Wine and Water

OLD Noah he had an ostrich farm and fowls on the largest scale,
He ate his egg with a ladle in a egg-cup big as a pail.
And the soup he took was Elephant Soup and the fish he took was Whale.
But they all were small to the cellar he took when he set out to sail,
And Noah he often said to his wife when he sat down to dine,
'I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the wine.'

The cataract of the cliff of heaven fell blinding off the brink
As if it would wash the stars away as suds go down a sink,
The seven heavens came roaring down for the throats of hell to drink,
And Noah he cocked his eye and said, 'It looks like rain, I think.
The water has drowned the Matterhorn as deep as a Mendip mine,
But I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the wine.'

But Noah he sinned, and we have sinned; on tipsy feet we trod.
Till a great big black teetotaller was sent to us for a rod,
And you can't get wine at a P.S.A., or chapel, or Eisteddfod,
For the Curse of Water has come again because of the wrath of God,
And water is on the Bishop's board and the Higher Thinker's shrine,
But I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the wine.

G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

Gilbert Keith Chesterton was among the big Edwardian men of letters and rubbed elbows with the likes of George Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc, and H. G. Wells. He is best remembered as the author of some fifty stories featuring a Catholic priest, Father Brown, who solves crimes by drawing on his knowledge of human nature. Born into the middle class London He did not learn to read until he was over eight and one of his teachers told him, "If we opened your head, we should not find brain but only a lump of white fat." Thankfully he didn't let that inane judgement stand in his way or the world would be a sadder place.

The original text of Wine and Water appeared in From The Flying Inn in 1914. Chesterton is poking fun at the the "bluestockings" (the aggressively moral minority). His style is characterized by witty and paradoxical epigrams on the surface, but also frequently point to deeper meanings. Although Chesterton was obstinately Catholic himself and might be expected to keep accord with fellow zealots, he came down with boldness and conviction against any restriction of an Englishman's right to ale, cider and wine. Which is of course the topic of satire here. The great sailor Noah loves his wine and no matter how the sea may slip and slop about to batter his ark he's a happy man as he tells his wife, "I don't care where the water goes, if it doesn't get into the wine."

Chesterton always assumes his readers are English, so a few of the references may need explanation:

  • Mendip (in the second stanza) is an area of Somerset known for its deep tin mines.
  • As an acronym P.S.A is one I can't determine. Please /msg me if you do.
  • The Eisteddfod is the national singing competition of Wales,
  • Albert Herring says about Esiteddfod: "I think it was held on a Sunday; under (the) Methodist influence pubs in Wales didn't open on Sundays until pretty recently (as from some time in the 19th century). England was a bit laxer."

So here you have it. In "Wine and Water," Chesterton would have us believe Noah, said these words frequently to to his wife when he sat down to dine. But Chesterton never did let on as to whether Noah took along two of each wine, a white and a red.


G. K. Chesterton:

The Poet's Corner:

Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:

CST Approved

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