Friday, 28 October 2011

The Dragon Of Wantley - for Sal

The Dragon of Wantley is a 17th century satirical verse parody about a dragon and a brave knight. It was included in Thomas Percy's 1767 Reliques of Ancient Poetry.
The poem is a parody of medieval romances and satirizes a local churchman. In the poem, a dragon appears in Yorkshire and eats children and cattle. The knight More of More Hall battles the dragon and kills it. The Wantley of the poem is Wharncliffe and the dragon lived in a cave on Wharncliffe Crags, five miles to the north of Sheffield, South Yorkshire.  Me and Sal had an afternoon at Grenoside Woods and Wharncliffe last Monday and she was telling me the tale of the Dragon.

Grenoside Woods near Wharncliffe

Grenoside Woods near Wharncliffe

Wharncliffe Chase where the Dragon roamed.

Old stories tell, how Hercules
   A dragon slew at Lerna,
With seven heads, and fourteen eyes,
   To see and well discern-a:
But he had a club, this dragon to drub,
   Or he ne'er had done it, I warrant ye;
But More of More Hall, with nothing at all,
   He slew the dragon of Wantley.

This dragon had two furious wings,
   Each one upon each shoulder;
With a sting in his tail, as long as a flail,
   Which made him bolder and bolder.
He had long claws, and in his jaws
   Four and forty teeth of iron;
With a hide as tough as any buff,
   Which did him round environ.

Have you not heard how the Trojan horse
   Held seventy men in his belly?
This dragon was not quite so big,
   But very near, I tell ye.
Devoured he poor children three,
   That could not with him grapple;
And at one sup he ate them up,
   As one would eat an apple.

All sorts of cattle this dragon did eat,
   Some say he ate up trees,
And that the forests sure he would
   Devour up by degrees;
For houses and churches were to him geese and turkeys;
   He ate all, and left none behind,
But some stones, dear Jack, which he could not crack,
   Which on the hills you will find.

In Yorkshire, near fair Rotherham,
   The place I know it well;
Some two or three miles, or thereabouts,
   I vow I cannot tell;
But there is a hedge, just on the hill's edge,
   And Matthew's house hard by it;
There and then was this dragon's den,
   You could not choose but spy it.

Some say, this dragon was a witch;
   Some say, he was the devil,
For from his nose a smoke arose,
   And with it burning snivel,
Which he cast off, when he did cough,
   In a well that he did stand by;
Which made it look just like a brook
   Running with burning brandy.

Hard by a furious knight there dwelt,
   Of whom all towns did ring,
For he could wrestle, play at quarter-staff, kick, cuff and huff,
   Call son of a whore, do anything more;
By the tail and the mane, with his hands twain,
   He swung a horse till he was dead;
And that which is stranger, he for very anger
   Ate him all up but his head.

These children, as I told, being eat,
   Men, women, girls, and boys,
Sighing and sobbing, came to his lodging,
   And made a hideous noise:
"O, save us all, More of More Hall,
   Thou peerless knight of these woods;
Do but slay this dragon, who won't leave us a rag on,
   We'll give thee all our goods."

"Tut, tut," quoth he, "no goods I want;
   But I want, I want, in sooth,
A fair maid of sixteen, that's brisk and keen,
   With smiles about the mouth;
Hair black as sloe, skin white as snow,
   With blushes her cheeks adorning;
To anoint me o'er the night, e'er I go to fight,
   And to dress me in the morning."

This being done, he did engage
   To hew the dragon down;
But first he went, new armor to
   Bespeak at Sheffield town;
With spikes all about, not within but without,
   Of steel so sharp and strong,
Both behind and before, arms, legs, and all o'er,
   Some five or six inches long.

Had you but seen him in this dress,
   How fierce he looked, and how big,
You would have thought him for to be
   Some Egyptian porcupig:
He frighted all, cats, dogs, and all,
   Each cow, each horse, and each hog:
For fear they did flee, for they took him to be
   Some strange, outlandish hedgehog.

To see this fight all people then
   Got up on trees and houses,
On churches some, and chimneys too,
   But these put on their trousers,
Not to spoil their hose. As soon as he rose,
   To make him strong and mighty,
He drank, by the tale, six pots of ale
   And a quart of aqua-vitae.

It is not strength that always wins,
   For wit doth strength excel;
Which made our cunning champion
   Creep down into a well,
Where he did think this dragon would drink,
   And so he did in truth;
And as he stooped low, he rose up and cried, "Boh!"
   And hit him in the mouth.

"Oh," quoth the dragon, "pox take thee, come out,
   Thou disturbst me in my drink."
And then he turned, and shat at him -
   Good lack! How he did stink!
"Beshew my soul, thy body's foul,
   Thy dung smells not like balsam;
Thou son of a whore, thou stinkest so sore,
   Sure thy diet is unwholesome."

Our politic knight, on the other side,
   Crept out upon the brink,
And gave the dragon such a douse
   He knew not what to think.
"By cock," quoth he, "say you so, do you see?"
   And then at him he let fly
With hand and foot, and so they went to't,
   And the word was "Hey, boys, hey!"

"Your words," quoth the dragon, "I don't understand."
   Then to it they fell at all,
Like two boars so fierce, if I may
   Compare great things with small.
Two days and a night, with this dragon did fight
   Our champion on this ground;
Though their strength it was great, their skill it was neat,
   They never had one wound.

At length the hard earth began to quake,
   The dragon gave him a knock,
Which made him to reel, and straightaway he thought
   To lift him as high as a rock,
And thence let him fall. But More of More Hall
   Like a valiant son of Mars,
As he came like a lout, so he turned him about,
   And hit him a kick on the arse.

"Oh," quoth the dragon, with a deep sigh,
   And turned six times together.
Sobbing and tearing, cursing and swearing,
   Out of his throat of leather:
"More of More-hall! O thou rascal!
   Would I had seen thee never!
With the thing at thy foot thou hast pricked my arse-gut,
   And I'm quite undone forever."

"Murder, murder!" the dragon cried,
   "Alack, alack, for grief!
Had you but missed that place, you could
   Have done me no mischief."
Then his head he shaked, trembled and quaked,
   And down he laid and cried;
First on one knee, then on back tumbled he,
   So groaned, kicked, shat, and died.

Grenoside Woods

Grenoside Woods

Grenoside Woods

Grenoside Woods

A journey of two halves.

It was one of those all too frequent occasions when the weather forecast had a big wad of thick cloud and rain hanging over Cumbria whilst ...