Today we begin “Dorigen”. This is based, very loosely, on Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”. One spring Chaucer’s pilgrims formed a group to make the journey from London to Canterbury. To enjoy the journey more, they agreed that each person should tell a story. This is the tale the Franklin told.
The Franklin was a rich landowner and a man of some importance. He also loved the good things of life, enjoyed fine food and was generous in his hospitality.
Chaucer’s source for the story of Dorigen came from the east as so many of our best stories do. The rash promise of a lady to an unwanted lover in an unguarded moment appears in Sanskrit, Burmese and Persian traditions.
Whenever Chaucer’s rhymes were crying out to be kept, I have respected their wishes.
This is a story from long ago,
It goes far back, back to the days
When there was time to grow a rose
And time to look at the moon
And know her each and every phase.
Years before the factory, years before the train,
And years before the car took hold.
Then the gallop of the horse
Was as fast as man could go,
For then the horse was king.
We go back before the cold computer age,
To those days when the world was free
From the treadmill of e-mails,
And the inquisitive tentacles of Facebook,
And here it is.
Years ago, in Brittany they made up poems,
All rhymed and in Breton.
When friends were gathered like us now,
By the winter fire with snow outside,
Or in the summer shade of an old oak’s leaves,
They sang these poems,
Or read them out aloud.
For poems are music and a rush of sounds,
And were never made
To be read in silence.
I can remember one of them
And will tell it to you now.
So, if you have time for a poem,
And so few people have time today,
Go take that chair,
By the fire over there,
And make yourself at ease.
First, though, pour yourself a drink.
There’s beer in the fridge,
No, on the bottom shelf.
It’s always on the bottom shelf, you know.
There’s a glass in the cupboard.
You’re happy with the can? OK then.
Off we go.
Ah, I forgot.
Just one thing more, before I start.
I’m very down to earth, as you know.
Forgive the plain style that I use.
I call a spade a spade,
And a rose is just a rose.
Bread is bread and wine is wine,
As down in Spain the saying goes.
I know nothing of poetic terms
Or words refined.
They’re never ever in my mind.
So here we go then.
In those times so long ago
Armorica was the name
Of what is Brittany today.
In Armorica there was a knight
And his name was Roderick.
He served his lady well and long.
Many great adventures he carried out
And many dangers he endured for her.
And she was worth it for she was
The fairest lady and the best
In all the land from east to west.
And in the end, for after this world’s ways
No woman says yes in the early days,
Or if she does, she will regret such quick consent,
In the end, I say,
She finally with full accord,
Seeing his worth and all that he had done,
Took him for her husband and her lord.
A bargain they made there and then.
He promised her that day or night
He never would insist
On anything against her will.
And she replied,
‘Since you give me so free a rein
I promise you that all my life
I’ll be your true and humble wife’.
If there’s one thing that I’m sure of,
It’s that friends must give and take
If their friendship’s going to last.
Love cannot brook control.
If one commands, the god of love anon,
Flaps his wide wings, and farewell, he is gone!
Women by their nature must be free.
They just can’t stand being bossed around,
And nor can men, I’ve always found.
So, the accord they came to was the best
To live in peace and free from strife.
He was her lover and her husband,
And she his lover and his wife.
If anyone was happy on this earth
Of ups and downs, of sun and rain,
Where fortune’s wheel lifts us up high
And at the top will throw us down again,
Then it was Roderick of Brittany.
He had, it seems, all that a man could want.
All men said that his wife
Was the fairest lady in all the land
From the mouth of the Seine and far beyond
Down to the south and the Gironde.
And all the women disagreed,
Though in their heart of hearts they knew she was.
They said that she was fair enough and thus
There was no reason to make such a fuss.
What was she like then?
Well, she had a look that could
Make the young men sigh
And make the old men sigh too
And regret their years,
And forget their aches and pains,
And even some short dream could waken.
Then loves long gone they could remember,
And past chances too, some missed, some taken.
Her laugh could fill with light
The darkest morning in November,
Her smile could take the summer night
And spin it out till day’s first light.
But, things come and go,
And never stay the same,
And, restless in his knighthood,
And to enhance his name,
Roderick went to England for a time
To search for further challenge there
In arms, adventures, and good deeds.
His wife was left at home in Penmarch then,
On the rocky coast of Brittany,
And her name was Dorigen.