Gottfried von Strassburg

Tristan: Part VIII - Suspicion

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

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Last Modified 6th January 2020


Brangwen’s loyalty is tested

ISEULT was greatly loved and prized,

By Mark, esteemed on every side,

And honoured by all the kingdom,

For, noting, in her, the possession

Of many a gift and virtue, all

Who could praise on praise did call.

Meanwhile Iseult and her lover

Spent pleasurable times together,

Finding joy in many a wise;

For none who for that pair had eyes,

Not one man or woman, thought

That in the friendship there lay aught,

For she was under his protection,

And he served her, at her direction,

In many a place, at many a time,

And they in that could find no crime.

Now Iseult began to reason

About her whole situation:

Since none but Brangwen knew

The secret kept between the two,

Except indeed Tristan, her love,

Who ever-faithful must prove,

Then but for Brangwen alone

She’d no fear of it being known,

And need have none in the future,

In regard to her own honour.

Yet she dreaded lest Brangwen,

Coveting Mark perchance, might then

Reveal the shameful deed to him,

And how the trick was played on him.

In this matter the queen did show

That folk fear scandal and the blow

Scorn may bring more than they

Fear God’s commandments any day.

Now Iseult had two squires to hand,

Who had come there from England;

She made them swear oath on oath,

Give pledge on pledge, holding both

To do whatever she wished done,

And keep it hid from everyone.

She revealed a murderous intent:

‘Here’s my design, show no dissent;

A girl will soon be joining you,

Take her in hand; all three of you

Ride to a place, swift as you can,

Some forest, far or near to hand

So long as it will serve your aim,

And there behead that very same,

The girl I’ll give you, but take note

Of all she says, ere you cut her throat.

Retrieve her tongue, and be assured

I shall see you knighted, and more,

Tomorrow, land and gifts will give,

And favour you, while I do live!

They agreed that this they’d do,

And Iseult called Brangwen anew.

‘Brangwen,’ she cried, ‘look at me.

Do I not seem pale? Look closely;

What ails me now I do not know,

And yet my head it hurts me so,

I’ll die without some remedy;

There are herbs you must bring to me.’

The faithful Brangwen thus replied:

‘My lady, God shall be our guide,

Come tell me swiftly, where indeed,

I may gather the herbs you need.’

‘These two squires here, they know,

Ride with them, and they will show

The place now.’ ‘Willingly, my lady.’

They mounted and departed swiftly.

When they reached the treeline where

The herbs and berries growing there

Would yield the required amount,

Fair Brangwen wished to dismount;

But they led her deep into the wild,

Amidst the wooded wastes they filed,

Until at last, once they had ridden

Far from open land, there, hidden,

They had the girl, the good and noble,

The courteous and ever-faithful,

Brangwen, kneel, upon the ground,

And then their swords the squires found,

While she knelt there quite terrified,

Her poor heart pounding hard inside,

Trembling in every limb, till she,

Staring up at them, anxiously,

Cried: ‘Mercy sirs, what is this same?

What would you do, in God’s name?’

‘You, it seems, are condemned to die.’

‘Alas, but why? Come, tell me why.’

‘What have you done against the queen?

 For that she’d have you dead, I ween,’

Said one, ‘your death she doth decree,

And as she orders, so it must be.

Fair Iseult demands your execution.’

She clasped her hands in supplication:

‘No, sir!’ she said, in tears, ‘show mercy,

In God’s name, of your charity,

Let me live but a moment longer,

So I may render up an answer;

Soon enough then you may slay me.

Say these words then to my lady,

And know yourselves that this is true:

From naught I’ve done doth there ensue

Aught to displease, or that might bring

Harm to her, but one little thing,

Which I credit not; when sailing,

We also bore, among everything

From Ireland, each a fair garment,

Chosen from the best, which went

With us, two shifts as white as snow.

And while we were journeying so

On our voyage to this country,

The midday sun shone so warmly,

That our fair queen could not bear

Anything but that shift to wear,

So fond was she of its pure white.

Yet while that smock was her delight,

Which she wore until its whiteness

Faded and she spoiled its brightness,

I kept mine in the cabin, below,

Preserving its pure whiteness so.

When my lady married the king

And was to bed, after the wedding,

Her shift was not as pure and clean

As that garment might have been,

Or as she would have wished it.

So I lent her mine, and except it

Offended her that I did so

Unwillingly, I do not know,

God be my witness, how I might

Have done such wrong in her sight.

Now, in God’s name, both of you,

Give her such greeting as is due,

From a young lady to her mistress,

And may the Lord, in his goodness,

Preserve her, and guard her honour!

My death, here, I do forgive her;

My soul to God I now commend,

My body to your bidding lend.’

The two men glanced at each other,

And, led to mercy, took pity on her,

So innocent, in her tearful fervour;

Bitterly regretting moreover

A pledge committing them to murder.

And now they took counsel together.

Since they could find naught that said

That such a death was merited,

Nor any reason could they give,

They now agreed to let her live.

Thus they lodged her high in a tree,

Lest wolves roamed the vicinity,

And might seize her, ere they returned;

And then towards the court they turned

They told Iseult they’d killed the girl,

Showing all the pity in the world.

‘So tell me, now, what did she say?’

Cried Iseult, and they did relay

Brangwen’s words from end to end,

Just as the girl had asked of them.

‘And did she say no more to you?’

‘No madam.’ ‘Oh, what have you two

Perpetrated, I’ll hang you high!’

‘God in Heaven!’ the pair did cry,

‘Why speak you, in such a manner,

Lady Iseult, now we must wonder

Why you begged us, and strictly

Charged us, and most insistently,

To slay her, as indeed we have.’

‘Begged you! What’s that you say?

I commended her to you this day,

So that you could lead her where

She could cull herbs for my care.

Restore her now, or lose your lives,

I’ll see that neither one survives,

Accursed murderous vipers, both,

You’ll hang, for I am nothing loth,

Or I’ll see you burned at the stake!’

‘Lady,’ they cried, ‘for Heaven’s sake;

Your mind and heart are neither

Just nor honest, your tongue spoke other!

But let the girl, instead, be found;

We shall return her safe and sound.’

‘No lies now!’ cried Iseult, in tears,

‘Is Brangwen dead? Allay my fears.’

‘She lives yet, our wondrous queen.’

Then bring her to me, and I mean

To grant you all I promised you.’

‘Tis done, my lady!’ cried the two.

Iseult retained one of them there,

As her hostage in this affair,

While the other rode without delay

To where they’d left Brangwen that day,

And then brought her to her mistress.

Delivered from her own distress,

Iseult took her in her embrace,

Kissed her mouth, and kissed her face,

Once and then a thousand times more,

For of her faithfulness she was sure.

The squires earned twenty marks of gold,

That, of all this matter, naught be told.

Tristan and Iseult’s clandestine love

NOW that Queen Iseult had found

Brangwen’s loyalty to be sound,

And thus confirmed her quality,

Tested, and proved, her constancy,

As in a crucible she’d refined her,

And, at the last, pure gold did find her,

She and Brangwen were so aligned,

So devoted in heart and mind,

That never again would suspicion

Lead to any such rift between them.

Naught could keep the two apart,

So close were they in mind and heart.

Brangwen enjoyed her place at court,

While the court praised her; in short,

She was on good terms with them all,

And bore ill will to none at all,

Neither outwardly, nor inwardly;

Counselled the royal pair, equally;

And naught took place, in Chamber,

Without her full knowledge either.

Assiduous in the service

Of Iseult, she saw to every wish

Of hers, concerning her Tristan.

And they, the woman and the man,

Conducted themselves so discreetly,

They quelled suspicion completely.

To their concerns, speech, or deeds,

None paid attention, for, indeed,

None doubted their pure intent.

They were as happy and content,

As a pair of lovers should be, 

Who can choose when and where to see

Each other, so that amie and amis,

Were in pursuit of love constantly.

So, many a time then, each day,

Tender glances were put in play,

Amongst the crowd, quite openly,

Where no other might truly see,

Yet one may catch another’s eye,

And so communicate thereby,

Regarding some assignation,

And thus create a conversation

Between lovers, concerning love;

And so their true affection prove.

They behaved so night and day,

With impunity, and their display

Was ever free and open; sitting,

Or walking, or simply standing.

In their conversations in public

Their speech was often cryptic,

Language wrought cunningly ever,

With words that were more than clever

And one might see Love’s handiwork

In words, like flecks of gold that lurk

In silken stuff, and shimmer there.

And yet no one showed any care,

Or thought their words other than

Appropriate, or their deeds aught

Than might by courtly friends be wrought,

Bound by the kinship existing

Between Tristan and Mark, the king;

Through this they hid all their deceit,

Through this they sought to lie and cheat,

Through this Love, with beguiling art,

Fooled the senses and the heart

Of many a person who knew naught

Of the love that each in each sought,

To them pure, good, and unselfish.

Their every thought, their every wish,

Was as if the pair were one, and so

Twas yes and yes, and no and no;

While yes and no, and no and yes,

In truth they never did express.

No discord troubled him or her,

Being each to each as they were.

So it was that these two lovers

Passed the time sweetly together,

Now doing this, now doing that,

Happy at times, and then full sad,

As is the way of Love and lovers,

For Love brings pain and pleasure,

To lovers’ hearts, woe and distress,

As well as joy and happiness.

Tristan and Iseult knew such pain

Whene’er the two could not attain

A meeting, and so proved to be,

Full of joy, and yet melancholy.

And then it might be, on a day

Their anger flared, although I say

No malice was involved there;

And if any choose to declare

That there is no room for anger

Between true lover and lover,

Then that to me would but prove

That they have never been in love.

For that is ever a sign of Love,

And with it she doth lovers move,

And doth set their passion afire,

And so, with anger, stirs desire.

For though anger pains them deeply,

Affection reconciles them, wholly,

Such that their love is soon renewed,

While a deeper friendship is pursued.

Why ever this anger is so stirred,

And then quenched with scarce a word,

And quite without the aid of others

You all must know, being lovers.

For such, who are oft in company,

Are prone to imagine, foolishly,

That another is loved more than they,

And they will create a great affray

Out of a trifle, yet, soon will cease,

Forget it all, and make sweet peace.

And that is just the way it is,

And we should applaud them in this,

For love grows deeper in this way,

And fresh and new, and doth display

A fine rekindled loyalty.

Love doth age and cool we see,

And dies if it feels not the fire;

When anger is all spent, desire

Rarely doth grow green again,

But lovers, feeling anger’s pain,

Find loyalty, ever fresh and new,

Doth both peace and love renew;

Anger refines past faithfulness,

As fire doth gold, by its excess.

So Tristan and Iseult did follow

Love’s course in joy and sorrow.

Joy and sorrow came and went

As their days of love they spent.

Joy I mean without heart’s sorrow,

For true heart’s pain they did not know,

Nor such disaster that doth dart

Its glance into the very heart.

They spoke indeed not a word

Of their affairs, so naught was heard

Of what they hid, or its hiding,

And long, of it, none had tidings.

They were bold and confident,

Free and happy in their intent.

Iseult the queen did now command

Affection throughout all the land,

And all the folk spoke of Tristan;

His name was heard, on every hand,

As a lord admired wondrously,

By all who lived in that country.

The incident with Gandin, the Irish Lord

TRISTAN was spirited and lively,

Spending his time on military

Matters, or at some tournament,

Or passing his free time intent

On falconry, the chase, or other

Rural sports as occasion offered.

At that time a ship dropped anchor,

In Cornwall, at King Mark’s harbour.

A lord who’d sailed out of the north,

Gandin by name, then came forth,

An Irish knight, courteous, wealthy,

Handsome, famed for his bravery,

So fine a knight throughout Ireland

His deeds were known to many a man.

He came thus, splendidly dressed,

His chivalry there well expressed,

And to the castle gates did prance,

Yet bearing neither shield nor lance.

Slung at his back was a rote; a lyre,

Small, but with gold and gems afire,

And beautifully worked and strung,

There fine and elegant it hung.

Dismounting, he entered the court,

And then Mark and Iseult he sought,

And greeted them both, courteously.

Now he had been, variously,

Iseult’s knight, and her admirer,

And had oft times won her favour,

And so, for her sake, from Ireland,

He had come to this Cornish land.

Dieu ûs sál, messire Gandîn!

 The courteous queen greeted him,

‘God guard you, where’er you ride.’

Merci, bêle Iseult!’ Gandin replied,

‘Fair is she, and fairer than gold,

To Gandin’s eyes that her behold!’

Iseult told the king, in a whisper,

Who he was and had been to her.

Mark’s puzzlement was entire,

As to why this lord wore a lyre,

And indeed all men did wonder,

And mused on the fact together.

Nonetheless Mark was content

To honour Gandin, fully intent

On maintaining his own good name,

Though Iseult had desired the same,

Requesting he be made welcome

As a knight of her native kingdom.

Mark was delighted so to do,

Seating Gandin beside him too,

And asking a host of questions

About the people of his nation,

Its ladies and their courtly ways.

Dinner was served, without delay,

Their hands they washed to begin,

And when the water reached Gandin,

They begged him to doff the lyre,

But such was not Gandin’s desire,

Though he was asked repeatedly,

And the king and queen graciously

Ignored the matter, though many thought

It discourteous and, smiling, sought

To mock him, perchance raise his ire.

Nonetheless, the Knight of the Lyre,

The Lord with a Burden at his Back,

Was indifferent to that scornful pack.

He had his place at King Mark’s board,

Ate and drank, and the lords ignored.

Now, when the boards had been removed,

Gandin rose and, as was approved,

Took his seat with the company,

And they of his presence made free

Regaling him with the court news.

Then Mark asked if it might amuse

Him if he were so kind as to play;

If the lyre was his instrument, say.

‘Sire,’ now answered the Irish lord,

‘If I do, what shall be my reward?’

‘My lord, what mean you by that same?

If anything of mine you’d claim

Then that shall be at your service.

I shall grant you whate’er you wish,

So let us hear what you can do.’

‘So be it!’ answered the Irish knight,

And then he played, to their delight.

Then the king bade him play again,

While inwardly Gandin was fain

To smile at his own powers of deceit,

Seeing his scheme was near complete:

‘The reward my efforts doth inspire,

For that, indeed, I shall play the lyre.’

And then he played it twice as well.

Once he had ended, and silence fell,

Gandin stood there before the king,

The rote was from his hand hanging.

‘Sire, recall what you promised me!’

‘I shall, sir, and most willingly.

How may I now reward the lyre?’

‘Iseult,’ he answered, ‘is my desire.’

‘My lord, whate’er you ask of me,

Is yours, but that shall never be.’

‘Truly, Sire, I seek naught at all

Except Iseult, or great or small.’

‘Truly, my lord, that cannot be.’

‘Then you keep not your word to me?

If you are proved an oath-breaker,

Who scorns Truth and forsakes her,

You should not rule o’er any land.

The laws of kingship are to hand,

Have them read, if you fail to find

What I claim there, that doth bind

All kings, my claim I’ll then forgo.

Or if you still would say me no,

I will defend my cause gainst you,

Or any your court names, risk too

My life in combat, unless I gain

That which I, at the first, did name.

Let you, Sire, or whoe’er it be,

Ride thus into the ring with me,

And I, at the appointed time,

Will prove Iseult the Fair is mine.’

Mark glanced one way and the other,

Asking of that man, or another,

If he would dare to face this knight.

But not one seemed eager to fight,

And place his life in the balance,

Or face Gandin, in this instance.

Nor did King Mark himself relish

Single combat, to the finish,

For Iseult the Fair, with so skilled

An enemy, brave and strong-willed.

No one came forth to fight the man.

Now it so chanced that Lord Tristan

Had been out hunting in the forest.

And was riding back, with the rest

Of his followers, to the court,

When the news to him was brought

That Iseult was yielded to Gandin;

And it proved true, so had she been.

Gandin had led the fair woman,

Despite her tears of deep emotion,

From the court to the harbour,

Where his vessel lay at anchor,

And where his pavilion graced

The scene, rich and nobly placed.

He and the queen sat there inside,

Waiting upon the rising tide

Ere the ship could leave the strand,

For its prow rested on the sand.

When Tristan has reached the court,

And then further news had sought

About this matter of the lyre,

He took his harp and did enquire

As to where Gandin was, and then

He hastened on his way again,

Rode to the shore, in a wild rush,

And tethered his horse to a bush,

And hung his sword there as well,

So that none there might foretell

Violent deeds, and so he came

To the pavilion, and in that same,

He found Iseult, weeping, desolate,

And the baron, seated there in state,

Who, attempting to stem her tears

Held her in his arms, it appears

All in vain, till she saw Tristan,

Clasping the harp tight in his hand.

Gandin, from where he was sitting,

Rose, and gave Tristan greeting:

Dê te saut, bêâs harpiers!

Merci, gentil scheveliers;

My Lord,’ Tristan replied, ‘I come

In haste, hearing that you are from

The realm of Ireland. Sire, understand,

That I am also of Ireland,

Take me with you to that fair land,

And prove an honourable man!’

The Irish lord replied: ‘My friend,

Upon my word you may depend;

I shall; but sit you down and play;

If you can but her sorrow allay,

My lady here, then you may claim

The best garment this tent contains.’

‘Agreed, my lord,’ Tristan replied,

‘Unless sweet music by her’s denied,

I think she will find much relief

In my playing, and end her grief.’

He then set about his business,

Struck up a lay of such sweetness

That it sank deep within her heart,

Her mind so taken by his art,

That no more her tears she sought,

Her lover was her every thought.

As he ended, they saw the tide

Float the ship; it lay there beside

The water’s edge and Gandin’s men

Called to him from the deck again:

‘Sire, sire, you must come aboard,

If that Tristan, the Cornish lord,

Arrives while you are still ashore,

He will bring us trouble and more.

For he the people can command,

And he is famous, in all this land,

For his fearlessness, and bravery,

Thus he may harm you readily.’

Now this roused Gandin to anger,

‘God damn me, if mere danger

Such as that sends me on board!’

He shouted: ‘Come, strike up a chord

My friend, and then give us the Lay

Of Dido, for right well you play,

Such that I love to hear you sing.

Now for my lady play this thing,

And you shall sail home with me;

The finest garment you can see,

As I promised, you shall possess,

Of all I have here the very best.’

My lord,’ said Tristan, ‘it shall be so.’

The minstrel raised his harp, and lo,

He plucked all its strings so sweetly

Gandin was, nigh on utterly,

Absorbed in this minstrel’s playing,

And yet could not help noticing

That Iseult too was much taken

With the music, and musician.

When the lay had reached its end,

Gandin the queen his arm did lend,

And to the gangplank made his way,

Where twixt ship and shore it lay,

Intending to lead her thus aboard,

But the water’s depth did not afford

Them passage, for the tide rose high,

And none could embark, thereby,

Unless he had a long-legged steed.

‘What now? We are thwarted indeed,’

He cried, ‘how can my lady board?’

‘Sire,’ said the minstrel, ‘you assured

Me that I might return with you,

So I’ll take my possessions too,

And leave naught here in Cornwall.

I have a fine steed, strong and tall,

And I shall take your lady, here,

To the gangway, and see her clear,

So that the sea will not touch her!’

‘Go then, dear minstrel,’ said the other,

‘Fetch your mount then choose the best

Garment, as promised; be my guest.’

Tristan brought the steed, with no lack

Of haste, slung the harp at his back,

And said: ‘Now, my fair Irish lord,

This lovely lady your hand afford;

Pass her to me, the steed will paddle;

With her, before me, on the saddle.’

‘No, no, minstrel,’ declared Gandin,

I shall myself to the vessel win;

Touch not the lady, I will ride.’

‘Nonsense my lord,’ Iseult cried,

‘Tis foolishness, for, rest assured,

Delay, and we’ll ne’er get aboard;

So, let this minstrel have me now.’

Gandin to circumstance did bow,

And handed her up: ‘Now, my friend,

Upon your care she doth depend,

Bear her cautiously, but swiftly,

And you shall have that gift from me.’

Once he had Iseult on his steed,

Tristan showed himself swift indeed,

Trotting a good few paces away;

Seeing which, Gandin shouted: ‘Hey!

Where are you going now, you fool?’

‘No, no,’ cried Tristan: ‘you’re the fool,

My dear Gandin, come, grasp the briar;

What you stole from Mark with the lyre,

With the harp, I steal back again!

The trickster’s tricked, I but maintain,

For Tristan followed after you,

Discovered you, and has caught you.

Rich are the garments you bestow,

My good friend; I’d have you know,

I claim the best that was in your tent.’

Tristan rode on his way, content,

While Gandin he was mortified,

Saddened, damaged in his pride;

His sudden defeat, and the shame,

Was such as to tarnish his name,

And he sailed home, o’er the sea,

Regretting his loss most bitterly.

As for our two lovers, why they,

Tristan and Iseult, were well away,

Riding towards the castle towers.

Whether resting among the flowers

On their way, they found happiness,

I shall leave for others to guess:

For my part, I make no surmise,

Tis pure conjecture, in my eyes.

Tristan brought Iseult back again

To Mark, his uncle, and told him plain,

‘Sire,’ said he, ‘before Christ above,

Why, here is the queen, whom you love;

It is great folly to deal so lightly

With her, and you do not rightly

To lose her for the sake of a lyre,

Or a harp; mockery you desire?

Whoe’er has known a loyal queen,

Bartered for a lyre’s tune, I mean?

Let no man cheat you so readily;

And guard my lady more carefully!’

The suspicions of Marjodoc, the King’s Steward

NOW at court, the praise and honour

Tristan won, seemed greater than ever,

And he was famed throughout the land,

For skill and wit, while, hand in hand,

He and the queen cheered each other,

Joyful that they could be together;

And, whene’er they could so contrive,

They helped each other to feel alive.

Now Tristan owned to a companion,

The king’s vassal, a noble baron,

The Steward, Marjodoc his name;

Yet Tristan’s close friend he became,

Simply on account of the queen,

Whom he loved distantly, I deem,

Held for his lady a secret longing,

As men will without her knowing.

Tristan and this High-Steward shared

Lodgings, and right well they fared,

Enjoying each other’s company,

For Tristan knew many a story,

And so twas the Steward’s delight

To recline with him of a night,

And join him in conversation.

Now one night it did so happen

When he and Tristan had spoken,

Of many matters, long and deep,

That the High-Steward fell asleep;

Whereupon Tristan, silently,

Sought out his lover’s company,

Yet brought many a heart-ache too

Upon himself and the queen, anew.

Though he thought he went unseen

Upon his way to see the queen,

And commanded the situation,

His steps were dogged by Ill-Fortune,

For she had loosed her baying pack,

Set snares, and followed at his back,

While trouble and woe lay ahead,

On that path he ought to dread,

Yet the very path by which he

Would hasten to Iseult joyfully.

It had chanced to snow that night,

And the moon was clear and bright,

Yet Tristan gave never a thought

To his chances of being caught,

And no more so on this occasion,

Hastening to their assignation.

When he came into the chamber,

Brangwen placed a chessboard over

Against the lantern, to darken all,

And I know not how it did befall,

But she then failed to lock the door

But simply fell asleep once more.

Meanwhile the Steward had a dream,

And, in his slumber, it did seem

A dread and fearsome wild boar

Came from the forest to the door

Of the castle, entered the court,

Whetting its tusks, as it sought

To charge all the courtiers there,

While not a single knight did dare

To face it, though they ran about

Seeking to drive the creature out.

Ignoring their vain endeavours,

The boar reached the king’s quarters,

Snarling and raging, broke the door,

Tossed the empty bed on the floor,

Fouled the clean linen with its foam,

And then about the place did roam,

Watched by many of Mark’s men,

Who did but gaze, and gaze again.

When Marjodoc awoke, the dream

Lodged deep in his heart did seem,

And so to Tristan he called out,

Meaning to tell him all about

His vision, yet gained no reply.

He called again, but naught thereby

Was won; Tristan was not abed,

And Marjodoc guessed, instead,

That Tristan had some secret tryst,

Though he knew naught, I insist,

About his affair with the queen;

He was simply annoyed, I mean,

That, close friends as they both were,

He’d not been told, but must infer.

Marjodoc rose at once and dressed,

Full quietly he the door addressed,

Looked abroad, saw Tristan’s trail,

And forth into the night did sail,

Following it through an orchard,

Lit by the moon; he went forward,

Crossing the snow-covered grass,

Where Tristan earlier had passed,

Until he reached a chamber-door.

There he stopped, feeling unsure,

Troubled at finding the door ajar,

Wondering who did thus unbar

Their door at night, and musing,

Seeing so suspicious a thing,

On where Lord Tristan might be,

Whether for good or ill; had he,

A tryst with some lady-in-waiting?

The thought was still circulating

In his mind, when it gave way

To yet another for, sad to say,

He feared it might be with the queen.

Now his thoughts wavered between

Those two sources of suspicion.

Calmly considering his position,

He felt brave enough to enter

And stole into the dim chamber,

No trace of moonlight on the floor,

And then, the lantern was obscured

By the chessboard Brangwen set,

Though the light was burning yet.

Pressing his hand against the wall,

Though he could barely see at all,

He nonetheless went straight ahead,

Until he came close to a bed,

And heard two voices speak together,

And what was done, one with another.

Now he knew, and was torn apart,

Knowledge pained him to the heart,

Since upon Iseult his affection

Rested; the lady of his election.

Now his feelings turned to anger,

Hatred and anger, and thereafter

Anger and hatred, in succession,

Moved at first by the one passion,

And then consumed by the other.

He took some moments to recover,

Unsure what action he should take,

Fearful of making some mistake.

Hatred, anger prompted him there

To reveal the nature of their affair,

And yet his wariness of Tristan

Knowing he was a forceful man,

Curbed all thought of doing so.

He turned, and set himself to go,

And returned, slowly, to his bed,

With many a sad thought in his head.

Tristan too returned, and retired

To bed, as quietly as he desired,

And though Marjodoc had heard,

The steward uttered never a word,

A thing unusual, for the pair

Ever held conversation there.

Now, given this strange omission,

Tristan guessed he harboured suspicion,

And kept a tight rein on his speech,

Thinking his secret yet out of reach.

Yet twas too late, the steward knew,

What he wished hid, was all on view.

Marjodoc tells the king of a rumour

THE envious Marjodoc took the king

Aside, and told him about this thing,

That a rumour, grown out of hand,

Had sprung up concerning Tristan

And Queen Iseult, of little merit,

Which yet did the realm no credit,

And that the king should note it well,

And indeed he might take counsel;

Since it affected, all this matter,

Both his marriage and his honour.

Yet he refrained from saying he

Knew of its truth, with certainty.

Mark, an innocent, yet the best,

Ever more generous than the rest,

Was shocked, for he could not accept,

That any man should e’er suspect

The lodestar of his happiness,

Of the slightest unfaithfulness.

Yet now he nursed a suspicion,

With all the pain and attrition

Such jealousies do bring alway.

And he was on watch every day,

Lest he might reveal some proof.

He assessed them, and yet in truth,

Could not detect a single thing

That he could as evidence bring;

For Tristan had told Iseult now

Of the steward, warning her how

They must beware both he and she.

Yet Mark observed them carefully,

And sought to test them every way.

One night, as Mark beside her lay,

And the talk there went to and fro,

He set a snare, and caught her so.

‘My lady, now give me counsel

What say you of what I now tell?

For I mean to go on pilgrimage,

And be away, perchance an age.

To whom should I entrust your care

While I am wandering everywhere?’

‘God’s blessing!’ replied the queen,

‘Why then tis Tristan you must mean,

Why ask? For in whose care would I

Be safer? And then, beneath his eye,

Both land and folk may rest secure,

What indeed would you have more?

Your nephew is manly and wise,

And none will take him by surprise.’

Mark begins to mistrust Iseult

KING Mark troubled by her answer,

Now looked suspiciously upon her.

And from then on Tristan, and she,

Were watched, and observed closely.

He sought the steward on this matter,

‘Indeed, Sire,’ replied the latter,

‘You find yourself that it is so;

For she herself cannot but show

The passion she has for Tristan,

Nor should you suffer the man

To walk beside her, any longer,

If you love both wife and honour.

Mark was troubled even more,

The suspicions he had before,

Added to the doubts he now

Was brought to hear and allow,

Tormented the king endlessly,

Though Tristan went scot-free,

For despite the steward’s call,

Mark possessed no proof at all.

Iseult meanwhile, in deep delusion,

Was joyous; though twas mere illusion,

All this pilgrimage he’d claimed;

And thus to Brangwen she named

All Mark’s intent, and how the king

Had asked who’d care for everything,

And to whom he should entrust her.

‘My lady, tell me on your honour,

Whom, truthfully, did you suggest?’

Iseult told her, with all the rest

Of their conversation. ‘Why say so?’

Cried Brangwen, ‘twas foolish; oh

It was a snare, and you are ta’en,

And the steward laid it, tis plain.

They tested you in this manner,

And you must beware in future.

If he speaks thus, on another day,

Here my lady’s what you must say.

Reply like this…’ Brangwen told her,

How his questions she might counter.

Mark, meanwhile was doubly sad,

Tormented by the doubts he had,

Doubts he could not fail to harbour.

Suspecting his dear Iseult’s manner,

And troubled too about Tristan,

Finding naught ill about the man,

Neither deceit, nor treachery,

No sign of faithlessness saw he.

His joy Iseult, his friend Tristan,

The pair he had on either hand,

Troubled him in heart and mind,

He doubted her, and then did find

He doubted him, so both did doubt.

This double challenge, bout by bout,

He wrestled with, and did endure,

As many a man has done before.

When he wished to take his pleasure

With Iseult, an equal measure

Of suspicion denied his wish;

Yet seeking to dispense with this,

And find the truth of the matter,

This was denied him, and as ever,

Doubt and fear returned; once more,

All was as troubled as before.

Gottfried muses on jealousy and suspicion

WHAT hurts love more than suspicion?

What deals the lover’s heart its frisson

More dreadfully than fear and doubt?

For gripped by them he reels about.

Though having clearly seen or heard

Some misdeed, some treacherous word,

From which he wrests the truth at last,

Yet, in a trice the moment’s passed,

Till something else spurs his doubt,

And he must turn and turn, about.

All the world may be stricken so,

And yet tis most unwise; we know

Tis mad to hedge love with suspicion,

For none finds ease in that position.

And yet tis worse to realise

Truth, and halt doubt and surmise;

For he who gains the facts, to find

That the doubts that filled his mind

Were justified, wins heartbreak more

Dreadful than all that went before.

The twin evils that he possessed

Are now as welcome as the blest.

Could he but know that pair again,

He’d embrace their grief and pain,

As long as truth again lay hid.

So evil does, as evil e’er did,

Till something worse the mind doth fill,

And works a greater evil still,

And all things that were bad seem good.

Though doubt nips pleasure in the bud,

Its presence proves not so irksome

That we would deny it welcome,

If truth is our alternative.

Tis so, and love must learn to live

In doubt; love must give rise to doubt,

And spread suspicion all about.

As long as Love has doubt within,

There’s still a new life to begin,

But if she knows the truth, at last,

All hope of remedy is past.

And then Love has this failing,

Which doth ever set her flailing,

Namely that when all goes well

She is fickle and, as all will tell,

Wavers, and will not hold tight,

And yet when doubt looms in sight,

She will seize it, and ne’er let go.

She’s ready its company to know,

And eager in pursuing it,

More intent on the woe in it,

Than ever she was on the pleasure

She might have enjoyed at leisure.

Iseult dissembles

NOW Mark did the trait exhibit,

Persisting in that foolish habit.

Day and night it was his mission,

To banish doubt and suspicion,

By finding truth on the morrow,

And so achieving mortal sorrow.

Upon this his thoughts were bent,

Until it seemed his sole intent.

And so it came about one night,

That Mark had Iseult in his sights;

A snare that he and Marjodoc

Had planned, to set her in the dock,

And by a subterfuge achieve

Proof that she laboured to deceive.

But their plotting went all astray;

For Brangwen had, that very day,

Reminded her of her instructions,

And so the queen, at her direction,

Caught her husband in the snare

That he had set to catch her there

And contribute to her downfall.

Yet Brangwen’s counsel answered all.

Cunning was countered by cunning,

The hare twas set the hound running.

The king clasped her to his heart,

And kissed her eyes, with sly art,

And then her mouth he did enfold:

‘Lovely woman,’ he said, ‘I hold

Naught so dear now as I hold you

And that I must soon part from you

Robs me of my reason, no less,

Heaven above us be my witness!’

The queen, well-prepared, with art

Met his artfulness; from her heart,

She heaved a sigh, and cried: ‘Alas!

I thought this jest of yours was past,

But now I see twas truly meant.’

And further sighs she did vent,

And fell to weeping, and did lament

So piteously, that he proved content,

In his innocence, to quench all doubt,

Fearing she’d weep her poor heart out.

Yet women show no greater guile

Than when their tears flow in style,

For I have it from their own lips.

The eyes glisten, the fair head dips;

They can weep for no good reason

And do it as they please, and often.

Iseult wept uncontrollably.

Mark asked, in his credulity:

‘Lovely woman, why do you cry?

What’s the matter? Come, tell me, why?’

‘Well may I weep,’ Iseult replied,

‘Since all comfort I am denied;

A woman in a strange country,

With but the one life granted me,

And the little wit that I possess,

Both of them devoted, no less,

To you and your love for me,

Such that I am longer free

To think of aught but you alone,

For there is none so dear, I own,

Yet you are not as fond of me,

As you say, or pretend, to be.

And now you think to slip away,

Leaving me languishing all day,

Here, alone, in this foreign land;

And I have come to understand

That I mean little enough to you,

And never shall my heart pursue

Happiness, for you like me not.’

‘How so, my fair one? Tis your lot;

Yet you have charge of all my land,

With its people at your command,

And they are as much yours as mine.

Let you their orders thus assign;

Whate’er you ask it shall be done,

And he who is to me as a son,

My nephew, the noble Tristan,

Will be your most faithful man,

And care for you as he knows how.

He is wise and prudent, I do avow,

And he’ll take care of you no less

Than I would; seek your happiness;

See to your pleasure and honour.

He has my trust, and earns it ever,

Loves you as well as he does me,

And for us both will stand surety.’

‘Lord Tristan?’ cried Iseult the Fair,

‘I’d sooner Death had me in care,

And I were buried, than consent

That I to his keeping now be lent!

The cunning flatterer, at my side,

Ever seeks, and tis not denied,

To speak of his great esteem for me.

God knows with what sincerity

He does so, and I know it too,

For Morholt, my uncle, he slew,

And so he fears me, as he ought;

And thereby he has ever thought

To beguile me, and to flatter,

Seeking friendship in that manner,

Hoping to gain favour with me,

By his falseness, and his trickery.

But all that he does, he does in vain,

From such labour he shall not gain.

And God knows tis for you alone

For your sake, more than for my own,

That I show friendship to the man,

Else, from my sight, that fellow ban!

Since I must see and hear him still,

I show affection against my will,

Thus, I admit, I have often shown

That lord attention, yet I own

Twas to avoid reproach, with lies

Upon my lips, and uncaring eyes.

Women like not their husband’s friends,

They say, and it has served my ends,

To grant him many an idle glance,

Or meaningless speech, perchance,

That he’d swear came from the heart.

Sire, be not deceived by such art.

Your nephew, this Lord Tristan

Shall not act as my guardian,

For so much as a day if you

Would be good to me and true;

For you yourself must undertake,

For my and for your own sake,

To care for me on your journey

And have me in your company.

Where’er you’d go, so would I,

Unless you would that wish deny,

Or death robs me of that pleasure.’

So Iseult dealt him a measure

Of guilefulness, most cleverly,

And tricked him with her trickery,

For to disarm all his suspicion,

And quench his ire was her mission;

And he’d have sworn all was true.

Mark the waverer was set anew

Upon the right path, for his wife

Knew how to end doubt and strife.

All that she said and all she did

Was well, her secret too well-hid.

To the steward, the king told all

She’d said, or all he could recall,

Her statement to him, all complete,

Showing she was without deceit.

This annoyed the steward greatly,

And troubled his poor heart deeply,

Yet he advised Mark of a sure

Way he might test Iseult once more.

That night when Mark lay beside

The queen and they in talk allied,

He once again deployed his snare,

And drew her towards ruin there.

‘Listen,’ he said, ‘my fairest queen,

We must bow to destiny, I deem;

You must show me how a woman

May guard a realm as doth a man.

My lady, I must travel abroad,

While my friends do you afford

Protection, my kinfolk, my men,

And all who are beholden, then

Must grant you service and honour,

If they would seek your favour.

If any knight or lady irks you,

Whom you’d not have about you

Then banish them; you need not see

Aught that annoys you, certainly,

Whether tis property or person,

Remove both at your discretion.

Nor shall I regard with favour

Any that doth you displeasure.

Be happy, and live thus as you will,

For you do have my blessing still.

And since you so dislike Tristan,

I will at once dismiss the man

From court, since, conveniently,

He needs must be in Parmenie,

To see to all his business there,

Tis his and his country’s affair.’

‘Thank you, my lord,’ Iseult replied,

‘Your words are both kind and wise.

 Since you view with displeasure

Aught that would in some measure

Vex me, tis right that I consent

To whate’er aids you in your intent,

And counsel you, morn and eve,

In all that honour may conceive.

Now see, lord, what you must do.

I would advise that your nephew

Be not banished from your court,

For fear of what might be thought;

Folk would soon spread the rumour

Here at court, and then wherever,

That it was I, not you, who saw

A way to settle that old score

Of his having slain my uncle,

A matter that yet doth rankle.

Such talk would much dishonour me

Nor honour for you would there be.

I would not have you scorn a friend

Nor a favourite of yours offend.

And then consider this, as well,

If you are gone, who, come tell,

Shall now guard either country?

They will not rest as peacefully

In a woman’s hands, perchance.

Whoe’er their aims would advance

And yet rule justly, with honour,

Needs great wit to wield great power,

And bravery; and there’s no man

Except, that is, my Lord Tristan

Among the barons who will do.

Apart from my Lord Tristan, and you,

None could indeed such deeds demand

As need respect, where men command.

And if war comes, a dire mischance

He would prepare for in advance,

Then we might fail of victory;

Malicious folk would then be free

To taunt you with the name Tristan,

Question your choice, out of hand,

“Had Tristan been here,” they’d say,

“We’d not have failed thus, today.”

And they would lay the blame on me,

For his voyage and their injury.

Sire, twould be better to refrain.

Reflect on this matter once again.

Either let me accompany you,

Or grant Lord Tristan his fair due,

And let him take charge of your lands.

Whate’er my feelings; as it stands,

I would rather have Tristan here,

Than some other, and live in fear.’

From her words, the king was sure

That her whole heart turned the more

On Tristan’s honour than the realm;

Thus he veered, and bent the helm

Towards his doubts and fears again;

Thus was he filled with ire and pain;

While Iseult once more told Brangwen

All that had passed, the how and when,

Without forgetting a single word,

While Brangwen thought her quite absurd,

For answering in the way she had;

To champion Tristan was quite mad.

Then lectured her in the like way,

As to how to act, and what to say.

That night, when the queen was abed,

She embraced Mark, kissed his head,

And pressed him to her tender breast,

Before she set about her quest,

With a subtle question, and answer:

‘Sire,’ she said, ‘if you loved me ever,

Say, have you settled on that plan

Of sending home my Lord Tristan?

Could she be sure, now, your dear wife

Would thank you, for all of her life.

My lord, my trust in you is great,

As it should be, yet it seems my fate

Is to doubt, I fear tis some test;

Yet if all is as you did suggest,

And you will banish from my eyes

All that annoys me, and I despise,

I shall know that you love me true,

And yes, I might have asked it too,

I should have done so long ago,

But I was cautious of doing so,

For I know what will come to me,

If I am long at Tristan’s mercy.

Reflect Sire, should he not depart,

(Here’s no ill-feeling on my part)

And then while you are far away

Command the kingdom, day by day,

And some accident befall you there,

For such things happen everywhere,

He would seize my title and lands,

For such would I suffer at his hands.

Think of the risk, as a friend should,

And rid me of this Tristan for good.

You would be acting wisely then;

So send Lord Tristan home again,

Or let him journey with you, and let

Your steward Marjodoc be set

To care for me while you are gone.

Or if you would let me go upon

Your pilgrimage with you, then I

Would leave the land to be governed by

Whoe’er you wish; if I might do so,

Though who that is I do not know.

But you must do as you would wish

With your lands and with me, in this,

That is my wish and my intent.’

She continued her blandishments

Till he had quite forgot his doubts,

And what the matter was all about,

His jealousy, and his suspicions,

Regarding her aims and affections.

He thought the queen quite innocent

Of any misdeed, or ill-intent,

And judged the steward Marjodoc

Naught but a liar, and run amok;

Though indeed the steward had been

Right truthful as concerned the queen.

End of Part VIII of Gottfried’s Tristan