Monday, December 15, 2014

How Far is it to Bethlehem: The Plays and Poetry of Frances Chesterton

If you're an American Catholic, then you are no doubt familiar with the works of G.K. Chesterton. He has written great works like, Orthodoxy and Heretics; the mysteries of Father Brown; and works on St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thomas Aquinas. What a lot of people don't know is that his wife, Frances, was also a writer herself. Nancy Carpentier Brown compiled a plethora of her writings in the book How Far is it to Bethlehem. Within this book are plays she wrote for Christmas Eve productions which the Chestertons put on each year. They apparently had a stage in their house for home entertainment! She also wrote poems on many subjects, but her Christmas ones appeared often time in Christmas cards.

The book itself contains six plays, with not all of them complete. The first one is about the Children's Crusade, which is said to have taken place in 1212 and is a particularly dark time in history. Several of the other plays are Christmas themed with the names, "The Christmas Gift" and "The Three Kings." The plays seem to be written in a couplet rhyming scheme, i.e., A,A,B,B,C,C, etc. Normally I would construe this as forced rhyming, but as these plays were written for children, I can see the appeal for little ones with rhyming that way. The plays were interesting, but it is a bit like reading Shakespeare in that you would rather see it performed than just read it yourself. It would be wonderful to see some Catholic English or Drama teacher try and do a local production of one of these plays.

The poems take up the remaining half of this book and are divided into assorted poetry and Christmas poems. Like most people's poetry, it was probably private writing that was never meant to be read by anyone, but I am grateful for Nancy for compiling them for us, as we would have never been exposed to her personality and genius otherwise. The Christmas Card poetry was easily my favorite section. In these beautiful poems, we can see France Chesterton's love for Jesus, particularly Christ at His Nativity. Here are a few stanzas from her 1917 Christmas poem for which this book is named:

How far is it to Bethlehem?
Not very far.
Shall we find the stable room
Lit by the star?

Can we see the little Child?
Is He within?
If we lift the wooden latch

May we go in?

May we stroke the creatures there
Ox, ass, or sheep?
May we peep like them and see
Jesus asleep?

I am not a world class poetry expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I enjoyed reading through Mrs. Chesterton's words. Some have a beautiful simplicity, and others blow you away with their depth. Even though her husband, G.K. Chesterton overshadowed his wife (not on purpose), this book shines a light on Frances' brilliance as well and shows how good of a match they were for each other. The old saying, "Behind every great man, there's a great woman" rings true with these two. If G.K. Chesterton is ever canonized, she will definitely be a large reason why. So if you are looking for a unique Christmas gift (or gift for any occasion), for that Chesterton fan in your life, I highly recommend How Far is it to Bethlehem.

This book was provided to me for free by the author in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!