Her beauty, so bright as to blank our gaze,
Empties the room.
In her presence we know ourselves most
Ordinary. She stands apart, is left alone.
A widow (why no child?) and now a traitor’s daughter.
She knows what it means for her.
This is a small town.
Young soldiers – who’ve seen a thing or two
These last seven years – swirl down the street.
It’s a feast day and here comes the sun
Lifting her skirt above her ankles. A little heat
And the fuse is lit. Except in him.
He judges some fair enough, some wanting
And does not burn in the taking or leaving.
Lavinia Greenlaw is a poet, novelist and non-fiction writer. This is an excerpt from her latest work A Double Sorrow. The story on which it is based, Troilus and Criseyde is “The greatest account you will ever read of people arguing themselves in and out of love”. Her retelling, published by Faber & Faber in March, uses a “corrupt” version of Chaucer’s seven-line rhyme royal, in a series of condensed vignettes. A dramatised reading will be performed at London’s Southbank Centre from 27 February to 1 March.