“The Dragon’s Visit”
By J.R.R. Tolkien, published in the Oxford Magazine, 4 February 1937
The dragon lay on the cherry trees
a-simmering and a-dreaming:
Green was he, and the blossom white,
and the yellow sun gleaming.
He came from the land of Finis-Terre,
where dragons live, and the moon shines
on high white fountains.
“Please, Mister Higgins, do you know
what’s a-laying in your garden?
There’s a dragon in your cherry trees!”
“Eh, what? I beg your pardon?”
Mister Higgins fetched the garden hose,
and the dragon woke from dreaming;
he blinked, and cocked his long green ears
when he felt the water streaming.
“How cool,” he said, “delightfully cool
are Mister Higgins’ fountains!
I’ll sit and sing till the moon comes,
as they sing beyond the mountains;
and Higgins, and his neighbours, Box,
Miss Biggins and old Tupper,
will be enchanted by my voice:
they will enjoy their supper!”
Mister Higgins sent for the fire brigade
with a long red ladder.
And men with golden helmets on.
The dragon’s heart grew sadder:
“It reminds me of the bad old days
when warriors unfeeling
used to hunt dragons in their dens,
their bright gold stealing.”
Captain George, he up the ladder came.
The dragon said: “Good people,
why all this fuss? Please go away!
Or your church-steeple
I shall throw down, and blast your trees,
and kill and eat for supper
you, Cap’n George, and Higgins, Box,
and Biggins and old Tupper!”
“Turn on the hose!” said Captain George,
and down the ladder tumbled.
The dragon’s eyes from green went red,
and his belly rumbled.
He steamed, he smoked, he threshed his tail,
and down the blossom fluttered;
Like snow upon the lawn it lay,
and the dragon growled and muttered.
They poked with poles from underneath
(where he was rather tender):
the dragon gave a dreadful cry
and rose like thunder.
He smashed the town to smithereens,
and over the Bay of Bimble
sailors could see the burning red
from Bumpus Head to Trimble.
Mister Higgins was tough; and as for Box
just like his name he tasted.
The dragon munching his supper said:
“So all my trouble’s wasted!”
And he buried Tupper and Captain George,
and the remains of old Miss Biggins,
on a cliff above the long white shore;
and he sang a dirge for Higgins.
A sad song, while the moon rose,
with the sea below sighing
on the grey rocks of Bimble Bay,
and the red blaze dying.
Far over the sea he saw the peaks,
found his own land ranging;
and he mused on the folk of Bimble Bay
and the old order changing:
“They have not got the wit to admire
a dragon’s song or colour,
nor heart to kill him brave and quick—
the world is getting duller!”
And the moon shone through his green wings,
the night winds beating,
and he flew back over the dappled sea
to a green dragons’ meeting.
A delightful peace, is it not? To begin with, I love the opening image. A green dragon, far from his wild, fantastic home, dozes lazily in a blossoming cherry tree, in the garden of an old country Englishman, with the sun warming his scales, and dreams. Of what does a dragon dream? Tolkien does not tell us. Perhaps of music, as the fellow seems to take pride in his own singing. I hold with the belief that you should not write about a fantastic creature unless you can imagine it in quiet, content repose.
And I wonder how long it took Mr. Higgins’ neighbors to notice that dragon in his tree. One might imagine Box or Tuppers taking their morning coffee and gazing out the window for a few solid minutes before realizing that something was slightly different in the yard next door. Higgins is quite a brave fellow for making his first “attack” on his own, with nothing other than a garden hose, although it really is quite rude for him to give to a noble dragon the treatment that is usually reserved for raccoons and stray cats. Yet the dragon enjoys the water! Well, who wouldn’t on a lazy, hot summer day?
Once, in the “bad old days,” if a man named George attacked a dragon, that man would be a great knight with shield, sword, and lance, and he would slay the dragon, be declared a saint and a patron of probably hundreds of places, and have an entire book of Spenser’s Faerie Queene written about him. Yet one gets the sense that the dragon would prefer even that to the pathetic indignity of being assaulted by “Capn’ George” of the fire brigade, with his red ladder and rubber hoses.
In fact, it appears that dragons have in general forgiven mankind for constantly trying to steal all their gold and hunt them down. That was the past, it’s history. Our dragon is quite content to stop for a morning or afternoon in an Englishman’s garden, with no intention of harassing anyone. But spraying him with water as a form of attack? And then they start poking him with poles? The dragon is certainly more upset about humanity’s fall from fierceness than humanity is. It’s embarrassing to him. So he eats a few of them, and kills the rest.
But he has the personal integrity to bury them, and even sing a funeral song for poor old Higgins, who reacted foolishly to an unexpected guest, but who had, after all, provided such a nice garden and cherry tree for the dragon to rest in for at least a little while. I doubt many humans get the honor of a dragon’s song at their funeral.