maggi dawn

Category: poetry

St George’s Day: a poem

Tomorrow is St George’s Day – that day when the English tend to get embroiled in arguments about whether this is or is not really a national day, about the fact that St George wasn’t even English, and sooner or later someone will point out that it’s also the day Shakespeare was born and then, years later, died on his own birthday, and wouldn’t he make a better patron saint? with it all. Let us instead enjoy the inimitable humour of U.A. Fanthorpe, who retells the story of “St George and the Dragon” first by letting the dragon tell the story, then by giving voice to the girl, who – as is so often the case in life – is present in the painting but not in its title, and finally by taking the erstwhile Saint as a metaphor for unearned privilege and power, and putting him firmly in his place.

The poem is a response to Paolo Uccello’s St George and the Dragon – which hangs in the National Gallery in London.


Not my Best Side –  by U. A. Fanthorpe


Not my best side, I’m afraid.
The artist didn’t give me a chance to
Pose properly, and as you can see,
Poor chap, he had this obsession with
Triangles, so he left off two of my
Feet. I didn’t comment at the time
(What, after all, are two feet
To a monster?) but afterwards
I was sorry for the bad publicity.
Why, I said to myself, should my conqueror
Be so ostentatiously beardless, and ride
A horse with a deformed neck and square hoofs?
Why should my victim be so
Unattractive as to be inedible,
And why should she have me literally
On a string? I don’t mind dying
Ritually, since I always rise again,
But I should have liked a little more blood
To show they were taking me seriously.


It’s hard for a girl to be sure if
She wants to be rescued. I mean, I quite
Took to the dragon. It’s nice to be
Liked, if you know what I mean. He was
So nicely physical, with his claws
And lovely green skin, and that sexy tail,
And the way he looked at me,
He made me feel he was all ready to
Eat me. And any girl enjoys that.
So when this boy turned up, wearing machinery,
On a really dangerous horse, to be honest
I didn’t much fancy him. I mean,
What was he like underneath the hardware?
He might have acne, blackheads or even
Bad breath for all I could tell, but the dragon–
Well, you could see all his equipment
At a glance. Still, what could I do?
The dragon got himself beaten by the boy,
And a girl’s got to think of her future.


I have diplomas in Dragon
Management and Virgin Reclamation.
My horse is the latest model, with
Automatic transmission and built-in
Obsolescence. My spear is custom-built,
And my prototype armour
Still on the secret list. You can’t
Do better than me at the moment.
I’m qualified and equipped to the
Eyebrow. So why be difficult?
Don’t you want to be killed and/or rescued
In the most contemporary way? Don’t
You want to carry out the roles
That sociology and myth have designed for you?
Don’t you realize that, by being choosy,
You are endangering job prospects
In the spear- and horse-building industries?
What, in any case, does it matter what
You want? You’re in my way.

Our rescue remedy is the timeless now…

Elbert Hubbard wrote in his notebooks (1927): “Making men live in three worlds at once — past, present and future has been the chief harm organized religion has done.” I think Hubbard was on to something. As a lover of history, I am convinced that the only way to live well is to live in a cultured awareness of both the glories and the disasters of history, and with a respect for the future of the world, of our children. But that’s not the same thing as living nostalgically or regretfully in the past, or so much under the burden or hope of the future that the present is subservient to it. Having the perspective of past and future is not the same thing as living in them. The only place we can actually be alive is in the present.

Alan Beam wrote a poem about how the right response to the awareness of eternity is to live in the present–not to ignore the past, or to care nothing for the future, but to realise that only in the present can everything come into focus and depth, so that we don’t just skim over each moment without entering into the joy that is there in everyday moments. I’m thinking of moments over the last 24 hours that seemed to stretch into eternity: good news, shared with a friend, that made her face light up with a brilliant smile and made me dance around the room. The taste of just-braised spinach, the sound of my son’s voice, the feeling of satisfied tiredness at the end of a good day, the pink-and-yellow colour of the room in the early morning light.

Alan Beam commented on his poem: “I was here imagining my wife sharing with me a sudden illumination as to how a belief in the timelessness of the present might offer some reassurance about life’s fleetingness as we entered middle age.”

Time is…

I fear time’s tumbril hurrying us

-bare wee foetuses

hardly rubbed with God’s pleasure-

to the place of execution.

“Stay!” My beloved, Giacometti above,

Renoir below,

spirit shining, horse to horse,

leaps in the way.

An angel rapes a neuron in her brain:

“Celebrate! Our rescue remedy is

the timeless now –

her handmaids

commitment, compassion and conspiracy,

the breathing together of love.

Life is delightful

from womb bliss to birth bliss

from home bliss to death bliss

and beyond

our lives ripple through eternity.


How to Read a Poem: Beginner’s Manual – by Pamela Spiro Wagner

First, forget everything you have learned,

that poetry is difficult,

that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you,

with your high school equivalency diploma,

your steel-tipped boots,

or your white-collar misunderstandings.  


Do not assume meanings hidden from you:

the best poems mean what they say and say it.  


To read poetry requires only courage

enough to leap from the edge

and trust.  


Treat a poem like dirt,

humus rich and heavy from the garden.

Later it will become the fat tomatoes

and golden squash piled high upon your kitchen table.  


Poetry demands surrender,

language saying what is true,

doing holy things to the ordinary.


Read just one poem a day.

Someday a book of poems may open in your hands

like a daffodil offering its cup

to the sun.  


When you can name five poets

without including Bob Dylan,

when you exceed your quota

and don’t even notice,

close this manual.


You can now read poetry.


Pamela Spiro Wagner

From We Mad Climb Shaky Ladders by Pamela Spiro Wagner.

Copyright © 2009 by Pamela Spiro Wagner.