Thursday, December 24, 2009

The King of Europe

So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.

That wonderful movie Brigadoon starts with two weary travelers who have lost their way, “somewhere in the Highlands of Scotland.” If I go back to a time when I was twenty-two, I can remember wandering through the Highlands of Scotland myself and coming across a gathering of antique Europeans of Scottish descent in a small town pub. While drinking a beer in the pub's main room, I heard some men in another room reciting poetry and singing Jacobite songs. I asked the bartender what was going on in the next room. He took me by the arm and led me over to the jolly revelers. “This is a friend of mine from America. He’d like to join you.” With the same hospitality of the bartender, who had known me for all of five minutes, the poetic revelers welcomed me to their gathering. Between choruses of "Will Ye No Come Back Again?" and "Bonnie Dundee " the men told me that they were a group of Scots who met once a month to drink good whiskey and beer and celebrate the great Celtic poets.

When asked (not that those poetic gentlemen would have treated a Saxon unkindly) whether I was of Celtic descent, I told them I was Welsh. If I had been in Bavaria, I would have emphasized my Saxon heritage. When in Rome... The Welsh heritage delighted them, eliciting such comments as, “The Welsh are Celts, too,” and “Wallace was Welsh, you know.” The evening went on with one ode to the Celts after another. If that had been the sum of the evening, a celebration of the poetic Celts, I would have gone to bed feeling I had had a wonderful evening with a fine group of provincial and chauvinistic Celtic poets. But something happened in the course of the revels that changed my view of the poetic Highlanders from one of bemused respect to that of profound reverence. After singing the thousandth Scottish ballad and praising those “poetic Celts” for the umpteenth time, the leader of the merry minstrels stood up and offered a toast: “It’s good to remember and celebrate the Celt, but let us never forget the king of poets is a Saxon. Let’s raise our glasses to the Bard of Avon.” And they all cheered and drank deep for the gentle bard.

So, in the end they were poets first and Celts second. And their poetic truthfulness, in that they recognized poetic greatness no matter that its origin was Saxon, ultimately stemmed from the fact that they were Christian.

All things rich and wonderful that this world has ever known stem from the fact that Christ walked this earth. And Europe is sacred ground because European men and women made Christ their kinsman and their liege Lord. The pagan poet, like the pagan warrior, ultimately disgusts us because he lacks the spirit that elevates a man to a higher realm of existence, to the poetic realm. In celebrating the poetic element in their fellow Celts, and in recognizing the poetic supremacy of the gentle bard, those Scottish cavaliers were celebrating and honoring incarnate Europe, the Europe of Christ, the only Europe for men and women with hearts of fire. Long live eternal Europe, long live Christmas, and forever may He Reign over both! +