Gottfried von Strassburg

Tristan: Part III - Cornwall and Parmenie

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved

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Last Modified 6th January 2020


Tristan the musician

NOW, it happened upon a day,

After supper, when folk do play,

That Mark was seated, listening

To a harpist’s music-making;

The harpist was a master too,

The finest that any there knew.

He was a Welshman, and Mark

Did to his playing closely hark.

The harpist, he performed a lay,

Sang low, and sweetly did play;

And now Tristan of Parmenie

Came there and sat, at his knee,

Listening, with such rapture,

To the verses and the nature

Of that sweet music that had he

Been forbidden speech, utterly,

He could not have held his peace;

His delight did but increase,

While his heart did overflow.

‘Master, he murmured, ‘thus you show

Your skill here, and play correctly,

With longing in the melody;

Indeed the Bretons made the lay,

About my Lord Gurun, for they

Speak there of him and of his love.’

The man did silently approve,

Yet, all intent upon his art,

Given truly, and from the heart,

Acted as if he had not heard,

Till he was done, spoke not a word;

Then, turning, said: My child, this same

Music, how know you whence it came?

Do you, perchance, play a little?’

‘Why, yes,’ said Tristan, ‘fair minstrel,

I once was master of the art,

But now I take so poor a part,

I dare not play so before you.’

‘Ah, say not so, my friend, but do,

Come, play for us here, harp in hand,

The music of your native land.’

‘Then by your leave, if it is still

Your wish I play for you, I will.’

‘It is dear boy, now, harp away!’

When Tristan took the harp to play,

Twas as if shaped for his own hands,

And they were, you will understand,

Of such beauty none were finer,

For they were full long and slender,

Soft and smooth, and as white

As ermine is, and shaped aright.

Sweeping them across the strings

He toyed with a few haunting things,

Preludes, phrases, fine and sweet,

Breton sounds, but incomplete.

Then, taking up the plectrum, he

Tuned the strings to find the key,

Tightening one, slackening another,

Setting some higher, some lower,

And working skilfully at this,

Until they all were as he wished.

It was soon done, and Tristan,

The new minstrel, gently began,

His mind upon his art intent,

As notes flowed from the instrument,

Preludes, and then whole melodies,

Drawn sweetly and harmoniously

Making the strings thus to resound

With the beauty of his pure sound,

Such that all folk hastened to hear,

Calling to others to draw near,

None thinking they were too soon there.

Now Mark marvelled at this affair,

Listening closely and, in thought,

Considering how Tristan wrought,

And how he had so long concealed

The courtly skill he now revealed,

The virtuosity he now showed,

The strains that from his fingers flowed.

Meanwhile Tristan began to play

The opening notes of a fine lay,

That spoke of Graland the Fair

And his proud sweetheart, a sweet air,

That Tristan played delightfully,

In the Breton style, so skilfully

That many folk who stood around,

Forgot themselves, at that sweet sound;

Hearts and minds began to stray,

And thus desert their rightful way,

Such that many a varied thought,

Inwardly, to their minds it brought:

‘Ah,’ they mused, ‘blessed be the one

Who sired such a noble son!’

But nimbly was each white finger

Fain to scatter notes, or linger

Upon the strings till the sweet sound

Penetrating the halls around

Filled the palace with its beauty.

Nor did his audience fail to see

His skill as well as hear, for they

Gazed ever closer as he did play.

And now the lay came to an end,

And the good King Mark did send

To ask him then to sing another,

For it had given such pleasure.

Mu volontiers,’ replied Tristan,

‘Most willingly!’ and he began

A second lay, full of yearning,

‘De la curtoise, Tispe’, meaning

Thisbe of Babylon, long ago.

He played this wondrously also,

Drawing out the melody,

In a manner so masterly,

That the harpist was amazed.

And his song, so sweetly phrased,

He would weave appropriately,

Melodiously, and rapturously.

He sang there, this talented youth,

Right marvellously, in truth,

In Welsh and in Breton also,

And in French and Latin, so

That no listener could say

Which was sweeter in its way,

More praiseworthy or pleasing,

His harp-playing or his singing;

And much discussion did begin

Of himself, and his true origin,

And his accomplishments, indeed;

Yet on one thing they all agreed,

That in their land they had never

Known such skill and talent, ever,

So clearly present in one man.

‘What kind of child is this Tristan?

What this companion we have found?’

They murmured here, there, all around:

‘Of all the children in the world

None can compare with this our pearl,

None can compare with thisTristan.’

When Tristan had finished his chant,

And ended the lay to his liking,

‘Tristan, come hither,’ cried the king,

‘May whoever taught you to play,

Be blessed in God’s sight this day,

And you with him, for you play well.

So let me listen, for a spell,

To your lays; at eve twere best,

When perchance you win no rest.

Say you will do this thing for me,

And yourself.’ ‘Sire, most willingly.’

Now come tell me, kindly say

What other instruments you play.’

‘No others, sire,’ the lad replied.

‘Surely, you must; come now, confide,

By the love that you bear for me.’

‘My lord,’ Tristan answered swiftly,

You need not have pressed me so

To tell you all; if you would know,

Despite myself, I’m bound to speak.

I studied, sire, week after week,

Stringed instruments of every kind,

Yet none so well that, to my mind,

I’d not wish to play them better.

I have spent little time however

Studying the art, though it’s been

Full seven years or so, I mean,

On and off, to tell you truly.

Tutors in Parmenie taught me

The fiddle and the organistrum;

The harp and the rote, Welshmen;

Two masters from Wales, indeed,

Of my harping did sow the seed;

While Bretons from the town of Lut

Taught me the lyre and sambute.’

‘What is this “sambute”, dear boy?’

‘The one that I do best employ.’

‘Now see,’ cried all the company,

‘God has truly heaped his bounty

Upon this child who, in His sight,

Grants such pleasure and delight!’

Mark now questioned him further:

‘Tristan, I heard you, moreover,

Singing in Breton, I do avow,

And Welsh, Latin, French, but now.

Do you know these tongues? ‘Yes, sire,

Though not as well as I desire.’

The courtiers came crowding round,

And those of them who had a sound

Knowledge of the tongues spoken

In neighbouring lands, did hasten

To try him, in one or another,

While to their speech he did answer,

In Norwegian or in Irish,

In German, or Scots, or Danish.

And many a heart there did long

For Tristan’s talents, in that throng;

Many there yearned to be as him;

Many a heart there invoked him,

Many a mind too in its fervour,

Held the wish both sweet and tender:

‘Tristan, would I resembled you!

Ah, Tristan life goes well for you:

Tristan, tis true, you are blessed

With all the gifts e’er possessed

In all this world by any man,

For all show here, in you, Tristan.’

Then turning to speak together,

Thus they expressed their wonder:

‘Hark!’ cried one, ‘Hark!’ another,

‘All the world must listen, brother,

For a fourteen year old doth know

All the arts taught here below!’

‘Now hear me, Tristan,’ said the king,

‘You can do each and every thing

Hunt, sing, and speak, as I desire,

In you is all I might require.

Let us then keep close company,

You will be mine, yours I will be.

By day we’ll ride out to the chase,

At eve, returning to this place,

Enjoy all that doth to it belong,

With harp, and fiddle, and sweet song.

What you know well, perform for me,

And my performance that shall be

To bring you all your heart’s desire,

Lively mounts, and splendid attire,

All that you wish for, that you see;

All this shall be performed by me.

My spurs, my sword shall you adorn,

My cross-bow and my gilded horn.

My companion, these I grant to you.

Take charge of them, employ them too,

And so be happy at our side!’

The exile, who did thus abide,

Became a favourite at court,

And ne’er before had any thought

To find such gifts in one so young;

Whate’er he did, whate’er he sung,

Seemed so pleasing and so good,

That, in their hearts, all, as they should,

Held for the lad deep affection,

And all showed him their devotion.

Yet no more now of this matter,

We must return to his ‘father’,

And speak of the Marshal, Rual,

Li Foitenant et li leal,

And of the effort that it cost

That lord to find the ‘son’ he’d lost.

Rual searches for Tristan

NOW Lord Rual, the Foitenant,

Had taken ship, in an instant,

And crossed the sea; being wise,

Well-stocked with vital supplies,

Resolving not to return before

He had news of his young lord,

And had indeed established where

The lad was, and how he did fare.

To Norway first the ship did go,

And he enquired high and low,

Seeking throughout all that land

For his ward, his dear Tristan.

In vain, for Tristan was not there:

Useless indeed proved that affair.

And so not finding him, perforce,

To Ireland then he set his course;

Yet there again he found no more

Sign of him than he had before.

And now his goods and gold ran low,

All set to fail him, so much so

That he was obliged to dismount,

And sell his horses, on account,

And send home all his loyal band

Of followers to their homeland.

He himself was but barely fed,

And went begging for his bread,

Continuing his wandering, though,

From kingdom to kingdom, so,

Begging still, from land to land,

Searching always for his Tristan.

Three years he did search, or more,

Till, from life amongst the poor,

His fine complexion and form,

Had so waned that no man born,

Seeing him, would have thought

That he had been a lord at court.

Lord Rual bore his load of shame,

As a vagabond bears the same,

Yet ne’er from want and poverty,

As doth happen with so many,

Lost his spirit, or his goodwill.

Now he, in the fourth year, when still

Upon his search, to Denmark came,

Wandering about in much the same

Way, searching from place to place.

Sent to and fro, by God’s good grace,

He chanced upon those pilgrims who

Had met his Tristan, when the two

Came upon him, on the forest road,

As onward on their path they strode.

He questioned them at once and they

Told him that it was many a day

Since they had seen that very youth

Whom Rual had described, in truth,

Yet how they had allowed the lad

To journey with them, and still had

In mind his visage, flowing hair,

His mode of speech, his manner there,

His handsome form, and his attire,

A grasp of tongues all could admire,

And other skills they might mention.

Rual knew from their description

That it was he, and begged these same

Pilgrims to tell him, in God’s name,

Where they had left him, of their grace,

Given their knowledge of the place.

And they replied to Lord Rual,

That it had been in far Cornwall,

Near the stronghold of Tintagel.

He asked the name of that castle

Over and over, and then did cry:

‘Where doth this place called Cornwall lie?’

‘Right next all Britain’ they replied,

‘Beyond there, on the farther side.’

‘Ah!’ he thought, ‘Lord God I see

Now indeed you show your mercy.

If Tristan, as I’ve learned today,

Has sailed to Cornwall, then, I say,

Such did prove a homecoming,

For Mark, his uncle, is its king.

Now Lord God, but lead me there,

Command my will in this affair,

And grant me sight of my Tristan!

And may this news, if tis your plan,

Bring me joy, for as it seems good

It has cheered me now, so it should,

For this has given me heart again.’

‘Holy pilgrims,’ Rual said, then,

‘The Son of the Maid be your guide,

For I upon my road must stride,

And all my powers of search employ.’

‘May He thus lead you to the boy,

The Lord, who sets the world in play.’

My thanks!’ he said, ‘I must delay

No longer, but take leave of you.’

‘Then, friend,’ they cried, ‘adieu, adieu!’

Rual reaches Tintagel

THEN Lord Rual went on his way,

Never resting for e’en half a day,

Until he came near the sea-shore,

Yet had to rest there, for he saw

No vessel there, prepared to sail.

And yet at length he did prevail,

And sailed to Britain o’er the sea.

Through Britain he marched, steadily,

Such that e’en with the fading light,

He trudged on still, into the night.

What bolstered the strength he had

Was that hopeful news of the lad;

It gave him courage and so eased

His efforts, which never ceased.

When once to Cornwall he came,

He asked for Tintagel by name,

And found the road toward the place;

Again he took his way apace.

And came to Tintagel at last,

As the folk there were off to mass,

On the evening of the Sabbath,

And so he took that very path,

And before the minster did go,

Where people passed, to and fro,

As he gazed about here and there,

While he cast his eyes everywhere,

To see if he could find someone

Whom he could rightly question;

For, indeed, to himself he thought

‘These people will hold me as naught,

They are all better dressed than I,

And I fear that any I ask, thereby

Will think it lowering to answer,

Any question that I might proffer,

About the lad, on seeing me

So beaten down by poverty:

Tell me, Lord God, what should I do!’

But now King Mark hove into view,

With all his splendid company.

The faithful Marshal sought to see

The object of his search but failed.

When on his way the king had sailed,

Returning from the Mass to court,

Then Rual turned aside, and sought

To speak with an aged courtier.

‘My lord,’ he asked him, ‘is there here,

A page, perchance, a mere fledgling,

Who, tis said, attends upon the king,

And goes by the name of Tristan?’

‘A page?  There is a fine young man,

A squire indeed, who serves of right,

And soon is to be made a knight.

One who is versed in many an art,

One who has won the king’s own heart,

With many an accomplishment,

Forever on courtly ways intent.

He is a fine young man, it’s true,

With curling auburn hair, one who

Is an exile from his own land,

A youngster whom we call, Tristan.’

‘My lord,’ said Rual, eagerly,

‘Are you a courtier here?’ ‘Indeed.’

‘Why then, by your honour, my lord,

Add but this to what’s gone before,

For you are kindness itself; but say

To the lad that, here, there doth stay

A poor man who would meet with him,

And speak with him, but assure him,

That I come from his own country.’

The other did so, accordingly,

He gave the message to Tristan

That here was a fellow countryman,

Who wished to see him, urgently,

And Tristan came there readily,

And the moment he saw Rual,

With a full mind and heart, withal,

He cried: ‘Now may the good Lord

Be blessed forever, and adored,

Since, father, it is you I meet!’

Thus his father he first did greet;

And then he ran to him, smiling,

After that very first greeting,

And kissed that faithful retainer,

As a child should kiss his father.

And this was all as it should be;

This was his father, his child he.

Of all the fathers that ever were

Or live now, none has, I swear,

Treated in a more fatherly way

Their child than Rual did that day,

And Tristan clasped there no other

Than kith and kin, father, mother,

And all the friends he had ever

Known in one embrace, together.

‘Oh, my good and loyal father,’

He cried, warmly, ‘tell me whether

My dearest mother is yet alive;

And my brothers, do they thrive?’

Rual answered him, ‘I know not

For cruel hardship has been my lot;

They were alive when last I saw

Them all, though they were troubled sore,

By your long absence, and since then

I cannot tell how they fare, again,

Because tis many a day since I

Saw any man known to my eye,

Nor have I set foot in our land

Since that ill hour, you understand,

When I experienced such distress

Through you, for I can say no less.’

‘Ah,’ said Tristan, ‘my dear father,

Tell me the tale of all this matter!

Where now are all your fine looks gone?’

‘You have robbed me of them, my son.’

‘Then I shall give them back again.’

‘Then may we live, to see that same.’

‘Yes, my father, now come to court.’

‘No son, for such must not be sought.

I am not fit, as you can see

To mix with courtly company.’

‘But father,’ cried Tristan, ‘you must go,

‘My lord the king must see you so.’

Rual, the good and noble, mused

On what might pass, if he refused:

‘My bare poverty need not matter,

For in this state, or any other,

The king will yet be glad to view

My face, if I speak of his nephew.

And when I relate all to the king

All I’ve done since the beginning,

What I am wearing, to my mind,

Will seem to him finer than fine.’

Tristan brings Rual to the king

NOW Tristan took him by the hand;

His clothes were but as they did stand,

His appearance as one might expect,

His robe was but a patchwork object,

Worn through indeed, and all threadbare,

In shreds and tatters everywhere;

Not even a cloak did he possess.

What he wore beneath was no less

Miserable, both soiled and holed.

And the hair that his head did hold,

And his beard, matted from neglect,

As if he were some poor reject,

Some savage banished to the wild.

Moreover the knight, as if exiled,

Went bare-legged and bare-foot,

All weather-beaten, scarred and cut,

As all must be whom fierce hunger,

Sun, and wind, and freezing winter,

Have robbed of their true native hue.

In such a state King Mark did view

Rual the Marshal, face to face.

‘Tell me,’ cried Mark, from his place,

‘Now, what is this, who is this man?’

‘My father, sire,’ replied Tristan.

‘Is this the truth?’ Why, yes, my lord’

‘Then welcome we must him afford:

He has our heartiest welcome now!’

And Rual thanked him with a bow.

At that, the gathering of knights

Came forward to see these sights,

With all the royal retinue.

All cried: ‘Sire, sire, God save you!’

Sire, sire, deu sal!

Now you must know that this Rual,

Howe’er shabbily he was dressed,

Was, with regard to all the rest,

Faultless and splendid in physique

His form as fine as one might seek,

Princely in both limbs and stature,

Like a hero, in looks and nature,

Of ancient times; of goodly length,

His legs and arms, full of strength,

His walk stately, his whole frame

Was fine. Nor young nor old this same,

For he was in his prime, as yet,

When youth and age both do set

Their mark on life’s maturity.

And then, in outer majesty,

He was many an emperor’s peer.

His voice rang out loud and clear,

His speech was ever eloquent.

He stood amongst the complement

Of lords with noble assurance;

Nor was this his first audience.

And now a great murmur began

The knights, barons, every man,

Whispering to and fro, eagerly:

‘Oh,’ they all said, ‘and is this he,

This the noble merchant we see?

Is this indeed the very man

We heard of, from his son Tristan,

Who speaks so of his excellence?

Yet like this he makes an entrance?’

They spoke together in this manner.

Then the good king gave an order,

That Rual be shown to a room,

Where fine clothes he might assume.

Tristan the matter soon addressed,

Had him bathed and had him dressed;

A cap was ready, his hand it met,

The cap upon his head he set,

Which suited Rual perfectly,

A handsome countenance had he.

None could have suited better,

For he then cut a noble figure.

Tristan now took him by the hand,

Lovingly, and, as he had planned,

Brought him again before the king.

Now Rual appeared more pleasing,

And delighted them, great and small.

The word soon passed among them all:

‘See how fine clothes will transform

The man, see now his noble form!

Those clothes suit him splendidly,

And the merchant himself, you see,

Must be a most sovereign fellow;

He acts indeed as if twere so.

See his progress, oh so stately,

And then regard how elegantly

He displays those courtly robes;

His virtues too we may suppose,

As reflected in our Tristan,

For how in truth could any man

Have ever raised so fine a lad,

Unless a noble heart he had?’

They washed their hands, at a sign,

And now the king sat down to dine.

He seated Rual at his own board,

And honour thus did him afford,

Then had him served courteously,

Among the high nobility.

‘Tristan,’ he said, ‘yourself rather

Should now wait upon your father!’

And, take my word, Tristan did so,

To his father did honour show,

With all the due respect he should,

Revealing his own heart as good.

And, indeed, Rual feasted well,

Since to Tristan the service fell;

For Tristan acting as his host

Was his greatest comfort almost.

When they had all left the feast,

And the hubbub there had ceased,

The king now spoke to his guest,

And sundry questions he addressed

To him, concerning his journey,

His travels, and his native country,

And asked him to tell his whole tale.

And while Rual did so regale

The king’s ears, all there eagerly

Attended to the Marshal’s story.

Rual tells his tale

‘SIRE, said Rual, tis nigh on four

Years since I set out, or more,

And left my own fair land behind;

Yet, where’er I went, could not find

A trace of what still drove me on,

No ne’er a word from any one,

Of that toward which I did veer.’

‘And what was that?’ ‘Why, Tristan here.

Know, Sire, I have other children,

That, by God’s will, I’ve been given,

And I wish them as well indeed

As any man doth wish his seed;

Three sons, of whom if I’d had sight

One or other would be a knight;

But half the effort that I employ

Spent on all three as on this boy

Though he is not of my blood

Might have done a deal of good.’

‘Not of your blood? How can that be?

He is your son, so he tells me.’

‘No, Sire, there is no connection,

Twixt us there is no relation,

Other than that I am his man.’

A tremor passed through Tristan,

Who gazed at Rual, intently.

‘Then, said the king, ‘explain to me,

Why you have endured such strife,

Absent from your home, your wife,

So long a time, as you have done,

Given that he is not your son.’

‘That only God, Sire, and I know.’

‘Share it, my friend, if that be so!’

Kind-hearted Mark said in reply:

‘I wonder at it, so tell me why.’

‘Were I assured I’d not regret it,

And it were fitting to speak it

In this place,’ said the loyal man,

‘I could tell you, of this Tristan,

A whole tale, all free of doubt,

As to how this thing came about.’

King Mark, and his whole company

Begged him to relate his story,

All calling out to him, as one,

Addressing him, in unison:

‘Tell us, noble and faithful man,

Oh, man of truth, who is Tristan?’

The good Rual continued so:

‘My lord, it was some time ago,

As you, and all those who were here

In that time past, do know full clear,

That my own master, Rivalin,

Whose man I then was, and had been

Still, had it pleased the Lord to grant

Him life yet, who was His servant,

Heard of yourself such things that he

Gave all his realm into my hand,

To guard both his people and land,

And journeyed here to this country,

Since this was where he wished to be,

To serve; a member of your court.

And you know how he then sought,

To be with your sister, Blancheflor,

And won her favour, furthermore,

And how she fled away with him.

When to his home she came with him

And they were wed, she then tarried

(From my house they were married,

As I and others can attest)

There with me, for he now blessed

Me with her care (and thereafter

I treated her much like a daughter)

While he assembled an army,

And with others of that country,

Kinsmen and followers, set out

On a venture, as you no doubt

Have heard, and in that lost his life.

Now when the news came to his wife,

That lovely lady, learning all,

Into the deepest grief did fall,

A mortal woe, such that she

Struck to the heart, did instantly

Begin her labour, furthermore,

(Tristan stands here, whom she bore)

She gave their child life ere she

Herself was lost thus, tragically.’

Upon this, loyal Rual, struck

By deep sorrow, long time he took

Unable to conceal his grief,

But wept like a child for relief.

The eyes of all the others too

Moistened, and of them not a few

Were so moved by Rual’s story,

That they too shed tears profusely.

King Mark was pierced to the heart,

And moved so deeply, for his part,

That tears, born of heartfelt pain,

Flowing from his eyes like rain,

Streamed all down his cheeks to wet

His robes until the ground they met.

Tristan was moved by deep distress

And he was grieved at heart, no less

By this, that a second father

He had lost, now and forever,

In this true and faithful man;

Once his father and guardian.

And now Rual the good, sadly

Troubled in spirit, told the story

Of the unfortunate child, of how

No carelessness he did allow

In nursing it, once the mother

Had borne it, and how thereafter

He ordered it be hidden away

In a secret place, day upon day,

While he had spread the rumour

That it had died with the mother;

And how, as I have said before,

He ordered his wife to be sure

To lie abed as long as fitting

And afterwards to go on telling

Everyone she had born a child;

And how, having them beguiled,

She had been churched with Tristan,

And thus had fulfilled all his plan,

And how the child was baptised there,

And named Tristan, by the pair;

And how then he’d sent him abroad,

How over his books the lad pored,

And learnt the speech of every land,

All the skills of tongue and hand;

Then how he’d left him that day,

And how he’d been stolen away;

How he himself had then set out

To find the lad, and all about

Had gone, and suffering endured.

Thus he the whole tale did afford,

From its beginning to its end.

From Mark’s eyes did the tears descend

At one passage, while at another

His tears he was forced to smother,

A third compelled all there to weep

Except for Tristan who did keep

Silent, unable to lament,

So deeply was his own heart rent.

But whatever Rual that good man

Related, you must understand,

About Rivalin and Blancheflor,

The sad happenings gone before,

Seemed little beside the loyalty

That Rual had shown; all that he,

After their deaths, with such care,

As I have told you, enacted there

For the child, that went to prove

In this true heart, the truest love,

That any man had for his master,

His lady and their child thereafter.

Rual reveals his true identity

WHEN his tongue had come to rest,

King Mark then asked of his guest:

‘My lord, is this whole story true?’

Rual, the good, a ring then drew

From his finger, a precious thing,

And handed it now to the king,

Saying: ‘My lord, remember all

I have told you that did befall.’

Good and noble Mark accepted

The ring which he then inspected,

Old grief returning, in full force,

Troubling him with its fresh course.

‘Alas,’ he cried, then, ‘sweet sister,

This ring belonged to my father

He gave it me on his deathbed,

I granted it you, in my stead;

Now I can believe this story.

Tristan, come near and kiss me!

I swear, if we both live hereafter,

Of right I’ll be your foster-father.

God have mercy on your mother,

Blancheflor, and on your father,

Rivalin, and, beyond all strife,

Grant them an ever-living life.

Since this thing has come to be,

And my sweet sister’s granted me

This gift, then if my life be blest,

Why, you shall be my happiness,

Until I too must seek my rest.’

He spoke again then to his guest.

‘Now, dear friend, your help I claim;

Say who you are, and speak your name.’

‘Rual, my lord.’ ‘Rual?’ ‘Tis so.

Then Mark recalled that he did know

Of this Rual, and had heard tell

Of how he was wise and faithful,

Unquestioning in his loyalty.

‘Rual, li Foitenant?’ said he.

‘Indeed, my lord, the very same,

For men do call me by that name.’

At this Mark rose and went to him,

And kissed him in formal greeting,

And welcomed him with honour.

All the lords then followed after,

And kissed him also, one by one,

After their first surprise had run

Its course, and there embraced him,

With their courtesies did grace him,

Crying: ‘Welcome, Rual, in worth

A mighty wonder on this earth!’

Rual was thus right welcome there.

And the king led him everywhere

By the hand then, and sat him down

Beside himself, and him did sound,

Yet speaking most affectionately,

While listening to the whole story,

Regarding Tristan and Blancheflor,

And of all that had gone before,

What Rivalin and Morgan had done

To each other, once they’d begun

Their conflict, and how it ended.

The conversation soon extended

To the king telling Rual, of how,

And with what great cunning now,

Tristan had first arrived at court,

And of the tale that he had taught,

That some merchant was his father.

Rual looked at Tristan harder:

‘My friend,’ said he, ‘for love of you

I have in poverty, tis true

Offered up all my merchandise,

And in a most beggarly wise.

Yet it has ended well, and I

Now lift my hands toward the sky,

And to God my thanks I render!’

Tristan said: ‘Tis clear, however,

That the story that I have heard

Is not such as will, at a word,

Bring me a wealth of happiness.

If I understand it, I am blessed

Here by a strange state of affairs,

That simply adds to all my cares.

For I’ve heard my father explain

That long since my father was slain,

And with that fact he disowns me,

And thus I must fatherless be,

I who had won my way to two!

Ah, father, and my belief, of you

I have been robbed, of both indeed!

I said my father was here, and see

That same man has cost me two;

Himself, and one I never knew!’

To this the good Marshal replied,

Having gazed at him and sighed:

‘How now,’ he said, ‘dear Tristan,

There’s naught in all that, my man.

Due to my presence, you are now

Of greater consequence, I vow,

Than you thought you were, and you

Have gained more honour from it, too;

And have two fathers, despite all;

My lord the king and I too call

Ourselves your father: he as I.

Take my advice, and be thereby

The true equal of any king.

Cease such talk, be up and doing.

Ask my lord, your uncle, here

To dub you knight, as our true peer,

And help you to your home again,

Since you are capable, tis plain,

Of managing your own affairs.

Your lordships, dispel his cares,

Declare that he should be as you,

And call on the king thus to do!’

The barons then answered as one:

‘Sire, tis fitting and should be done;

Tristan is old enough and strong,

A well-made lad will not go wrong.’

‘Tristan, my nephew, ‘said the king

‘What is your will as to this thing?

Is it your wish that I do so?’

‘My lord,’ he said, ‘that you shall know.

If I were wealthy enough outright

To live in true style as a knight,

Not fearing to blush at the name,

Or bring on knighthood any shame,

Or feel the honour of chivalry

Was in some way debased in me,

Then gladly I would be a knight,

And set youth’s idleness to right,

Directing it to worldly honour,

And seek to emulate my father.

For chivalry must thus begin,

They say, in childhood, if we’d win

A way to it, and continue long,

Or else twill ne’er be true and strong.

That, in the innocence of youth,

I have so seldom looked, in truth,

To pursue worth and chivalry,

Was indeed most wrong of me,

And causes me bitter regret,

Such that now I can ne’er forget,

That comfort and honour ever,

In truth, go but ill together.

And I myself have often read

That honour seeks out pain instead,

While comfort is death to honour,

If in one’s youth one doth suffer

Its indulgence; and I say this,

Had I known a year ago that tis

My destiny to aim as high

As I have learned this day, then I

Would have sought to be a knight.

Yet since I did not, it is right

That I should now make that my goal.

For I myself am sound and whole

In body and will, and God aid me

Yet to fulfil my destiny,

And so achieve what I do will!’

‘Nephew,’ said Mark, ‘if you’d fulfil

Your aim, then think how it would be

If you were king of this country,

The sole ruler of this Cornwall.

For here sits your father, Rual,

And he loves you with all his heart,

Let him advise you from the start,

And be your good counsellor still,

So that you might achieve your will.

And then, my dear nephew, Tristan,

Think of yourself as no poor man,

Parmenie is yours, as you know,

And ever will Parmenie be so,

While your father Rual and I

Remain here beneath the sky.

My people, land, these and all

I have, shall be at your disposal,

This then shall be your revenue.

If you now turn that heart in you

Toward the highest distinction,

Then, as such is your ambition,

Employ what’s mine to your gain;

Let Cornwall now be your domain,

Let my realm pay tribute to you.

Graciously, grant me so to do;

If in this world you seek honour,

Be rich in spirit, and I will ever

Grant you the wealth that you may need;

You wealth’s an emperor’s indeed;

Do not in yourself deny your state,

But highly now your own self rate,

And show the spirit, as you should,

That you avowed to me you would.

If I find in you the will to rule,

Then you will find in me the fuel

To feed your noblest aspiration.

Mine shall be, as twere, your nation;

Tintagel then shall ever be

Your storehouse and your treasury.

If you thus took the lead from me

In glorious generosity,

And I then failed to make all good,

Then all Cornwall surely would,

Have gone to rack and ruin, and I

Own not one thing beneath the sky.’

Tristan assumes his rightful role

THE courtiers bowed in sympathy,

Honouring, with that courtesy,

His generous words, and all there,

The lords present at this affair,

Showing their approval, thereby,

‘King Mark!’ in unison, did cry,

‘Your words reveal the noble man,

And grace the Crown; may your hand,

Your heart, your speech, rule us all!

Forever, be king of this Cornwall!’

Lord Rual, that most faithful man,

Alongside his young lord, Tristan,

Established themselves on a scale

That matched, in broad detail,

The magnificence so decreed

By the king, as they had agreed.

But lest I cause here confusion,

Regarding the father and the son,

Since age and youth ne’er do see

Alike in this thing, usually,

The young treating wealth lightly,

While the old do grasp it tightly,

One might ask how they arranged

Between them not to be estranged

But each achieve his satisfaction,

And exercise his right of action,

Such that Rual could observe

Temperance, and yet wealth serve

Tristan’s ambition, readily,

And support his generosity.

I’ll solve the riddle openly:

They behaved so respectfully

Toward each other, that neither

Sought to influence the other

In any manner, for good or ill,

That agreed not with their will,

Or with the rules of propriety.

Rual knew Tristan well, you see,

Trusting his character, in truth,

So he paid regard to his youth,

While Tristan deferred indeed

To Rual’s wisdom and did heed

His counsel so, each played their role,

In aiming at a common goal;

The one wishing for no other

Than what both did will together.

These two, in all that must be done,

In mind and purpose were as one,

And thus as regards extravagance,

Age and youth had but one stance:

Pride gave way before good sense.

For neither sought to cause offence,

And thus they upheld, together,

Tristan’s right to strive for honour,

Rual’s care to seek a measure

Of restraint in expenditure,

Each staying true to his nature.

Tristan’s preparations for knighthood

SO Lord Rual, and young Tristan,

Their preparations now began,

As means allowed, and hearts desired.

Thus clothes and harness they acquired,

Over thirty days, day by day,

For thirty knights in full array;

Tristan sought these men to sponsor

As his companions in honour.

If any ask about their gear,

And how splendid they did appear,

And how all this folk did create,

I’ll take a moment to relate

Exactly what the story says;

And if I mar what it conveys,

Let them refute all that I say,

And relate it in their own way.

The gear was made by four powers,

Of which each separately dowers

With its own richness the whole,

So happily all reach their goal:

High Spirits was the first of these,

The second Wealth all set to please,

The third Discretion then to cut

And match these two, foot by foot,

Then Courtliness to stitch for all,

And make all fit for field and hall.

Each did separately feature

According to their proper nature:

High Spirits strove there to attain,

Wealth sought to grant that very same,

Discretion toiled and snipped away,

Then Courtliness did sew all day,

Stitching at their splendid vestments

And the rest of their adornments,

Their pennants and caparisons,

And many other fine additions

To all that doth adorn a knight.

Whatever sets the mark aright

Of chivalry on man or steed

Showed there so richly indeed,

A king might rightly thus appear,

And so be knighted in that gear.

Gottfried’s literary excursus

NOW that the company are dressed

As I have said, in all their best,

How shall I start my description

And prepare their noble captain,

Tristan, for this ceremony,

Of knighthood, such that all gladly

Will listen to me, without fail,

And I do justice to the tale?

I hardly know what to tell you,

That might please and satisfy you,

And also might adorn the story.

In my lifetime, and before me,

Poets have shown how to render

Such worldly pomp and splendour,

So well that if I had a dozen

Times my fund of inspiration,

And had a dozen tongues to speak

In my one mouth, and each did seek

To utter as well as e’er I can,

I would not know, ere I began,

How to describe such splendour

Well enough to match or better

All that has been done before.

Courtly magnificence, what’s more,

Has been so variously portrayed

And with such excess displayed,

I can say naught now I’ve begun

That is sure to please anyone.

Hartmann von Aue, oh, how he doth

Paint and adorn his tales, in truth,

Both within them and then without,

With words and sense, and all about!

How with eloquence he doth venture

To shape the form of some adventure!

How clear the pure and transparent

Crystalline words he doth present,

And so they will remain forever!

His words do steal upon you ever,

Gently, and do flatter a man,

And charm those that they rightly can.

Whoe’er fine language doth esteem

And all that fair and pleasant stream

Of words doth rightly understand,

Must grant the man of Aue, Hartmann,

His chaplets and laurel to wear.

But if Wolfram, friend of the hare,

Skipping and leaping on the heath

Of Poesy, seeks a flowery wreath,

Browsing there, he who doth scatter

Words about, all at a venture,

Let him accept whom we prefer,

Since we cannot with him concur.

We must be part of the judgement,

We who assist, with true intent,

By culling the flowers that we find

With which the twigs are then entwined,

To bring about that flowery wreath;

Why he seeks it we would know.

For if a man thinks it should be so

Let him leap up and add his flowers!

We shall judge them amongst ours,

And see if they grace it so sweetly,

That from the poet of Aue thus we

Must take it and bestow it on him.

But since as yet no man doth dim

His glory, or has a better claim,

Let us leave it be, in God’s name!

We shall not let the wreath be worn

By any whose words are not born

Smoothly, purely, from the spring,

Their diction polished in everything,

Lest any who draw near at a pace,

Upright, and seated in their place,

Stumble there, and so take a fall;

Upon those folk we shall not call.

Those who spin wild tales to please,

Those who hunt the wild for stories,

Who with snares deceive their prey

And deceive dull minds, I say,

Who from trifles forge fool’s gold,

For children or the foolish old,

And from some magic box unfurl

Dust that doth seem all made of pearl,

They but shade us with a bare branch,

Not with May’s green living tranche

Of leaves, about the lovely bough.

The shade they cast doth ne’er allow

The traveller rest, nor soothe his eyes.

To tell the truth, naught can arise

From there, no pleasure from their art,

Nor aught that will delight the heart;

Their verse, the words that they employ,

Not such as noble hearts enjoy.

These hunters of some wild story

Needs send guides to accompany

Their tale, since none it would appear

Can unpick what they see or hear.

And we have not the time indeed

To seek a gloss on what we read,

And thus be forced at length to look

The matter up in some black book.

There’s many another colourist:

Bligger von Steinach doth enlist

Words that are ever a delight,

As if ladies, at their work, might

Have woven them in silk and gold,

Embroidered thus, in every fold,

Trimmed with a classical border.

A gift his; sweet words so to order.

For they convey such sense to me,

I think them spun by some fairy,

And taken to their fountain where

She cleans and washes them with care;

They are so wondrously refined.

His tongue, as doth his shield I find,

Bears a harp and is doubly blessed

By these twin felicities, no less,

One his words his sense the other.

These two, both entwined together,

Harmonise with rare excellence.

What marvels of both sound and sense,

This master of words doth trace upon

His tapestry as he works thereon;

See how swift and sure he rhymes,

His couplets sharp as knives betimes,

Or clasped together as if they’d grown

As one; he bears some open book,

Some pamphlet there, if you but you look,

I think, like wings, on his cap there:

His words like eagles ride the air.

Now whom else might I select?

There are many midst the elect,

Many who eloquence have won,

Heinrich von Veldeke, for one.

What a gifted poet he did prove,

How sweetly he did sing of love!

How well he did express his thought!

I think that he his wisdom brought

From Pegasus’ fount, to us below,

From which all eloquence doth flow.

Though he himself I never knew,

It seems the best of all those who

Were masters then, and since his time,

Award him the prize for, in rhyme,

Planting the first seed of that tree,

That is Teutonic poetry;

From which the bole and branches rose,

And the blossom sprang, whence those

Who write did draw the invention

And wit to master their intention.

And now this artistry has spread

Its boughs so far above our head,

And then been trained so variously,

That, seeking word and melody,

All pick blossom and spray at will,

And speak and sing as he did still.

Of nightingales there are many;

Though here I speak not of any

Who are not of this company.

So I shall say no more, you see,

Of them than I must ever say: 

They are all skilled, in their way,

And sing their summer songs sweetly,

Most excellently and discreetly.

Their voices are clear and pleasing,

Raising every spirit and easing

Pain with joy that lifts the heart.

All unaware, without such art,

Of the world they live among,

Were folk but for this bird-song,

Sweetly reminding anyone

Who once has loved, of what has gone,

Things both delightful and good,

And many a feeling that should

Soothe and calm a noble heart.

When this sweet display of art,

Begins to pour forth all its joy,

Tender feelings without alloy

Awaken, and gentle thought,

Such beauty to the mind is brought

As these sweet warblers tell their tales.

‘So tell us of the nightingales!’

They all know their calling well,

And of their longing they can tell

Sweetly both in words and song.

So who shall bear the banner on,

Now that their leader, I avow,

As was, Reinmar von Hagenau,

Who the secret of music bore

Sealed in his tongue, is no more,

And in this world leaves a silence?

I often think of his fair presence,

His sweet and lovely tunes I mean,

His melodies pure and serene,

Wondering where he found the same,

The many airs that I might name,

The countless melodies men sung.

I fancy it was Orpheus’ tongue,

Whose music drew all things to him,

That sweetly through his mouth did sing.

But since he is no longer with us,

Then grant your true counsel to us!

Let some kind spirit speak, swiftly.

Who now shall lead the company,

With their whole retinue behind?

I think, perchance, that I may find

The one who must bear the banner;

One who of that art is master,

Walther von der Vogelweide,

How his song lifts ever higher

Clear and sweet above the heath!

What wonders now for those beneath!

How deftly he harmonises!

How varies its falls and rises!

(In that fair mode, the Dorian

I mean, from Cythera, whereon

And wherein the Love-Goddess

Doth all things guide, and all things bless)

He is chamberlain at that court,

No other leader need be sought!

He knows how to lead them well,

He well knows, for he can tell

Where to seek Love’s melody.

May he and all his company

Sing sweetly, and forever sing

So truly that in time they bring

To joy their sad complaint, I say,

And may I live to see that day!

Gottfried seeks inspiration

I’VE spoken long enough to you,

Exercised your indulgence too,

Concerning all these good people.

For unequipped is Tristan still,

And I unsure how I’ll proceed;

My wit shies from the task, indeed.

Without the mind’s inspiration,

From which it gains its vocation,

The tongue knows not what to do.

Yet what has confounded these two

I will explain to you sincerely.

It is the same thing, precisely,

That troubles many thousands more.

If one who’s spoken little before

Is faced with an eloquent man,

The very things that he did plan

To say are smothered on his lips.

I likewise now am in eclipse.

I read and have read ere now

So much eloquence I avow

That there is naught I can write

That might serve to give delight

Compared to this present style.

For authors now and for some while

Have proved so eloquent, I’m bound

To weigh my words and hope to sound,

In verse, as pleasing in my way

As other authors sound today,

And pen such things as shall move

As much as do those I approve.

And yet I know not how to start.

My tongue, my wit, my very heart

Are powerless to help me here;

The words I might have said, I fear,

Are rudely stifled on my lips,

I know not what to do in this,

Unless it is that thing I’m sure

That I have never done before.

With my heart, with pen in hand,

I will send my prayers, o’er land

And sea, to reach Mount Helicon,

Up to the nine-fold throne thereon,

Whence the fount doth pour below,

The fount that carries in its flow

The gift of words and wit entire.

Its lord, Apollo, and the choir,

The Camenae, the sirens nine,

Of the ear, whose court divine

Rules the gift, those who dispense

Their favours of sound and sense

To folk below, just as they choose,

Those who send the living muse

To other men so willingly,

Will not deny one drop to me;

And if that single drop I win,

Why, I shall then maintain my place

In poesy, when I show my face.

Though but a drop and no more,

It will to their old paths restore

My tongue and my imagination,

From which I stray, in this fashion.

With it my words I shall pass through

The glowing crucible anew,

Of Camenian inspiration,

And purify them in that station,

Refining them most wondrously

Like the pure gold of Araby.

May those same divine graces

Of Helicon’s highest places,

From which the words, sweet, profound,

That echo in the ear resound,

That bring deep joy to the heart,

And make true poesy an art

Whose every word may prove as clear

As a rare gem, to the mortal ear,

May they deign to hear my prayer,

High above in the heavenly air,

Hear it as I implore them now.

Yet suppose that prayer they allow:

And I be granted all I seek

Regarding the words I do speak,

And I possess them in full measure,

Such that all ears will treasure

What I sing; and they, with their art,

Grant their shade to every heart,

That cast by the green linden tree;

And they flow so smoothly for me,

That at every step I sweep away

Each speck of dust that might stray

Across the track of my fair verse,

Which shall the flowery path traverse

Of shining blossom and sweet clover:

Despite all that, I’ll not, however,

Turn my skills, though they be slight,

Towards what others had in sight

Who tempted thus, have gone astray

Truly, I’ll follow not, I say.

For if I applied all my skill

To what Tristan has need of still,

All the equipment of a knight,

As, God knows, many an author might,

And I were then to tell you how

Vulcan the wise, with knotted brow,

Vulcan the famed, the fine maker,

The god of fire, the mountain-shaker,

Set his hand to Tristan’s blade,

His greaves and mail swiftly made,

All that for a knight was needed,

Forged superbly, and succeeded

That by drawing, and incising,

The image of a wild Boar rising,

The emblem of boundless valour,

On his shield, and then moreover

Beat out his helm, and with intent

To signify fierce Love’s torment,

Set high upon it, with his art,

The rendering of Love’s fiery dart,

And how he polished every section

Of that armour to perfection,

And how, in the Trojan manner,

His clothes my Lady Cassandra,

That insightful woman, arranged,

And where twas needed, changed,

Ordering all there for the best,

Ensuring he was properly dressed,

With all her wit (for I have read

The gods above gave her, instead

Of mortal wits, heavenly powers)

And worked away at him for hours;

How much by all that could be won,

More than I have already done,

When I equipped his retinue,

For their investiture, say you?

Since I think, trusting you’ll agree,

The fact of the matter to be,

That if you employ those two,

High Spirits and Wealth, and if you

Add Discretion and Courtliness,

Those four together will address

Your needs as well as any others.

Surely, Vulcan’s and Cassandra’s

Efforts ne’er clad knights in their day

In any more glorious a way.

Tristan is dubbed a knight

NOW since these four things are sure

To suit our rich investiture,

Let us our friend Tristan entrust

To the four, and here we must

Let them take thus the lad in hand,

And dress him as a noble man,

In the same rich style and manner,

Since naught else will serve him better,

As that in which his company

Have been attired so splendidly.

And let them lead Tristan to court,

And let the jousting-ring be sought,

He now in all his courtly dress,

As rich and fine as all the rest

Clad in the same brave finery

As the others in his company,

Apparel made by human hand

Not such, you will understand,

As we acquire at the start,

From the seamstress of the heart,

That which we name nobility,

That grants spirit and bravery

To a man, and in the giving,

Ennobles both life and living:

Such apparel was not, you see,

Granted to all that company

In the same measure as their lord.

For, as God knows, she did afford

To this most spirited Tristan

Clothes peculiar to the man,

Gracing him with bearing, manner

Beyond those of any other.

In virtue and in courtliness,

He was a cut above the rest,

Yet in the clothes, you understand,

Turned out by some human hand,

There appeared no difference.

The noble captain, in that sense,

Was dressed just like his company.

And so the lord of Parmenie,

Spirited, and ambitious too,

With his following, clad anew,

To the minster now was gone,

And received the benediction,

That it was proper to bestow.

Mark took Tristan’s hand also,

And there bound on his spurs and sword.

‘Tristan, my nephew, and my ward,

With this true, consecrated blade

A knight of you I now have made,’

He said, ‘give thought to chivalry,

Your birth, and your nobility,

So that such thoughts you may find

Forever present in your mind.

Appear well-bred, shun all deceit,

Be truthful, and avoid conceit.

Ever be proud when you’re before

The rich; be gracious to the poor.

Value your appearance, be sure

All women to honour and adore.

Be temperate and loyal too,

For, by my honour, I tell you,

That gold leaf and sable never

Suited shield and spear better

Than temperance and loyalty.’

With this he handed him his shield,

Kissed him and these words did yield:

‘Now go forth, nephew, and may He

Above reward your chivalry,

For in His power all such doth lie,

Be courteous, and win joy, say I!’

Tristan then turned and did invest

With spurs, sword, shield, and the rest,

His companions, every one,

As with him the king had done;

To each commending honesty,

Temperance, and true loyalty,

Adding some considered word,

With which his own heart concurred.

Now, without delay, they went,

To ride in youthful tournament,

But how they broke from the ring,

What thrusts they dealt in so doing,

How many lances they did shatter,

Why, let the squires decide the matter,

Who helped to stage the whole affair,

And cleared away the remnants there:

I am no herald for their jousting.

Yet I will offer them one thing;

One thing I’ll do here, willingly,

That is, I wish that they may see

Their fair renown and honour grow,

In every way; may God, also,

Grant them a goodly life indeed,

For every true and knightly deed!

Tristan and Rual return to Parmenie

IF any suffered lasting woe

Yet lasting good-fortune also,

Tristan suffered lasting woe

Yet lasting good fortune also.

As I shall now explain to you,

Tristan was bound between the two

Realms, of sorrow and success,

For in all he did, I will confess,

He seemed to instantly succeed,

Yet success did sorrow breed,

Even though these two possess

Little in common, yet success

And ill-fortune went hand in hand

In company, in a single man.

‘God save you, so now say on!

With the ceremony undergone,

Had not Tristan achieved success

The honour of knighthood, no less?

Let us hear then; what sorrow now

Did he suffer, and fate allow?’

The Lord knows, one thing there is

Pains every heart, and so pained his:

For of his father’s death he’d heard,

Rual conveyed how that occurred,

And this lay heavy on his mind.

Thus good and bad, here we find,

Success and sorrow; joy and pain,

To mingle in one heart were fain.

And all agree that constant ire,

Born by a young man, is more dire,

More relentless in its power, than 

That same ire in an older man.

Over Tristan’s honours a shadow

Was cast by this weight of sorrow,

A hidden grief so well-concealed

That to none other was it revealed,

His anger that Rivalin was dead,

And Morgan living in his stead;

This grief burdened him with care.

So Tristan did, silently, prepare

A barque with all rich furnishings

The richest to be found, fine things,

Helped by his loyal lieutenant,

The good Rual, the Foitenant,

Whose name yet stands for loyalty,

And then King Mark they did see.

Tristan began thus: ‘My dear Lord,

I beg that leave you will afford,

So I might sail to Parmenie,

That I might, as you counselled me,

Discover how all things there stand

Regarding the folk and that land,

Which as you say is truly mine.’

The king, seeing his true design,

Answered: ‘Nephew, it shall be so,

I grant you your request, although

I shall indeed miss you sorely.

Sail homeward then, to Parmenie,

Both you and all your company,

And whate’er you need from me,

Men and horses, silver and gold,

Take all, and in choosing be bold,

Take what you wish and you require,

Take what satisfies your desire.

And whoe’er is in your company,

Treat them all so generously

And with such comradeship that they,

Will serve you ever and a day,

And stand by you, most faithfully.

Dear Nephew, act continually

In accord with Rual’s counsel,

Your loyal father here, who all

This time has acted loyally

Towards you, and honourably.

And if God grant that you prevail,

Given whate’er that may entail,

And you set your affairs to rights,

And with honour maintain your rights,

Then you must pledge me to return,

Return and I will pledge, in turn,

This one thing, which I will do,

And here’s my hand upon it too,

That we will ever share this land

And all I have, as I have planned.

And if you’re fated to survive me,

Then you’ll inherit all, for, see,

I’ll rest unmarried all my life,

Ne’er take to me a legal wife.

Nephew on me your ear you bent,

And you have heard all my intent;

Now, if you love me as I love you,

If your heart doth, as mine, hold true,

Then God knows we shall, I say,

Be happy for ever and a day,

And we shall spend all our lives so.

With this I give you leave to go.

May the Virgin’s Son defend you!

Your affairs, and your honour too,

Are in your own hands, guard them well!’

Without delay, the tale doth tell,

Tristan and his good friend Rual,

Took ship, and sailed from Cornwall,

Returning, from that far country,

To their own home in Parmenie.

If you would be pleased to learn

What welcome these two did earn

I will tell you all, that I did learn,

Of the welcome the two did earn.

So, landing then, ahead of all,

The honest and faithful Rual,

Stepped ashore, and then did doff

His cap and mantle and, once off,

He hastened to embrace Tristan,

Kissed him, and this speech began:

‘Welcome in God’s name, my lord,

And mine, to your country’s shore!

Look here, my lord, do you see

This fair land set beside the sea?

Fine cities, many a stronghold,

Many fair castles you’ll behold.

Well, Rivalin, your father, he

Left you this heritage you see.

If you are watchful and strong,

Naught you see shall e’er be gone

From you; I’ll be your surety!’

With this, he turned, right happily,

Greeting now, with joyful heart,

The band of knights, each apart;

Welcoming them with eloquence

Saluting them, his joy immense.

Then to Canoel he led the way,

Surrendering to Tristan, that day,

All those castles, every city,

Every stronghold in that country,

Which he had held for Rivalin;

And with his own he did begin,

Which were his of ancestral right.

What more to say of this fair knight?

He had both rank and property,

Supporting his lord accordingly,

As a man of property and rank;

Tristan, and all, had him to thank

For all the effort and the care,

With generous heart, taken there,

More than any man e’er did see,

To please all Tristan’s company.

But wait? What’s this I am about?

I have forgot myself, sans doubt:

What was I thinking, by my life,

To have neglected the Marshal’s wife,

Floraete, the loyal and virtuous?

How rank discourteous of us!

I’ll do penance and make amends

To that sweet woman, my friends.

For she, the courteous and good,

Most temperate of womanhood,

She the worthiest and the best,

I know would not receive a guest

With polite words spoken merely

For effect, she meant, sincerely,

All she uttered, whene’er a word

Passed her lips, then all men heard

The goodwill that flew before it;

Her heart rose up to speak for it,

As it were borne on silent wings.

Her speech then, her fine feelings,

Were both in perfect harmony,

And both flowed forth delightfully

As she was welcoming her guests.

This Floraete, the fair and blessed,

The joy she felt, at heart, toward

The young man there and her lord

(Her son, Tristan, was the former)

I divine, from reading of her

Virtues and accomplishments;

And I divine too her intent

To thus bestow them, no small few,

As only the best of women can do,

Upon the child, and his company,

Showing them such generosity,

And honour, there was ne’er a knight

Had greater granted, as of right.

Thereon a summons went swiftly

Through all the land of Parmenie,

To all the lords and nobles who

Ruled both cities and castles too.

When to Canoel they were come,

Then they all made Tristan welcome,

On hearing the truth about the lad

That the tale tells, all you have had

From me; a thousand times did they

Rejoice to see him on that fair day.

And the country for Tristan’s sake,

From its long sorrow then did wake,

And wondrously they all embraced

Happier thoughts, so long effaced.

One by one from Tristan’s hand

They received fiefs, men and land,

And then swore fealty, to a man.

Tristan seeks Morgan in Brittany

BUT, throughout all this, Tristan

Suffered from the hidden pain

That in his heart did yet remain,

Of which Morgan was the cause.

All night and day, without pause,

It now tormented him, and so

He took counsel with his folk,

All his retainers and kinsmen,

And told them it was his intent

To hasten into Brittany,

There to approach his enemy,

Receive his fiefdom from his hands,

So that he might hold his lands

All of his father’s territories,

And claim his kingdom openly.

As he had spoken, it was done.

He and his company were gone

From Parmenie, but well-prepared,

Since into danger now they dared

To ride, equipped as men must be

Who would confront an enemy.

When Tristan into Brittany came,

He chanced to hear that this same

Duke Morgan was about the chase,

On forest trails, from place to place,

And so he told his men to arm,

But so as to avoid alarm,

To wear their hauberks, and the rest,

Beneath their clothing that, so dressed,

Not one gleam of shining mail

Might the watching eye regale.

As he commanded, it was done,

And over his war-gear each one

Donned his travelling cloak once more,

And mounted, seeming as before.

Then he told the baggage train

To ride back silently again,

Stopping for none, as they went,

Next he divided the armed men,

Into two parties, and gave order

As to withdrawal of the larger,

To help the baggage train away;

While the other knights would stay

Behind with him, a mere thirty,

While those returning made sixty.

Now it soon chanced that Tristan

Caught sight of a stray huntsman,

And asked this huntsman where he

Might find the Duke; and readily.

He pointed out to them the trail,

And of this hint they took avail,

And, true enough, they swiftly found

Beside a stream, on open ground

A hunting-band of Breton knights,

Their raised pavilions, fair and bright,

Dispersed about them on the grass,

With greenery and flowers, en masse,

Inside and out; and near this band

The hawks and hounds close at hand.

The knights returned Tristan’s greeting

With proper courtesy, on meeting,

And told him that their lord, Morgan,

Was hunting the nearby woodland,

Not far away, so on they went,

Swiftly fulfilling their intent,

For soon this Morgan came in sight,

With many another Breton knight

Each on his Castalian steed.

Tristan slays Morgan

AS they approached, though indeed

They were men of unknown purpose,

Morgan’s greeting proved courteous,

And then his countrymen likewise,

Welcomed the troop without surprise;

And after all these formalities,

Tristan addressed Morgan with these

Brief words: ‘Sire, for my fief I come,

And ask you, by right and custom,

That you invest me with it here,

For the title, that I have clear

Right to, should not be denied.’

To this the other soon replied.

‘My lord,’ said Morgan, ‘whence come you?

Tell me your name, sir; who are you?’

‘I am of the House of Parmenie,

For Rivalin he fathered me.

My lord, I now should be his heir.

Tristan, my name, I here declare.’

‘My lord, before me you appear

And accost me with an old tale here,

That is as well, by that same token,

Better forgotten now than spoken!

This needs no time to think upon.

Were you entitled to aught, as one

With claim on me, twould soon be met;

For naught would, were I in your debt,

Be denied you, as a man right fit

For honour where’er ere you sought it.

But we all know, for all tell the tale,

How Blancheflor fled and did sail

With your father, and what ‘honour’

Did thereby descend upon her,

And how their ‘friendship’ ended.’

‘Friendship?’ Tristan cried, offended,

‘What mean you?’ ‘I will say no more,

The matter stands now as heretofore.’

‘My lord,’ did Tristan answer then,

‘You leave me in no doubt, again,

As to your meaning, you claim I

Am born out of wedlock, thereby

Denying me my fief, and claim?’

‘Indeed, and many do say the same.’

‘You speak slander,’ cried Tristan,

‘I have ever thought when a man

Wronged another it was seemly

To act with sense and decency;

At least in words avoid offence.

Had you such decency and sense,

Given the wrong that you do me,

Such words as these you’d spare me,

Instead of stirring my grief anew,

Resurrecting old scores as you do.

Not content with slaying my father,

Now you declare my poor mother

Bore me out of wedlock! Dear Lord!

Many and many a noble lord,

I will not deign to name them now,

Placed their hands in mine, I vow,

In token of their homage to me!

Had they blamed me, though wrongly,

For the fault that you now claim,

Not one would have done that same!

Their lord, indeed, in me they saw;

They knew, in truth, not long before

My father, Rivalin, lost his life,

He made Blancheflor his lawful wife.

If I must prove upon your person

That that was so, then I, for one,

Am ready now to prove it so,

And witness its truth, blow by blow!’

‘Away!’ cried Morgan, ‘Damn the man!

Draw weapon against a nobleman?

You shall not fight with anyone,

Who has legal standing! Be done!’

‘That we shall see’: called out Tristan;

Drawing his sword then, he began,

Ran at him, and shattered his skull,

With a downward sweep, that sank full

Through his brain to still the tongue;

Then withdrew it, while Morgan hung

A moment there, with consummate art,

And plunged it deep into his heart.

So was the proverb proven true,

That they say, of debts yet due,

That they lie there, and never rot

Even when folk think them forgot.

A pitched battle ensues

NONE of Morgan’s companions

Those brave hot-blooded Bretons

Proved of any use to him then,

For not one of those valiant men

Could come to his aid so swiftly

As to save him from difficulty;

None of them could save the knight,

Yet stood to arms as best they might.

And now they gathered quickly,

Though taken by surprise, ready

To take the fight to the enemy

Whom they attacked courageously.

They paid no attention to defence,

But pressing forward, from thence

They drove Tristan’s forces out

Into the open, then raised a shout,

Topping the woods in its ascent,

A cry of mourning and lament,

Such that the news of Morgan’s death

Rose through the air, in a breath.

Grief, borne aloft as if on wings,

Everywhere announced ill tidings,

O’er country and city told its tale

Of all their lord’s death did entail.

To all, the evil news it brought,

 noster sires, il est mort:

Alas for our lord, he is dead!

Who will govern us in his stead?

What will become of this land now?

Gather brave knights, fulfil your vow,

Gather from every castle and town,

Fell these strangers, hack them down,

For all the wrong they’ve done to us!’

And they, indeed, proved courageous.

Harrying their enemy’s rear,

From here and there, they would appear,

Yet meeting with fierce resistance,

That served to keep them at a distance;

Tristan’s forces fighting back,

And blunting their every attack,

While withdrawing in their flight

Until the baggage came in sight.

At last they joined their reserves,

And on a nearby hill, that served

As their defence, they spent the night.

Tristan’s forces are surrounded

BUT in the darkness many a knight

Was added to the enemy force,

And, as the sun began its course,

Attacked them, alongside the rest,

Driving at their unwanted guests

As they defended furiously,

Losing many a casualty

Who fell there to the sword or spear;

Though such were soon shattered, I fear,

They proved short-lived in that affair,

Many were lost and broken there,

In the mass charges by both sides;

For the little army fought besides

With such courage they inflicted

Heavy losses as they evicted

The enemy from their ranks once more.

The squadrons on both sides bore

Increasing losses as time ran on,

They dealt blows to many a man,

And many a blow they too received,

Though Tristan’s force went unrelieved;

Thus as their enemy grew stronger

His men’s resistance could no longer

Match that strength as theirs declined.

Now the enemy could find

Fresh numbers and dispositions,

So that, bolstering their positions,

Before night, they had hemmed in

Tristan’s company, deep within

A watery fastness, where they stood,

And their defence yet proving good,

Survived the assaults made overnight.

So the one army, penned in tight,

Was now encircled by the other,

As if by a fence, or ring of steel.

Rual comes to Tristan’s rescue

HOW then did these strangers feel

Tristan, and his anxious army,

Facing a strengthened enemy?

What were his forces to do now?

How did they fare? I’ll tell you how

The saw their risk of death abate

And were rescued, all but too late,

And thus enabled to break free;

And how they won their victory.

Since Tristan had sought to travel,

And received Rual’s approval

To gain his fiefdom and then

Return at once with all his men,

Rual had been anxious at heart

Suspecting what, on Tristan’s part,

Might follow, yet did not foresee

That Morgan might fall so swiftly.

Rual mustered a hundred knights,

And took the same path to the fight

That Tristan had, and in a while

Arrived in Brittany and, in style,

Learning how everything had gone,

Guided by rumour, he marched on,

Toward the site of the Breton siege,

And, once in sight of the enemy,

His men indeed proved no disgrace

Not one broke ranks there, or turned face,

Not on the flanks, nor at the rear.

With flying pennants they did steer

Towards the foe, their battle-cry

Rising o’er the ranks, on high:

Chevalier Parmenie:

Behold the knights of Parmenie!’

Then pennant after pennant raced

Through the Breton tents apace,

Causing havoc and destruction,

Thrusting the Bretons, in that ruction,

Through many a pavilion,

Dealing sore wounds, and driving on.

As soon as the besieged did spy

Their country’s pennants gainst the sky,

They drove against the enemy,

Quickly reaching open country,

For Tristan launched a strong attack

Such that the Bretons now fell back,

Tristan’s forces penetrating,

Thrusting, grappling, felling, slaying,

Amongst their ranks, on either side,

And what broke their will beside

Was the sound of that battle-cry,

Rising, from their foes, on high,

Tristan’s men and Rual’s army:

Chevelier Parmenie!

Thus ended Breton resistance,

They lost all heart, at that instant,

To form ranks, or attack again;

All will to fight against the grain;

But sought concealment or retreat,

Scurrying away in their defeat,

Hastening to the woods in fear,

Or to some castle that lay near.

Of all defences flight was best,

The surest against death’s arrest.

Tristan must choose: Cornwall or Parmenie?

AFTER the utter rout had ended,

The knights of Parmenie descended

From their mounts, then pitched camp there;

Gave proper burial to their share

Of dead who lay upon the field;

Set the wounded who might be healed,

On litters; then struck camp, and turned

For home, their victory hard-earned,

Returning now to their own land.

Tristan had thus, by his own hand

Conferred upon himself his fief,

And his own separate territory;

Thus he was lord and vassal of one

From whom his father naught had won.

So he had set himself to rights,

And settled his affairs: ‘to rights’

As regards material things,

‘Settled’ as regards his feelings.

His lack, of right, was set aright,

His injured pride was settled quite.

He had won his father’s legacy

And held it incontestably,

Since none, as things now were, had claim

To aught that stood against his name.

This achieved, his thoughts returned

To Cornwall, with the victory earned,

The king’s advice, his invitation;

Yet Rual’s fatherly devotion

Engaged his feelings equally,

Rual who’d served so loyally.

His heart then was drawn withal

Towards both Mark and Rual;

All his mind was on these two,

And yet divided in its view.

Now some thoughtful man might say:

‘How will Tristan find a way

To grant each man his proper due

By pleasing Mark and Rual too?’

Well, all do know that Tristan must

In seeking to reward their trust,

Renounce the one to seek the other.

Tell us then whose cause he’ll further!

If he returns to Cornwall he

Will dent the pride of Parmenie,

And Rual too will be dismayed,

His spirits lowered, joy will fade,

Erasing all the good that came

And gave such pleasure to that same.

But should Tristan choose to stay,

Then he may never see the day

When he attains to highest honour,

And he must ignore, moreover,

Mark’s counsel and invitation,

Mark, to whom he owes his station.

How can he act without self-harm?

Lord knows, he should feel no qualm

In returning; such we’ll sanction.

For he must rise and seek position,

Gain in self-esteem and honour,

Seek, once again, the king’s favour,

If he is to achieve success,

Fame, happiness, and all the rest;

He has the right thus to aspire

To every honour, and mount higher.

And if Fortune means to grant

Such a fate to this Tristan,

She has the power, now, so to do,

Since all his thoughts tend that way too.

End of Part III of Gottfried’s Tristan