St. George and the Dragon
Curious that Jesus should point the way to Saint George. It seems that things should be the other way around, but…
Today is Saint George’s Day and like Saint David’s Day for the Welsh, Saint Patrick’s Day for the Irish, or Saint Andrew’s Day for the Scots, it is the day on which we celebrate all things English. So here’s to Saint George for merry England!
St. George and the Dragon
Of Hector’s deeds did Homer sing;
And of the sack of stately Troy,
What griefs fair Helena did bring,
Which was sir Paris’ only joy:
And by my pen I will recite
St. George’s deeds, and English knight.
Against the Sarazens so rude
Fought he full long and many a day,
Where many gyants he subdu’d,
In honour of the Christian way:
And after many adventures past
To Egypt land he came at last.
Now, as the story plain doth tell,
Within that countrey there did rest
A dreadful dragon fierce and fell,
Whereby they were full sore opprest;
Who by his poisonous breath each day,
Did many of the city slay.
The grief whereof did grow so great
Throughout the limits of the land,
That they their wise-men did intreat
To shew their cunning out of hand;
What way they might this fiend destroy,
That did the countrey thus annoy.
The wise-men all before the king
This answer fram’d incontinent;
The dragon none to death might bring
By any means they could invent:
His skin more hard than brass was found,
That sword nor spear could pierce nor wound.
When this the people understood,
They cryed out most piteouslye,
The dragon’s breath infects their blood,
That every day in heaps they dye:
Among them such a plague it bred,
The living scarce could bury the dead.
No means there were, as they could hear,
For to appease the dragon’s rage,
But to present some virgin clear,
Whose blood his fury might asswage;
Each day he would a maiden eat,
For to allay his hunger great.
This thing by art the wise-men found,
Which truly must observed be;
Wherefore throughout the city round
A virgin pure of good degree
Was by the king’s commission still
Taken up to serve the dragon’s will.
Thus did the dragon every day
Untimely crop some virgin flowr,
Till all the maids were worn away,
And none were left him to devour:
Saving the king’s fair daughter bright,
Her father’s only heart’s delight.
Then came the officers to the king
That heavy message to declare,
Which did his heart with sorrow sting;
“She is,” quoth he, “my kingdom’s heir:
0 let us all be poisoned here,
Ere she should die, that is my dear.”
Then rose the people presently,
And to the king in rage they went;
They said his daughter dear should dye,
The dragon’s fury to prevent:
“Our daughters all are dead,” quoth they,
And have been made the dragon’s prey:
And by their blood we rescued were,
And thou hast sav’d thy life thereby;
And now in sooth it is but faire,
For us thy daughter so should die.”
“0 save my daughter,” said the king;
And let ME feel the dragon’s’ sting.”
Then fell fair Sabra on her knee,
And to her father dear did say,
“0 father, strive not thus for me,
But let me be the dragon’s prey;
It may be, for my sake alone
This plague upon the land was thrown.
Tis better I should dye,” she said,
Than all your subjects perish quite;
Perhaps the dragon here was laid,
For my offence to work his spite:
And after he hath suckt my gore,
Your land shall feel the grief no more.”
“What hast thou done, my daughter dear,
For to deserve this heavy scourge ?
It is my fault, as may appear,
Which makes the gods our state to purge;
Then ought I die, to stint the strife,
And to preserve thy happy life.”
Like mad-men, all the people cried,
“Thy death to us can do no good;
Our safety only doth abide
In making her the dragon’s food.”
“Lo! here I am, I come,” quoth she,
“Therefore do what you will with me.”
“Nay stay, dear daughter,” quoth the queen,
“And as thou art a virgin bright,
That hast for vertue famous been,
So let me cloath thee all in white;
And crown thy head with flowers sweet,
An ornament for virgins meet.”
“Farewell, my father dear,” quoth she,
“And my sweet mother meek and mild;
Take you no thought nor weep for me,
For you may have another child:
Since for my.country’s good I dye,
Death I receive most willinglye.”
The king and queen and all their train
With weeping eyes went then. their way,
And let their daughter there remain,
To be the hungry dragon’s prey:
But as she did there weeping lye,
Behold St. George came riding by.
And seeing there a lady bright
So rudely tyed unto a stake,
As well became a valiant knight,
He straight to her his way did take
“Tell me, sweet maiden,” then quoth he,
“What caitif thus abuseth thee?
And, lo! by Christ his cross I vow,
Which here is figured on my breast,
I will revenge it on his brow,
And break my lance upon his chest:”
And speaking thus whereas he stood,
The dragon issued from the wood.
St. George then looking round about,
The fiery dragon soon espy’d,
And like a knight of courage stout,
Against him did most fiercely ride;
And with such blows he did him greet,
he fell beneath his horse’s feet.
For with his launce that was so strong,
As he came gaping in his face,
In at his mouth he thrust along;
For he could pierce no other place:
And thus within the lady’s view
This mighty dragon straight he slew.
The savour of his poisoned breath
Could do this holy knight no harm.
Thus he the lady sav’d from death,
And home he led her by the arm;
Which when king Ptolemy did see,
There was great mirth and melody.
When as that valiant champion there
Had slain the dragon in the field,
To court he brought the lady fair,
Which to their hearts much joy did yield.
He in the court of Egypt staid
Till he most falsely was betray’d.
That lady dearly lov’d the knight,
He counted her his only joy;
But when their love was brought to light
It turn’d unto their great annoy:
Th’ Morocco king was in the court,
Who to the orchard did resort,
Dayly to take the pleasant air,
For pleasure sake he us’d to walk,
Under a wall he oft did hear
St. George with lady Sabra talk:
Their love he shew’d unto the king,
Which to St. George great woe did bring.
Those kings together did devise
To make the Christian knight away,
With letters him in curteous wise
They straightway sent to Persia:
But wrote to the sophy him to kill,
And treacherously his blood to spill.
Thus they for good did him reward
With evil, and most subtilly
By much vile meanes they had regard
To work his death most cruelly;
Who, as through Persia land he rode,
With zeal destroy’d each idol god.
For which offence he straight was thrown
Into a dungeon dark and deep;
Where, when he thought his wrongs upon,
He bitterly did wail and weep:
Yet like a knight of courage stout,
At length his way he digged out.
Three grooms of the king of Persia
By night this valiant champion slew,
Though he had fasted many a day;
And then away from thence he flew
On the best steed the sophy had;
Which when he knew he was full mad.
Towards Christendom he made his flight,
But met a gyant by the way,
With whom in combat he did fight
Most valiantly a summer’s day:
Who yet, for all his bats of steel,
Was forc’d the sting of death to feel.
Back o’er the seas with many bands
Of warlike souldiers soon he past,
Vowing upon those heathen lands
To work revenge; which at the last,
Ere thrice three years were gone and spent,
He wrought unto his heart’s content.
Save onely Egypt land he spar’d
For Sabra bright her only sake,
And, ere for her he had regard,
He meant a tryal kind to make:
Mean while the king o’ercome in field
Unto Saint George did quickly yield.
Then straight Morocco’s king he slew,
And took fair Sabra to his wife,
But meant to try if she were true
Ere with her he would lead his life:
And, tho’ he had her in his train,
She did a virgin pure remain.
Toward England then that lovely dame
The brave St. George conducted strait,
An eunuch also with them came,
Who did upon the lady wait;
These three from Egypt went alone.
Now mark St. George’s valour shown.
When as they in a forest were,
The lady did desire to rest;
Mean while St. George to kill a deer,
For their repast did think it best:
Leaving her with the eunuch there,
Whilst he did go to kill the deer.
But lo! all in his absence came
Two hungry lyons fierce and fell,
And tore the eunuch on the same
in pieces small, the truth to tell;
Down by the lady then they laid,
Whereby they shew’d, she was a maid.
But when he came from hunting back,
And did behold this heavy chance,
Then for his lovely virgin’s sake
His courage strait he did advance,
And came into the lions’ sight,
Who ran at him with all their might.
Their rage did him no whit dismay,
Who, like a stout and valiant knight,
Did both the hungry lyons slay
Within the lady Sabra’s sight:
Who all this while sad and demure
There stood most like a virgin pure.
Now when St. George did surely know
This lady was a virgin true,
His heart was glad, that erst was woe,
And all his love did soon renew:
He set her on a palfrey steed,
And towards England came with speed.
Where being in short space arriv’d
Unto his native dwelling-place;
Therein with his dear love he livd,
And fortune did his nuptials grace:
They many years of joy did see,
And led their lives at Coventry.
From Bishop Thomas Percy’s collection: Reliques of Ancient English Poetry