Gottfried von Strassburg
Tristan: Part V - ‘Tantris’ in Ireland
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved
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Last Modified 6th January 2020
- Tristan sails for Ireland to seek a cure.
- Tristan reaches Dublin.
- Tristan is helped ashore.
- Queen Iseult is informed of his sad state.
- The queen sets about his cure.
- ‘Tantris’ is cured of his wound.
- ‘Tantris’ acts as tutor to Iseult the Fair.
- ‘Tantris’ seeks leave to return home.
- Tristan lands in Cornwall.
- Tristan is the victim of envy.
- An embassy to Ireland is agreed.
- Tristan prepares to return to Ireland.
- The envoys reach Ireland.
- The encounter with the dragon.
- The steward seeks out the dead dragon.
- The steward claims the victory.
Tristan sails for Ireland to seek a cure
I turn now to the tale once more;
Once Tristan had gained the shore
Without his steed, without his lance,
Crowds of folk did then advance,
Mounted or on foot, towards him,
In their thousands there to meet him.
Never had king or kingdom known
So joyous a day, for he alone
Had brought an end to all their shame
And misery; all said the same,
That he had brought them great honour.
As to the wound which he did suffer,
They sorrowed over it, and grieved,
Yet thinking he had but received
A small hurt, they thought it naught,
And thus to the palace they brought
The man, and unarmed him straight,
Saw to his comfort, then did wait
On his ease, as each might suggest.
But now the doctors, the very best
To be found throughout the land,
Were summoned and their command
Of medicine they demonstrated.
Yet to what end? For their belated
Treatment saw him none the better.
Though they delivered to the letter,
In application of their learning,
It proved of no advantage to him.
For the venom was such, they found,
It spread within, and all around
His body, till a ghastly hue
Tainted his flesh; yet naught they knew
Allowed the poison’s removal;
He seemed unrecognisable;
Moreover the site of the blow
Gave off an evil stench, one so
Noisome life became a burden,
And his own body wearisome.
Yet his grief was greater when
He realised that it gave offence
To the many friends who stood
By him, and thus he understood
More and more, the whole meaning
Of Morolt’s earlier warning;
Yet he had heard, in days past,
How lovely Morolt’s sister was,
And of Iseult’s accomplishments,
For all men paid her compliments.
There was a saying in those lands,
Those neighbouring on her Ireland,
To which the people would refer,
Whenever her name did occur:
‘Iseult the fair, Iseult the wise,
Shining bright as morning skies.’
Now Tristan, that care-laden man,
Knowing of this, conceived a plan
That aimed at his recovery;
For he saw it could only be
Through the skill of one, I ween,
Who of the subtle arts was queen.
Although he still was full of doubt
As to the bringing it about.
He summarised it, in a breath:
In this matter of life or death,
There was little to choose between
Placing his life with the queen,
Or this death-like extremity.
He set his mind accordingly,
On setting sail for Ireland,
To seek a cure in foreign land,
If God but willed that it might be
That such were now his destiny.
So for his uncle now he sent,
And told him all his true intent,
As friend to friend, and how that he
Would seek, for his infirmity,
The cure Morolt had spoken of.
Mark liked it, and he liked it not.
Yet one must suffer as one may
The trouble met upon one’s way;
To choose the lesser of two evils,
As fate dictates, proves ever useful.
Together they agreed his course
Of action, how he would perforce
Effect his journey, how they might
Supress the news of sudden flight
To Ireland, and spread the rumour
That he had simply left however,
For Salerno, to take the cure.
When this was settled, and much more,
They summoned to them Curvenal,
And told him all that must befall,
Their common purpose and intent,
And Curvenal gave his consent
To accompanying Tristan,
To live or die his loyal man.
A barque, with a small skiff as well,
Was made ready, as evening fell;
Food and water were laid aboard,
And all else for the voyage stored.
Then, with a quiet show of grief,
Tristan was set on deck, in brief,
In such great secrecy that none
But those who witnessed the thing done,
Knew of his journey; at the end,
He did his own affairs commend
To Mark, with all his retinue,
Requesting that he should eschew
All thought of dispersing aught
Of his, till certain news arrive
As to whether he was yet alive.
His harp he did request also,
That being all he asked for though,
All of his own he sought to take.
Then they upon their course did make,
And soon they were well out to sea,
The crew of eight had faithfully
Pledged their lives, and in God’s name,
Sworn not to swerve from the same
Obeying Tristan’s every command.
When they had parted from the land.
King Mark, I know, gazed on the sea,
With little pleasure; twould seem to me,
This parting pierced him to the heart,
Bone-deep, and yet, despite the start,
To both the voyage brought happiness
And a large measure of success.
Now when all the nobles heard
The tale of what had thus occurred,
The suffering that then prevailed,
When Tristan for Salerno sailed,
To seek a cure; his state on shore,
And now at sea, then not one more
Tear could they have shed had he
Been their own child in misery.
And since Tristan had suffered this
Sad mischance all in their service,
It moved their hearts more deeply still.
Tristan reaches Dublin
‘Tristan's voyage to Ireland’
The Story of Tristan and Iseult , Vol I - Jessie L Weston and Caroline Watts (p57, 1907)
Internet Archive Book Images
TAXED to the utmost of his will
And strength, Tristan sailed to Ireland,
Steered by the experienced hand
Of his master-mariner, and when
The ship drew near to land again,
Tristan told him to set a course
For Dublin, the capital, perforce,
Being aware that the wise queen,
Dwelt there; there she must be seen.
They sailed swiftly to the city,
And soon could discern it clearly.
‘See, my lord!’ cried the master,
‘Tis the city, give your order.’
‘We’ll drop anchor here,’ Tristan
Replied, ‘and not too near the land,
And wait here, in the fading light,
And spend a part thus of the night.’
So they dropped anchor there and lay
Offshore that evening, and when day
Was done, then in the dark of night
Tristan had them heave to, in sight
Of the city, and this being done,
Once the ship had taken station
Half a mile from the harbour,
Tristan gave a further order.
He asked now for the poorest clothes
In the barque and, dressed in those,
Had them remove him straight away,
Into the skiff and, with scant delay,
Hand him enough food and water,
For three days or four, thereafter,
And set his harp down in the boat,
And prepare to set the skiff afloat.
As he desired, the crew wrought all.
And then he summoned Curvenal,
Calling, before him, all the crew,
Addressed him, and the others too:
‘Friend Curvenal, I ask you to take
Charge of the men and, for my sake,
Care for the ship and them, full well
And when you are home again, tell
Them to keep this, our secret, safe.
And reward them all, in good faith,
That they might say no word to any.
Go, return to Cornwall swiftly.
Greet my uncle, say I yet live,
And may be cured, if God give
His aid, and say to him that he
Should not sorrow now for me.
Say, if I’m destined to recover,
I’ll return ere the year is over;
And that if my affairs go well,
Some that news will swiftly tell.
But tell both the court and country
I died of my debility;
Say that I perished on the way.
Take care that my followers stay
In company, and do not disband.
See that they wait, and are on hand,
Through all the time I named to you;
But if no news has come to you
Within the year, treat me as lost.
God keep my soul, and at all cost
Look to your own self, set sail
You and my men and, without fail,
Go, safe and sound, to Parmenie,
And settle there, in our country,
Beside my dear father, Rual.
Ask him, from me, to care for all,
And through you, as he loves me,
Repay my love for him, faithfully,
Treating you handsomely and well,
And then to him my wishes tell,
Concerning those who have served
Till now; for, as they have deserved,
So he must thank them and, in this,
Reward each man for his service.
Thus, dear folk,’ he reached an end,
‘To God your lives I now commend;
Set me adrift then take your way,
And for God’s mercy I will pray;
Tis time that you put out to sea,
Sailing, now, for life, and safety;
For tis high time, fast fades the night,
And o’er the sea twill soon be light.’
Tristan is helped ashore
AND so, with many a lament,
Many a pang of grief they went,
And left him there, tearfully,
Adrift on the turbulent sea.
No parting ever pained them so.
Every faithful man doth know,
Who e’er had a faithful friend,
And swore to love him to the end,
The sore distress Curvenal knew,
And yet, though he was ever true,
Heavy of heart, and suffering,
He kept a true course in parting.
Tristan was thus left there alone,
Drifting to and fro, to moan,
In anguish, and in misery,
Till dawn broke brightly o’er the sea.
Now when the Dubliners caught sight
Of the craft, in the morning light,
All pilotless, upon the wave,
They sent a crew at once to save
Any that might yet be aboard,
And learn what aid they might afford.
Now, while they were drawing near,
They saw naught, but yet could hear,
As they were swiftly approaching,
The sweet strains of a harp, floating
O’er the water, to their delight.
And then a voice did there alight,
Of one who sang, enchantingly,
So that they thought it wondrously
Strange, in truth a marvellous thing;
And as long as that voice did sing,
They remained so, without moving,
While he harped, slowly drifting.
Yet the momentary pleasure,
Lasted not, for them to treasure,
For the sounds that were relayed,
Music hands and lips had made,
Issued not from deep within him;
His heart was not in the playing.
To music’s nature it doth belong,
That no artist can play for long
Unless their heart is in the task,
Though little it may seem to ask;
For, though it is a common thing,
That cursory mode of playing,
Heartless, soulless, unmelodic,
Tis scarce worth the name of music.
Though fair Youth made Tristan,
Divert her, with voice and hand,
By harping and singing for her,
It seemed, for that poor sufferer,
A vile torment and martyrdom,
To which his artistry had come.
And now, as Tristan ceased to play,
The other boat beside his lay.
Its crew grappled his vessel’s side,
And sought to see who was inside.
When they at last had sight of him,
And the sad condition he was in,
It troubled them that such music
Could be made, such sweet magic,
By his poor hands and lips, alone;
Yet, as one who should be shown
Fair greeting, for his fair playing,
They greeted Tristan, while asking
What fate he’d met with on the sea,
Seeking an answer, courteously.
‘All shall I tell you, said Tristan,
‘I was a minstrel, and so a man
Versed in the ways of the court;
When to be silent, when to talk,
Or play the lyre, or the fiddle,
The harp, or the rote right well,
Or smile, or tell a tale in jest.
I held my station with the best,
As all who are at court must do.
But I desired more than my due,
Having gained sufficient wealth
More than was good for my health.
I took up trade, and that has been
My undoing, as you have seen.
A rich merchant was my partner,
We filled a ship with whatever
Cargo pleased us, there in Spain,
And set sail for Britain, for gain.
Yet, once we were out at sea,
A band of brigands, furiously,
Attacked our vessel, then they stole
All we had loaded in the hold,
Regardless of value, everything,
Slaughtering every living thing,
My partner too; yet I survived,
Sore wounded tis true, but alive,
For from my harp they could see
I was born and bred to minstrelsy;
While I assured them it was so.
I begged them then to let me go,
Was granted this skiff and supplies
Enough to live on, to my surprise,
And I have drifted thus till now,
In pain, where’er the waves allow,
For well on forty days and nights,
Alone among their vales and heights,
Wherever the wind has driven me,
Or the savage seas have borne me,
Now one way, and now another,
Not knowing one from the other,
And even less where I was driven.
Now sirs, if you’d be forgiven,
And have our Lord reward you well,
Help me to where good people dwell!’
‘My friend,’ the crew then replied,
‘No help could ever be denied
Your sweet voice, and fine playing;
We’ll put an end to such straying,
For you shall float here no longer,
Helpless, while the wind grows stronger;
Whate’er it was that brought you here,
Wind, waves, or God, whom we revere,
We shall lead you, indeed, to land!’
And then they took his boat in hand,
And true to their word, skiff and all,
Into the harbour, no long haul,
They towed him, and there made fast,
Exactly as Tristan had asked;
And cried: ‘Look, minstrel, now behold
This fine city, and fair stronghold,
Know you what place this might be?’
‘No, good sirs, for tis new to me.’
‘Then we shall tell you; here at hand
Is Dublin; you are in Ireland!’
‘The Lord be praised, then,’ Tristan said,
‘Amongst good people am I led,
For one among you there must be
Who will show their kindness to me;
One here will grant aid and counsel.’
The boatmen made for the citadel
And told of their strange adventure
And their marvellous encounter
With this man, who scarce seemed
A wonder, and yet was, they deemed.
They related all that had occurred,
Telling their story, word for word:
How, while they were some way away,
They heard a harp, so sweetly played,
And a song, its notes accompanying,
God might well find to his liking,
If sung by all the heavenly choir.
There they’d discovered one in dire
Straits, a minstrel, wounded to death,
Like, indeed, to sigh his last breath.
‘Go now, and look, and there you may
See one who’ll die perchance this day,
Or this night, yet though he suffers
He has such spirit, among all others
You’ll not find one, in any land,
So little troubled, you understand,
By such sad and grievous mischance.’
Queen Iseult is informed of his sad state
A crowd of folk did then advance
And engaged him in conversation,
Asking him question after question,
Though he repeated the same story.
Then they asked him to play sweetly
On his harp, and he, willingly,
Set all his mind on their request,
And sought to deliver of his best.
For whate’er he could sing or play
To win their favour, on that day,
That was his wish, and he did so.
The poor minstrel’s singing though
And his harping, done so sweetly,
Moved his audience to pity;
Twas beyond his bodily strength.
So they had him moved, at length,
And saw him borne to a safe place,
Where a physician of their race
Would attend him diligently,
The people paying the man’s fee,
And do whatever he might please
To bring the minstrel help and ease.
All this was done, and the doctor
Did all that he could do; however,
Though the sage worked all his skill
To treat him and ease him, still
It did the sufferer little good.
The tale of this was understood
Throughout the city of Dublin;
As one group left, the next were in
That house, all voicing their lament,
Grieving over this guest God sent.
And in a while, there came a priest,
Who’d noted, ere the singing ceased,
The minstrel’s skill with hand and voice,
For the man was himself a choice
Performer there, on every kind
Of instrument that comes to mind,
And knew all songs that were sung,
And was master of many a tongue,
For he had devoted all his days
To learning and to courtly ways.
This man was tutor to the queen,
A member of her suite, I mean,
And then, from her childhood on
He had sharpened her perception,
With many a goodly precept, and
To many an art he turned his hand,
Learning that the queen had sought.
And her daughter too he taught,
Iseult the Fair, that rarest girl
She of whom the whole wide world
Spoke, as does this tale of mine.
She was the loveliest of her kind,
And as she was her only daughter,
The queen had paid attention to her,
And her alone, from the moment
When the daughter showed intent
To play an instrument of choice
And learn the arts of hand and voice.
The priest too had her in his charge
He whose learning was writ large,
And sought to teach her all he knew,
Book-learning, and then music too,
And upon all stringed instruments.
Witnessing Tristan’s acquirements,
His skills and his capacity,
The priest was moved to deep pity
By the suffering he had seen,
And quickly went to find the queen.
He told her that, to her city,
Had come a man of quality,
A minstrel and yet, in a breath,
One suffering a living death,
Racked with pain, a wounded man,
And yet no man, born of woman,
Was e’er so skilful in his art,
Nor seemed so spirited at heart.
‘Ah,’ he cried, ‘most noble queen,
If but by you he might be seen,
In a place where you might be
And that miracle you might see
And hear, that of a dying man,
Who yet harps, as only he can,
And sings so finely and sweetly;
Though he is wounded so deeply
He can ne’er be cured, I vow,
For he is past all helping now.
His host, who is a fine physician,
Now despairs of his condition,
And has discontinued treatment,
Although it was his first intent
To cure him, having failed with all
The medicine at his beck and call.’
The queen sets about his cure
‘SEE now,’ the queen said, thoughtfully,
‘I’ll tell the chamberlain that, if he
Can stand to be moved from there,
They are to place him in my care,
To discover if, in his sad state,
He may yet be cured, soon or late.’
What she asked was soon achieved.
And once the queen had perceived
The anguish which he did suffer,
And viewed the wound’s ugly colour,
She knew there was venom within.
‘Ah, sad minstrel,’ she did begin
Her speech to him, ‘the true reason
For your plight’s a noxious poison!’
‘I knew it not,’ said Tristan, swiftly,
‘Such things are all unknown to me;
Yet, whate’er has been the treatment,
Naught has brought me improvement.
Who knows what life I yet may see?
Yet I know that naught is left to me,
But to place myself in God’s hands,
And live for as long now as I can.
Though if any pity my state,
If any can make my pain abate,
May God reward them! Help I need;
For this is living death, indeed!’
Then the wise lady, spoke again:
‘Tell me now, what is your name?’
‘My lady, I am called Tantris.’
Then, Tantris, take it not amiss,
If I profess that I shall heal you,
Whate’er I say, I will make true.
Take heart, and be now of good cheer!
For I shall be your doctor, here.’
‘My thanks to you, most gracious queen;
Like to those leaves forever green,
May your speech forever flourish,
And may your heart never perish,
So may your wisdom live forever,
To grant, to the helpless, succour.
And may your name honoured be
Now, and throughout eternity!’
‘Tantris,’ to this, the queen replied,
‘Let not my wish now be denied:
If your condition will permit,
Though you are weakened so by it,
I would be pleased to hear you play
Upon your harp, for all do say,
That you perform most skilfully.’
Oh, think naught of it, my lady!
For no sad misfortune of mine,
Shall deny you a wish so fine,
And I shall here display my art;
I shall play, with mind and heart.’
So, to him, his harp they brought.
And then the young princess they sought,
She, love’s true signet-ring, with which
His heart was to be sealed, through which
Twas kept from all the world, unknown,
Unseen, except by her alone,
Iseult the Fair; she came also,
And right closely did she follow
As Tristan took his harp and played.
His finest skills he now displayed,
Played better than he had before,
In hopes that all his woes were o’er,
Played not lifelessly, as a man
Half-dead, but as an artist can
When in the fullness of his powers,
As if he might play so for hours.
And then Tristan played so well
And sang so that, ere one could tell,
He had won, from all, their favour,
His fortunes now all set to prosper.
Yet as he played, now and elsewhere,
His wound gave off such odour there,
That none who came within its power
Could yet remain with him an hour.
‘Tantris,’ the queen now did say,
‘If ever there should come a day
When this odour shall leave you,
And people may remain with you,
Let me commend the young girl there,
The maiden, Iseult, to your care.
She studies hard, and she doth work
At books and music, will not shirk,
And given such brief time, as yet,
Little she learns doth she forget.
If you have greater skill than I,
Or her tutor’s, in aught, then try
Her knowledge, and then instruct her.
I shall repay you in another
Manner, for I shall now restore
Body and life to you once more,
Returning you to perfect health,
Which is better far than wealth.
I can grant you such, or deny
You my healing; in this, say I,
I hold the power in my hand!’
‘Indeed, if that is how things stand,’
The suffering minstrel replied,
‘If such indeed may heal the sick,
And I be cured so through music,
Then if God wills, I shall be healed!
Since your own thoughts do yield,
Most gracious queen, this intent
For your daughter, I must consent,
And all my reading, I believe,
Allows me now to thus conceive
A way to winning your goodwill,
Through her, if such I can instil.
And then I know tis true of me
That no one, of my years, can be
As skilful at playing on so many,
So rich and rare a variety
Of noble stringed instruments.
Whate’er your wish and your intent,
Ask; it shall be performed by me
To the best of my ability.’
‘Tantris’ is cured of his wound
THEY furnished a chamber for him
And all attention was shown him
That he required while, day by day,
They saw to his ease in every way.
Now he reaped good value from all
The caution he’d shown in Cornwall,
His wounded side there concealed,
From the Irishmen, by his shield.
Thus, his wound unknown to them,
In ignorance, they had sailed again,
While, had they known of his state,
They might have sought to relate
The tale of his wound; folk might
Think this was now a similar sight
To wounds Morolt had dealt in war,
And ponder then on what they saw.
And thus Tristan might have fared
Otherwise in all that he’d dared;
For now his foresight helped to save
His life; such prescience may pave
The path to profit and respect
For the prudent and circumspect.
But now, the wise and learned queen
Turning her mind to all she’d seen
Of his wound, was wholly intent
On healing one on whom she bent
All her skill, for whose life, I own
She would have laid down her own.
Her reputation too was at stake;
Yet who he was she did mistake,
For had she known whom she saw,
She would have hated this man more
Than she did love herself, yet she
Wrought all towards his recovery,
His comfort, and his well-being;
Setting her mind on his healing,
Was at that task, both night and day.
Yet there is naught that one can say
About this, for she knew him not;
Had she known twas he had fought
And slain Morolt, on whom her care
Was lavished, and the patient there,
Whom she was helping from death’s door,
Her enemy, then whate’er was more
Bitter than death she’d have granted
Him more readily than aught he wanted,
Than life, tis certain, yet good she knew
Of him, and good thus would she do.
Now if I were to speak at length
Of how Tristan regained his strength,
Of the queen’s skill in medicine,
Of her potions, how she did win
Him to health, would it achieve
A single thing? No, I believe
A seemly word sounds far better
In noble ears than any doctor’s.
I will refrain from all things here
That might indeed offend your ear
Or your feelings, I’ll say naught
In language not meant for court,
So that my story may not seem
Harsh or unpleasant in its theme.
Regarding my lady’s skill and art,
And the medicines she did impart,
I’ll tell you briefly, in twenty days
She aided him, in so many ways,
All could endure his company,
And his sad wound cured wholly
No longer did they keep away
From his presence, but sought to stay.
‘Tantris’ acts as tutor to Iseult the Fair
FROM this time on, the young princess
Was tutored by her learned guest,
And he gave all his attention,
Time, and effort, to her instruction,
Teaching the best of what he knew,
In book-learning, and music too;
I will not name all he did present
To her, each book or instrument,
One by one, so she might choose
Whate’er she liked of what was new,
But here is what Iseult achieved:
She took the best that she received
Through this, and most diligently
Improved her capability,
Assisted, indeed, by all that she
Had learned of such things formerly;
She owned already to refinements,
And to courtly accomplishments,
That called for use of voice and hand
And many such skills did she command.
Hers was the language of Dublin,
But she could speak French and Latin,
And played the viol, excellently,
In the Welsh manner, and if she
Set her fingers to the lyre, then
She played most deftly, and again,
From the harp drew plangent sound,
Tone, pitch, and modulation found,
And did so with dexterity.
Moreover she sang well and sweetly,
This girl blessed with skill and sense;
Her previous accomplishments
Much improved by her new tutor,
The minstrel, he who now taught her.
Among his various teachings he
Gave her a sense of the courtly
Art of pleasant manners, the art
With which a maiden should start
Her schooling, and her studying,
Since tis a fine and decent thing,
Worthy of both God and others.
Its dictates teach us the manner
Of pleasing others and God too,
Tis a nursemaid that is given to
All noble hearts so they may find
Life and nurture and, in the mind,
Lodge its precepts, for unless
Good manners aid their address
They’ll gain no profit or esteem.
Twas the chief pursuit, I’d deem,
Among the rest, of this princess;
As she sought ever to impress
Its principles upon her mind,
Her ways grew sweet and refined,
And full of charm, and courtesy.
Thus, the lovely girl, readily,
Acquired, in learning and bearing,
All that was noble and endearing,
Such that in less than half a year
All those who could see and hear
Her spoke of her true excellence.
The king, her father, took immense
Pleasure in all this, and the sight
Of her to her mother brought delight.
So, if it chanced that King Gurmun
Was joyful, or that knights had come
From other parts to join the court,
Then Iseult the Fair was sought,
And summoned before her father
To divert him, and those others,
With all her courtly attainments,
Adding, thus, noble entertainments,
To please her father and them all.
For whether they were rich or poor,
She pleased their eyes, and her arts
Delighted both their ears and hearts;
Thus, within them and without,
True pleasure was brought about.
Iseult the Fair, sweet, refined,
Sang, read, wrote for them, her mind
Joyful at their delight; whenever
They were pleased it gave her pleasure.
She would strike up an estampie,
Or play rare lays sung, exotically,
In the French style, of Saint-Denis,
And Sanze, for indeed she knew
Tune and words of more than a few.
She struck the strings of harp and lyre
As sweetly as one might desire,
With hands that were as white as snow;
And from her fingers notes did flow.
No woman played with such sweet ease
No, not in Lut, nor in Thamise,
As she, with grace and skill, did there,
Iseult the sweet, Iseult the Fair,
La dûze Iseult, la bêle;
And she would sing a pastourelle,
A rotruenge or a rondeau,
A chanson, or a refloit, so,
Or a folate and sang them well,
Well, and well, and all too well,
For many a heart, at her singing,
Thereby was filled with longing;
Her songs roused many a thought,
Many an idle dream they brought,
Wondrous things came to mind,
Which happens, as we ever find,
When such a wonder we behold,
Of grace and loveliness untold,
As in Iseult was manifest.
To whom this girl, by fortune blessed,
Should I compare if not the Sirens,
Who, with the lodestone, would commence
To draw ships near, of their singing?
For thus, to my way of thinking,
Iseult to her drew thoughts and hearts,
Deemed secure from all such arts,
Safe from the disquiet of longing.
And these two, ships and thoughts, straying
Are a comparison worth making;
Neither keep true course, oft lying
In uncertain havens, heaving
To and fro, pitching, tossing.
Just so does an aimless yearning,
Desire this and that way turning,
Wander like an anchorless boat,
Here and there. With every note,
This young and learned princess,
Iseult the wise, charmed her guests,
Drew forth feelings, with her art,
Those enshrined within the heart,
As the lodestone draws ships in,
That sound of the Sirens’ singing.
Many a heart her singing reached,
Both openly and covertly,
Through the ears and through the eyes.
Openly, there, sounds would rise,
The music of her sweet singing;
And the strings, softly sounding,
Played both here and elsewhere,
Echoed for all, and entered there
Through the ears’ realm, to dart
Straight to the depths of the heart.
But ever the song that covertly
Was sung, was her wondrous beauty,
That stole, with enraptured thought,
Wholly unbidden and unsought,
Through the windows of the eyes
Into the heart, stirred noble sighs,
Sweetly its enchantment sought,
Readily seized on every thought,
And bound it captive, fettering
The mind with desire and longing.
And thus, with Tristan’s tutoring,
Iseult the Fair, in many a thing,
Had much improved; she was charming
In her manner, and her bearing,
Played many a fine instrument,
Refined in each accomplishment,
And just as she could read and write,
So too she made songs to delight,
Creating both words and melody
Composing them most beautifully.
‘Tantris’ seeks leave to return home
TRISTAN now was quite recovered,
Such that his countenance and colour,
Which the treatment did thus restore,
Had returned to as they were before
His wound, yet he lived in fear
Lest he might be recognised here,
Among the people, or at court,
And was forever seeking in thought
Some courteous way of taking leave
So that his mind he might relieve,
Though the queen and her daughter
Were sure to resist his departure;
Nonetheless his life was surely
At risk, dogged by uncertainty,
And so he approached the queen
And spoke courteously as had been
His custom, and most eloquently,
Knelt before her, saying, humbly:
‘My lady, may God see you repaid
Eternally, for the comfort and aid,
And the favour you grace me with!
I pray that the Lord will ever give
You due reward for treating me
With such great kindness and mercy.
I’ll seek to deserve it, every way
I can, until my dying day,
And, poor man though I am, your name,
I’ll seek to ever advance that same.
Most generous queen, by your leave,
One further blessing I’d receive,
I would return to my own land,
For my affairs, you’ll understand,
Mean that I can no longer stay.’
The queen smiled, and then did say:
‘Flattery will not avail you so.
I shall not grant you leave to go.
You shall not leave within the year.’
‘Nay, noble queen, consider here
The nature of the marriage vow;
What two hearts’ love doth here allow;
For in that land I have a wife,
Who is dearer to me than life.
And I am sure she must believe
That I am dead. Should she receive
Another, for such is my fear,
My life, my joy would disappear,
For all my comfort would be gone,
And with it everything whereon
I set my hopes, and I should be
Doomed to a life of misery.’
‘Truly,’ the wise queen replied,
‘Such bonds are not to be denied.
For no such close a pair, I’d state,
Should any seek to separate.
May God grant his blessing then
To you and your good wife, again!
And though I would not see you go,
For God’s sake, I’ll suffer it so,
And will yet remain your friend.
Iseult, my daughter, and I extend
The gift to you for your journey,
For your sustenance, as may be,
Two marks in weight of fine red gold;
From Iseult then; to have and hold!’
The exile then his palms did place
Together, with courtesy and grace,
To give thanks, in spirit and body,
To the queen, and to the lady,
To the mother, and the daughter:
‘Thanks be to you, and all honour
In God’s name,’ Tristan now cried.
Since he would no more there abide,
He crossed the sea towards England;
Yet once he had approached the land,
Sailed southward towards Cornwall.
Tristan lands in Cornwall
WHEN his uncle, King Mark, and all
The folk around, heard that Tristan
In perfect health, was there at hand,
Then the people rejoiced, as one,
Through the whole of that kingdom.
The king, his friend, asked him how
He had fared on the waves, till now,
And Tristan then told his story
In all its details, as precisely
As he could. All showed their wonder
Yet amazement turned to laughter,
As their ears he did thus regale
With the substance of his tale,
How he had voyaged to Ireland,
And how, in that far distant land,
He had been healed, mercifully,
By one who was yet his enemy;
And of all that he had done there,
Among the Irish. All did declare,
They’d ne’er heard such a thing before.
When their marvelling at his cure,
And their laughter at his story,
Had abated, they were ready
To ask him of the people there,
And, most of all, Iseult the Fair.
‘Iseult,’ he said, ‘is so lovely,
All that was e’er said of beauty,
Beside her beauty, is as naught.
None shines so bright in any court.
Iseult is a girl so charming,
So entrancing, and so pleasing,
Both in person and in manner,
None was born, or will be ever,
So delightful, so enchanting.
Iseult the fair, brightly shining,
Bright as the gold of Araby!
No more now, that old tale for me,
Which praises that Helen born
Fair as a daughter of the dawn,
And how that one girl, in bloom,
All women’s beauty did assume.
The fault was all mine; forever,
Iseult has rid me of that error.
Never again shall I, for one,
Think that Mycenae bore the sun,
Perfect beauty shone not in Greece,
Here it shines, and without cease.
Let all men turn their thoughts and gaze
On Ireland, in these latter days,
Therein let their eyes find delight,
And on the new sun fix their sight,
That follows thus upon the dawn,
Fair Iseult, after Iseult, born,
That from Dublin to these parts,
Shines now into all men’s hearts!
This dazzling and enchanting light
Sheds everywhere its lustre bright.
All that folk may say in praise
Of woman’s naught before its rays.
Whoe’er sees Iseult, heart and soul
Refined, in him, as is true gold
By fire, delights in them and life.
Other women, maiden or wife,
Are not diminished in any way
By her, as many a man will say
Of his lady, for her great beauty
Serves to render others lovely,
For she adorns and crowns, we find,
Each, in the name of womankind.
Such that none need feel ashamed.’
When Tristan every joy had named
Roused in him by this fair lady,
She, of all Ireland the glory,
Those who listened to the story,
And were moved, and not by art,
But felt it there, along the heart,
Found that it sweetened all the mind,
As the blood is by May-dew, we find;
And all who heard it were inspired.
Tristan is the victim of envy
TRISTAN resumed his old life, fired
By new pleasures, as if enchanted.
A second life he’d been granted,
And he was as a man new-born.
He began to live; with that dawn
Found happiness and peace again,
And the king and his noblemen
Were happy to seek his pleasure,
Till an insidious rumour,
Born of accursed envy, stirred
Such as seldom goes unheard,
Altering opinions and manners,
Till men begrudged him honours,
And the distinction that he sought,
Once granted by people and court.
To his past actions they’d refer,
Claiming he was a sorcerer,
Disparaging him, recalling now
How he had slain Morolt, and how
He had then fared when in Ireland,
Supposedly a hostile land,
Saying it was worked by magic.
‘Look,’ they would murmur, ‘think on it,
And say now, how he could counter
The strength of Morolt, and after
Deceive Iseult, the all-knowing,
Trick a mortal foe into caring
For him so well that, in Ireland,
He was healed by her own hand?
List! Is it not a mighty wonder
How this most cunning deceiver
Draws a mist o’er people’s eyes,
And gains by every enterprise?
Then those men of Mark’s council,
Conspired to work Tristan evil,
Counselling Mark night and morn
To take a wife; let there be born
An heir, whether son or daughter.
Mark then gave them good answer:
‘The Lord indeed an heir did give;
By God’s grace, long may he live!
While Tristan, has health and life,
Know, I shall never take a wife;
Once and for all, there will be no
Queen or consort; it shall be so!’
This but increased their enmity,
And swelled the accursed envy
They all bore towards Tristan,
Visible in many a man
Who could hide it no longer.
Their hostility grew stronger,
Appearing in their attitude
And the language that they used,
So often that he felt his life
Was in danger, and this strife
Would, he feared, turn shortly
To cunning and conspiracy;
That indeed they’d seek further
So to bring about his murder.
He begged his uncle, good King Mark,
In God’s name, to attend, to hark
To his fears, and view the danger,
And then agree to whatever
The barons wished; let that be done:
He knew not when his death might come.
His uncle, wise and faithful too,
Said: ‘I wish for no heir but you,
Tristan, my nephew, never fear,
I shall ever protect you here.
Fear not for your body or life.
How then can such malice and strife
Harm you? A man who’s worthy
Is oft by malice beset, and envy.
And if he’s subject to men’s envy,
Indeed a man shows more worthy,
For envy and worth, together,
Are like a child and its mother;
Worth bears, and envy is its fruit.
Who meets not malice in pursuit
Of fortune and honour? That fate
Is of little worth, poor its state,
That never meets with enmity.
Struggle, that you might be free
Of folk’s spite for a single day,
Yet you’ll ne’er succeed, I say,
Of their spite you’ll ne’er be free.
But if quite free of such you’d be,
Then sing their tune, and be as they,
Their envy then will ebb away.
Tristan, whate’er others do
Remember what you are and who;
Aim always at nobility,
Look to where honour may be,
And what may be to your benefit,
And urge me not to counter it
With what works to your detriment.
Whate’er is their or your intent,
I’ll not attend to such a wish!’
‘Sire, if you will but grant me this,
I’ll go from court now; allow me;
I’m no match for their enmity.
If my downfall now is sought,
I must no longer live at court.
If tis amongst such malice here,
I must live, and live in fear,
Rather than realms in my hand,
I’d rather lack both realms and land.’
An embassy to Ireland is agreed
MARK, seeing he’d not be denied,
Interrupted, and then replied:
‘Nephew, as much as I would wish
To prove my love to you, in this,
And my good faith, you’ll not allow
My doing so; then, I avow,
Whate’er ensues I’ll take no blame,
And you shall have whate’er you name,
Tell me, what would you have me do?’
‘Summon your councillors to you,
Those who encourage you to wed,
And sound them out, as I have said,
And seek to know what they commend,
And find what it is they intend;
Then all may be settled readily.’
The councillors were summoned swiftly,
And they, aiming at Tristan’s death,
Agreed at once, with barely a breath,
That if a marriage they could contrive,
Iseult the Fair should be Mark’s wife,
For she, indeed, was more than fitting,
In her person, birth, and breeding.
This they thought was the very thing.
Then they had audience of the king.
One man, possessed of eloquence,
Delivered the meaning and sense
Of their counsel, on behalf of all,
Their will and purpose, in the hall:
‘Sire,’ he declared, ‘we understand,
That Iseult the Fair, of Ireland,
(For this is known in lands around,
And by all there on Irish ground)
Is a maiden on whom the power
Of womanly grace has sought to shower,
All the blessings there might be;
As you yourself have frequently
Heard of her, she is Fortune’s child,
Perfect in life, limb, undefiled.
If you obtain her as your wife,
And as our lady, no more in life,
No greater good, could come our way,
Where woman is involved, we say.’
The king answered: ‘My lord, explain,
Granted I wished her hand to gain,
How could that ever come to be?
Consider, now, the enmity
That has long existed between
The Irish and ourselves, I mean.
All of these people are our foes.
Gurmun himself, you must suppose,
Hates us all, and detests my name,
And rightly so; I too feel the same.
That any could ever bring about
Friendship between us: that I doubt.’
‘Sire’, they replied, ‘tis oft the case,
There is enmity twixt race and race.
But let the two sides take counsel
And make peace among the people,
Then we and they are reconciled,
Every man, woman, and child.
For enduring hostility
May oft yet end in amity;
And if you bear this in mind today,
You may yet live to see the day
When over Ireland you hold sway,
For only three stand in your way:
A king, a queen, Iseult the Fair,
Who, indeed, is their sole heir:
Ireland’s future’s with these three.’
‘King Mark replied: ‘Tristan has me
Thinking on her seriously,
For she has been much in my mind
Since he praised her, and thus I find,
Because of such thoughts, I too
Rejecting others, think as you.
I have dwelt so much upon her
That, if indeed I cannot wed her,
I will take no other to wife
I swear, by God, upon my life!’
Yet he swore the oath although
His true feelings were not so
Inclined, but as mere policy,
Never dreaming that it might be.
But his counsellors now replied:
‘If Tristan here doth take our side,
Who is acquainted with that court,
And you arrange that he do aught
That is required in this affair,
And deliver your proposal there,
Then all will readily be achieved,
The thing shall be as we conceived.
He is wise, prudent and fortunate
In all he seeks to undertake,
And he knows their language well.
He does all, as if by some spell.’
‘Tis evil counsel,’ King Mark cried,
‘Once, for you, he has all but died,
Fighting for you and for your heirs.
You are too intent on your affairs,
It seems, and would harm Tristan.
Do you seek again to kill the man?
No, you lords of my Cornwall,
You yourselves shall deal with all.
Go there yourselves, and be sure
To plot against Tristan no more!’
‘My lord,’ for thus spoke up Tristan,
‘Naught ill was said by any man,
It would be most fitting for me
To perform this, better twould be,
Indeed, than if another you chose;
And it is right that I do so.
I am the man, indeed, my lord;
None better can the realm afford.
Yet command them to sail with me,
Both there and back, to oversee
This thing, and maintain your honour,
Guarding your interest in the matter.’
‘You shall not lie in enemy hands
A second time; from that hostile land,
God Himself brought you back to us.’
‘Nay, Sire, it shall not transpire thus;
And whether these barons live or die,
I must share their destiny; tis I
Who’ll allow them thus to see,
That the fault will not lie with me,
If this land is left without an heir.
Tell them to make all ready, there.
I’ll steer the ship with my own hand,
And pilot it to that blessed land,
And so to Dublin once again,
And that sun that doth maintain
Happiness in many a heart.
Who knows but that we may depart
Again having won such beauty?
If she were yours, Iseult, the lovely
Girl, and yet we chanced to die,
Twere a small price to pay, say I.’
But when Mark’s counsellors perceived,
How Tristan’s speech was there received,
They were more downcast in spirit
That ever in their lives but there, it
Was settled, and must go forward.
Tristan prepares to return to Ireland
TRISTAN told the king’s steward
To find him twenty loyal knights,
From the household, fit to fight;
And sixty mercenaries he found,
Natives and foreigners, all sound;
And from the barons, twenty that day
He chose, to sail there without pay,
To make that company entire:
A hundred, levied or for hire.
This then was Tristan’s company
With which to cross the open sea.
He gathered also clothes and stores,
Assembling them all on shore,
Such that no ship that sailed before
Was ever so well provided for.
Now, one reads in the old ‘Tristan’,
That a swallow flew to Ireland,
From Cornwall, and a lock of hair
It plucked from the lady’s head there,
With which it then might build a nest,
(Though none knows, I would suggest,
How the swallow knew of the lady)
And brought it back across the sea,
So fair it led to Tristan’s journey;
Though, given that in Mark’s country
There was a plentiful supply
Of things to build a nest, then why
Would a swallow need to fly so far
To foreign lands? I swear there are
Few more fantastic tales; I fear
Tis nonsense they were talking here.
God knows, tis even more absurd
To say that Tristan, at Mark’s word,
But sailed the ocean at a venture,
While taking no account whatever
Of where he sailed to, or how far,
Yet following some fortunate star,
Nor knowing whom he was seeking.
What old score was he settling
With the book, who wrote that down,
And then spread the tale around?
If it were so then Mark, the king,
And all he sent about this thing,
The whole crowd of councillors,
And then the sad ambassadors
Who on a fool’s errand did go,
Would have been but fools also.
The envoys reach Ireland
NOW, Tristan and his company,
Sailed away upon their journey,
Though some, were most uneasy,
I mean the councillors, the twenty,
The barons of the Cornish nation,
Who, in their state of trepidation,
All fearing they would surely die,
Cursed the hour, and heaved a sigh,
The moment that their embassy
Sailed forth towards the enemy.
They saw no chance of salvation,
Discussing every sort of action,
But failing to reach agreement,
On aught to which all might consent.
Nor was that any great surprise;
Since any way to save their lives
Involved a choice between those two,
Boldness or cunning, and but few
Of them were eager to venture,
Or possessed of any measure
Of cleverness. And yet they said:
‘Tristan has thoughts in his head,
The man is clever, and versatile,
If God is kind to us the while,
And Tristan curbs his recklessness,
The which he shows to fine excess,
Then we may yet emerge alive.
Careless of himself, he’ll strive
Indifferent to our lives, or his,
Yet ever our best hopes in this
Our bound up with his success,
And his great resourcefulness
Is the key to our salvation.’
Once these doyens of their nation
Had reached the shores of Ireland
And at Wexford sought to land
Where they thought the king to be,
Then Tristan anchored out at sea,
Out of bowshot of the harbour.
His barons begged him, with ardour,
To tell them now, in God’s name,
How he would, for twas no game,
Win the lady, since all their lives
Rested on it, and twould be wise
If he spoke of his intention there.
‘Enough,’ cried Tristan, ‘now take care
That none of you meet their eyes.
Lie low within, we must disguise
Our purpose; members of the crew,
Rather than any one of you,
Will ask for news now, as they go
About the harbour, to and fro,
For none of you must yet be seen.
Be silent, and lie there between
Decks, I who speak their tongue
Will do the talking; soon will come,
Many a hostile questioner,
From the town, to the harbour.
I must tell smoother lies today
Than ever I have, so hide away.
If they see you, then understand
We’ll have a fight on our hands,
And all the country against us.
Tomorrow I go to speak for us;
I shall ride out early to chance
Our fortune and seek to advance
Our cause here, for well or ill.
While I’m away be hidden still,
Let Curvenal stand, at his ease,
By the dock, with any of these
Crewmen who speak the tongue,
And if I should be away too long,
If I do not, in four days, return,
Then wait no longer death to earn.
Save your lives, and take to sea.
For I’ll have lost my life indeed
Trying to arrange this affair;
And you may choose a wife back there
For your lord, from where’er you wish.
Thus do I think, and advise in this.’
Now the King of Ireland’s marshal,
One who had power over all
Dublin’s city and the harbour,
Came riding down in full armour,
With a great host in company,
Of citizens and emissaries,
With his orders from the court,
As this tale has already sought
To tell of, for, just as before,
All folk who landed on their shore,
He had his fixed orders to seize,
And discover if any of these
Was a native of Mark’s country,
To whom the Irish denied entry.
And thus this band of tormenters,
These bold and accursed killers,
Who many an innocent had slain,
To protect their master’s domain,
Came marching down to the harbour,
With their crossbows, in full armour,
Much like a band of brigands; so
Tristan donned a travelling cloak,
To disguise himself more readily,
And had a fine cup, marvellously
Wrought of pure gold, brought to him,
Done in the English style, and then
Took to his skiff with Curvenal,
And made towards the harbour wall.
He saluted the citizens and bowed
With all the grace that such allowed,
But, ignoring his every greeting,
Many a boat came out to meet him,
While the rest but shouted the more:
‘Put in to land now, seek the shore!’
Tristan promptly sought the land.
‘My noble lord,’ he did command,
Tell me why you come so armed,
As if indeed one might be harmed?
What mean you now by all this show?
What one should think I barely know.
Do me the honour, in God’s name,
Of telling me, what means this same?
If there is one here in this harbour
Who commands, then in all honour
Let him give fair hearing to me!’
‘That man is I, whom you now see,’
Said the Marshal, ‘and you will find
That we are armed in looks and mind,
To search out, and thus discover,
Why you are here and every other
Thing, down to the very last oar.’
‘Truly, my lord, I can assure
Your lordship I am at your pleasure.
If one might calm the crowd, at leisure,
And then allow me to have my say,
I would request that man, this day,
To hear me, in courteous manner,
As befits my country’s honour.’
With this he was granted a hearing.
‘My lord,’ said Tristan, with cunning,
‘Our trade, and standing, and country,
I now declare, to all and sundry.
We are men who live for profit,
Nor need we be ashamed of it.
We are merchants of Normandy
I and all of my company;
And there our wives and children are.
We travel from land to land, afar,
Trading our goods where’er we go,
Here and there, and to and fro,
And earn enough by that to live;
Whate’er gain our trade doth give.
A month ago we put out to sea,
I and two other ships, all three
Vessels, in convoy, bound for here,
And yet, but a week ago, I fear,
A storm-wind blew us far off course,
As gales will do, and so perforce
Dispersed our company of three,
And drove the others far from me.
I know not what’s become of them.
God preserve them, and so keep them!
During those eight days, the sea
Beat at our ship most cruelly,
And sent us on a wayward course.
Yesterday noon, the greater force
Of the gale being spent, I saw
The cliffs and headlands of this shore.
I hove to and anchored in the bay
Where we have lain until today.
Then this morning, when it was light,
I sailed for Wexford; yet my plight
Seems worse indeed than out at sea.
Though I came here seeking safety,
My life seems now to be in danger,
Though I sought welcome for the stranger,
For I have known this place before,
With other merchants found this shore,
And so hoped all the more to find
Safety, welcome; where men were kind.
Into a fresh storm now I sailed,
Yet God preserve me from the gale,
For if I find no safety here,
Among these folk, why then, tis clear,
That I must put to sea again,
There, where I may command the main
I’ll show any vessel fair fight,
Though in the way of taking flight.
Yet show me honour and courtesy,
And I shall be more than happy,
To gift you what my means allow.
If I may moor here, such I vow,
In return thus for some brief stay,
On the understanding, this day,
That you protect me, and my boat,
And all aboard, for still afloat
The other pair of ships may be,
And we may gather in company.
If you then would have me stay,
See to our safety; keep away
This fleet of skiffs whoe’er they be,
For if you do not, you shall see
I’ll return to my ship and crew
And think the less of all of you.’
The marshal, thereon, did command
The fleet of boats to head for land,
And then demanded of the stranger:
‘What will you give the king, if ever
I guarantee your life and vessel,
And grant you safe passage to travel,
To his court, and defend your stay?’
‘A mark of red gold, every day,
I’ll give, my lord, from our trade,
And this gold cup too, shall be made
Your very own, if I, thereby,
Upon your word may so rely.’
‘Indeed you may!’ on every hand,
The cry arose, ‘for in this land
He is the marshal.’ So the lord
Took that princely gift on board,
And bade Tristan seek the shore.
And then he ordered, furthermore,
The safety and security
Of Tristan and his company.
Rich and fine that tax and toll,
Rich and fine the king’s red gold,
And the goblet rich and fine,
For both now Tristan did resign,
And each of them magnificent,
So that he might thus gain consent
To both shelter and protection,
And save their lives by misdirection.
The encounter with the dragon
THUS Tristan has won safe passage,
And yet not e’en the wisest sage,
Knows what he may do with it.
You shall be told the whole of it,
And thus not tire of the story.
A serpent dwelt, in that country,
A vile monster, you understand,
That had brought upon the land
And its people such destruction,
That the king, driven to action,
Swore by his royal oath that he
Who rid them of their enemy,
Had claim to Iseult, if of worth,
A knight, that is, of noble birth.
This report, when widely known,
And the beauty of the girl alone,
Led to the deaths of many a man
Who came there to try his hand;
From far and wide they did wend,
Their way; but to meet their end.
Everywhere the tale was known,
To Tristan also it had flown;
For this alone he had chosen
To embark on the expedition,
And upon it, in the absence
Of aught else, he placed reliance.
Now is the hour, cometh the man!
And early the next morn, Tristan,
Armed himself as a man must do
Who knows that danger will ensue.
He took the strongest and the best
Lance aboard, in armour dressed,
Then mounted a sturdy war-horse,
Seized the lance, and set a course
Through the wastes and open land.
Twisting, turning, on every hand
To cross that tangled wilderness;
And as the morning did progress,
He sought the Vale of Anferginan,
Where lay the lair of the dragon,
As you may know from the story.
There, afar off, he saw a flurry
Of action, four men hard-riding
Across country, plainly fleeing
At a good pace; somewhat faster,
Than a pleasant morning canter!
One of the four that he had seen
He was the steward to the queen,
And sought the love of the princess,
Counter to all that she expressed.
Whene’er knights, seeking honour,
Rode forth to try deeds of valour,
The steward also would appear,
At any hour, be it there or here,
Solely that he too might be said
To venture forth where others led.
Though that was all he sought to do,
Since, if the dragon hove in view,
At the very first hint of dragon,
He turned swiftly, and was gone.
Now Tristan, he could clearly see
From the way these men did flee,
That the dragon was close nearby,
And so, holding his lance on high,
He rode that way and yet no more
Than a mile had he ridden before
He saw the dreadful sight ahead
Of the dragon, flame about its head,
Belching smoke from out its maw,
Twas the devil’s spawn: it saw
Man and horse there, and did advance.
Tristan, now lowering his lance,
Set his spurs to his faithful steed,
And galloped forward at full speed,
Thrusting the lance such that it tore
Through the throat beneath the jaw,
And sank deeper full near the heart
While he and his steed, for their part,
Now met the dragon with such force,
The horse fell dying, in mid-course,
And he was fortunate to survive.
But the dragon, still, as yet, alive,
Attacked the horse, scorching it,
Till through the lifeless corpse it bit,
And then that offspring of the devil,
Consumed the steed to the saddle.
Yet as the lance-wound pained it so,
It turned away, and did swiftly go
Towards the cliff there, while Tristan
Dogging its tracks, behind it ran.
The doomed creature forged ahead
Filling all the forest with dread
Of its vast roaring, while it burned
The trees, and through the thickets churned,
Till it was overcome with pain,
Whilst seeking for its lair again,
And wedged itself, for refuge, deep
Beneath a dark and rocky steep.
Tristan approached and drew his sword,
Thinking to find it wounded sore,
But no the danger now was greater.
And yet howe’er fierce the monster
Tristan attacked it, undeterred.
Despite the wound it had incurred,
It reduced him to such dire straights
He thought that he had met his fate.
But that he kept it at arm’s length,
It would have robbed him of the strength
To cut and thrust, and then indeed
Other fell foes it seemed to breed,
As smoke and steam, fire and teeth,
And claws that raked him from beneath,
So sharp, and closely ranked together,
They proved wicked as a razor.
Thus it chased him here and there,
Through trees and bushes, everywhere,
With many a tortuous twist and turn,
While he did some protection earn
From their scant cover, on the run,
Since the result of all he’d done,
Was that his shield was now torched,
Down near to his hand, and so scorched
To fragments, it was scant defence,
Against the flames, a poor pretence.
Yet none of this endured for long,
The murderous creature, strong
Though it was, found that strength
Ebbing fast, and the spear gone deep
Brought the monster down, to reap
The evil it sowed, in agony.
Tristan ran towards it swiftly,
Raising his sword; on his advance
Thrusting it, hard beside the lance,
Into the heart, hilt-deep; hurt sore,
The vile creature sent out a roar,
So frightful, and so appalling,
The sky seemed as it were falling,
While earth shook; the mortal cry
Filling the land about, thereby,
With that shriek, stunning Tristan.
But seeing it fallen, by his hand,
And lying there in death, he tore
Its jaws apart, and from the maw
Cut out the tongue with his sword
As far as his reach would afford,
Placing it neath his hauberk there,
To bring an end to that affair.
He withdrew to the wilderness,
Seeking there for a place to rest,
And recover, while it was light,
Then return to his friends at night.
But, suffering still from the heat
Of the dragon, and near defeat,
He knew so wearisome a feeling,
He thought his own death nearing.
Yet, looking all around, he saw
A gleam of water that did pour
From a cliff, both tall and sheer,
Into a long and narrow mere.
In he plunged, armour and all,
Upon his back there he did fall,
With naught but his face in sight.
There he lay, a day and a night,
For the dragon’s tongue he bore
Had stolen his strength and more,
Senseless he lay: the fumes alone
Rendered him the colour of stone.
And there indeed must Tristan lie,
Till the princess shall him espy.
The steward seeks out the dead dragon
NOW the steward, as I said above,
Wished to win the princess’ love,
And be her knight, the lovely maid.
Hearing the death-roar, unafraid,
Now, of the beast whose mortal cry
Filled the woods and wastes nearby,
Rehearsing its death in his mind,
He fresh assurance thus did find,
Thinking: ‘It surely must be dead
Or, if not, so near to death instead,
That I can readily follow through
With a little cunning.’ So from view
He stole, left his three companions,
Rode down a slope, in the direction
Of that cry, spurring on his horse
And so arriving, in due course,
At the remains of Tristan’s mount,
Where he halted to take account,
Anxiously swept his gaze around
Then slowly covering the ground,
He weighed the matter in his mind,
Fearful of what else he might find.
Nonetheless, twas not too long
Before he stirred, and then rode on,
In a somewhat desultory manner,
Nervously now, following after
The trail of burnt leaves and grass,
Where the evil creature had passed;
And suddenly, but half-aware,
He came upon the dragon there.
The steward was shocked indeed,
Astonished by his daring deed
At having approached so near,
Nearly losing his seat, that here
He wheeled his mount so swiftly
Horse and man collapsed entirely.
Once his scattered wits he’d found,
(Gathering himself from the ground)
It was more than he could do
To remount his war-horse too,
Given his state of abject fear;
So the sad steward disappeared,
Leaving his mount there, and fled.
Yet since naught behind him sped,
He halted, and returned once more,
Picked his lance up from the floor,
Grasped his mount by the bridle,
And scrambled into the saddle,
From a tree-trunk that lay nearby,
Settling again, with a deep sigh.
Then he galloped some way away,
And looked at where the dragon lay
To judge if it was dead and gone,
Or if some life still lingered on.
The steward claims the victory
ONCE he determined it was dead:
‘By God’s good will, now,’ he said,
‘My fortune’s made, at a venture;
For here’s a veritable treasure:
Fortune indeed has brought me here.’
And with this he lowered his spear,
Spoke to his mount, and gave it rein,
Then put it to the gallop again,
Spurring its flanks on either side,
And as he spurred it on, he cried:
Ma blunde Iseult, ma bêle!
Iseult the blonde, Iseult the fair,
My lady’s knight am I, beware!’
He gave the dragon a thrust, aft,
So forceful that the ashen shaft
Slid backwards through his grip.
Yet that he fought no more with it
Was due to a fresh thought, you see:
‘If its destroyer, whoe’er he be,
Is still alive, then all my scheme
Must prove as idle as a dream.’
So the steward rode here and there,
Searching the ground everywhere,
In hopes of discovering the man,
(For this was now his secret plan)
So badly wounded, and so weary,
That he might overcome him; clearly
He could engage him in a fight,
Kill him, and lodge him out of sight.
But searching, and yet finding naught,
‘Enough of this, my lord!’ he thought,
‘Whether he’s dead or still alive,
My find it is, and I shall thrive.
For I have kin, a host of friends,
On whom, in this, I may depend,
So notable, such men of worth,
That never a man on this earth
Could dispute the matter with me.’
He spurred back now to his enemy,
Dismounted, and hacked away,
As if he had the thing at bay,
Stabbing and thrusting with his blade,
Here and there until he had made
Sufficient holes, peck after peck.
And then he started on the neck,
And would have liked to sever it,
But found its hide so tough and thick,
That of the task he soon was weary.
He broke his lance across a tree,
And forced the half with its tip,
Into the dragon’s throat, as if
It was the outcome of a blow.
‘How he slew the dragon’
The Story of Tristan and Iseult, Vol I - Jessie L Weston and Caroline Watts (p75, 1907)
Internet Archive Book Images
Then he mounted, and off did go,
To Wexford on his Spanish steed,
Where he ordered men with speed
To take a cart, and fetch the head,
While he the wondrous news did spread,
Of his victorious encounter,
How he’d been in dreadful danger,
And yet, despite all he had borne,
Had slain the dragon that fair morn.
‘Yes, yes, my lords, let everyone
Hear all the wonders I have done,
And see what a courageous man
May venture yet for a fair woman,
A man who’s steadfast to the end.
I can scarce believe, my friends,
That I’ve returned safe and alive,
From what few heroes could survive.
I’d not have done so, were I weak
And tender; of that man I speak
I know not whom, some knight errant,
Who’d ventured first on this errand,
And came upon it before me,
And yet had not the victory,
For then, indeed, he met his death,
Both man and steed lost in a breath,
Since God had there forsaken him;
And they are dead the pair of them.
Half the horse remains in place,
That jaws and fire did not deface;
But why should I prolong the tale,
Since in the end I did prevail,
Yet suffered more for this dragon
Than man e’er suffered for a woman.’
He gathered all his friends together,
And they returned to see the creature.
He showed the wonder, then he asked
That all bear witness, if so tasked,
To the gospel truth of all he’d said,
And then they carted off the head.
He sought his kin, and called his men,
And then he sought the king again,
There to remind him of his oath;
And thus a day was set when both
He and all the lords might meet
At Wexford, and there complete
Discussion of the matter; and so
That the thing might duly follow,
The whole council was summoned,
By which I mean here, every baron;
And they made ready as required
To gather there as the king desired.
End of Part V of Gottfried’s Tristan