St. George Poems

In 1812 the following poems, “The Birth of St. George” and “St. George and the Dragon”, were reprinted in Volume III of the fifth edition of Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. (Please note that Google Books states that this is Volume 2, but the book at that link is actually Volume 3.)  The first of these poems casts St. George’s birth in a suitably heroic and mysterious mold. (Of perhaps greater importance to the original audience of this poem, it shows that he was English.) Percy cites Richard Johnson’s Famous Historie of the Seaven Champions of Christendom as a source for this poem, but that book presents the same story but in a different form. So it is not clear exactly where Percy obtained this version of “The Birth of St. George”.

The second poem, found in the Pepys Collection (Pepys 1.526-527) retells the story of George slaying the dragon, but rather than following this with the story of his martyrdom, tells of his conquering “heathen lands”, and eventually marrying Sabra, returning to England, and living happily ever after.

The versions presented here have been transcribed from Percy’s book. The spelling has been modernized slightly, but the words themselves have not been changed.

The Birth of St. George
St. George and the Dragon

The Birth of St. George

LISTEN, lords, in bower and hall,
I sing the wonderous birth
Of brave St. George, whose valorous arm
Rid monsters from the earth:
Distressed ladies to relieve
He travelled many a day;
In honour of the Christian faith,
Which shall endure for aye.
In Coventry sometime did dwell
A knight of worthy fame,
High steward of this noble realm;
Lord Albert was his name.
He had to wife a princely dame,
Whose beauty did excel.
This virtuous lady, being with child,
In sudden sadness fell:
For thirty nights no sooner sleep
Had closed her wakeful eyes,
But, lo! a foul and fearful dream
Her fancy would surprise:
She dreamt a dragon fierce and fell
Conceived within her womb
Whose mortal fangs her body rent
Ere he to life could come.
All woe-begone, and sad was she;
She nourished constant woe:
Yet strove to hide it from her lord,
Lest he should sorrow know.
In vain she strove; her tender lord,
Who watched her slightest look,
Discovered soon her secret pain,
And soon that pain partook.
And when to him the fearful cause
She weeping did impart,
With kindest speech he strove to heal
The anguish of her heart.
Be comforted, my lady dear,
Those pearly drops refrain;
Betide me weal, betide me woe,
I’ll try to ease thy pain.
And for this foul and fearful dream,
That causeth all thy woe,
Trust me I’ll travel far away
But I’ll the meaning know.
Then giving many a fond embrace,
And shedding many a tear,
To the weird lady of the woods,
He purposed to repair.
To the weird lady of the woods,
Full long and many a day,
Through lonely shades and thickets rough
He winds his weary way.
At length be reached a dreary dell
With dismal yews overhung
Where cypress spread its mournful boughs,
And poisonous nightshade sprung.
No cheerful gleams here pierced the gloom,
He hears no cheerful sound;
But shrill night-ravens’ yelling scream,
And serpents hissing round.
The shriek of fiends and damned ghosts
Ran howling through his ear
A chilling horror froze his heart,
Though all unused to fear.
Three times he strives to win his way,
And pierce those sickly dews:
Three times to bear his trembling course
His knocking knees refuse.
At length upon his beating breast
He signs the holy cross;
And, muting up his wonted might,
He treads the unhallowed moss.
Beneath a pendant craggy aft
All vaulted like a grave,
And opening in the solid rock,
He found the enchanted cave.
An iron gate closed up the mouth,
All hideous and forlorn;
And, fastened by a silver chain,
Near hung a brazed horn.
Then offering up a secret prayer,
Three times he blows amaine:
Three times a deep and hollow sound
Did answer him again.
“Sir knight, thy lady bears a son,
“Who, like a dragon bright,
“Shall prove most dreadful to his foes,
“And terrible in fight.
“His name advanced in future times
“On banners shall be worn:
“But lo! thy lady’s life must pass
“Before he can be born.”
All sore oppressed with fear and doubt
Long time lord Albert stood;
At length he winds his doubtful way,
Back through the dreary wood.
Eager to clasp his lovely dame
Then fast he travels back:
But when he reached his castle gate,
His gate was hung with black.
In every court and hall he found
A sullen silence reign;
Save where, amid the lonely towers,
He heard her maidens ‘plaine;
And bitterly lament and weep,
With many a grievous groan:
Then sore his bleeding heart misgave,
His lady’s life was gone.
With faltering step he enters in,
Yet half afraid to go;
With trembling voice asks why they grieve,
Yet fears the cause to know.
“Three times the sun hath rose and set;”
They said, then stopped to weep:
“Since heaven hath laid thy lady dear
“In death’s eternal sleep.
“For, ah! in travel sore she fell,
“So sore that she must die;
“Unless some shrewd and cunning leech
“Could ease her presently.
“But when a cunning leech was fet,
“Too soon declared he,
“She, or her babe must lose its life;
“Both saved could not be.
“ Now take my life, thy lady said,
“My little infant save:
“And O commend me to my lord,
“When I am laid in grave.
“O tell him how that precious babe
“Cost him a tender wife:
“And teach my son to lisp her name,
“Who died to save his life.
“Then calling still upon thy name,
“And praying still for thee;
“Without repining or complaint,
“Her gentle soul did flee.”
What tongue can paint lord Albert’s woe,
The bitter tears he shed,
The bitter pangs that wrung his heart,
To find his lady dead?
He beat his breast: he tore his hair;
And shedding many a tear,
At length he asked to see his son;
The son that cost so dear.
New sorrow seized the damsels all
At length they faltering say;
“Alas! my lord, how shall we tell?
“Thy son is stolen away.
“Fair as the sweetest flower of spring,
“Such was his infant mien:
“And on his little body stamped
“Three wondrous marks were seen:
“A blood-red cross was on his arm;
“A dragon on his breast:
“A little garter all of gold
“Was round his leg expressed.
“Three careful nurses we provide
“Our little lord to keep:
“One gave him suck, one gave him food,
“And one did lull to sleep.
“But lo! all in the dead of night,
“We heard a fearful sound:
“Loud thunder clapped; the castle shook;
“And lightning flashed around.
“Dead with affright at first we lay;
“But rousing up anon,
“We ran to see our little lord;
“Our little lord was gone!
“But how or where we could not tell;
“For lying on the ground,
“In deep and magic slumbers laid,
“The nurses there we found.”
O grief on grief! lord Albert said:
No more his tongue could say,
When falling in a deadly swoon,
Long time he lifeless lay.
At length restored to life and sense
He nourished endless woe,
No future joy his heart could taste,
No future comfort know.
So withers on the mountain top
A fair and stately oak,
Whose vigorous arms are torn away
By some rude thunder-stroke.
At length his castle irksome grew,
He loathes his wonted home;
His native country he forsakes,
In foreign lands to roam.
There up and down he wandered far,
Clad in a palmer’s gown:
Till his brown locks grew white as wool,
His beard as thistle down.
At length, all wearied, down in death
He laid his reverend head.
Meantime amid the lonely wilds
His little son was bred.
There the weird lady of the woods
Had borne him far away,
And trained him up in feats of arms,
And every martial play.

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, an English knight.
Against the Saracens so rude
Fought he full long and many a day
Where many giants he subdued,
In honor 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 country there did rest
A dreadful dragon fierce and fell,
Whereby they were hill sore oppressed:
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 entreat
To show their cunning out of hand;
What way they might this fiend destroy,
That did the country thus annoy.
The wise-men all before the king
This answer framed 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 cried out most piteously,
The dragon’s breath infects their blood,
That every day in heaps they die:
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 assuage;
Each day he would a maiden eat,
For to allay his hunger great.
This thing by art the wises-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 flower,
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:
O 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 die,
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 saved thy life thereby;
And now in sooth it is but fair,
For us thy daughter so should die.
O 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,
O 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 die, 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 sucked 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 virtue famous been,
So let we clothe thee all in white;
And crown thy head with flowers sweet,
An ornament for virgins meet.
And when she was attired so,
According to her mother’s mind,
Unto the stake then did she go
To which her tender limbs they bind:
And being bound to stake a thrall,
She bade farewell unto them all.
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 die,
Death I receive most willingly.
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 lie,
Behold St. George came riding by.
And seeing there a lady bright
So rudely tied 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.
The lady that did first espy
The dreadful dragon coming so,
Unto St George aloud did cry,
And willed him away to go;
Here comes that cursed fiend, quoth she,
That soon will make an end of me.
St. George then looking round about,
The fiery dragon soon espied,
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 lance 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 be the lady saved 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 stayed
Till he most falsely was betrayed.
That lady dearly loved the knight,
He counted her his only joy;
But when their love was brought to light,
It turned unto their great annoy:
The Morocco king was in the court,
Who to the orchard did resort,
Daily to take the pleasant air,
For pleasure sake he used to walk,
Under a wall he oft did hear
St. George with lady Sabra talk:
Their love he showed 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 courteous 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 such vile means they had regard
To work his death most cruelly;
Who, as through Persia land he rode,
With zeal destroyed 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 giant by the way,
With whom in combat be did fight
Most valiantly a summer’s day:
Who yet, for all his bats of steel,
Was forced the sting of death to feel.
Back o’er the seas with many bands
Of warlike soldiers 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 only Egypt land he spared
For Sabra bright her only sake,
And, ere for her he had regard,
He meant a trial kind to make:
Mean while the king, overcome in field,
Unto St. 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, though 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 lions 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 showed, 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 lions 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 arrived
Unto his native dwelling place;
Therein with his dear love he lived,
And fortune did his nuptials grace:
They many years of joy did see,
And led their lives at Coventry.