Two Dragon Statues

Tây Hồ, Hà Nội, Việt Nam, Constructed 2012

They stand on waves just off West Lake’s west bank—
two dragon statues—jade ceramic gods
commemorating when the Emperor
beheld a soaring dragon, Heaven’s sign
that Thăng Long should be made the capital,
which doomed Hoa Lư, the ancient royal seat,
to be forgot, with only fields of rice
& limestone peaks its mausoleums now,
whereas Hà Nội’s metropolis endures
& thrives, a booming heart of industry
& art that more than eight million call home.
At night Hà Nội’s young couples gather here—
the pearls these basilisks enshrine with teeth
perhaps are thought to consecrate true love.



G.M.H. Thompson spent the last year teaching in Ha Noi, Viet Nam. He recently put out a book of illustrated sonnets entitled Quetzalcoatl, available through on Amazon.

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8 Responses

  1. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    A most intriguing piece that paints a vivid picture of the ‘Two Dragon Statues’. I particularly like the closing three lines… a touch of romance and mystique to mull upon.

    • G.M.H. Thompson

      Originally, that tercet read:

      At night, the lovers come to kiss beneath
      these civic saints– the pearl each gaping jaw
      contains perhaps suggests fertility.

      I think the editor thought this was too risqué or something, so he asked me to change it to what it is now. I still think how I had it at first was better, but you know, it’s whatever, I change them to be how editors like– it still gets the point across. I just wanted to go for more of Stravinsky Rite of Spring sort of feel, you know?

  2. BDW

    It’s nice to hear your voice again. I am sorry I got to responding so slowly, but as I write a weekly column of poetry, no week goes by when I am not besieged by time. I would not have it any other way, yet I am sorry for this long delay. Although I’m fighting iambic pentameter generally, I understand why one would use blank verse in attemting to write an epic; since none have outdone Milton in their attempts. Still, all the many epics since his time, show that the genre still has not been scaled with his amazing power. I think all of us, at least from Wordsworth on, have faced it in our own ways, and that variety amazes in and of itself.

    In “Two Dragon Statuues” I did find the placement of the word “million” awkward, but perhaps no more than most of Milton’s “Paradise Lost”. However, I did like the diction of your “sonnet”; perhaps it will help you to achieve what you desire in your future writing.

    • G.M.H. Thompson

      Well, one of the problems with rhymes in English is they decay so fast. The language has changed at least twice since Chaucer, so a lot of his rhymes didn’t rhyme by Shakespeare’s day, 200 years later, and nowadays, many of Shakespeare’s rhymes don’t rhymes. The metre still holds mostly, although some words lost a syllable here & there. Another problem with rhyming in English is that some ending sounds only have one or two words that actually work. If you read the collected works of Sylvia Plath, you can notice that she actually uses slant rhyme in almost all of her poems (all, almost all of her poems are syllabics, i.e. with a set number of syllables per line), a very innovative way around this problem that additionally avoids another problem of rhyming, namely that rhymed poems often can sound sing-songy and the ending words often sound overly determined by the fact that they have to rhyme, and whether this is true or not, it undermines the effectiveness of those end words.


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