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Tristram and Isolde: A fantasy poem

Leighton-Tristan_and_Isolde-1902

In winter she was wed to him, in white and gleaming gold

Her skin was fair as frozen dew, her features without fault.

Her lips were red as robin’s blood, her voice as soft as silk

But when she smiled he turned away, as though she made him ill.

The morrow’s morning, bright and fair, he rose and slipped away,

His stepper tacked, his armor bronzed, a noble knight looked he.

“I love thee, Sir, with all my soul,” was her whispered word.

“I love another, sweet Iseult, and cannot be your lord.”

The winter wind blew cold and cruel, and Iseult turned aside

Her hands were white as burnished snow, and starry black her eyes.

She sang her song of Doette and Doon, she wove her carmine cloth

She dearly wished for Tristram’s love, and sought to find the truth.

 

Sir Tristram was a Cornish man, a harper and a knight

And in his youth he shared his heart with Cornwall’s lovely bride.

When but a lad he met Isolde, and won her with his harp.

He sought to steal her away, when night lay deep and dark

The trees were black against the sky, the moon a clotted cloud

The ocean roared and spewed its surf, they snuck towards the sound.

All Cornwall slept, or so they thought, and silent, slipped to sea

Tristram held Isolde to him, and felt at last, some peace.

He wished to sail far away, to Normandy or Rome

And thus escape her murderous lord, and flee their coming doom.

 

But treachery bears many babes, and Tristram had few friends

The King learned from his secret spies what was their true intent.

Forbidden love must ‘ere grow ill, a weedy, cankered vine,

And when King Mark confronted them, Isolde claimed the crime.

The boat they sailed was sunk at dawn, and Mark, at first, thought fire

Could be used to cleanse his name, and slay his Isolde’s lover,

And yet he loved his faithless wife, so chose to look away.

His Isolde promised Tristram love for all eternity.

The harper fled to Logres-land, and served the Christian King

Though melodies he made no more, and naught save dirges sang,

For how he loved the Cornish queen, and hated his great sin!

The long years passed in ageless hours, and all he knew was pain.

 

The King told Tristram to be wed, so on a winter’s day

He took Iseult of Logres-land, though neither knew much joy.

She loved him as she had been taught, with silence and despair,

He cursed her, for he loved Isolde, and always wished her near.

And thus they lived, and long they hoped that love would someday bloom,

Nightly Iseult begged of God to bring her husband home.

 

When at last he came to her, bed-bound and weak of heart,

He wept and begged for Isolde’s touch, she saw his time was short.

A drakesting lay within his chest, and guilt upon his soul

He cried and mourned his missing love, he thought himself alone.

 

Ships were sent out west and north in search of Tristram’s queen,

The sails to bear word, he said, if she would come again.

If the love she bore him lived, then let the mast be white

But if the years had changed her soul, let black the news impart.

Iseult swore that all should be exactly as he said

And sent the barks across the sea, to fetch his Isolde east.

His fevered tongue cried out for her, and begged her him to love

Iseult heard and hated him, her pride would not be soothed.

She had prayed most every night to save his skin from peril

She had begged God for his love, and laughed then at her error.

A greater man, or lesser one, might to her love have given

And let her love as best she could, and tasted thus of Heaven.

But Tristram was a Cornish knight, and had a harper’s mind

He could never love a wife, his nature made him wild.

 

The ships came flitting into port, all white their masted prows

When Tristram asked her of the news, she whispered what was false.

“The boats have landed, good my lord, and nighted are the sails,”

So Tristram fell of venomed wounds, and Isolde, pale and ill,

Came flying up the castle steps, and knelt by Tristram’s corpse.

She sighed and screamed and cursed her fate until her voice grew hoarse,

All Iseult watched, until at last, his Isolde shut her eyes,

And laid herself on Tristram’s chest, and with a sob, she died.

 

The two were buried grave by grave, with hawthorns on their hearts

Iseult neither wept nor sobbed, but stood quite close to Mark.

“She loved me not, though I loved her,” he said, and Iseult spoke:

“Tristram was as cold to me, though colder are their tombs.”

“She never bore me any son, nor gave me any daughter.”

“I ever tried to make him glad, and yet he had no laughter.”

“I loved her though,” he said to her. “She was my love alone.”

“I loved him too,” she said to Mark. “Though he was always gone.”

“Come live with me,” he said at length, “And be a Cornish queen.”

Iseult smiled at this last, and swore to wed again.

 

With him she dwelt in Tintagel beyond the reach of winter

And though she saw her children slain, her strength and beauty wither,

At the last, when Logres fell, and all men died together

She found King Mark and buried him, and cursed his fool’s endeavor.

 

jessica-woodJessica Wood attends Denver Christian High School and is a finalist in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ 3rd annual playwriting competition. Currently, she works with Josh and Kasandra Radke, of Grail Quest Books, to create poems for their Shadow of the Stars fantasy series, and plans to write a collection of Arthurian poetry over the course of the next year.

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