The Donkey And Self-Worth

What is your favorite poem by G.K. Chesterton?

  • A Ballade of Suicide
  • Elegy in a Country Churchyard
  • The Donkey
  • Gold Leaves
  • Who Goes Home?
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A Special Moment

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born;

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

-G.K. Chesterton-

Written by English poet G.K. Chesterton, The Donkey is a poem that, on some level, everyone can relate to. The poet has made a wise decision in making the language and rhyme scheme simple as it allows the poem to be read and understood by all. Yet, in four brief stanzas, Chesterton conveys a strong reminder about self-worth and the need to break free of society’s view of us.

In the first stanza, the narrator speaks of the night he was born. The mood is frightening yet magical. As fish are flying, trees are walking and the moon is red in color, it is obvious that it is a rare night when the natural order and the balance of things are off. This is no night for a birth yet one does take place.

The narrator uses the second stanza to describe in what form he came into the world. With a “monstrous head” and “ears like errant wings” it is clear that he wasn’t a beautiful baby. Were this not enough, he claims to have emitted a “sickening cry” as he was born. Furthermore, he calls himself “The devil's walking parody On all four-footed things” which cements the idea into our heads that he is presumably an evil creature.

The third stanza continues in the same tone as the previous two. He is “The tattered outlaw of the earth, Of ancient crooked will” or, in other words, an object sent by the devil to put fear into the hearts of all good people. He calls for people to “Starve, scourge, deride me” as he is “dumb” and thus unworthy of care or respect. In the fourth line he states, “I keep my secret still.” What is this secret? Undoubtedly, stanza four will answer this question.

We learn in the final stanza that this donkey is no ordinary donkey. Owing to an allusion cleverly placed by the poet, it becomes clear to us that this monstrous beast carried Jesus through Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, “There was a shout about my ears, And palms before my feet.” If you are familiar with this Bible story, you know that hours before his entrance into city Jesus asked two of his disciples to fetch a donkey from a neighboring village that had never been ridden or wanted. He knew that only an outcast like himself could properly handle the job and be deserving of such an honor. Having learned as much as we have about him, the narrator of this poem certainly meets Jesus’ requirements. Without a doubt, this misunderstood donkey had his “One far fierce hour.”

As stated before, Chesterton’s poem teaches us a lesson about self-worth. Like the donkey, we all have been teased and made to feel small by unkind people. Despite doing great things, outcasts are rarely seen for all that they are. Having been born with an unfriendly exterior that is displeasing to the senses, they are treated like monsters and are never allowed to feel good about themselves. Yet, like the donkey, they are given a moment to shine and show the world their potential. Unfortunately, like the donkey, that moment is far too fleeting and their return to the darkness (whether it be an actual place or just a section of their mind) they ventured out from is far too sudden. Still, they had that moment and are able to look back on it from time to time and remember how special they truly are. For every being that has been mistreated just because they don’t fit into society’s preconceived notion of beauty and for all of bullies who can’t look beyond the tip of their nose, this poem is a necessary read. Simply put, Chesterton’s words are a timeless reminder to never give up even when life is at its darkest because our moment of greatness could be just around the corner and it would be a shame to miss it.


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9 comments

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 7 years ago from Sunny Spain

This is one of the few poems that I learnt at school as a young girl I had all but forgotten it until I read the opening lines and then from the far recesses of my mind flowed the other lines. Thanks for the hub and the memories


LowellWriter profile image

LowellWriter 7 years ago from Lowell, MA Author

Glad I could do that for you. Thanks for the comment, Maggs! :)


John Z profile image

John Z 6 years ago from Midwest

This Hub is Wonderful! I am very blessed to have read it. I will share the wealth! Great Hub.


LowellWriter profile image

LowellWriter 6 years ago from Lowell, MA Author

Thank you John for your kind words! :o)


partyyyy 6 years ago

this analysis is good.thanks for the help


LowellWriter profile image

LowellWriter 6 years ago from Lowell, MA Author

Glad I could help you.


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Very well done. Love it!


young writer 5 years ago

i had no idea what that poem meant until I read this thank you!


young writer 4 4 years ago

oh, now I get it

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