The Donkey, G K Chesterton – an analysis



Gut Reaction
I am flummoxed…

What does it all mean?
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
Figs on thorns are mentioned in the bible in both Matthew 7:16 and Luke 6:44, and this seems to be saying that you can’t get one thing from something entirely different – you can’t pick figs from thorn bushes – so are we referring to a time of plenty? It would seem so, wouldn’t it? Flying fish – do we mean the Exocoetidae? Or does this have biblical links too? And then there’s the Socratea exorrhiza, the so-called Walking Palm, or Cashapona tree – what are we trying to say here? Is the author trying to say they were born at a mystical time, or the time of their birth coincide with a rare event – like a blood moon? Curiouser and curiouser!

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
Alright, so maybe I’m reading far too much into it, and the author is putting himself in the shoes (horse?) of the poor, mis-aligned donkey, with what seems to be an oversized head, a cry that makes people scorn, ears that are far too big, and a gait that is, well, interesting? It feels like we are saying that the donkey is the animal made a mockery of most within the animal kingdom. How unfair, donkey’s are lovely! Clearly the author’s never been to a donkey rescue centre…

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
I want to find a donkey and give it a hug now; all of this sounds terrible, doesn’t it?! Donkeys are often ridiculed, thought of as stupid, dumb animals and treated as such. Left to carry heavier burdens than they can manage; how often do we use the expression ‘doing all the donkey work’ to show how these poor creatures are treated. But… but they DO have a secret, apparently… I’m intrigued…

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.
I, the humble, noble donkey, have had my time, and will have my moment. It feels very much like the donkey is saying he knows he is special, and important – whether that has religious implications and he’s saying that because Jesus sees his importance, or whether it isn’t religious at all and the donkey has discovered his self-worth, well. I guess that’s the fun of poems and you can interpret it as you see fit.

Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
Four stanzas of equal rhyme telling the story of the poor donkey.

It’s quietly victorious, isn’t it? It’s saying, I know you ridicule me, but I know who I am.

Suggested rhyme scheme

Similes and metaphors
I am sure there are many but I’m a little overwhelmed by this one.

Author’s relationship with their subject
Is it religious? Pride? Support?

Other points of view (ideas from other sources)
Most of the analyses I’ve seen about this points to the donkey recognising how it’s seen in the world but having inner strength because it knows that it is loved by Jesus no matter its so-called faults.

Signing off
It’s Easter, and I’m sure it’s somewhat blasphemous to consider a poem that’s so supposedly laced with religious overtones as anything but that.

But here’s my thoughts.

I love this donkey. I relate to this donkey in so many ways. I often feel as though I was born under a bad moon (thank you, CCR), or that there must be a bloody good reason why I am the way I am, why I never seem to ‘fit’ anywhere in this world, why I am a mockery. Then I tell myself that it’s the depression/anxiety/trilobites living in my head and whispering bad things to me, and that I’m not that bad. I’m no different from any other person out there. And just because I don’t fit the mould, just because others see me in a certain light, I am still worthy I am still strong. I know I’m good enough and don’t need anyone else to tell me that – or try to convince me otherwise, thank you very much.

In which, I am the donkey. And a very proud donkey indeed!.


When I read this I think of the song… Bad Moon Rising… I make no apologies


4 thoughts on “The Donkey, G K Chesterton – an analysis

  1. The poem is related to G.K Chesterton’s reflection on the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in the final week of his life (in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 21) – a key point being that Jesus entered the city not on a war-horse as a conqueror but on a humble, working, beast of burden, a donkey:

    “Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

    “Say to the daughter of Zion,‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

    The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” “


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