a man flings up sand,
But the firm feet of humility
Take hold of heavy land."
Michael
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
...more
Annette
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
Melissa
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
...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
...more
Paul
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.
Watergirl
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
Rhonda
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
...more
Isabella
Didn't take long to read, but can be difficult to understand.
Mii
This book is a great read!
Jeremy
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'd love to get my own copy and read it again and mark it up.
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.
Elsbeth
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.
Frances
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.
Arpy
Dec 27, 2012 Arpy 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.
Music
The verse had a lyrical quality to it. So that to really enjoy it, I found, I had to read it quickly, and instead of picking out the meaning of every word and phrase for a minute image of the subject, I read it quickly and all Chesterton was writing passed before me like the haze of a dream, beautiful beyond analogy.
Lea
May 13, 2013 Lea rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: poetry
I've always had a hard time reading poetry. When I have to refer to historical notes as I read the selection, it makes it even harder to enjoy the book. However, this is Chesterton. Of course, I enjoyed his retelling! The prose and plot flowed beautifully. I just wish that it had been simpler to understand.
Joey
First book ever read aloud to my son. He seemed indifferent, but then he's only 6 weeks old. I enjoyed it a great deal as his mother.
Amanda
One of the best books in the whole world. Powerful, easy to read, flowing, beautiful, ringing with truth, and wonderfully written. This story has a life and soul all its own. GK has done it again, but that's no surprise.
Corey
"King 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.C.
Paul
Still one of my favorites many years later. Yes, Chesterton is opinionated. And yes, he is sometimes too much. But he wove together faith and words in the face of a changing culture with spirit and strength.
J. Alfred
Pretty pretty good. Makes Chesterton even more of an enigma from my standpoint, because the whole flow of the poem went pretty well. Good, healthy Romanticism. Some awesome lines. Enjoyable.
Manphibian
The last great epic in the English language!
I'm not a poet, I don't read too much poetry, but I've read this dozens of times. Heck, I've practically memorized it. Love it.
Violet
I liked the first few parts of the poem the best. This was my first Chesterton read, and I liked it quite alot. It just got kind of slow near the end.
Rachel
The rhythms and the images in this epic poem of King Alfred's battle for England have a captivating energy and passion. Wonderful.
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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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