The Lament of Palomides

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The Lament of Palomides

The jousts were ended, and the knights were gone,
Departing every one his several way;
And Guinevere received her Lancelot,
And Tristram bode with Iseult, and they four
Had joy and great content, fulfill'd with love.
But Palomides wander'd from the lists,
Far from the press of men, and greeting none,
But ever following Iseult and her knight,
Until they enter'd Tristram's tent, and there
He enter'd too, unbidden, yet uncheck'd,
And there, unbidden, unforbid, abode,
Feasting his eyes on Iseult day by day,
And wasting evermore his heart with grief
And fruitless love. And Tristram pitied him,
And sore lamented that so brave a knight
Should pine his strength away: but Iseult, lost
In Tristram, had no thought for him nor care;
Brooding, moreover, on the traitorous guile
He sought to work on Tristram in the lists,
To slay him; and she gave him not a word,
Or chid him sharply with ungentle speech,
Or pierced him through with cold and bitter looks,
Worse than ungentle speech. And day by day
Did Palomides waste beneath her scorn,
And all the night unsleeping brooded lone
Upon his love forlorn; till on a time,
Ere yet the sun had risen in the heavens,
He rose up from his bed, and wander'd sad
Into the forest green with summer leaves,
And, wandering there, he came unto a well,
And look'd into it, and beheld himself,
And started back, scarce knowing his own face,
So worn he was and wan, not like a knight.
Then, overcome with pity and despair,
Thus to himself, amid the forest trees,
He cried, bewailing his unheeded love.
"Ah Palomides! art thou changed so sore?
O, how unlike thyself, who wast of old
The fairest knight that ever bore a lance,
And now so wan! No wonder and no shame
That Tristram overcame thee in the lists,
Winning from thee the honour thou hadst won;
For not his spear, but sorrow beat thee down.
And this, false Iseult, I endure for thee!
For thee, who didst subdue me at the first,
Making me gentle who was born so wild
And savage. Yea, for thy sake I did change
My nature,—learn'd fair knighthood, and thereby
Grew mightier of heart and hand, and won
Much worship, won for thee, who giv'st me now
Disdain and hate. O, how I am deceived!
I thought all women had been gentle, apt
To love, and give not pain, but only joy;
And thou the gentlest, thou who at the first
Didst teach me, when I wander'd wild and fierce,
The gentleness of manhood: but I find
That thou art harder than the flinty rocks
Which gave me shelter, proud and pitiless,
More cruel than the wild beasts that I chased,
Though thou didst once look sweetly upon me,
As now on Tristram only. And he too,
Like thee, will hate me, I have wrong'd him so,
Although I loved him as a brother once,
But now I hate him for my love to thee.
And I shall win me worship never more;
For I am shamed through all my life, who strove
Unknightly to disgrace a knight, the best
In all the world. This, too, I bear for thee!
Why did I know thee? for thou mak'st my life
Bitter as death, and all my valiant deeds,
And all the honour I have won of men,
Are nothing to me, wanting thus thy love."
Thus mourn'd he, wandering through the forest lone,
While the sun rose, and all the wood rejoiced,
And all the birds sang loud from bough to bough,
Each to his mate; and all the day alone
He wander'd, still complaining of his love,
Until the sun grew low, and the birds sang
More softly, as the eve drew slowly on;
And then he sat him down within the shade,
And sang a mournful rhyme with none to hear,
Lamenting to the forest in his song.

Can love, true love, be so in vain?
   O love! I find thee but deceit:
Thou bringest only ache and pain,
   Although thy promise was so sweet.

I find not rest nor any peace,
   So grievous love makes every breath;
Then love and life together cease,
   And let me find my rest in death.

Yes, let me die, his vassal still,
   And loyal to him in his scorn;
For death and life are in his will,
   And better death than life forlorn.