So Dorigen was now alone.
She loved Roderick more than her own life,
And wept and sighed for him so far away.
While he was busy with his work
And all the duties that a knight must do,
With many a restless quest
And journeys that filled up his time,
She was left to find her way
And fill her hours as best she could.
She lost all interest in each day’s affairs,
And sat in tears, the truth to tell.
She cried and pined from dawn to dusk,
Then wept the long night through as well.
Roderick rode far to the west,
To Somerset as I was told,
To the city of Wells where the water springs,
Where the great cathedral stands
The mass of stone already weathering
Through autumn rains and winter winds
Which blow so cold around the great west front
In January at night.
In the transept on the wall
The old clock ticks away the days,
And knights ride round and round
And joust on horseback on the hour.
But every hour the same knight falls.
The poor man never learns
How to stay upon his horse
Throughout the measured centuries.
Higher up upon the wall,
Jack Blandiver perches in his chair.
His stiff hands ring a bell to mark the hour,
And he kicks his heels to ring two more,
As the quarter hours go ticking by.
He tells the people praying there
That they are later than they thought,
And watches as they hurry off.
Through Penniless Porch they make their way
To the noisy market in the square
To begin the business of the day.
Roderick was away from home
In places that the Mendips shelter.
He was in Wells and Glastonbury nearby,
Where the tall Abbey stands,
And Wookey with its caves,
And Cheddar close to there
Where the great grey cliffs rise high.
And all this time young Dorigen was sad.
Not once did she smile, but spent the days
One after the other and all the same,
Waiting alone at home unhappily.
Her friends all saw how much she did decay,
How she grew pale and never let the light of day
Shine on her cheek or on her golden hair.
Out in the sun she would not go.
She stayed inside the four walls of her room,
And that’s no recipe for happiness,
As we all know.
Her window overlooked the sea
And she watched the ships that slowly passed
Lifting and falling in the breaking waves,
With white sails straining at the mast,
Heaving forward like a dog on a lead.
She thought of her husband every day,
And she dreamed of the ship
That would bring him back at last.
She climbed the staircase in the tower
And sat at the window hour by hour
Looking out over the endless waves.
‘Is there no ship’, she said, ‘of all these ships I see
Will bring my husband safely home to me?’
Her friends saw how she pined away,
And did their best to help her day by day.
They gathered round with busy talk and plans
To cheer her up and make her smile again.
They’d known her since they were at school.
And then she’d always been the one to help
Them in their troubles that had seemed so big,
With homework or with boyfriends,
The main concerns of their school days.
They rallied round to help her all they could
As school friends do or at the least, they ought,
For friends from school are friends for good,
Or should be so, I’ve always thought.
Little by little, as you know,
Men can carve and chip a stone,
Till a picture is imprinted there.
So her friends cheered Dorigen every day,
And helped her see more clearly the right way,
And little by little their pity left a print.
They worked to help her in her woe,
And her great sorrow then began to go.
Also her husband, Roderick,
Sent letters home from England telling her
About his feats of arms and dangers passed
And of the deeds he had achieved.
He said that when the winter came
With cold winds and with freezing rain,
And the dying leaves had fallen all once more
He would be home and with her once again.
Her friends all found that she was less downcast,
And on their knees they asked her, for God’s sake,
To join them in their walks and in their play.
Little by little they helped her change at last
And began to drive her darkest thoughts away.
They begged her there and then to leave her room
And not to dwell on all her woes.
And in the end, she granted their request
For well she saw that it was for the best.
Her castle overlooked the sea.
Tall were the walls with towers strong
That faced the winds that blew across the waves
That stretched far to the west.
Laden with spray was the air
And salty on the tongue.
Her friends all came and made her walk with them
Along the path that followed the high cliffs.
They thought the sea and sun would do her good,
Would soon bring back the flowers to her cheeks
That were so wan and pale and woebegone.
But when she saw the ships and boats
All sailing by upon the sea,
This only added to her woes.
At other times she would walk on and think
And cast her eyes down from the brink,
And when she saw the black and grisly rocks,
Her poor heart shook with fear and dread.
She was so weak she could no longer stand
But limply sat upon the grass
And sadly gazed into the depths below
Where the water seethed among the stones.
Sighing, she said,
‘Eternal God, all people say
No part of your creation is in vain,
But, Lord, these black and jagged, fiendish rocks,
What purpose do they serve?
Whether south or north or west or east,
They are no help to either man or beast.
They do no good, Lord.
See’st Thou not, how they destroy mankind?
How many brave men have they drowned!
I pray these rocks be sunk in Hell for ever more
And let the ships pass safe and sound.’
Her friends saw then that all their walks,
Along the paths upon the cliffs,
Though meant to give her heart relief
Just rubbed more salt into the wound
And added to her sorrow and her grief.
They took her to more pleasant places,
Along the lanes outside the town,
To rivers, meadows, and the banks of streams
Lined with bullrushes and sedge
Where the ash and willow grew up tall
And the gentle dog rose flowered along the hedge