Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Saint Werburgh and the goose

Werburgh had trouble with geese ravaging her fields, so she shut them up in a pen overnight as a punishment. The next day she let them out and gave them a bit of a telling-off. "I like you geese," she said, "but you're just too greedy! Keep this up and there won't be any wheat left for the village. Please go away and eat samphire or something, like you're supposed to."

 So off they went; but in next to no time, they'd come back again,  kicking up a clamour outside the farmhouse door. Geese are really good at clamour, too, when they want to be.

"Big Grendel's missing!" they said. "What've you done with him?"
Werburgh was mystified. She looked around the farm, and found that Gurth the swineherd had killed and eaten the unfortunate Grendel.

"That was a bit naughty, Gurth", she said. "And rather greedy too. You ate the whole goose?"
Gurth looked shifty.
"Bring out what's left, if you don't mind," said Werburgh.
Gurth shuffled out into the field with a plate of last night's leftovers. He took care not to look the other geese in the eye, and it was probably just as well. If looks could kill....

Fortunately, Werburgh had a miracle up her sleeve. She gently placed the bits on the ground, and moved her hands over them as though describing a goose shape. And there was Big Grendel, good as new, and looking slightly startled for once in his life. The geese, who'd seen the Northern Lights plenty of times in their travels, agreed that this beat everything they'd seen yet.

"Non nobis, non nobis, Domine
Sed nomini tuo da gloriam"

...said Werburgh, who'd been well brought up.

"Thanks, Werburgh!" chorused the geese. "We'll not trouble you again!"

And, circling the farm one last time, they formed a loose V, dipped their wings in salute, and flew off into the west. And that was the last that was seen of them.

(I have a print of this picture in my Etsy shop)


  1. You are a born storyteller, Dru. I feel a book coming on ...

  2. Big Grendel -Was Grendel a common name for the day? I recognise it from the Beowulf story.

  3. thank you, Deb! The Big Book of Odd Miracles?

    I don't think Grendel was all that common as a name, Bella; but the geese probably met him as they migrated around Scandinavia, and it's a good name for someone who's a bit greedy. Like Gurth, who features in Ivanhoe.

  4. An illustrated tale about greed. You're onto something here. An illustrated book on a collection of vices and virtues looms! It could become a best-seller.

    The time is in any case right for a reassessment and representation of basic moral issues. Get in there.


  5. It's a lovely story beautifully told.

    It also makes a nice change to have a Saint doing something useful and not getting themselves hung drawn or quartered.

  6. Werburgh, samphire, thanks for this preposterous beauty. Like Deborah said...
    And quoting from a post on Tom Clark's
    poetry blogsite:

    Hopefully apropos, from the WWI warm-up, Mary Butts (from her mid-1920s novella, "Imaginary Letters"):

    Give bread and drink
    To soap: even to prayers,
    for the surprise it prepares.
    Give scent, give fire
    Everything to restore,
    You will not find it a bore.

    Hang out a wire from the stars
    To the Banks, for a friend,
    Notice where it will end.

    It will not end where you think.
    You have set something going.

    A sailor has a parrot
    A barman has a bar.
    The human heart is unpredictable

    Restore life
    To its capacity for beauty
    That sounds
    An order to make pleasure out of duty.

    Watch the surprise in your eyes
    Waiting for the moon to rise
    A surprise moon for the wise moon,
    the sight for sore eyes.
    A lean moon for the serene moon of peace.

    You set a feather in a cap
    A feather in another's cap
    (A feather in Russia's cap)
    If the cap slips the moon flits
    If the cap sits the moon flits


    1 September 2012 09:26

  7. thanks, Lucy. I'm thinking of a series of Bristol women for starters, but that's a neat idea too.

    Thank you, Anji. Yes, it is a very nice sort of miracle, isn't it?

    And thank you. Larry, for introducing me to Mary Butts. An unexpected pleasure!

    1. Mary Butts? Another fan here! I've got quite a bit on/by her, if you'd like to borrow any. Back in the day, I was married to her biographer, so lived Butts and Buttsiana for quite a while.