When Tristan saw the rocks had gone
Each stone, each boulder, every one,
He thanked the wizard waiting there,
And then he wept with joy.
He left the cliffs and ran to meet
Dorigen unsuspecting in the street.
He waited till he saw her walking there,
And bowing low he greeted her.
‘My lady! The one in this wide world
Whom most of all I wish to please!
You made a promise many months ago
In the garden just outside the town,
Back in the summer when the roses bloomed.
Remember what you promised then,
For I have done as you commanded me.
Be careful now of what you do and say,
For well I know the rocks are all away!’
He bowed and took his leave and left her standing there,
Stunned and stock still as a stone.
Her face was wan, and pale as snow she stood
And could not move a step.
The smile had gone that had been on her face
When she left home and when she greeted
Friends and those she knew in all the market stalls.
‘This cannot be, she said. ‘This cannot be.
This runs against the laws of God and nature,
The rules that govern land and sea.’
Cold and hardly knowing what she did,
She wandered homewards.
She walked to the cliff beside her door.
Before she looked down at the sea
She knew exactly just how it would be.
She gazed on where the sharp, black rocks
Had always been and now should be
And saw the water swirling there alone.
The rocks were gone.
In the waves that jostled to and fro below
She could not see a single stone.
She paused and then began to weep,
‘If I throw myself down in the deep
Into those soft cold waves that lap against the cliff,
Then all is solved.
When I have gone beneath the sea,
There is no promise left to keep.’
But then she thought of Roderick.
She saw him sitting on their bed alone,
Holding his face in his quivering hands,
And his strong broad shoulders shaking with his tears.
She turned away from the cliff where she had stood.
She turned from the temptation of the sea
Where all things great and small are swallowed up and lost.
Hardly could she walk as far as her own door.
She went up to her room and scarcely could she climb
The stony stairs, for each step seemed so high.
She threw herself upon the bed
And wept and let her tears fall free,
For with tears God lets us soothe our mind.
Her husband was away from home,
And he knew nothing of her pain and grief.
He knew nothing of her sorrow as she wept
Alone on the bed in her cold room.
‘To be false, to lose my name
To give my body up to shame,
And every night and every day
Be racked by thoughts of what I did,
That cannot be.
There’s no path onwards there.
But there is one way that I can pay
For the promise that I made.
I can finish everything here and now
And have no debt to any man.’
As Dorigen sat upon her bed
A long list came into her head
Of women who all chose to die
When threatened with such shame.
‘Remember the wife of Hasdrubal
Who took her life when Carthage fell,
When Roman soldiers stormed the town.
She would not be touched by their lecherous hands.
Did not Lucretia kill herself
In Rome when raped by Tarquin?
She could not live when she had lost her name.’
She wept for two whole days and nights,
And nights are worse,
When it is dark and when we are alone,
And then when Roderick came home,
She said nothing, nothing at all,
But just looked up at him.
When he saw the marks of her red eyes
Stained by the tears which she had dried,
He gently asked her why she cried,
And then her tears came faster and the more she wept.
She told him then, as I’ve told you,
The story of the promise that she made.
‘And now the rocks have gone away!’ she said.
Her husband held her close and said,
‘Is there nothing else but this, my Dorigen?’
‘And is this not enough for tears?’
‘My love’ said he, ‘Let sleep now what is sleeping.
All may yet be well.
Your promise must be kept.
Our word is our life,
And we will keep our truth.’
And saying that, he burst out weeping.
He held her close and said,
‘Dorigen. Never, while you live,
Tell anyone of this.
Together we will face this shame.
No one will know this thing has been.
Now go to keep your word.’
He kissed her and he put his cloak
Around her shaking shoulders.
He held her tight
But she trembled all the more
With tears and cold.
Then he took her hand as she went to the door.