Joy without a cause

I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.
Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?Inspired by G.K. Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse as recently recalled by Malcolm Guite:

The Uffington White Horse, as in Chesterton’s Ballad, was already 2000 years old in the days of King Alfred’s struggles against the Vikings.

. . . it is not the first time that this poem has come to life again when England was in crisis. Chesterton saw that a renewal of the vision of joy and humility, which is at the heart of the Christian creed, was the only way to stand and withstand against the odds. He wrote a poem at whose heart is a call to courage, kindled not by probable chances of success, but by what he called “the joy without a cause”.

I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.
Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?

The poem proved extraordinarily popular and helpful. Many of those called to combat in the two world wars went out with this poem in their pockets, and were greatly strengthened by it. The Times quoted it twice in leaders, each at key points in the Second World War: “Naught For Your Comfort” was the leader headline after the disaster of Crete, and Alfred’s great cry “The high tide and the turn” was the headline after the D-Day landings. And, of course, later on, Trevor Huddleston would draw on this poem in the seemingly impossible struggle against apartheid.

Guite continues:

Perhaps its time has come again. There is, indeed, “naught for our comfort, and naught for our desire” in our bleak news bulletins, but we may yet summon something of Alfred’s courage, something of the faith that does without hope, something of “the joy of giants, The joy without a cause”, until we get through the worst, and come, at last, as Alfred did, to “the high tide and the turn”.

Joy without a cause. We can be sustained by such glimpses, like wayfarers on twisted paths lit only by sparse streetlamps. Perhaps not so much “we”, but certainly in my own life, from the day I first learned to walk.

—–

I caught a snippet on the radio: “Which is better? Expectation or hope?” I pause for thought. Till 2020 we went through our days in expectation of shaping our own lives. And now? We slowly learn that these days are over. Clinging to what was before gives us only pain. We are compelled to take refuge in hope, as have-nots everywhere have always done.

Malcolm Guite’s article appeared in his Poet’s Corner, published in the Church Times.

7 thoughts on “Joy without a cause”

  1. “Each thing is its own cause & its own effect” Blake
    Where could joy come from than a reservoir of joy within. The outward events may trigger a feeling of joy, but it will fade. To renew joy return to the source.

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    1. Thanks, Ellie, you & Blake make a formidable combination to engage in debate. To me it is not self-evident where joy comes from. As ever you inspire much thought, in this case the nature of joy, and whether it is just a feeling like every other, and how outward events and inner resources may act on one another.
      I see a new post coming, pondering on what joy is and what part it plays in everyone’s lives, via introspection & fieldwork—both.

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  2. I hear expectations are great 😊

    If I understand the sense in which the word is being used, I’d say that expectations are hope with entitlement. You don’t “hope” that check comes in the mail; you “expect” to see it any day now, and you damn well deserve it, and you’re going to have some strong words for someone if it doesn’t arrive.

    In the broader sense, however, expectations can also be negative in nature — we expect a storm, or the other shoe to drop — while we nearly always hope for the best. Unless we’re hoping for bad things to happen to our worst enemies. But never wishing! In that case, our worst enemies are the gold standard for the things we would never dream of wishing!

    Ah, it seems a third contender has thrown its hat into the ring…..

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      1. Fortunately I have the means to edit any comments, and have corrected another small typo at the same time.
        “The cheque is in the post” is a proverbial expression over here too.
        Yes! A third contender. But there are others too, as Dionne Warwick sings so plangently:

        Wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’
        Plannin’ and dreamin’ each night of his charms
        That won’t get you into his arms

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    1. Thanks Ruth! I wish for everyone—enemy stranger or friend—that conditions still let us laugh . . .

      . . . It’s that other infectious thing, that’s spread when done together, with our guard down, without mask or suspicion, a living thing that seizes the moment, punctures the bubble of separateness.

      May laughter leap across social distancing, like a high-voltage spark, a lightning-bolt, to zap all misery & self-pity!

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