Up, drakes! It’s time for tea—and prosody!

Our culture is dying, or so some opine. How do we save it? With meter and rhyme!

How do I say this? If we are losing our culture, it is because we have lost our words. We have lost the meter by which we built cities and poems, the measure of rhyme, the call and response in praise of our Maker, the great Artist of creatures and words.

It is easier to exclaim this truth with gesture and breath than to write it. Writing takes patience and dictionaries. Long lists of words. Well-structured arguments. Persuasive imagery and fire. Stories and themes.

What has happened to reading? What has happened to prose? I write now in short bursts on social media, blurts and quips. Slogans that puzzle—startle and tease.

𝕸𝖊𝖉𝖎𝖊𝖛𝖆𝖑 𝖔𝖗 𝕲𝕿𝕱𝕺

꧁Totalitarianism, race war, chaos, or Christ. Choose wisely.꧂

Capture the moment! Stay not to think! Look, there’s a meme! Laugh now, and move on! “Okay, boomer, lmao.” “Say the n-word, I dare you.” “Your mother is fat.”

Quick, now—recite something. A snippet of verse. “To be or not to be, that is the question.” What was the next line? Was there a response? Who has the patience to care?

Maybe dragons do. Dragons are long-lived and greedy. They sit on their heaps of treasure, biding the centuries. Jealous of every last gemstone. “Mine! Take not from me, thief! You earned not that prize!”

They also guard borders with fury and flame.

Dragons are essential to the work of the imagination. Tolkien knew this. He chided his fellow scholars for making the dragons ridiculous—for complaining about great wildernesses of dragons in Old English literature, when in fact there were only two. (Can you name them? Beowulf and Sigurd could.)

Are dragons racist? All cultures have them. Mushu and Puff and my father’s dragon. They sing songs in the psalms and bring good luck at the New Year. Cat, snake, and raptor—a predator’s dream.

Job knew Leviathan. St. George had his drake. Heroes are monster slayers. Think St. Michael and Christ. Could you slay a dragon? Would you run and hide?

I have set my Telegram chat (a.k.a. Dragon Common Room) a challenge: learn to write poetry. We are using Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Traveled: Unlocking the Poet Within as a textbook. We started this week with iambic pentameters. Today our lesson is enjambment and caesura. Ti-tum ti-tum ti-tum ti-tum ti-tum.

Think what it means to write something in meter. Think about the way you learned to read. Was it with nursery rhymes? Was it with poems?

“One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.” “The sun did not shine / It was too wet to play. / So we sat in the house / All that cold, cold wet day.” “Belinda lived in a little white house / With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse / And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon, / And a realio, trulio little pet dragon.”

Belinda and her pets are all incredibly brave, except for Custard the dragon, who was a cowardly drake. Until, of course, one day, when a pirate attacked—and Custard found his courage and saved the day.

I began our dragon poetry lessons with a question: “Who finds poetry writing silly?” I wanted to know, could the dragons write poetry without feeling embarrassed? Most admitted, yes, they were embarrassed—who wouldn’t be? But why? Is it poetry that is silly—or do we feel silly writing poems because we worry they will be bad?

Or is the whole thought of poetry silly in a world in which people are dying of poverty, famine, violence, and plague?

Question: when weren’t they?

“Americans,” Ursula LeGuin once wrote, “are afraid of dragons because dragons aren’t practical.” Actually, that is not exactly what she wrote.

“In wondering why Americans are afraid of dragons,” she wrote, “I began to realize that a great many Americans are not only antifantasy, but altogether antifiction. We tend, as a people, to look upon all works of the imagination either as suspect or as contemptible.”

LeGuin was musing in 1974, long before Game of Thrones made dragons cool again—or did it? Benedict Cumberbatch may have made Smaug sexy, but did he make Smaug virtuous? Who needs dragons when what you want is to wallow in sin?

America is engaged in an orgy of sin right now. Cities burning, accusations thrown. No one is more virtuous than the virtue-signaling pagans who point to the Cross and cry, “Racist! Tear it down!” Dragons in such a context seem as archaic as blood feuds—and as new.

Why was it that Tolkien’s contemporaries thought dragons and other monsters contemptible? Because what they wanted was stories about the “conflict between plighted troth and the duty of revenge” (Chambers, Widsith, p. 79, cited by Tolkien, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,” p. 11). They wanted cycles of race war, not dragons praising God. They wanted the chaos of unreason, not the victory of Logos over Satan.

“Totalitarianism, race war, chaos, or Christ. Choose wisely.” Over and over and over again, humanity has chosen empire over Pentecost, race war over Christ’s forgiveness, chaos over “In the beginning was the Word.”

Once upon a time, Europe was barbarian, riven with wars of kin versus kin, wergild the only stop-gap to the desire for vengeance. And then along came Jesus with his warriors, the saints who stood up against the dragons of human sacrifice, plague, and unreason, St. George and St. Margaret and St. Gregory. They put a stop to the kin-slaying, insofar as they could.

But what happens when there is no dragon-slayer left? What happens when there is only vengeance and death? When Beowulf dies, his people mourn:
Likewise a lonely old woman of the Geats,
With her hair bound up, wove a sad lament
For her fallen lord, sang often of old feuds
Bound to fester, a fearful strife,
The invasion of enemies, the slaughter of troops,
Slavery and shame. Heaven swallowed the smoke.
Yesterday, the Dragon Common Room wrote iambic pentameters about steak. Silly lines about eating and mooing and the cows coming home. Think back to the ancient sacrifices the Hebrews and Greeks and other barbarians once made. The smoke rising to heaven to feed the gods with the aroma of burning flesh.

Here was mine (with some revisions):
A Texan girl knows how to cook her steak
With butter, salt, and just a hint of spice.
I lie—I let my man do all the cooking;
He knows the way to cook a steak just right. 
This poem started out well, but soon strayed,
Like cows left out to wander ’cross the plains.
One day my love will take me back to Texas,
Where cowboys herd their doggies on the range. 
It’s hard to write a poem about cooking
That doesn’t fall into a cow-like rut.
The cows come home, it’s time for dinner,
But, look, who’s on the menu?—Chop, chop, chop!
An elegance of cows is something stirring,
A dance of bovine hooves and whispered moos.
You’d think their horns would drown out all the music,
But then you hear the silence of the lambs. 
I grew up eating meat, then felt like Adam,
A sinner shamed by eating food forbid.
But once I started fencing I was hungry
For the steak I’d eaten when I was a kid. 
Did you read it slowly enough to catch the pentameters? How did I do with my iambs? I think there were a few caesuras in there, but no enjambments—that’s today’s lesson. But I did sneak in a few feminine endings, although I didn’t realize until this morning’s reading in Fry’s Ode that’s what they were. There might even be the odd dactyl. Or do I mean anapest?

It’s going to be slow going, even if everyone keeps up with the poetry work. That’s the point. To slow us down, make us stop taking our language and culture for granted, make us sensitive again to the beauty of words, phrases, and clauses.

Do you want to save the West from a second (or third or fourth) descent into barbarism? Learn the meaning of the word “barbaric”—to speak without logic or beauty. To speak without reason or rhyme. And we wouldn’t want that, now would we?
Gadzooks! she cried. I did so want it rare!
But darling, it may stand right up and moo.
See you in poetry class! 5pmCST. Today’s lesson will be pinned at the top. Say “Dragons rule!”—and enter.

NEXT EXERCISE: Iambic Pentameters—or Bust!

Follow me on Telegram at Fencing Bear at Prayer. Join the chat to enter the Dragon Common Room. For further reading in training the Christian imagination, visit Dragons’ Keep.


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