1828
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

St. George and the Dragon.

Poems Original and Translated by John Herman Merivale now first collected. 2 Vols.

John Herman Merivale


26 irregular Spenserians (abbaccddC) adapted from Seven Champions of Christendom. This unusual stanza had been previously used in William Sotheby's once-popular Oberon (1798). Earl A. Aldrich describes both "St. George" and "St. Denis" as strongly influenced by James Beattie's The Minstrel "Beattie's The Minstrel" (1927) 39n.

Julius Nicholas Hook incorrectly dates the publication as 1808.



Now was the season when the gorgeous sun
Had doff'd his dark December liverie,
And o'er the waving plain and dimpled sea
With renovated light resplendent shone.
All nature felt his ray, and, rich with showers,
Glad in her lap received the opening flowers
That Maia strew'd about unsparingly,
While thro' the green groves tripp'd it merrily,
All fresh with vernal dews the rosy bosom'd hours.

From the high rock and mossy forest soar
To thank their sovereign sun the tuneful birds,
And basking in his beams, the lowing herds
Lie on the bank beside the rivulet hoar;
Thro' chequer'd woods, to meet the rising morn,
Springs the rejoicing lark from every thorn,
And sober evening hears the melody
Of Philomel in many a lonely tree,
That to high Heaven by echo is for ever borne.

So nature smiled, as o'er the flowery road,
And down the mountain's wild romantic side,
And by the banks of wandering rivers wide,
And through deep woods, by human feet untrod,
An English knight his devious path pursued:
While the soft season, in his soul renew'd
Sweet fairy visions, and delicious dreams
Of friends and country left, bright Phoebus' beams
Pour'd down their noontide heat upon the sparkling flood.

Like the mild evening of a summer's day
Is the remembrance of enjoyment past:
The sun is set, but o'er the vale is cast
A softer light from his reflected ray.
No dazzling radiance strikes the senses blind,
No fiery heat fatigues the raptured mind;
But calm the spirit as the unruffled sea,
Concordant as seraphic harmony,
Pure as the soul that longs its native Heaven to find.

Enjoyment palls; imagination fades;
But memory's pleasures never melt away,
And hope's delusive power with stronger sway
Our actions rules, and every sense pervades.
'Tis like the rising morn, whose cheerful smile
Exalts our souls, and animates our toil.
What though in misty shrouds the landscape lies,
Creative fancy every scene supplies,
Spreads the bright grassy slope, or shapes the shadowy isle.

'Twas smiling hope that led that errant knight
Thro' Egypt's perilous wilds and burning sands,
To seek the mead of fame in distant lands,
Honour's best solace, and supreme delight.
'Twas hope advanced him thro' the rugged road,
By many a trial won, to fame's abode.
'Twas heavenly hope exalted o'er the throng,
To shine on high, the blessed souls among,
Saint George — of Britain's weal the tutelary God.

When Phoebus now had reach'd his western goal,
And lengthen'd shades obscured the dubious way,
Fled from the wanderer's mind those visions gay.
Behind, the last ray glimmer'd from the pole;
Before him frown'd an unfrequented wood,
Whereto his steed uncurb'd its way pursued.
Thick was the wood, and as they journey'd on,
Deeper and deeper sank the setting sun,
Whilst darker grew the shades, and desart longer shew'd.

And to this day the knight might still have trod
The many mazes of that endless wood,
Whilst issuing from old Nilus' slimy flood,
Fierce Alligators scream'd along the road,
And serpents hiss'd, in every thicket found,
And Lions roar'd, and Tigers growl'd around.
Such concert for the Champion was prepared,
When, thro' the blackening shades as on he fared,
A taper's friendly light shot gleaming o'er the ground.

Fortune, in truth, had led him to a place
Where stood the only mansion of the soil.
There, far removed from worldly care and toil,
A hermit stay'd, to end his mortal race.
Tho' ten long years the sire had ne'er survey'd
The face of man who thro' these desarts stray'd,
Not with less courtesy he received the knight,
Refresh'd with food, and lodged him for the night,
And with the morning's dawn, to his lost road convey'd.

Midst other converse — "Underneath yon hill,"
The old man said, while tears of pity roll'd,
"Each year some fair Egyptian maid is sold
A hellish serpent's ravenous maw to fill.
This savage monster, fifty years ago,
Fill'd Egypt's far-extended land with woe,
Her harvests blasted, and her sons destroy'd,
Till at the last, with spoil and slaughter cloy'd,
An annual tribute now will satisfy the foe.

"So to avert his all-destroying spite,
They choose a virgin every year by lot,
Whom bound they leave a victim on the spot,
Sad victim to his ravenous appetite.
This very day the Soldan's daughter dies,
Ah how unfit to be the monster's prize!
And twenty youths, the lovely maid to save,
Have in this desart met an early grave,
Scorch'd by his sulphurous breath, or blasted by his eyes."

"O chosen band!" the admiring champion cried,
"Let me pursue your path to deathless fame!
Here for myself the bold emprize I claim,
And swear to save, or perish by her side."
The hoary sage commends his generous zeal,
Blesses his hauberk's mail and gloves of steel,
Directs his course, then leaves with tear-swoln eyes.
The champion, as the sun made sign to rise,
Came where the dragon waits, alone, his annual meal.

Red rose the sun above the eastern hill,
Mantled in mist, and thro' the troubled air
Burst the wild shrieks of horror and despair,
That with unwonted awe his bosom fill.
Bound to yon stone what sculptured form appears?
Down her pale cheek descend no dewy tears,
No sighs her bare and marble bosom move,
Closed are her lips, for pleasure form'd, and love,
No sight her dimmĖd eyes receive, no sound her ears.

To the cold statue as the knight drew nigh,
Feebly she raised her languid lids, and cried,
(Till on her lips the unfinish'd accents died,)
"Fly, daring youth, from luckless Sabra fly!"
—"No, by the God whose holy badge I bear,
No, by the King whose knightly sword I wear;
None e'er shall English George a caitiff call,
Who vows for thee to conquer or to fall."
—He knelt, and on his forehead seal'd the oath he sware.

"For thee, bright Virgin, to this fated place
I came, nor, without thee, will hence depart:
Here will I leave a spotless Christian's heart,
Or rend the monster's from its ebon case.
Give then thine hand, fair saint! thy Knight am I."
She gave her hand; when lo! before her eye
Appear the scaly Monster's sinewy folds:
Again she strives to loose the hand he holds;
"Fly, generous youth," she cried, "from luckless Sabra fly!"

The Monster now, in many a tortuous spire,
Drags his green length of tail along the sand—
(Firm stays the knight, nor quits the Virgin's hand.)
Flash his red eye-balls, and his nostrils fire—
(The Briton bears unmoved his ghastly gaze.)
And now his burnish'd scales erected blaze;
His iron wings he spreads; and o'er the ground
His shadow spreads ten cubits' space around;
(Saint George his lance protends, and his broad shield displays.)

Sabra no more resists, no more dissuades,
No more her eyes their speaking lustres dart
To tear the fateful purpose from his heart,
But grateful agony each look pervades.
Oh with what throbs her heaving bosom beats,
As the stout lance the scaly dragon meets!
What horror stiffens every joint again,
Chains every nerve, and freezes every vein,
When shiver'd on the sand, the Knight unarm'd retreats!

Loud yell'd the monster, and his sulphurous breath
Fill'd with intolerable stench the air.
The hot contagion can no mortal bear,
But parch'd and wither'd, sinks in putrid death.
The flowers are blasted on the smoking ground,
The leaves drop blacken'd from the woods around;
Stiff in the tainted pools the fishes die;
In spiral paths the birds above them fly,
In lessening circles whirl'd, till life and sense are drown'd.

What pitying power has George and Sabra spared?
Ah happy pair! to you shall yet be given
Long hours of solace by indulgent Heaven.
Yet scarce the fainting knight to breathe was heard,
As motionless on his dead horse he lay:
Onward the monster roll'd his destined way,
His griping talon on his shoulder laid,
All the black horrors of his throat display'd,
And pour'd the burning venom on his hapless prey.

The deadly stream descended on his vest,
Where the red cross the pious Champion bore,
Dear symbol of his faith. Deadly no more,
The life-restoring poison fill'd his breast.
O miracle of Grace! the Knight, restored,
Leap'd lightly from the ground, and seized his sword;
On the fell fury rush'd with ardent zeal—
The gaping throat received his trusty steel,
And the black heart's blood, mix'd with baleful venom, pour'd.

"Rise, Sabra! thou art saved — the dragon dies."
Alas! she answers not — her limbs are cold—
Dim mists have closed her eyes—her breath enfold.
Again the knight exclaims, "Rise, Lady, rise!"
At length like healing balm his accents flow;
Again the life blood mounts, the spirits glow;
While, on his soft supporting arm reclined,
Fann'd by his casque, the brisk refreshing wind
Bids on her death-cold cheek returning roses blow.

Now on that cheek, where late the pallid hue
Unmix'd appear'd of hopeless cold despair,
Warm blushes rise, as from his ivory fair
Pygmalion's passion warmth and feeling drew.
The statue warms — and in the virgin's breast
Joy, gratitude, and wonder shine confest.
As on the youth who saved her gleam her eyes,
With gratitude, and pleasure, and surprise,
If love too enters, comes he a forbidden guest?

But if the maid such various passions move,
On the blest victor's heart what rapture steals,
As every moment some new charm reveals,
And her eyes sparkle with the flames of love?
Lingering and silent they together trace
Their path towards the Hermit's holy place:
Expressive silence! — words had less display'd
The awaken'd fervours of that grateful maid
Than did her speaking eyes and love illumined face.

Now hast thou loiter'd long enough, my muse!
Suffice it then, they love; nor stop to say
How joyful was the hermit to survey
His late lost guest alive, and hear the news
Of that foul dragon stretch'd along the shore,
Now terror of Egyptian dames no more;
Nor what his hut contain'd, to drink and eat:
We know he was not sparing of his meat,
And that his mule at length the rescued princess bore.

And so for Cairo! — On the banks of Nile
I see the amorous pair pursue their way;
Bright Sabra, lovely as the dawn of day,
Slow pacing on her mule; and, all the while,
The British knight, attendant at her side,
Along the shore the sluggish palfrey guide,
In silence gazing on its beauteous load;
Or, to beguile the long, though happy, road,
Of knightly deeds converse, and countries distant wide.

Here rest, my Hippogryff, some little space—
And time, perchance, thy wanderings here were ended;
From dreamy realms of Faery-land descended,
Ill may'st thou hope to find reward or grace
Mid sober sons of sage utility,
Who ne'er to fancy bent the stubborn knee,
Or own'd the soul-subduing power of song.
Then rest awhile — yet not to tarry long,
Ere Egypt's sands are changed for verdant Thessaly.

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