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Gilbert’s Humorous, Strong Stance Against Suicide

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A Ballade of Suicide- by G.K. Chesterton

The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall;
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbours—on the wall—
Are drawing a long breath to shout “Hurray!”
The strangest whim has seized me. . . . After all
 I think I will not hang myself to-day.


To-morrow is the time I get my pay—
My uncle’s sword is hanging in the hall—
I see a little cloud all pink and grey—
Perhaps the rector’s mother will not call—
I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall
That mushrooms could be cooked another way—
I never read the works of Juvenal—
 I think I will not hang myself to-day.


The world will have another washing-day;
The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
And H.G. Wells has found that children play,
And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall,
Rationalists are growing rational—
And through thick woods one finds a stream astray
So secret that the very sky seems small—
  I think I will not hang myself to-day.


ENVOI
Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,
The tumbrils toiling up the terrible way;
Even to-day your royal head may fall,
   I think I will not hang myself to-day.

 

Debuting roughly 12 months ago, 13 Reasons Why, a Netflix Original series,  took the nation by storm. If you live under rock and haven’t heard, the story surrounds the 13 reasons behind the suicide of 17 year old Hannah Baker. Living in our beautifully diverse land, one comes to expect polarization towards such sensitive topics, and, indeed, the reaction was one of sound and fury, receiving both positive and critical reviews. While one side argues in hopeful favor for the awareness brought to suicide by the show, the other side stands against the idealization of killing yourself, the lack of consistency with reality, which is so strongly portrayed  by the show, and the poor illustration of helpful resources available to hurting individuals. My support sways to the latter, but I want to acknowledge the fine, meaningful intention of writer and director Selena Gomez, who appears by all accounts quite passionate against suicide.

 

My opposition towards 13 Reasons Why took root under the instruction of Father Mike Schmitz, a Catholic priest, college chaplain, and Youtuber. Schmitz called 13 Reasons Why a “revenge story.” I am not a member of the Catholic Church, and I will not sit here, writing my public school newspaper article, pretending to speak on behalf of their doctrine or beliefs, which I am not entirely familiar with. But what I am quite familiar with, on the other hand, is the degree of universal difficulty attached to the honest Christian platform, for it can be incredibly difficult trying not to trick ourselves into insensitivity, error, or misdirection.

 

Let me make myself unmistakably clear: seeing a young woman cut her wrists, bleed, cry, and die is realistic enough to turn the stomach and bring ache to the deepest regions of human emotion, so “unrealistic” is a very, very tricky choice of diction, but the reader must understand that Schmitz is looked to for guidance by members of grieving families; he is a man familiar with the effects of suicides, and so too was Catholic apologist Gilbert Keith Chesterton.

 

Chesterton was all too familiar with the hardest topics known to artists. His written work addressed the purpose of existence, the roles of human governments, churches, and public schools systems, eugenics, which he despised, human pride, and the unapproachable topic of suicide.

 

He is known for being partially responsible for the conversion of Oxford’s C.S. Lewis, whose impact is of such imensity that I dare not now grossly simplify by using the short words found in my limited vocabulary.

 

His nonfiction work- most notably being Orthodoxy and his literary criticism of Charles Dickens- is as highly praised as his fictional work, which includes The Man Called Thursday and the mysterious short stories of Father Brown, a crime solving monk. My father called Father Brown “one the earliest characters he remembers,” and he would often”borrow” the book from his brother, whenever he wasn’t looking, of course.

 

If my reader has not yet read entire poem, then I request he or she does so now, and-for all goodness sake- if something is even slightly confusing, then take two seconds and look into it.

 

Because he is a man known for addressing such serious topics, Chesterton surprised me with his unconditional levity. In fact, it wasn’t until I was aware of his strategic humor that I fully understood his poem; after all, is it okay to approach suicide with anything but a degree of seriousness? Absolutely not. That is where our contemporary society does us a disfavor by synonymously joining “humor” with the act of joking around, or in this case: gross negligence.

 

No, the levity and humor in this poem is not meant to undermine or take lightly the topic of suicide, but instead, flank certain obstacles and reinforce the “little things,” for, according to Chesterton, discovering new ways to cook mushrooms, annoying- and darn you if you’re one of them- your neighbors, enjoying poetry, reading new prose, or taking a short stroll in the woods are good things. Ahh. I hate simple terms like “good things.” I am doing the best I can, but I stand by my choice of words.

 

I remember walking to my truck after school. My “feelings?” were in sharp contrast to the warm sun above. Between a break up with a silly girlfriend and the ridiculous emotional dysregulation caused by ADHD, the world looked quite dark to me. Then! In the voice of Tom O’Bedlam,  “ I think I will not hang myself to-day.” Now, I must make myself quite clear, again: I was NOT suicidal, but the words came to mind as a challenge or dare might from your best friend. It seems quite funny, of course, but I think I would have disagreed back then.

 

In a world caught in the cast of a long shadow, men, women, and certainly children do need reminding- now and then- that good things do exist, and such goodness is worth living for. Books, tales, and people are worth caring about. Annoying stubborn neighbors is worth great laughter. And when you stumble across a winding stream in the woods, you are strong enough to believe it is worth stopping and admiring.

Suicide exists because suffering exists; but so long as goodness exists, a purpose and reason to life exists, and that in itself is good and worthy of thankfulness.

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1 Comment

One Response to “Gilbert’s Humorous, Strong Stance Against Suicide”

  1. Olivia Salyers on March 9th, 2018 8:52 am

    I have never read this poem before, but I’m very glad that you included the whole poem. Suicide can be extremely hard to talk about with ease, but you did a great job of addressing your opinion while including something to take away from the poem. I agree with you that the humor used was not meant to undermine the seriousness of suicide, yet it was meant to bring a bright side to the conversation. Great article!

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Lewis Cass High School, Walton, Indiana,
Gilbert’s Humorous, Strong Stance Against Suicide