Gottfried von Strassburg

Tristan: Part X - Banishment


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

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Last Modified 6th January 2020


Contents


Petitcreiu, the faery lapdog

ONCE Iseult’s lover, Lord Tristan,

Had carried her carefully to land,

At Caerleon and, as she’d sought,

Aided the deception she wrought,

From England he then set his sails,

And went to Duke Gilan in Wales,

A young bachelor, rich and free,

Who greeted Lord Tristan warmly,

For he had heard the tales before

Of Tristan’s exploits and, more,

Was eager to show him honour,

Grant him ease, and win his favour.

Whate’er then might please Tristan

Gilan would offer, seek, or plan.

Yet despite all that Gilan sought,

Tristan was ever lost in thought,

Brooding over his adverse fate.

One eve, as they sat drinking late,

Tristan musing there, in sorrow,

Gilan, noting his sighs of woe,

Asked that they bring his heart’s delight,

His lapdog, a most wondrous sight,

Petitcreiu, out of Avalon;

No sooner said than it was done.

The servant brought in a coverlet,

A broad spread of purple velvet,

Rich and rare, and laid it over

The table there, and on the cover

Set the lapdog, a faery creature

So I’ve heard, sent as a favour

From that faery land of Avalon,

As a sign of love and affection,

By a goddess, and so curiously

Was it conceived, its qualities

Of magic power and colouring,

No tongue its mystery could sing,

No mortal mind its beauties hold.

A wondrous sight twas to behold;

Its colour was of such a blend,

That none could say, end to end,

What hue the creature was, for lo,

Its breast was whiter than the snow,

Its loins greener than the clover,

One flank pure scarlet, but redder,

The other yellower than saffron;

Its underside, twas all of one

Shade, somewhat resembling azure;

While its back was all a mixture,

Hues so subtly put together,

None showed more than any other;

Nor green, nor red, nor white nor black,

Nor yellow nor blue the lapdog’s back,

And yet a trace of all was there,

Twas a kind of rich, purple affair;

Yet view its coat against the grain,

And you’d be hard put to explain

The nature of that wondrous work

Of Avalon, its every quirk

Of colouring so various

As to confuse the curious,

Seeming colourless, after all.

From the lapdog’s neck did fall

A chain of gold on which there hung

A bell so sweet and clear, when rung,

That when some movement now began

To stir it, sorrowful Tristan,

All at once, was free of sadness,

All the suffering and distress

His love for Fair Iseult had brought;

For any that its music sought

And knew its sweetness, banished care,

And all their pain was ended there.

This sound he sat and listened to,

This wonder of wonders did view,

Noting the lapdog and its bell,

Observing every aspect well,

The lapdog and its wondrous coat,

The bell’s sweet ringing, every note;

Each of them seemed marvellous.

Yet the lapdog more wondrous

Than the sweet sound of the bell,

That banished sadness as it fell

Upon his ear, for as he thought

About the lapdog’s coat and sought

Its hue, he found, to his surprise,

Despite his gazing with clear eyes,

That he could not distinguish one,

However long he looked thereon.

And so he reached out carefully,

And as he stroked it, cautiously,

It seemed as if twere finest silk,

Soft and smooth, or of that ilk.

The lapdog barked not, nor howled,

Nor, when handled, bit or growled,

And neither ate nor drank at all,

So claims the tale, as I recall.

When the lapdog was removed,

But transient the magic proved,

For Tristan was as sad or more

Than ever he had been before.

Yet he gave his thought to how

By art or artifice, he might now

Gain Petitcreiu for the Queen,

His love, and render her serene,

Ease all her longing, and yet he

No means of doing so could see,

Either by asking or by cunning,

Since he knew not for anything

Would Gilan such a gift forsake,

Except his own life was at stake.

Yearning weighed on Tristan’s heart,

Yet he made concealment an art,

And showed no sign of his longing,

Although he still desired the thing.

Tristan fights Urgan the giant

NOW, according to the true tale

Of Tristan’s exploits in Wales,

A giant dwelt near that land,

An arrogant bully of a man,

Urgan li vilus was his name;

By a river, there, he laid claim

To all the wide land of Wales,

Its mountain-slopes, hills and vales,

And Gilan paid him tribute, so

As to spare his country woe.

And now it was announced at court

That Urgan had arrived and sought

His due, in cattle, sheep and swine,

And drove off all he was assigned.

Gilan then told his friend Tristan

The tale of how it all began,

And how the tribute had, by force,

Been imposed, without recourse.

‘Tell me, my lord,’ said Tristan,

‘If I could rid you of this man,

And so free you of the burden,

For all the days you are given,

What will you grant me in return?’

‘Truly, sir,’ said Gilan, you’d earn

Aught you wish of what I possess.’

‘If you will promise me no less,’

Said Tristan, ‘I’ll slay this Urgan,

Employing whate’er means I can,

And swiftly, and so end this strife

Completely, or forfeit my life.’

‘Truly, dear sir, you shall have aught

You seek; ask, and it shall be brought.’

So saying, the honest lord, Gilan

Sealed it, with a clasp of the hand.

Tristan then called for his armour,

And his steed, and sought wherever

That devil’s spawn Urgan must pass

To reach home with his herd, at last.

Tristan then did soon command

The fresh trail of this giant Urgan,

That led into the forest waste,

Which this giant’s dwelling faced;

There, by a bridge, the herd crossed,

To Gilan’s and his nation’s cost.

The giant and his plunder were there,

But Tristan, grasping the affair,

Barred the herd from the bridgehead,

While, sensing the trouble up ahead,

The giant Urgan did soon advance,

Holding a long pole, like a lance,

Of polished steel lifted on high.

Finding an armed knight, halted by

The bridgehead he asked, scornfully:

‘My friend on the horse, come tell me

Your name and why you bar the way?

Let my herd across; if you stay,

I swear, you’ll pay, and with your life.

Surrender now, and cease your strife!’

The knight on horseback thus replied:

‘Tristan’s my name, friend, I’ll abide,

For I fear you not, nor your pole.

Off with you! As the herd you stole

Goes no further, you have my word!’

‘Ah, Lord Tristan, of you I’ve heard!

You fought with Morolt of Ireland;

You started a quarrel, out of hand,

And then you slew him, from mere pride!

A different man, now, you’ve defied

Than that Gandin whom you beguiled

With the lyre, and then stole a child,

The lovely Iseult, fair beauty’s flower,

Though he would fight for her, that hour!

Urgan li vilus is my name,

All these river-banks I claim,

So now be off with you, I say!’

And with these words he straightway

Measured an arc with his long pole,

Grasping it with both hands, his goal

To swing it forcefully at Tristan,

Aiming the blow so it would land

Across his foe and cause his death.

Urgan drew in a mighty breath;

Tristan swerved, yet, well-nigh true,

The blow sliced Tristan’s horse in two,

Near the hindquarters, while Urgan

Roared with laughter: ‘Lord Tristan,

So help you God, don’t ride away!

Be not hasty, a moment, stay,

So I might beg on bended knee

To be allowed now, most humbly,

To drive my herd, and quietly pass!’

Tristan had landed on the grass;

His mount was dead but, with his lance,

Upon Urgan he did advance

Wounding the giant in one eye,

Who ran to where his pole did lie,

Suffering from that bitter blow;

But as the vile giant stooped low,

Tristan, hurling his lance aside,

Grasped his sword, the blade applied,

And sliced the right hand full away

As it sought to grasp the pole; it lay

All bloody on the ground, away

Leapt Tristan, Urgan now at bay

But not for long, then struck again,

At the thigh, causing Urgan pain.

The injured giant with his left hand

Grasped the pole and chased Tristan

From the field, and through the trees,

Though Tristan could still run at ease,

While, with the twists and turns, Urgan

Lost so much blood that he began

To fear his strength would ebb away,

He therefore left the knight to stray,

Quit the cattle, picked up his hand,

And soon returned to his own land,

Now Tristan, left there, with the herd

In the waste, with himself conferred,

Concerned that Urgan was yet alive.

He sat on the grass, then did strive

To think (for he had naught in truth

To show for his deed but living proof

In the form of the herd, so all his toil

Might be in vain) whether to seek Gilan,

And claim his prize, or pursue Urgan;

For Gilan might not honour his oath

Given the terms agreed by both.

He chose to chase after Urgan,

And at a steady pace he ran

Along the trail the giant had left

For, being of his right hand bereft,

Urgan had stained the trampled grass

Bright crimson, where’er he did pass.

When to the giant’s castle he came,

Tristan searched, and called his name,

Here there and everywhere, but found

No giant and heard no living sound;

For, as the tale tells, the wounded man,

Had set on a table his severed hand,

And gone from the hill to seek to treat

His bloody arm, with herbs cut neat

From the earth, having power to heal

The wound, for he knew how to seal

Hand to arm, and if he’d run fast

And joined the two, ere life was past,

He would have managed well, thereby,

Gained a hand though he lost an eye.

But that, indeed, was not to be,

For Tristan had come there swiftly,

And seen the hand and, finding none

To claim it, left as he had come.

Urgan returned and, to his woe,

Found the hand was gone, and so,

In sorrow and anger, hurling down

The medicinal herbs he’d found,

He turned again, to pursue Tristan,

And hence over the bridge they ran.

Tristan, aware he was being chased,

Under a tree the hand now placed,

A fallen trunk, filled now with fear,

As the monster once more drew near,

For it was plain, despite one eye,

He’d fight and one of them must die.

Tristan slays the giant

HE turned to the bridge, at his rear,

And drove at Urgan with his spear,

Thrusting so hard the spear snapped.

He’d no sooner met this mishap,

Than Urgan beset him with his pole,

And would scarce have left him whole

Even had he been made of bronze,

If its arc had not proved too long.

Twas only Urgan’s longing to close

With him that saved him from the foe,

For the giant approached too near;

His blow slipped by, to Tristan’s rear.

And now before the fellow withdrew,

Tristan performed a feint anew,

And pierced him in the other eye;

That he was blind none could deny!

The blind man, furious, lashed out,

While Tristan let him flail about,

Striking wildly with his left hand,

As Tristan took to cover, at hand.

It came about that, in the end,

Urgan’s desperate blows did send

Him close to the bridgehead where

Tristan ran forward, then did dare

To grasp Urgan with all his might;

And swiftly then did end the fight,

Pitched him into the gorge, and so

Shattered him on the rocks below.

Tristan obtains the lapdog, Petitcreiu

FULL proud of his victory, Tristan,

Went and seized the severed hand,

And striding back, he found Gilan,

Now on his way to meet Tristan,

Deeply regretting that the knight

Had sought so dangerous a fight;

Thinking that he might nobly strive,

And yet not come from it alive.

Tristan, on foot, he now did see,

And thus addressed him joyfully:

Â, bién venjanz, gentil Tristan!

Oh, well met indeed, dear man;

How went it, and are you well?’

So Tristan straight began to tell

All his tale of good fortune, and

Showed Gilan the severed hand,

And spoke of the sudden ending,

Just as he’d performed the thing.

Gilan was overjoyed; they went

Back to the bridge, their intent

To view the corpse, and to witness

The proof there of Tristan’s success.

And it was all as Tristan had said;

All marvelled at the mighty dead.

They turned for home and happily

Drove the herd to their own country.

Throughout Wales there was great joy,

Words of high praise they did employ

In speaking of that valorous man

Twas: ‘Honour and glory to Tristan!

And never was any man, I deem,

Ever held in higher esteem.

Now when Lord Tristan and Gilan

Were home, and the victorious man

Was led to speak of his happy fate,

The wonder-worker soon did state

His wishes, and on that very day

Addressing the Duke, he did say:

‘My Lord Duke, now may I recall

The pledge that was made and all

That you agreed, and promised me.’

‘My lord, you may do so, willingly,

What might there be that you require?’

‘Petitcreiu then, is my desire.’

‘Gilan said: ‘Yet there’s better here.’

Tristan said: ‘Well, then let me hear.’

‘This, the best of my suggestions,

Talk one half of my possessions,

A dowry for my lovely sister!’

‘My lord Gilan, yet remember

The pledge you gave me; I’ll not take

Aught else for the whole world’s sake;

Urgan li vilus I found, and slew,

All to gain this Petitcreiu.’

‘If that be so, my Lord Tristan,

And you will take nor wife nor land,

I must give you what we agreed,

And grant the thing that you most need,

Nor will I cheat you, nor deceive,

Though I am loth, as you’ll believe!’

He had them bring the lapdog there,

And said: ‘My lord, I here declare,

Upon my oath, in hopes of bliss,

Naught have I owned, or cherish,

Apart from my life and honour

In truth, that I would not rather

Give to you than Petitcreiu.

Take him now, he belongs to you,

Though he is gold without alloy,

And God grant he bring you joy,

For you do steal my heart’s delight,

And, from my eyes, the fairest sight.’

Tristan sends the lapdog to Iseult

ONCE Tristan had him for his own,

He would have set the wealth of Rome

And all the Empire’s lands and seas,

At naught, the lapdog so did please.

No happier could he ever be,

Except in Iseult’s company.

And so a Welsh minstrel he found,

A man of wit, learned and sound,

And he shared with him his plan,

Whereby, if he would be his man,

Tristan might ease the Queen’s pain,

And thus might bring her joy again.

He hid Petitcreiu entire

Within the body of a lyre,

This Welshman’s ‘rote’, and a letter

He penned too, in which he told her

Where and how he won the creature,

For love of her, to bring her pleasure.

The faithful minstrel set out that day,

As requested, and found his way

To Mark’s castle at Tintagel.

Reaching the place, safe and well,

He soon was speaking to Brangwen;

Gave her the lapdog, there and then,

With Tristan’s letter; straight away

Both these to Iseult, she did convey.

This wonder of wonders, did she

Now examine, most carefully,

The lapdog, I mean, and its bell,

Rewarding the minstrel, as well,

With ten marks of purest gold,

Penning a letter, in which she told

Tristan that Mark would favour

His return, and with due honour,

And that he must come urgently,

And without fail, for now had she

Resolved all; Mark was forgiven!

Tristan returns to Cornwall

TRISTAN did as he was bidden,

Reaching Cornwall without delay

And there the king, the court, I say,

The folk, held him in high esteem

As before, or so it would seem,

Or even more highly, although

Marjodoc’s welcome was not so

Heartfelt as the others’ maybe,

Nor Melot’s; each his enemy.

Whate’er the honour that those two

Showed Tristan, yet I say to you,

In it all there was little honour.

Tell me, all of you, in this matter,

Where but a semblance is shown

Is that honour as honour’s known?

Nay and Yea, I myself declare,

For Nay and Yea have both a share;

Nay for the enemy that deceives,

Yea for him who honour receives;

The answer lies in both the pair,

For Yea and Nay are present there.

What more to say in this matter?

This is honour without honour.

Iseult told her lord and master

The lapdog was from her mother,

A gift from Ireland’s wise queen,

And that she, young Iseult I mean,

Was to request a kennel of gold

Set all about with gems, to hold

The little creature, as might seem

A work conceived of in a dream.

Twas wrought; inside they spread

Brocade with a pillow for his head.

Thus the lapdog was in her sight,

Where’er she was, both day and night,

Whether abroad, or privately,

Where’er she might happen to be.

Walking, riding, they’d carry him,

Or place him where she could see him,

Not for any ease it gave her,

The tale tells us it was rather

That she might fuel her longing

And so keep love’s fires burning

For her dear, beloved Tristan,

Who, from love, devised this plan.

She had no ease from the creature,

Nor sought solace in its nature,

For as soon as the loving queen

Received the lapdog, that morrow;

Heard the bell; forgot her sorrow;

The first thought she had was how

Sad her dear friend must be now,

So sorely burdened by his woe,

Her friend Tristan, who loved her so:

‘Ah, faithless woman; can I be glad

When, through love of me, he is sad,

He who has, for my sake, no less,

Surrendered life and happiness

To sorrow? How can I rejoice

Without my lover, I whose voice

Is to him both sorrow and joy?

And how can I laughter employ,

When his poor heart can find no ease

Unless my heart doth share that ease?

He has no life apart from mine,

And yet of that can give no sign.

Should I be joyful and smiling,

Without him, while he is pining?

May God deny their joy to one,

If the other must do with none!’

And seizing the little dog again,

She broke the bell from the chain

Round its neck, and from that hour

The bell lost all its magic power,

For its sound was never the same;

And they say that never that same

Did ease the sorrows of the heart,

Though one listened long to its art.

And yet to Iseult that meant naught,

It was not happiness she sought.

This constant and faithful lover

Had all her life and joy rendered,

All, to love’s sadness, and Tristan,

All, to love’s longing, and the man.

The lovers again fall under suspicion

TRISTAN and Iseult had even so

Overcome both peril and woe,

And were happy again at court

That to both its favour brought,

According them greater esteem.

On good terms they now did seem

As good as ever with Mark their lord.

Yet their feelings went not abroad;

When they could not be together,

The wish to be so was, as ever,

Sufficient for them; such we see

In those who, of necessity,

Comfort themselves by staying true.

Hope and expectation, ever new,

Of our winning the heart’s desire

Keeps longing alive, and the fire

Of our vigour; true faithfulness

Is there; our instincts of the best

When, in our love and affection

For the lover, of our election,

Though we cannot have the deed

That would thus assuage our need,

We may forego the deed, in this,

Replacing the deed with the wish.

Where the wish is good and true,

Though the deed we cannot do,

With that same true wish can we

Still the longing and so win free.

For true companions and friends

Should wish not, for selfish ends,

A thing that fate denies, for know

They do but wish what brings them woe.

To wish for what you cannot win,

That game the wise should not begin;

When you can win then wish away.

That is the game the wise should play,

The one that is not fraught with woe.

When Tristan and Iseult longed so,

Then they would let the moment go

It if gave no opportunity,

Content with the wish, mutually

Shared, which stole, never weary,

Between them, tender and loving;

That mutual wish, that longing,

To them seemed ever good and sweet.

Now in their love both were discreet,

Hiding it from both court and king,

As much as they could such a thing,

Blind passion, none would condone,

That would not leave the pair alone.

Yet the seed of doubt is of a kind

So cursed, that its roots, we find,

Grow where’er the seed we scatter;

So strong and fecund, of a nature

That even when deprived of fuel,

Doubt dies not, stubborn as a mule. 

Suspicion, seeded, soon began

To twine round Iseult and Tristan.

And here was a supply of moisture,

Gestures, glances, all that’s tender,

Where Love was often evident;

Thus to the saying weight is leant,

That howe’er one doth maintain

One’s defence, the eye doth strain

Toward the heart, while the finger

Seeks the pain, and there doth linger.

The eyes, the lodestars of the heart,

Seek it, when lovers are apart;

The fingers ever reach again

Towards a place that brings us pain.

So was it always with this pair.

However great their fears, there,

They lacked the strength to refrain

From stirring every doubt again;

With many a look, roused suspicion,

Over and over, and thus full often.

For that friend of the heart, the eye,

Would turn towards the heart, as I

Have said, alas; fingers would stray,

Towards the pain, then slide away.

So oft did hearts and eyes connect

Through glances, covert or direct,

That they oft failed to disengage

Ere Mark, who watched at every stage,

Had found in them the balm of Love.

He ever sought their bond to prove.

He read the truth in her bright eyes,

Merely a glance roused his surmise,

A glance so sweet, tender, longing,

Piercing the heart with its yearning,

That he was filled with hatred, envy

And pure rage, submerging every

Doubt and suspicion neath his ire,

Stealing sense and reason entire.

Twas death indeed to his reason

That Iseult should love anyone

But he, for the king valued naught

Above Iseult; none else he sought;

And then, for all his shows of anger,

His beloved wife was dearer

To him than life; and yet, howe’er

Dear she might be, the whole affair,

With its burden of hurt and pain,

Maddened him so, that once again

His love was lost, and left but rage,

He past all caring, at this stage,

Whether his doubts were false or true.

The lovers are banished

How the lovers were banished

‘How the lovers were banished’
The Story of Tristan and Iseult, Vol II - Jessie L Weston and Caroline Watts (p101, 1907)
Internet Archive Book Images

IN his blind woe, he bade the two

Stand before him, in that place,

All his household there to face,

And, addressing Iseult openly

Such that all could hear and see,

Said: ‘Lady Iseult of Ireland,

It is well known in all this land,

How you have courted suspicion,

Doubt regarding your position

As regards my nephew, Tristan.

Many times have I set in hand

Tests and trials of every kind,

To discover if from your mind

You might yet dismiss this folly;

And yet you will not, as I see.

Not such a fool as not to know

From you and he behaving so,

Both covertly and openly,

That your heart is lost to me,

I see instead your eyes and heart

Are fixed on him, near or apart.

For you show him a kinder face

Than ever you did me, in his place,

From which I see he is nearer

To you than I am, and dearer.

Whate’er the watch I set on you,

Howe’er I wish that you were true,

Or him, the thing is all in vain;

No end may such watching gain,

No matter the lengths to which I go.

I’ve separated your two selves so

Far, and so often, I still wonder,

That your hearts I cannot sunder;

Thwarted your tender glances too,

Yet you still seem as one, not two.

I have indulged you both too long.

Now it must end! Tis ever wrong

To bear such pain and grief as you

In this affair, have brought me to.

I will no longer suffer shame.

And yet I shall not seek to claim

Revenge for this, as is my right,

No, no such thing have I in sight.

My nephew Tristan, Iseult my wife,

I make no claim on either life;

I have affection for you both

Though to confess it I am loth.

Since I see that the pair of you,

Love despite me, and hold true,

Truer than either holds to me,

Why then, together you must be,

As you please, and forgo all fear

That I shall trouble or interfere

With you, or yet with your affairs.

Take you each other by the hand

And leave my court and this land.

If I am to be wronged so by you,

I must see you not, nor hear you.

The fellowship between us three,

Shall not endure, of a surety;

The two of you, bound together,

Shall go one way, and I another.

Whate’er it takes me to be free,

There’s baseness in such company.

And I mean now to end the thing.

Tis evil indeed for any king

To be in a company of three

Where such is present. Go from me

Both, and with God’s protection

Live and love, exchange affection

As you please; yet on this depend,

Our fellowship is at an end.’

Thus it happened, as Mark had said,

With little concern and scant regret,

Tristan and Iseult bowed to their lord,

The like to them all they did afford,

Then took each other by the hand,

To make their way from out that land.

Yet they asked Brangwen to remain,

Till she should hear from them again,

Keep well, and pass her time at court,

Until her presence might be sought.

And then from Iseult’s store of gold,

Tristan took twenty marks all told,

So Iseult and he might provide

Food, and whatever else beside,

For their succour. He took also

Harp, horn, sword and hunting-bow,

And chose a hound from out the pack,

To run with him, and guard his back,

Lithe and handsome, named Hiudan;

Commending his friends, every man,

To God, and to Rual who once more

Must grant them a home, as before,

All except Curvenal, that is,

Whom he retained, and gave him his

Harp to carry, but the hunting-bow,

He took himself, and the horn also;

And then, the dog went with him too,

Hiudan, not Petitcreiu.

So the three of them rode from court.

Relief, the faithful Brangwen sought,

In tears, grieving there, all alone,

For this sad time, the saddest known,

A dreadful parting from those dear,

Abandoning her to doubt and fear,

Pained her within so, twas a wonder

Grief failed to tear her heart asunder.

They too, her dear friends, felt sorrow,

But both were seeking a tomorrow,

Wherein she might a union bring

Yet, twixt themselves and the king.

To remain was thus her station,

Aiming at reconciliation.

The Cave of Lovers

Nursing then their sorrowfulness,

The three made for the wilderness.

O’er forest tracks, and heathland ways,

They rode for nigh on two whole days,

For Tristan knew of a cavern there

In the savage cliffs, a mountain lair,

On which one season he had chanced

When the chase was well-advanced;

A cavern hewn in the mountainside,

In a heathen age; giants did abide

Within, ere Corynaeus’ day;

And there the giants sought love-play.

Since they required their privacy,

Finding this cave, they secretly

Secured the place with a bronze door;

This inscription to Love it bore:

La fossiur’ a la gent amant,

Which is to say: ‘The Lovers’ Haunt’,

Or, better still: ‘The Cave of Lovers;

A place, a name, fit for these others.

As the tale tells, the cave was round,

High, wide, smooth; from the ground

It rose evenly, as white as snow;

Above, to a keyed dome it did flow;

At the keystone, where the sides met,

Wrought in gold, a crown was set,

Adorned with precious ornament;

Below, lay a marble pavement

Smooth and, shining, green as grass,

Its surface bright as polished glass;

A bed, at the centre, drew the eye,

Cut from crystal, broad and high,

Engraved with letters that stated,

That this fair bed was dedicated

To the Love Goddess; and high

On the walls were holes, whereby

The light entered and, here and there,

Shone brightly on this whole affair.

Now, where one went in and out,

Was the bronze door, I spoke about.

Outside, above the door, there stood

Three lone lime-trees, while a wood

Stretched away downhill, its shade

Darkening the slopes; and a glade,

Set apart, through which a stream,

Over the level ground, did gleam;

Fresh, and pure, its waters did run

Bright as the clear light of the sun.

Over that too three lindens leaned,

Sweetly, and nobly, they screened

Its waters from the sun and rain.

Bright flowers lit the counterpane

Of green grass and, o’er the glade,

Vied with each other as they made

An effort to outshine each other,

Glittering beside their neighbour.

And then in season there was heard

The sweet voice of many a bird;

That music, ringing in the air,

Lovelier than it seemed elsewhere;

And eye and ear did there alight

On fair sustenance, and delight,

Sustenance for the roving eye,

Delight for the ear, pure, on high.

There, through sunlight and shadow,

A soft and gentle breeze did blow.

A full day’s journey from this cave

There was naught to gaze at, save

Rocks and boulders, no heathland,

Mere wilderness, on every hand.

No trails towards this place did run,

Which one might follow, not a one;

Yet was the ground, you understand, 

Not such as to deter Tristan  

And his lover from halting there,

Or resting in that mountain lair.

Once they had reached safe refuge,

They carried out a subterfuge,

Sending Curvenal to the court,

To where’er they might be sought,

To say that, in pain and sorrow,

Tristant and Iseult, full of woe,

Had now returned to Ireland,

To state, openly, in that land

Their honesty and innocence.

Then he must take up residence

At court as Brangwen directed,

Who, when they were suspected,

Had proved faithful to them both,

And sworn her loyalty on oath,

And assure her, their dear friend,

Of their love; while he must send

News to them of any rumour

As to Mark’s intent, and whether

He plotted aught against the pair;

And, if he could, return from there,

Once every twenty days, or so,

And, bearing them in mind, also,

Offer at once such thoughts as rose

As to how they might now oppose

Such machinations of the king.

So Curvenal did that very thing,

While Tristan and Iseult sought

Sanctuary in their wild court.

Many will be filled with wonder,

And curious as to how the lovers

Iseult the Fair, and her Tristan,

Fed themselves in this bare land.

I’ll assuage their curiosity,

The fed themselves mutually,

On looks and glances, as before.

The harvest that their eyes bore,

Sustained them, they ate naught

But what love and passion brought.

This tender loving company

Cared naught for nourishment, you see,

For hidden in their hearts they bore

The best of fruits, without a flaw,

Priceless, and ever fresh and new,

That heart’s devotion, pure and true,

That love, as sweet as any balm,

Which mind and senses both doth charm,

For such was that food, I maintain,

Which heart and spirit doth sustain,

They took no thought for nourishment,

Other than that which brings content

To the body, delights the eyes,

And from the heart sees longing rise.

In this they found sufficiency;

They dined on love, truth, and beauty.

Love yoked them to her age-old plough,

And pace by pace, did them allow

Love’s rich harvest; to that gave birth

Which wins the heart heaven on earth.

Nor were they troubled, certainly,

By the wilderness, sans company,

In which they found themselves; for who

Must needst be there except those two?

An even number, one plus one;

Why needst be joined by anyone?

And had there been a third, why then

The number were but odd again,

And such a thing must encumber

Them with its uneven number.

It was, that company of two,

So fine a dual company too,

That never did good King Arthur

Hold a feast that brought greater

Delight or pleasure, anywhere,

Among his rich palaces there;

Nor any such, on earth, in heaven,

For which this pair would have given

E’en a single glass bead to win,

That cave did hold such wealth within.

All that was dreamt or conceived,

All thoughts of paradise achieved,

Were there with them, nor did they

Wish life better, in any way,

Except as regards their honour.

What could add to the measure?

They had their court, all that doth bless,

All that brings lovers happiness;

Their servants the green linden trees,

Bright sunlight, and shade to please,

Grass, flowers, water flowing by,

Blossom and leaves to soothe the eye;

The songs of the birds their choir,

The blackbird and thrush, and higher,

Among the leaves, the nightingale,

That did their listening ears regale,

The siskin and the calendar-lark,

Vied, in that fair and pleasant park,

To see who might serve them best.

These attendants, with all the rest,

Served ears and eyes, every sense;

Their high feast was one immense

Feast of Love, for she who sought

For them the highest joy, brought

Before them both, as she was able,

All King Arthur’s Round Table

And all its company, each day,

A thousand times, in fine display.

What better food could they require

For mind and body, and never tire?

For Man was there beside Woman,

Woman was there, beside her Man.

Why seek? They had all that they ought,

And had attained what they had sought.

Now some there are who will say,

(Telling wild tales, as is their way)

Though I reject it, that other food

Is needed for such to be pursued.

But of that I am not so sure;

I say theirs was enough and more;

For if any here know of a better,

Let them speak and to the letter;

There was a time when I too led

Such a life and such was my bread.

The meaning of the Cave’s features

NOW let it not try your patience,

Rather, grant me your indulgence

While I speak of the Cave’s features

And the meaning of its structures,

Thus carved from the living stone,

For meaning’s here, as will be shown.

As I said, twas high, wide, and round;

Smooth and even, from the ground,

Its walls did rise, as white as snow,

Where, all about, its circle did go.

Its roundness is Love’s Simplicity

For here’s no cunning or treachery;

Its width doth signify Love’s Power,

Its great extent her boundless dower;

Its height denotes Love’s Aspiration,

That mounts on high, in pure elation,

For naught daunts Love, while it will

Climb to where the Crown clings still

To the keystone; tis Virtue’s Crown,

All set with precious gems around,

Gold filigree, with rare stones inlaid,

Adorned with praise; so richly made

That we, by baser longing bound,

Whose spirits flutter near the ground,

And find no rest, nor rise above,

Must gaze at this rare work of Love,

Wrought by the Virtues who abide

In glory in the clouds; there hide,

But send their light to us below,

That we might gaze and wonder so.

It is from this the mind takes wing,

And, flying upward, praise doth bring,

Soaring to where the Virtues reign.

The walls were white, I say again,

And smooth, and even; Integrity

Owns such features, and qualities,

And her bright constant whiteness

Must ne’er be tainted, nor confess

To vales therein, ridges thereon,

Neath the sharp gaze of Suspicion.

The grass-green marble, solid, firm,

Is Constancy, since, I affirm,

Its hue and smoothness signify

The constancy that meets the eye

In the fresh ever-springing grass;

The bright hardness of clear glass.

Next, the bed of crystalline Love,

That in the centre stands, doth prove,

With its dedication to her name,

The artist who had carved the same,

And cut the crystal for her ease,

And her observance all to please,

Divined her essential nature:

Love should such crystal feature,

Translucent, and without a flaw.

Within, and securing the door,

There ran two bars, bronze as before,

And a catch too on the inside,

A catch most cunningly contrived,

As Tristan, indeed, had found.

This catch to a lever was bound,

Working the inside from the outer,

Moving the bars hither and thither.

Nor lock nor key could any spy,

And I’ll tell you the reason why;

A lock and key applied to a door,

I mean on the outside, as before,

To bind and seal, or set it free,

Signifies naught but Treachery.

For if any enter at Love’s door,

Without permission, tis no more

Than Force or perchance Deceit,

Not Love whose entry is discreet.

Love’s gateway’s there to ensure

It bars the way, none pass the door,

Unless through love; it is wrought,

Of bronze so no tool can do aught

To harm it by force, or treachery,

By cunning, or through trickery,

Violence, falsehood, or artifice;

And the two bars are set like this:

These seals of love, on either side,

Towards each other smoothly glide,

One cedar, and one ivory.

Now hear their meaning from me,

Wisdom is the cedar’s meaning,

Love’s perfect Understanding,

While the other bar, of ivory,

Means Chastity and Purity.

With these chaste bars, these two seals,

Love guards her cave, and conceals

Herself from Force and from Deceit.

The lever, rendering this complete,

That works the catch, is made of tin,

The catch is gold that sits within.

No other metals would do better

Considering their inner nature,

For tin means firm Intent no less,

While gold’s the mark of Success;

So tin and gold do here belong.

A man can show his firm and strong

Intent, in many an affair,

Can shorten or lengthen there

His involvement, flex or free

It, this way and that, readily,

As easily as one works tin,

And cause it no harm therein.

But if with a true will he sets

His mind on Love, this lever yet

Of tin, this humble slender thing,

To golden Success it will bring

Him: and Love’s sweet venture.

In the cavern, high overhead,

Three holes were set; that trio fed

Light below, in secret, neatly,

Illuminating all, discreetly.

Kindness was the first, you see

The second meant Humility,

The third Breeding, and thereby

These three brought, from the sky,

The sweet light, the radiant gleam,

Of Honour, the dearest and best,

Of bright things with which we’re blessed,

And smiled and lit, at a venture,

This cave of earthly adventure.

And there’s meaning in this, also;

That the fissure, concealed so

In the tangled solitude about,

Shows that Love will never tout

Herself and her concerns among

The streets or fields; she doth belong

To the wilds, where the path that leads

To her sanctuary, the heart concedes,

Proves difficult, and oft hard going,

For mountain slopes there hem it in,

With many a twist and turn, the trail

Doth us poor sufferers assail,

Turning hither and thither past

The cliffs and boulders at the last,

That if with care we fail to strive,

We scarcely shall come back alive.

But whoe’er is so blessed as to

Journey amongst that solitude,

Will find his labour is well spent,

For he will find his heart’s content;

Whate’er the ear doth gratify,

Whate’er gives pleasure to the eye,

The wilderness doth there contain;

Such that the traveller would fain

View it, and hate to be elsewhere.

I know it well, I too was there,

And I have sought there to pursue

The wildfowl, the wild deer too,

The doe, the hind, o’er the stream

Where the wooded waters gleam,

And yet have spent my time in vain,

And ne’er have seen the quarry again.

All my labours and my intent

Failed of success; in the event,

I found the lever, saw the latch,

In that cave I did even catch

Myself nearing the crystal bed;

I danced there and back, tis said,

Many a time, but found no rest.

That floor has oft felt my steps;

Howe’er hard it may seem to be,

I’ve pounded it so vigorously,

That were it not of so green a hue,

Greenness being its chief virtue,

By means of which it doth restore

Itself, for ever and evermore,

You could trace my every move,

The veritable spoor of love.

I’ve fed my eyes on that bright wall,

Endlessly, the crown above all,

On the dome, the keystone there

Shining with that jewelled affair,

And well-nigh worn out my sight

Gazing there on its gold, so bright

And glittering with Excellence,

Dazzling the mind, and sense.

Those holes that do the light display,

Pierced my heart with every ray,

For I have known that cavern there,

Since my eleventh year, yet ne’er

Have I set foot on Cornish land.

How Tristan and Iseult spent their time

THAT true company, of Tristan

And Iseult, now took their pleasure,

Sought diversion, at their leisure,

In the pleasant woods and glades,

In the wild, its lights and shades,

And always at each other’s side.

At dawn through the dew they’d glide,

As it cooled the flowers and grass.

Twas their amusement so to pass,

Talking as they went to and fro,

Listening closely, as they did go,

To the sweet song of the birds.

Then they would turn at a word,

To where the clear fountain played,

Savouring its music through the glade,

As the sweet stream took its course.

Where it entered they would perforce

Sit and rest, list to its murmuring,

And watch the gentle waters flowing,

A joy of which they could ne’er tire.

But as the bright sun rose higher,

And the heat it gave grew stronger,

They would withdraw, and neath their

Linden tree, breathe the cool air,

For there they might seek the breeze.

Without, within, it granted ease

Rejoicing both the heart and eye

With its leaves, for sweet thereby

Seemed the cool air and the shade;

From its shadow, through the glade

Moved the breeze, so soft and fresh.

Their couch, the grass, they did possess,

Full of flowers, the brightest carpet

Ever a linden tree had yet.

And there sat our constant lovers,

And told such tales to each other

As spoke of those, in days of old,

That love destroyed; for they told,

(And pondered, and there debated,

Grieved and wept for those so fated)

Of Thracian Phyllis, of Canace,

Who that mischance, assuredly,

Had met with, in the name of love;

How Byblis, for her brother’s love,

Died broken-hearted; how Dido,

Queen of Tyre and Sidon, did so,

Choosing her tragic fate, as one

Betrayed by longing and by passion.

Such tales they dwelt on, now and then.

When they tired, they sought their den,

And busied hands and tongues in turn,

With the endless joy they could earn

From sounding the harp and singing;

Sad and sweet the songs of yearning.

They performed such amorous lays,

While varying them in endless ways

As suited them and brought delight,

With love and joy, as well they might.

For whoever plucked the harp-string,

Twas for the other one to sing,

With sweet longing and tenderness,

The accompaniment, and so bless

Their refuge, for both harp and tongue

In harmony, merging sounds as one,

Filled that sanctuary so sweetly,

As to show, there, how completely

Fitting proved the dedication,

Carved in so apt a location,

To sweet Love, of her true haunt:

La fossiur’ a la gent amant.

All that others ventured to tell,

In ancient tales, of what befell

In regard to the cavern there,

Could be witnessed in this pair.

Only now had Love its mistress

Truly set about her business.

Whate’er sport had gone before

In this cavern it never saw

Aught that did ever match their play;

Never was such in any day

So surely or so purely done,

As when these two joyed as one.

They whiled away the hours of Love,

In ways no others might improve;

In aught to which they did aspire

Bound only by the heart’s desire.

There was plenty to do each day,

Into the wilds they would stray,

Riding to the chase, out hunting

Wildfowl or swiftly pursuing

Some quarry with their crossbow,

Whene’er the fancy took them so,

Coursing the red deer with their hound

Hiudan, who as yet they found

Could not run without giving tongue,

Though Tristan soon trained him to run,

Through woods and fields on the scent

Of stag or hind, as on they went,

Or on the heels of other quarry,

Without a sound; thus they spent many

A day at the sport, not for the kill,

But solely the pleasure that doth fill

The heart and so doth ease the mind;

For hound and crossbow they did find

As well I know, worked for pleasure

As much as for the table’s measure,

Grant us delight and recreation.

All they did, all their occupation,

Was at all times for their pleasure;

Thus they chose to seek their leisure.

End of Part X of Gottfried’s Tristan