In the midst of his conversion, he wrote another epic poem, the lesser known Ballad of St. Barbara. It was published in October of 1922, a month after his confirmation. And it was the only other work he dedicated to his wife. The dedicatory poem is a profound tribute to Frances, a celebration of their married life, of the amazing experiences they had shared:
Life is not void or stuff for scorners:
We have laughed loud and kept our love,
We have heard singers in tavern corners
And not forgotten the birds above:
We have known smiters and sons of thunder
And not unworthily walked with them,
We have grown wiser and lost not wonder;
And we have seen Jerusalem.5
They did indeed see Jerusalem. They had walked where Jesus walked. In the Garden of Gethsemane, the guide said to them, “This is where God said his prayers.”6 They walked along the Via Dolorosa, the road of tears that led to the Cross. They saw the place where Christ died and where he rose again. And it was on the journey home, when stopping in the Italian port of Brindisi, that G.K. Chesterton walked into a Catholic church and looked up at a statue of the Virgin and Child, and there made the decision that upon returning to England he would become Catholic. It was Easter Sunday. After death, resurrection.
He called his conversion “the chief event” of his life. But the surprising thing was how outwardly very little changed. He had defended the Catholic Faith in his writings for years; he would continue to do so. He had already written two dozen Father Brown stories. Nothing changed in terms of his stances on justice for the poor, for the laborer, for the downtrodden. He still fought corruption and greed and misgovernment. He still suffered fools gladly.
And yet everything changed. This was the hinge on which his life turned. After standing at the door of the Church and ushering others in without having entered himself, he finally went in. Now he belonged. Now he was in full communion with the saints.
The Canticle of Sirach
Happy the man who meditates on wisdom, and reflects on knowledge; Who ponders her ways in his heart, and understands her paths; Who encamps near her house, and fastens his tent pegs next to her walls; Who pitches his tent beside her, and lives as her welcome neighbor; Who builds his nest in her leafage, and lodges in her branches; Who takes shelter with her from the heat, and dwells in her home. Motherlike she will meet him, like a young bride she will embrace him, Nourish him with the bread of understanding, and give him the water of learning to drink. He will lean upon her and not fall, he will trust in her and not be put to shame. She will exalt him above his fellows; in the assembly she will make him eloquent. Joy and gladness he will find, an everlasting name inherit.
(Sir 14:20–21, 24–27; 15:2–6, NAB)
Excerpted from ”Knight of the Holy Ghost” by Dale Ahlquist