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April 23, 2005

St George’s Day

Today is St George’s Day, the 23 rd of April, the Feast Day of the Patron Saint of England and therefore our National Day. In celebration, a few poems and a picture.


Yes, I know, that’s a Russian icon, but the same St George is also the Patron Saint of Moscow, where this Englishman has spent some years of his life.

From old Will Shakespeare, still what is something of a rallying cry:

           Follow your spirit; and, upon this charge
          Cry God for Harry, England and St George!

Some GK Chesterton: 

Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.

I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.

His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.

My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.

This makes a great deal more sense if you know that Goodwin Sands and Glastonbury, Bannockburn and Brighton Pier, are at opposite ends of the country, and that Kensal Green was the site of the public crematorium/graveyard.

More Chesterton:

Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget;
For we are the people of England, that never have spoken yet.
There is many a fat farmer that drinks less cheerfully,
There is many a free French peasant who is richer and sadder than we.
There are no folk in the whole world so helpless or so wise.
There is hunger in our bellies, there is laughter in our eyes;
You laugh at us and love us, both mugs and eyes are wet:
Only you do not know us. For we have not spoken yet.

The fine French kings came over in a flutter of flags and dames.
We liked their smiles and battles, but we never could say their names.
The blood ran red to Bosworth and the high French lords went down;
There was naught but a naked people under a naked crown.
And the eyes of the King's Servants turned terribly every way,
And the gold of the King's Servants rose higher every day.
They burnt the homes of the shaven men, that had been quaint and kind,
Till there was no bed in a monk's house, nor food that man could find.
The inns of God where no man paid, that were the wall of the weak.
The King's Servants ate them all. And still we did not speak.

And the face of the King's Servants grew greater than the King:
He tricked them, and they trapped him, and stood round him in a ring.
The new grave lords closed round him, that had eaten the abbey's fruits,
And the men of the new religion, with their bibles in their boots,
We saw their shoulders moving, to menace or discuss,
And some were pure and some were vile; but none took heed of us.
We saw the King as they killed him, and his face was proud and pale;
And a few men talked of freedom, while England talked of ale.

A war that we understood not came over the world and woke
Americans, Frenchmen, Irish; but we knew not the things they spoke.
They talked about rights and nature and peace and the people's reign:
And the squires, our masters, bade us fight; and scorned us never again.
Weak if we be for ever, could none condemn us then;
Men called us serfs and drudges; men knew that we were men.
In foam and flame at Trafalgar, on Albuera plains,
We did and died like lions, to keep ourselves in chains,
We lay in living ruins; firing and fearing not
The strange fierce face of the Frenchmen who knew for what they fought,
And the man who seemed to be more than a man we strained against and broke;
And we broke our own rights with him. And still we never spoke.

Our patch of glory ended; we never heard guns again.
But the squire seemed struck in the saddle; he was foolish, as if in pain,
He leaned on a staggering lawyer, he clutched a cringing Jew,
He was stricken; it may be, after all, he was stricken at Waterloo.
Or perhaps the shades of the shaven men, whose spoil is in his house,
Come back in shining shapes at last to spoil his last carouse:
We only know the last sad squires rode slowly towards the sea,
And a new people takes the land: and still it is not we.

They have given us into the hand of new unhappy lords,
Lords without anger or honour, who dare not carry their swords.
They fight by shuffling papers; they have bright dead alien eyes;
They look at our labour and laughter as a tired man looks at flies.
And the load of their loveless pity is worse than the ancient wrongs,
Their doors are shut in the evening; and they know no songs.

We hear men speaking for us of new laws strong and sweet,
Yet is there no man speaketh as we speak in the street.
It may be we shall rise the last as Frenchmen rose the first,
Our wrath come after Russia's wrath and our wrath be the worst.
It may be we are meant to mark with our riot and our rest
God's scorn for all men governing. It may be beer is best.
But we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet.
Smile at us, pay us, pass us. But do not quite forget.

There is also William Hogarth’s Beer Street (used in counterpoint to the more famous Gin Lane)

Beer! happy produce of our isle,
Can sinewy strength impart,
And wearied with fatigue and toil,
Can cheer each manly heart.

Labour and art upheld by thee,
Successfully advance,
We quaff thy balmy juice with glee;
And water leave to France.

Genius of Health! thy grateful taste
Rivals the cup of love,
And warms each English generous breast
With liberty and love.

To understand this last poem (set to music by Parry and sung as the hymn Jerusalem, the words being by Willam Blake) it helps to understand one of the folk myths, that Joseph of Aramathea brought his nephew, Jesus Christ, to England on a trading trip. No, I don’t quite believe it either, but it is not completely absurd, for Phoenicians are known to have been trading for Cornish tin since at least 500 BC. The hymn is sung with gusto at Labour Party conferences, at the Women’s Institute (no, this is not some weird feminist organisation infested with Hillary clones re-enacting the Vagina Monologues. This is the backbone of Middle England, volunteers, charity workers, summer fetes and home made cakes. Sometimes referred to as "Jam and Jerusalem".), in the private chapels of expensive schools, and has quite seriously been proposed as the English national anthem by none other than Billy Bragg.

    And did those feet in ancient time
    Walk upon England's mountains green?
    And was the Holy Lamb of God
    On England's pleasant pastures seen?
    And did the countenance divine
    Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
    And was Jerusalem builded here
    Among these dark satanic mills.
    Bring me my bow of burning gold!
    Bring me my arrows of desire!
    Bring me my spear! O Clouds unfold!
    Bring me my chariot of fire!
    I will not cease from mental fight
    Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
    Till we have built Jerusalem
    In England's green and pleasant land!

It might be worth remembering something about the English, on this our national day, and in the middle of a general election campaign, that there is one thing we all do share, that burning desire to build Jerusalem in our green and pleasant land. Now if we can just work out how to do so.

Happy St George’s Day everybody, especially to those of you who did not, in Cecil Rhodes’ words, win the lottery of life by being born an Englishman.

April 23, 2005 in The English | Permalink


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» The Other Saint George from The Obscurer
PostScript: If you want a rather more celebratory post about St George's day, then Tim Worstall's your man. [Read More]

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» Happy St. George's Day! from The LLama Butchers
How 'bout a little Dryden? Saint George the patron of our Isle! A soldier and a saint! On this auspicious order smile, Which love and arms will plant. Our Sov'reign high in awful state His honours shall bestow; And... [Read More]

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How delightful to be reminded what day it is, But how disconcerting that St. George seems bent on impaling a dragon instead of the advert for Strange Days on Planet Earth alongside him.
Do e-mail me your current emial adress , as this site's mail link seems to have gone missing in the shrubbery.

Do remind us of other worthy Paleocon holidays holidays as they appear.

Posted by: Russell Seitz | Apr 23, 2005 1:11:53 PM

Delighted to see my local supermarket has choosen such an auspicious day to start selling the official DVD of the Grand Slam!

Dave Collins

Posted by: Dave Collins | Apr 23, 2005 1:32:42 PM

This morning's Telegraph discusses 5 Scots who have sat for English seats in the Commons - one of whom is Toni, who said in 1997 that he considered himself English not Scots - and 5 Englishmen who have sat for Scottish seats. Of this last 5, 2 were in fact Scots. Maybe we better had call ourselves Britons.

Posted by: dearieme | Apr 23, 2005 3:12:45 PM

Have a very happy St George's Day Tim.

Posted by: Gareth | Apr 23, 2005 3:52:59 PM

Shome mishtake shurely? Isn't it Tory Party conferences where they sing Jerusalem? They used to sing the Red Flag at Labour conferences.

Posted by: David Gillies | Apr 23, 2005 5:54:23 PM

He's also the Saint of Genoa, and some other places that I don't remember right now.

Posted by: Harry Hutton | Apr 23, 2005 6:50:06 PM

Going out on a limb here, but is he the patron saint of Georgia?

Greetings and a happy St George's day from one of the few pubs with good bitter in this part of the world!

Posted by: Giles | Apr 23, 2005 8:32:25 PM

Typical English attitude, no one good enough in their own country to make a saint, so they appropriate a foreign one. Have a lovely day, anyway.

Posted by: mrs mcmuffin | Apr 23, 2005 10:54:29 PM

St Charles, King and Martyr perhaps is one other option, how about St Edward the martyr, cruelly done to death at Corfe Castle.
Dammit Englishmen have died under the cross of St George now for hundreds of years - today Geroge is English - whatever those in Portugal, Georgia, Majorca, Moscow, Scouts, Archers and those poor blighters with Herpes think.

Posted by: Elaib | Apr 24, 2005 10:11:08 AM