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Ellen the Elder by Laura Varnam

I’m older now.

More winters have clawed

my bones than Beowulf

or Hrothgar ever


When they speak of me,

if they speak of me at all,

little boys snicker and point: 

dragon-raiser, cup-pincher!

I’m that old story.

Before the ashes were cool

they’d whizzed up a new hall

–bone-strong, iron-belted,

just like the last one– but

they don’t see the shadow 

of my dragon crackling in the 

hearth, hissing up the chimney.

They say my mind wanders,

but in truth I send it out 

into the forest to ask the trees

if I did right in my youth.

When it returns, pilgrim-swift,

bringing talk of sisterlands,

of raven goddesses and

dragon-queens, I am certain.

I couldn’t have done anything else.


Laura Varnam is the Lecturer in Old and Middle English Literature at University College, Oxford. Her poetry is inspired by the medieval texts that she teaches and her poems have been published in Acropolis Journal, Atrium, Crow of Minerva, Dreich, Green Ink Poetry, Ink Sweat & Tears, The Oxford Magazine and forthcoming in After…Poetry, Bad Lilies, and MIR Online. A selection of her poems, plus a creative-critical essay, are forthcoming in the academic journal postmedieval.


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