g.k. chesterton thinking forward


Thinking backwards is not quite easy to define abstractedly; and, perhaps,
the simplest method is to take some object, as plain as possible, and from
it illustrate the two modes of thought: the right mode in which all real
results have been rooted; the wrong mode, which is confusing all our
current discussions, especially our discussions about the relations of the
sexes. Casting my eye round the room, I notice an object which is often
mentioned in the higher and subtler of these debates about the sexes: I
mean a poker. I will take a poker and think about it; first forwards and
then backwards; and so, perhaps, show what I mean.

The sage desiring to think well and wisely about a poker will begin
somewhat as follows: Among the live creatures that crawl about this star
the queerest is the thing called Man. This plucked and plumeless bird,
comic and forlorn, is the butt of all the philosophies. He is the only
naked animal; and this quality, once, it is said, his glory, is now his
shame. He has to go outside himself for everything that he wants. He
might almost be considered as an absent-minded person who had gone bathing and left his clothes everywhere, so that he has hung his hat upon the
beaver and his coat upon the sheep. The rabbit has white warmth for a
waistcoat, and the glow-worm has a lantern for a head. But man has no
heat in his hide, and the light in his body is darkness; and he must look
for light and warmth in the wild, cold universe in which he is cast.
This is equally true of his soul and of his body; he is the one creature
that has lost his heart as much as he has lost his hide. In a spiritual
sense he has taken leave of his senses; and even in a literal sense he has
been unable to keep his hair on. And just as this external need of his
has lit in his dark brain the dreadful star called religion, so it has lit
in his hand the only adequate symbol of it: I mean the red flower called
Fire. Fire, the most magic and startling of all material things, is a
thing known only to man and the expression of his sublime externalism. It
embodies all that is human in his hearths and all that is divine on his
altars. It is the most human thing in the world; seen across wastes of
marsh or medleys of forest, it is veritably the purple and golden flag of
the sons of Eve. But there is about this generous and rejoicing thing an
alien and awful quality: the quality of torture. Its presence is life;
its touch is death. Therefore, it is always necessary to have an
intermediary between ourselves and this dreadful deity; to have a priest
to intercede for us with the god of life and death; to send an ambassador
to the fire. That priest is the poker. Made of a material more merciless
and warlike than the other instruments of domesticity, hammered on the
anvil and born itself in the flame, the poker is strong enough to enter
the burning fiery furnace, and, like the holy children, not be consumed.
In this heroic service it is often battered and twisted, but is the more
honourable for it, like any other soldier who has been under fire.

Now all this may sound very fanciful and mystical, but it is the right
view of pokers, and no one who takes it will ever go in for any wrong view
of pokers, such as using them to beat one’s wife or torture one’s children,
or even (though that is more excusable) to make a policeman jump, as the
clown does in the pantomime. He who has thus gone back to the beginning,
and seen everything as quaint and new, will always see things in their
right order, the one depending on the other in degree of purpose and
importance: the poker for the fire and the fire for the man and the man
for the glory of God.

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