Location: Norwich Castle, Castle Hill, Norwich, NR1 3JU
Map showing location of Norwich Castle
There is an object in the castle collection believed to be a bobbin. It was found in the floors during an excavation in the 1970s.
Listen to the poem
Read the poem
A walrus rests on the ice, blowing
hot air through his whiskers.
It is cold and he is warm and there is sun
and the sound of waves and creaking.
A boat, long and dark, bobs on the waves.
There are voices and songs and something
sharp is ready. The boat bobs closer.
The air fills with shouts. A body is dragged in.
A tooth is pulled but the walrus no longer feels
it. The ivory fetches a fair price and travels
back over the North Sea
to Norfolk, bobbing below deck.
Filed down and down, a piece of the tusk
forms two heads. At the top, a human face stares out,
wide-eyed, neat-haired, while below
gapes the mouth of a dragon,
all teeth and eyebrows,
warning the holder – of what?
The irony of ivory; marks
of where it came from and where it’s going.
In a warm stone room, a girl winds gold
thread around a bobbin, the crackle of the fire
and slow ebb of conversation the background
to her careful work. The needle, sharp
and ready, pokes again and again
at the taught linen, and soon the body
of a beast appears: the curlicue of a dragon’s tail,
fierce and bright, and she is not afraid.
The girl marries and travels away,
leaves the bobbin to a sister who does not like
as much to sew. The sister plays with the dragon
head and roars and thinks of fire, but her silk work
is wanting and soon the bobbin sits forgotten
in a trunk in her chambers. The golden dragon
left with the betrothed and no one remembers
its face was copied from the tools used to form it.
The castle stops being a home for little ladies.
The walls are wet and dripping,
the fires gone out. The floors go unswept
and layers of dirt and skin and stone build
over the flags and the entryways, and, under it all:
the bobbin, dropped from a trunk and forgotten.
The faces stare up. It is dark. It is dark like the boats
and the evenings and it is more dark than those. It is dark for six
hundred years. And then it is not.
A brush tickles the bobbin like whiskers
and soft, gloved hands pick it up. Someone blows
a warm breeze over the eyes in the heads and shouts
but not like the men on the boats.
The years of dirt and neglect are eased
from the still-clear lines of the open faces and someone
spots the rings of strong thread around the smooth centre.
It is a bobbin, they say, and begin to imagine.
Follow the trail
Stay at Norwich Castle for poem 5: A dolphin, perhaps