Tuesday, September 02, 2008


Yes, it's me, Dr. Thursday again. I am helping fill in, as our esteemed bloggmistress begins a new school year. Some time ago I saw mention of the town called Heckmondwike, and a promise of a poem - which perhaps got lost in transport. So I thought I would post them. But first, you need to know this:
Gilbert and Frances would both visit Father O'Connor in his Yorkshire Parish of Heckmondwike. One year they took rooms at Ilkley and he remembers Gilbert adorning with huge frescoes the walls of the attic and Frances sitting in the window singing, "O swallow, swallow flying south" while Gilbert "did a blazon of some fantastic coat of arms."
[Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 255-6]
Father (later Monsignor) John O'Connor was the priest after whom GKC modelled his great priest-detective, Father Brown. O'Connor wrote a book about GKC called Father Brown on Chesterton, which contains two poems about Heckmondwike: "I begged him to write in my copy of The Ballad of the White Horse, and thought he was taking a long time. It seems now time well spent." Here's the ballade GKC wrote:

To Father O'Connor - G. K. Chesterton

The scratching pen, the aching tooth,
The Plea for Higher Unity,
The aged buck, the earnest youth,
The Missing Link, the Busy Bee,
The Superman, the Third Degree
Are things that I should greatly like
To take and sling quite suddenly
As far as Heaven from Heckmondwike.

As far as Hood is from Fitzooth,
As far as seraphs from a flea,
As far as Campbell from the truth,
Or old Bohemia from the sea,
Or Shakespeare from Sir Herbert Tree
Or Nathan from an Arab sheik,
Or most of us from £ s. d.
As far as Heaven from Heckmondwike.

As far as actresses from youth,
As far, as far as lunch from tea,
As far as Horton from Maynooth,
As far as Paris from Paree;
As far as Hawke is from a gee,
Or I am from an old high bike,
As far as Stead from sanity,
As far as Heaven from Heckmondwike.

Envoi Prince, Cardinal that is to be,
Cardinals do not go on strike
I'm far from wishing it (D.V.)
As far as Heaven from Heckmondwike.
[Father Brown on Chesterton 109-110]
Father goes on to tell us about the second: "In Kensington High Street I stood myself a copy of The Ball and the Cross, just out, and took it on with me to Beaconsfield to be inscribed. He was ten minutes late for lunch, but he brought down the book inscribed as follows (it had a bright orange dust-jacket):
This is a book I do not like,
Take it away to Heckmondwike,
A lurid exile, lost and sad
To punish it for being bad.
You need not take it from the shelf
(I tried to read it once myself:
The speeches jerk, the chapters sprawl,
The story makes no sense at all)
Hide it your Yorkshire moors among
Where no man speaks the English tongue.

Hail Heckmondwike! Successful spot!
Saved from the Latin's festering lot,
Where Horton and where Hocking see
The grace of Heaven, Prosperity.
Above the chimneys, hung and bowed
A pillar of most solid cloud;
To starved oppressed Italian eyes,
The place would seem a Paradise,
And many a man from Como Lake,
And many a Tyrolese would take
(If priests allowed them what they like)
Their holidays in Heckmondwike.

The Belgian with his bankrupt woes,
Who through deserted Brussels goes,
The hind that threads those ruins bare
Where Munich and where Milan were -
Hears owls and wolves howl like Gehenna
In the best quarters of Vienna,
Murmurs in tears, "Ah, how unlike
The happiness of Heckmondwike!"

In Spain the sad guitar they strike,
And, yearning, sing of Heckmondwike
The Papal Guard leans on his pike
And dreams he is in Heckmondwike.
Peru's proud horsemen long to bike
But for one hour in Heckmondwike;
Offered a Land Bill, Pat and Mike
Cry: "Give us stones - in Heckmondwike!"
Bavarian Bier is good, belike:
But try the gin of Heckmondwike.
The Flamands drown in ditch and dyke
Their itch to be in Heckmondwike:
Rise, Freedom, with the sword to strike!
And turn the world to Heckmondwike.
Take then this book I do not like -
It may improve in Heckmondwike.

also in Father Brown on Chesterton 109-112]
Father Brown, I mean Father O'Connor explains the name "Horton":
He [GKC] had just been reading a shilling pamphlet by Dr. Horton on the Roman Menace or some such fearful wild fowl. I know he had read it, because no one else could when he had done. Most of his books, as and when read, had gone through every indignity a book may suffer and live. He turned it inside out, dog-eared it, pencilled it, sat on it, took it to bed and rolled on it, and got up again and spilled tea on it - if he were sufficiently interested. So Dr. Horton's pamphlet had a refuted look when I saw it.
Dr. Horton was an anti-Catholic writer whose work GKC calls "monstrously amusing". [ILN Nov 26 1910 CW28:636] "Roman Menace" is one of Horton's unimaginative epithets for the Roman Catholic Church.

One final note: the poem leaves no doubt how to pronounce this odd word. And now, your homework assignment: write a poem about Heckmondwike, and read (or re-read) GKC's The Ball and the Cross.

1 comment:

  1. A clerihew to Hedmondwike
    Breaks all the rules, to my dislike;
    The visit with the priestly bloke
    Is mispronounced in Hedmondwoke.
    And once again when I partake,
    And bake my cake in Hedmondwake;
    The internet and travel geek,
    Have discovered I'm in Hedmondweek;
    When searching for an Earl or Duke,
    Look no further than Hedmondwuke.
    Go to the pub where drinks are spiked,
    You'll find yourself in Hedmondwiked.


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