Ballade of Suicide

by G K Chesterton

Chesterton wrote quite a few poems about depression. I like this one particularly because it starts humorously-- literally using gallows humour-- but once it's drawn you in, it ends on a serious point about hope. Ballades are a difficult form, but Chesterton makes it look easy, though in fact he's made it even harder for himself by his choice of rhymes. It's conventional to address a prince at the end of a ballade, who is often assumed to be the Prince of Darkness (i.e. Satan): thus the end of the poem is about the downfall of evil, and perhaps the Second Coming.

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 today.

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 gray—
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 today.

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 today.

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