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Queen Yseult


Of the birth of Sir Tristram, and how he voyaged into Ireland

In the noble days were shown
Deeds of good knights many one,
Many worthy wars were done.

It was time of scath and scorn
When at breaking of the morn
Tristram the good knight was born.

He was fair and well to see
As his mother's child might be:
Many happy wars had he;

Slew Moronde the knight alone,
Whence was all the ill begun
That on Blancheflour was done.

For long since Queen Blancheflour
Took a knight to paramour,
Who had served her well of yore.

And across the waters dim
And by many a river's rim
Went Queen Blancheflour with him.

Many a bitter path she went,
Many a stone her feet had rent,
But her heart was well content.

"Lo!" she said, "I lady free
Took this man for lord of me
Where the crowned saints might see.

"And I will not bid him go,
Not for joyance nor for woe,
Till my very love he know."

When he kissed her as they went,
All her heart was well content,
For the love that she him meant.

Now this knight was called Roland,
And he had within his hand
Ermonie the happy land.

So five months in Ermonie
Dwelt they in their pleasure free;
For they knew not what should be.

Then came Moronde with his men,
Warring with her lord again.
All her heart was bitter then.

But she said: "If this be so,
Tho' I die, he shall not know."
And she kissed and bade him go;

And he wept and went from her.
Then was all the land astir
With a trouble in the air.

When Roland the knight was gone,
Praise of men his warriors won
Warring well before the sun.

But Moronde the evil knight
Smote him falsely in the fight,
Slew him basely out of sight.

Then was weeping long and sore:
For the great love they him bore
All men wept but Blancheflour.

But she took her golden ring
And a fair sword of the king
Wrought with many a carven thing.

With no crown about her head,
Thinking wild thoughts of the dead,
Evermore she fled and fled.

Far within the forest fair,
A great anguish came on her
Till a strong manchild she bare.

And she fain had suckled him,
There beneath the lindens dim,
Round a fountain's weedy brim.

But too soon came death to take
All her beauty for his sake;
And ere death she moaned and spake.

"Ah, fair child," the lady said,
"For this anguish that it had
All thy mother's heart is dead.

"Sweet, I would not live to see
Any sorrow rest on thee,
Better thou hadst died with me.

"Only thou art still too fair
For that smile I cannot bear
In such eyes as Roland's were.

"Now, fair child, mine own wert thou
(And she kissed the small soft brow)
But for death that takes me now.

"And a bitter birth is thine;
But no man can stain thy line
With a shame that was not mine.

"Thou art pure and princely born;
Fairer name was never worn,
Past the touch of any scorn.

"Now thy grief has come on me,
As I prayed that it might be
Lest some woe should rest on thee."

Wept the low voice musical;
"Now that mine has given thee all,
Better love thy love befall.

"Purer prayers be round thy sleep,
Truer tears than these that drip
On thy tender cheek and lip.

"Now, dear child, of all on earth
Thou art yet the fairest birth
For the pain thy life was worth.

"Sweetest name and sweetest heart,
Now I see thee as thou art
I have had the better part.

"For the grief my love has had,
May the sweet saints keep thee glad
Tho' thy birth were strange and sad.

"Now, dear child" (her thin voice strove
Thro' the drawn dry sobs to move),
"Leave I thee to Christ's own love."

So she died in that dark place,
With the anguish in her face;
Mary took her into grace.

On the robe was sown her name,
Where a fine thread white as flame
Thro' the coloured samite came.

For on skirt and hem between
Wrought she letters white and green
"This is Blancheflour the Queen."

There men found her as they sped,
Very beautiful and dead,
In the lilies white and red.

And beside her lying there,
Found a manchild strong and fair
Lain among the lilies bare.

And they thought it were ill fate,
If the child, for fear or hate,
They should leave in evil state.

So they took him lying there,
Playing with the lady's hair,
For his face was very fair.

And so tenderly he played,
Half asmile and half afraid,
With her lips and hair, I said,

That the strong men for his sake
Could have wept for dear heartache
At the murmurs he did make.

And the strongest lightly stept
Forth to where the mother slept;
Stooping over her, he wept.

Lightly bowed above the child
The large face whose might was mild
With black-bearded lips that smiled.

Then he took it of his grace,
Bowed him where she lay in place,
Put to hers the little face.

Then they softly buried her
Where the greenest leaves did stir,
With some white flowers in her hair.

And for the sweet look he had,
Weeping not but very sad,
Tristram by his name they bade.

"For he looks upon her so,
Pity where he should not grow
All the piteous thing to know."

And they took the sword and ring
That were of Roland the king,
Wrought with many a carven thing.

So they bred him as they knew;
And a noble child he grew,
Like a tree in sun and dew.

Ere he was ten summers old
All the sorrow they him told,
Showed the sword and ring of gold.

Kissed the boy both sword and ring;
"As my father was a king,
I will wreak this bitter thing."

Kissed the boy both ring and sword;
"As my mother to her lord,
Fast I cling to this my word."

So he grew in might and grace,
With her look about his face:
All men saw his royal race.

But when twenty years were done
At the rising of the sun
Tristram from his place was gone.

Forth with warriors is he bound
Over many a change of ground,
To have wreak of Sir Moronde.

When he came to Ermonie,
Bare upon the earth bowed he,
Kissed the earth with kisses three.

To the city men him bring,
Where the herald stood to sing
"Largesse of Moronde the king!"

To the king came Tristram then,
To Moronde the evil man,
Treading softly as he can.

Spake he loftily in place:
A great light was on his face:
"Listen, king, of thy free grace.

"I am Tristram, Roland's son;
By thy might my lands were won,
All my lovers were undone.

"Died by thee Queen Blancheflour,
Mother mine in bitter hour,
That was white as any flower.

"Tho' they died not well aright,
Yet, for thou art belted knight,
King Moronde, I bid thee fight."

A great laughter laughed they all,
Drinking wine about the hall,
Standing by the outer wall.

But the pale king leapt apace,
Caught his staff that lay in place
And smote Tristram on the face.

Tristram stood back paces two,
All his face was reddened so
Round the deep mark of the blow.

Large and bright the king's eyes grew:
As knight Roland's sword he drew,
Fiercely like a pard he flew.

And above the staring eyes
Smote Moronde the king flatwise,
That men saw the dear blood rise.

At the second time he smote,
All the carven blade, I wot,
With the blood was blurred and hot.

At the third stroke that he gave,
Deep the carven steel he drave,
Thro' King Moronde's heart it clave.

Well I ween his wound was great
As he sank across the seat,
Slain for Blancheflour the sweet.

Then spake Tristram, praising God;
In his father's place he stood
Wiping clean the smears of blood,

That the sword, while he did pray,
At the throne's foot he might lay;
Christ save all good knights, I say.

Then spake all men in his praise,
Speaking words of the old days,
Sweeter words than sweetest lays.

Said one, "Lo the dead queen's hair
And her brows so straight and fair;
So the lips of Roland were."

For all praised him as he stood,
That such things none other could
Than the son of kingly blood.

Round he looked with quiet eyes;
"When ye saw King Moronde rise,
None beheld me on this wise."

At such words as he did say,
Bare an old man knelt to pray;
"Christ be with us all to-day.

"This is Tristram the good lord;
Knightly hath he held his word,
Warring with his father's sword."

Then one brought the diadem,
Clear and golden like pure flame;
And his thanks did grace to them.

Next in courteous wise he bade
That fair honour should be had
Of the dear queen that was dead.

So in her great sorrow's praise
A fair tomb he bade them raise
For a wonder to the days.

And between its roof and floor
Wrote he two words and no more,
Wrote Roland and Blancheflour.

That was carven sharp in gold,
For a great praise to behold,
Where the queen lay straight and cold,

All was graven deep and fine,
In and out, and line with line,
That all men might see it shine.

So far off it sprang and shone,
Ere ten paces one had gone,
Showing all the sorrow done.

And the pillars, that upbore
The large roof for evermore,
In wrought flowers her sweet name wore:

Points of stone carved gently all,
Wrought in cusp and capital,
Climbing still to creep and fall.

And in many a tender nook,
Traced soft as running brook,
Shone her face's quiet look.

And above they wrought to lie
King Roland all white on high,
With the lady carven by.

Very patient was her face,
Stooping from its maiden place
Into strange new mother-grace.

Parted lips and closing eyes,
All the quiet of the skies
Fills her beauty where she lies.

On her hair the forest crown
Lets the sliding tresses down,
Touched ere dark with golden brown;

Both with carven hands uplift,
Praying softly as at shrift,
So it stood a kingly gift.

And when all was graven fair
Tristram came, and standing there
Kissed his mother's tender hair.

Then he bade them take for King
His true father in each thing,
Him who saved the sword and ring.

So they hearkened to his word,
And they took to be their lord
Him who kept the ring and sword.

Then by many painful ways,
With a noble thought in chase,
Tristram journeyed many days.

Towards the Cornwall king he bore,
Since an oath of love he swore
For the name of Blancheflour,

That King Mark, her brother true,
He would honour as he knew;
This was he I tell to you.

When he stood in Cornwall there,
Mark beheld him standing bare,
And he knew his sister's hair.

All these things to Mark he told,
To the king so lean and cold,
And he showed her ring of gold.

Then wept all the valiant men,
Wept King Mark upon him then,
Thinking what a grief had been.

Then was Tristram belted knight,
For his happy hand in fight.
Then spake Mark in all men's sight:

"For the love my sister won,
I will honour as I can
This her son, the loved man.

"And this praise I give him here:
He shall go to bring anear
My new bride with noble cheer.

"For strange things are said in place
Of the wonder of her face
And her tender woman's grace."

Spake the king so lean and cold:
"She hath name of honour old,
Yseult queen, the hair of gold.

"All her limbs are fair and strong,
And her face is straight and long,
And her talk is as a song.

"And faint lines of colour stripe
(As spilt wine that one should wipe)
All her golden hair corn-ripe;

"Drawn like red gold ears that stand
In the yellow summer land;
Arrow-straight her perfect hand,

"And her eyes like river-lakes
Where a gloomy glory shakes
Which the happy sunset makes.

"Her shall Tristram go to bring,
With a gift of some rich thing
Fit to free a prisoned king."

As Sir Mark said, it was done;
And ere set the morrow's sun,
Tristram the good knight was gone.

Forth to Ireland bade he come,
Forth across the grey sea-foam,
All to bring Queen Yseult home.


Of Queen Yseult, and of the voyage to Cornwall

Day by day and year by year
In the quiet chambers here
Grew the lady white and dear.

Day by day and week by week
Grew the glory of her cheek
Till it seemed to breathe and speak.

Day by day and night by night
Grew she in her mother's sight,
Maiden Yseult dear and white.

Ever as her face grew fair
In a light of growing hair
Grew the tresses bright and bare.

For no crown the maiden had,
But with tresses golden-glad
Was her perfect body clad.

And no gems the maiden wore
But the bright hair evermore
All her warm white limbs before.

Ah, dear saints, to see her face
Many would have died in place,
She was wonderful for grace.

Wept for love her mother fair,
Wept for utter love of her,
Kissing soft her maiden hair.

Many maidens have men seen,
But on earth has never been
Any maiden like the queen.

So did all her love endure
In a life most sweet and sure,
Very beautiful and pure.

For her mother and the king
Sang she many a maiden thing,
Standing at their feet to sing.

Unto her came Tristram then,
Sailing straight with many men
For King Mark her love to win.

And most royal gifts he bare,
Robes for any queen to wear,
And great jewels for her hair.

And he brought a royal ring
Such as noble knight should bring,
Wedding her for Mark the king.

Very courteously he spake,
That for holy honour's sake
Maiden Yseult should him take.

So the king bade send for her;
And she came before them there,
Clothed upon with golden hair.

And Sir Tristram for her sight
Praisèd all the saints aright
As men would for happy fight.

And he would have died in place
But for love and knightly grace
That he saw that maiden face.

And he knelt with heart aflame,
Took her robe in sight of them,
Kissed the skirt and kissed the hem.

Ah, dear saints, how well it were,
Thought he, to die knightly there
For that lady's golden hair.

And he thought it very good
He should perish where she stood
Crowned upon with maidenhood.

And his whole heart for her sake
With a large delight did ache
Till it seemed to burn and break.

And he thought it well and meet,
Lain before that lady sweet,
To be trodden by her feet.

And so loved he her least tress,
That his heart strange thoughts did bless
Of its deep unworthiness.

For no nearer would he be
Her he lovèd loyally
With a bright humility.

And he thought him, loving her,
Of sweet words he used to hear,
Lancelot and Guinevere.

And what love some men might see,
So in under-breath spake he,
"Now I know what things they be."

Then the king spake gravely all,
And his large voice in the hall
Ever seemed to grow and fall.

Then the queen spake softlier,
And it seemèd him to bear
A new trouble in the air.

Answered Yseult maidenwise;
Great hot tears grew thro' his eyes,
That he could not speak or rise.

Knowing not what words she said
Seemed to beat upon his head
Noise that vex't him, being dead.

But he spake in courteous wise
So that all the knights did rise
With a light in their grave eyes.

And the king with straight grey hairs
Laid Sir Tristram's hand in hers
As the bridal manner bears.

And her mother that had skill
In all herbs that sain or heal
Arrow-wound or fever ill,

Gave a secret drink of might
That she bade her maiden bright
Drink upon the bridal night.

"For it is a mighty thing,
And great love to both shall bring
If thou drink with Mark the king."

So was Yseult brought to ship,
There she kissed her mother's lip
And sat softly down to weep.

Forth to Cornwall back they come,
Over all the grey salt foam
Brought they maiden Yseult home.

So came Yseult from her own;
Wept the grave king on his throne,
And her mother wept alone.

Now the days grew bright and long,
And her voice the men among
Warmed their spirits like a song.

And the men at oar that rowed,
Seeing Yseult where she trode
For her dear face praisèd God.

For they said, "Was never man
Since the world's great hap began
Such a lady to him wan."

So they spake between their oars,
Rowing level by green shores,
Sloped about with great grey moors.

And when days were full of spring
Tristram prayed her well to sing
In their ears some happy thing.

So the lady sang to them,
And all faces grew aflame,
And on all great glory came.

So the lady sang alway,
And the men rose up to pray,
For her face shone bright as day.

So her song the lady kept,
And their souls to Godwards leapt,
And with pride the meanest wept.

When Queen Yseult's song had end,
All they bowed with head and hand,
Speaking soft in whispers bland.

But with all the summer heat
That about them burned and beat
Sore athirst was Yseult sweet.

For she sang so loud and long
To the rowers rowing strong
That she thirsted in her song.

Than bade Tristram bring her wine
In her chalice carven fine,
Rich with many a tender line.

So the chaliced wine was brought,
And the drink of power that wrought
Change in face and change in thought.

And the wine was fierce and sweet,
But the lady, drinking it,
Shuddered to her hands and feet.

But the drink her mother gave
In the carven chalice brave
Like warm gold did float and wave.

And Sir Tristram, courteous-wise,
With a smile about his eyes
Pledged the queen in knightly guise.

As they drank in love and truth,
Lo, there grew in heart and mouth
As a hot and bitter drouth.

Then he bent towards her there,
And he knew that she was fair,
And he stooped and kissed her hair.

And Queen Yseult, painèd sore
For the love that him she bore,
As she kissed him, trembled more.

At their hearts it stirred and crept,
Round their hearts it grew and leapt,
Till they kissed again and wept.

So was their great love begun,
Sitting silent in the sun,
Such a little thing was done.

And Queen Yseult, weeping still,
Tristram had to do his will
That his list she should fulfil.

Tristram had her body fair,
And her golden corn-ripe hair,
And her golden ring to wear.

So he took the golden ring
That was of Sir Mark the king,
As to serve her in each thing.

And his mother's Yseult had
To keep wisely as he bade;
So they sware it, low and glad.

So they slept the night long there,
And above their faces bare
Flowed and glowed the golden hair.

So to Cornwall did they come
All across the flowing foam,
So was brought Queen Yseult home.

So King Mark his bride hath got
That he little knew, I wot,
When his heart with wine was hot.

And men said, "Great pity is
He such queen should ever kiss,
Little were his need, I wis."

But they knew not what had been,
And with smiles and moans between
On Sir Tristram looked the Queen.

So they brought her by his hold
To the king so lean and cold,
Yseult queen, the hair of gold.


How Sir Tristram and Queen Yseult loved each other by the space of three years

All that night and all thro' day
Many minstrels bade men play
That the king's great praise they say.

So they sang in court and hall,
But it only grieved them all
Such a bride should him befall.

For none wist what had been done,
Yseult's maidens all but one
Said their queen a bride were gone.

Many days this love grew old,
While abode the hair of gold
By the king so lean and cold.

And such love their love did bless
They had much of happiness
And their hope grew never less.

And at morning when she leant
From her lattice in content
Over him her face was bent.

And on kingly summer eves
When much light is in the leaves,
Had they joy of all that lives.

Sometimes in the garden place,
When much light was in her face,
Would he sing of her great grace.

So she leant to hear his song,
Heard him in the leaves among
Singing in the sweet French tongue.

"This was love that Yseult wan,
That to any maid or man
Spake she courteous as she can.

"This was praise that Yseult had,
That her happiness made glad
Man or maiden that was sad.

"Now this Yseult ever knew
That such love about her grew
As kept all men pure like dew.

"And this Yseult had but one
To love well beneath the sun
Till her very love were done."

And he praised her as he can
For the love that him began
That she loved none other man.

And he praised her without fear,
Like a songbird singing clear,
Lady Yseult white and dear.

Singing where he saw her stand,
"Is none like her in the land,
Golden hair and arrow hand."

And such praises would he sing,
Harping high before the king,
And of many a happy thing.

And men praised him by his name,
But her brows were all aflame
That she from the banquet came.

And she walked alone and said,
"Of such knight was never read."
So that summer they were glad.

But when snows were thick about
Yseult sent for Tristram out
Soft dry leaves of melilote.

That was for a sign to stand
That he came to take her hand
In the happy garden land.

For he sent her words to see,
"Yseult, of thy courtesy,
Have now pity as of me,

"For my love is barren here."
To him came an answer clear
Of the lady white and dear.

So that when his love had got
Those dry leaves of melilote,
He the pain remembered not.

But he saw not where to go,
Lest his feet some man should know,
For the ways were marred with snow.

So his bitter doubt he wrote,
And she sent him for his doubt
The same leaves of melilote.

And he marvelled; but he said,
"Tho' I die, her rede be read."
And for help of Love he prayed.

And it seemèd well to go
By the court where slept he now,
Right against her in the snow.

And at night she came and spake,
"Tristram, as for love's true sake,
All my pleasure bid me take."

And he sware her will to do,
And she smiled that it was so;
"I shall hear thee thro' the snow."

A great wonder took him there,
For her face was very fair
Under all her gathered hair.

And more near and soft she stept,
And both arms about him crept,
That for bitter love he wept.

All his heart was drawn in two
That he wist not what to do;
And she kissed him, thinking so.

Then she raised him tenderly,
Bore him lightly as might be,
That was wonderful to see.

So they passed by trail and track,
Slowly, in the night all black,
And she bore him on her back.

As they twain went on along,
Such great love had made her strong,
All her heart was full of song.

Pausing, she breathed sharply there;
And about her, bowed and bare,
Flashed and fell the golden hair.

Pausing, round her body sweet
Rolled the ripe hair to her feet;
Forth she bare him as was meet.

Thro' the court all white and wide
Straight across from side to side
Bare she him in patient pride.

She was hurt with snow and stone,
Came no sob nor any moan.
That with bare feet had she gone.

And when all her pain was great,
Smiling in such evil state
Did she walk beneath his weight.

And his heart yearned sharp for her,
And he would not breathe or stir
For a pain of bitter fear.

Till she stood on the strewn floor
Right within the chamber door,
With the weight of love she bore.

When he stood beside her there
Smiling, she drew back the hair
From her throat and bosom fair.

All her neck was strained and red;
Then soft words to him she said,
Leaning on his face her head.

And his kisses on her hair
And her throat and shoulders bare
Fierce and bitter kisses were.

Then he wept for anger sweet,
Flung him down to touch her feet
And to kiss them as was meet.

And above him while she stood,
Stains upon her red as blood;
Then she kissed him as he would.

So great love that time had they;
And would God that I could say
All their love by year and day.

Now three years this thing had been,
And no wrath was them between,
For the love he bare the queen.

Till a knight they loved of old
To Sir Mark this marvel told,
To the king so lean and cold.

A great shadow took his face,
Somewhat low he spake in place
And flushed red in little space.

Then his hands began to stir,
Plucking at his face and hair,
Shameful things he spake of her.

Sware he by his fathers dead
(Then his thin face was not red),
"She shall bear the steel," he said.

So he bade to wreak his thought
She should bear the white steel hot;
But the nobles hearkened not.

Then most shameful things he spake
That the nobles for his sake
Seemèd not their sense to take.

And she spake where men might see,
"Thou, Sir Mark, that shamest me,
None I gave my hand but thee.

"And if other ever were
(And a great scorn made her fair)
It was he that standeth there."

Then great laughter laughèd all,
For against the outer wall
Evil-clad he stood in hall.

And the men for very shame
Spake her quit of ill defame,
And Sir Mark bade praise her name.

But for love he bare her so
Softly bade she Tristram go;
Thence to both was wail and woe.

So he went from her apace;
And she dwelt by Mark in place
With a trouble in her face.


How Sir Tristram came to Brittany

So much grief for him was made,
All the land was changed and sad,
But Queen Yseult nothing said.

Then came Tristram the good knight
From his lady's noble sight,
All athirst for toil and fight.

So he went by many ways
Thro' strange lands by many days,
And in wars he won him praise.

Then for love of Lancelot
And the praise his love had got
Came the knight to Camelot.

There beheld he Guinevere,
All her face like light was clear,
That men shook for loving fear.

And more smooth than steel or glass
All her happy forehead was,
Thro' her eyes some dream did pass.

And he thought of Yseult now,
"For this lady's eyes and brow
She might stand with her, I trow."

But the king and Lancelot
For the great praise he had got
Did him welcome as they mote.

So long time he dwelt with them,
In his fight was found no blame
That he won a noble name.

All men for his sake were glad,
But in thought he ever had
The gold hair that Yseult clad.

And he thirsted for one tress,
Praising her in humbleness.
Men him called of Lyonesse,

For that so his birth had been.
And when many months were seen
Took he farewell of the queen.

Farewell of the king he took,
And set sail with heavy look,
For this time he could not brook.

All his heart so weary was
And so worn with love, alas!
With great love in bitter case,

That he thirsted thence to be,
So they sailed the blowing sea
Till they came to Brittany.

He was shent in evil plight,
As one soiled with storm and fight,
Yet he stood a perfect knight.

For his face was fair and strong,
And his body straight along,
And his deep speech like a song,

And his eyes were clear and sad
As the bitter love they had,
Men for him great marvel made.

And they told him how their lord
Died in war with hand on sword,
Died and held his knightly word.

So his daughter had their land,
Yseult of the white snow-hand,
Pale and still they saw him stand.

Then as one in pain he stirred,
Speaking low some loving word
In a voice that no man heard.

And a great smile overtook
All the trouble of his look,
And he neither breathed nor spoke.

When he came by her in place,
He beheld her small sweet face
And pure eyes of patient grace.

All her face was hushed and dim
As her courcet's pearlèd rim
With a maiden fear of him.

And in courteous wise she bade
That fair honour should be had
Of the knight so pale and sad.

So he dwelt beside her long,
In his heart he would no wrong,
But she drew it like a song;

Some dim song at waking heard
When the tender gloom is stirr'd
With the joy of some sweet bird.

So he gladly dwelt by her
In the grey great castle there,
And she grew a lady fair.

And she mused of him alone,
Musing when the day was done
By the ranges of black stone,

Till her eyes grew strange and deep,
And it seemed they could not sleep
Tho' men saw she did not weep.

And all men that saw her loved
For her quiet eyes approved
All her changes when she moved;

And each day by her he came
For the love of her sweet name
And her love who bare the same.

And as days were come and gone,
With no laughter and no moan,
Love grew up ere doubt was done.

Deep in her sweet soul she kept
All the tender pain that slept
So far down, she never wept.

But in all her heart she said,
"If such care for me he had,
Certes I were dear and glad."

And it fell one gentle day
In the greenest week of May,
That her sorrow went away.

For the day was nearly done,
And among the woods alone
Was Sir Tristram softly gone.

All about the woods were green,
Walked he in the leaves between,
Thinking sweetly of the queen.

What great love he won of her,
And he thirsted for her here,
Arrow hand and golden hair.

Her old praises did he sing,
Hidden in the happy spring
Sang he many a bitter thing.

And the leaves about him shook,
For great weeping overtook
All his voice and quiet look.

And the snow-hand of her grace
Sought him in the garden place,
With a doubt in her sweet face.

And she heard his singing low,
Clear glad words she seemed to know,
And she loved him, singing so.

"This was praise that Yseult wan,
That to any maid or man
Spake she courteous as she can.

"This was praise that Yseult had,
That her happiness made glad
Man or maiden that was sad."

And hereat the sorrow broke
Thro' the happy words he spoke,
And the quick tears marred his look.

But the lady whiter grew,
White as fear and pale as dew,
So his voice her spirit drew.

For she fain would comfort him,
And she shook in heart and limb,
And her eyes were hot and dim.

"Ah," she said, "our love is so
That he will not speak of woe,
And I dare not come to know.

"For I would not any change
Came to make this old life strange,
Or throw love beyond its range.

"Yet indeed he sang my name."
And a slow blush overcame
Her bowed face with maiden flame.

"And he spake sweet things of me
For pure love and courtesy
Where none else had cared to see.

"I that am but simple maid
Shall he give me love," she said,
"With men's praise to crown his head?

"Yet I ween he sang my name,"
And again the glorious shame
All her sweet face overcame.

Then he met her, grave and mild,
And the maiden lips that smiled
Trembled as a chidden child.

And his heart went up for her,
Till each thought that harboured there
Rose as pure as any prayer.

And he wist that it were well
In her quiet love to dwell;
So their marriage-time befell.

For in love to her he spake
And was troubled for her sake,
And the grief her love might make.

And in quiet maiden wise,
While a light fled thro' her eyes
Faster than a shadow flies,

Spake she to him, very low,
Then a fear did overflow
All her heart lest he should know.

But the knight her soft love knew,
And her spirit sweet and true
Where the love lay light as dew.

And such grave pure speech he made
That to listen bowed her head
With still joy of that was said.

And the maiden love snow-pure
In her heart should well endure,
Like a fair tree planted sure.

For she loved him as the light,
And was fairest in his sight
As a lake the noon keeps bright.

So their day of love was glad,
And his face nor proud nor sad,
So his maiden bride he had.

And great joy was thro' the land
When in love the twain should stand,
Tristram and the sweet snow-hand.

Then much grief for him was made,
All the land was changed and sad,
But the cold king's heart was glad.

So came Tristram the good knight
From his lady's noble sight,
All athirst for toil and fight.

And great praise he won him there,
So that all men spake him fair
For the wondrous name he bare.

And when Yseult heard them speak
Died the pain that kept her weak,
Died the sorrow from her cheek.

Forth to Camelot he came,
Riding silent as in shame
Thro' the noises of his fame.

When was made his welcome there,
He beheld Queen Guinevere,
All her face like light was clear.

Thro' her eyes a dream did pass,
And more smooth than steel or glass
All her happy forehead was.

So he thought, "For eyes and brow
She might stand by Yseult now,
Yet were mine as fair, I trow."

All men for his sake were glad,
But in thought he ever had
The gold hair that Yseult clad.

And he thirsted for her eyes
As a bird that bleeds and flies
For the fountain where it dies.

And he yearned to touch her hand,
As a river drawn thro' sand
Thirsts to reach the smooth green land.

And he pined to kiss her mouth,
As a rose in dewless drouth
For the warm rains of the south.

So for thirst of her sweet look
And the hair that shone and shook,
Night or day he could not brook.

Ere a leaf had left its tree,
Sailed he all the blowing sea
Till he came to Brittany.


Of the bridal night of Sir Tristram and the Lady Yseult aux Blanches Mains

So at night the maidens came;
And they called her by her name,
And she followed without shame.

And the singing-maidens there
Led the bride with tresses bare,
Singing bridal songs of her.

Purple flowers, blue and red,
On the rushes round the bed
Strewed they for her feet to tread.

But about the bed they set
Large white blossoms, white and wet,
Crowns the fairest they could get.

Her blue robe along the hem
Coloured like a lily's stem,
She put off and gave to them.

And she bade the fairest girl
All her soft hair comb and curl
With a comb of jet and pearl.

By the mirrored steel she stood,
Thinking gently as she could
Sweet new thoughts of womanhood.

In his eyes that she would please
Will she seem the queen of these,
With the hair swept round her knees?

Then the tallest maiden came,
Called her softly by her name;
And she lay down without shame.

Then came Tristram softly in;
Long he stood without, I ween,
Thinking old thoughts of the queen.

Sweet old thoughts he could not say,
How in other times he lay
By Queen Yseult till the day.

Softly to the bed he came;
But between the taper's flame
A fair face looked out at them.

He lay down and dreamed: but she
Lay and looked towards the sea;
And a bitter dream dreamt he.

But he stood away and said:
"Lo, an evil rede were read
If I had her maidenhead.

"One that I love more than her
Dwells across the water fair,
Yseult of the golden hair.

"And for love that she has worn
Men will smite her face with scorn,
Shame that such a queen were born!

"Lo, to both much ill were done,
For this Yseult, loving one,
Loves but him below the sun.

"And great shame will overtake
All her beauty for my sake
If her maidenhood I break.

"And this thing shall never be
That for maiden love for me
Men should shame her as they see.

"For some men will say, 'Behold,
Yseult queen, the hair of gold
Was his paramour of old.'

"And for love I loved before
Shall they call her paramour."
So he musèd long and sore.

And the maiden in his sight
Lay beside him, very bright,
Like a sleeper, straight and white.

Then he thought him, lying there,
Of Queen Yseult's golden hair
And the brows of Guinevere.

Spake the snow-hand maidenly,
"Tristram, for thy courtesy
Think thou no scorn to kiss me."

A great tremble took his heart,
Many memories made him start,
Listening as he lay apart.

Sidelong to him crept she close,
Pale as any winter rose
When the air is grey with snows.

For she heard him start and stir,
And drew ever near and near
Lest his heart were wrath with her.

But his eyes grew very dim,
And a tremble went thro' him
Shuddering over heart and limb.

For pure love of her he wept
As in fear she crept and crept
Slowly, lest perchance he slept.

Soft as lighteth bird on bough
Thrice he kissed her, breathing low,
Kissed her mouth and maiden brow.

And in under breath said he
When his face she could not see,
"Christ look over her and me."

Low sweet words of love she said
With her face against his head
On the pillows of the bed.

Then a pleasure bright and mild
Smoothed her sweet face, and she smiled,
Sleeping as a maiden child.

And his hands for love of her
From the throat and shoulders bare
Parted off the ruffling hair.

Then he kissed her hair and head
For the sweet words she had said;
And in kissing her he prayed.

Praying in his heart he spake,
That for Mary's maiden sake
Christ would keep his faith awake.

And the sweet saints knew aright
That he bore him well in fight,
Warring ever in their sight.

And the Mother pitied him,
For he shook in heart and limb,
Lying in the chamber dim.

And he bowed his body fair
Down athwart the window there,
Weeping for the golden hair.

It was wonderful to see
That he wept so bitterly
With his face to the blown sea.

As he turned and softly stept,
Lest perchance she had not slept,
Bitterly he wept and wept.

She lay out before him there,
All her body white and bare
Overswept with waves of hair.

There she rested, breathing low,
Purer than the naked snow,
Beautiful to see and know.

In her sleep she spake and prayed;
And for those dear words she said,
He came softly to the bed.

And in love he would not hide,
Praying between pain and pride,
Laid him softly at her side.

So from evening till the day
At her side in love he lay;
Slept no child as pure as they.

So her love had all it would,
All night sleeping as she could,
Sleeping in her maidenhood.


How Queen Yseult kept her ring

Days are come and days are gone
Over Cornwall many a one,
Since her ordeal was done.

Mark was tender with his fear,
Lest some worse thing he should hear,
And bade all men honour her.

So Queen Yseult's days were fair,
And her maidens, waiting bare,
Combed and crowned the golden hair.

But King Mark would keep apart,
Lest her eyes should make him start,
Full of envy was his heart.

And his face grew long and lean
And his lips more pale, I ween,
Hiding harsh words of the queen.

And in bitter speech he said,
When much wine had filled his head,
A bad prayer that she were dead.

So the court began to stir,
And the maidens gathered near,
Whispered secret things of her.

And most bitter pain she had,
Painèd thro' her speeches glad,
Till her heart grew faint or mad.

In the pleasure that she made
At the revels the king bade,
Wild and wandering words she said.

And at night when all the room
Spread about her black and dumb,
She lay gazing thro' the gloom.

All old comfort she forgot,
And her throat and lips grew hot,
And her large eyes moistened not.

Then she thought the grave were cold,
And spake soft her name of old,
"Yseult, queen, the hair of gold."

And she wept for that one thing,
For she looked upon the king,
And drew forth her golden ring.

Slept King Mark upon the bed,
Thick hot wine had filled his head,
Some fierce word in sleep he said.

She had thought long since to hear
Speech of Tristram spoken clear,
That his life was kept for her.

And when any knight came nigh
To her place for courtesy,
Saw she Tristram standing by.

And when songs of her were sung,
Heard his voice the leaves among
Singing in the sweet French tongue.

And when harpers harped anew,
Very pale and faint she grew
Like a lily dead in dew.

So she held him dead and lain
Out beyond the water-plain,
Naked under sun and rain.

In the dark she rose to weep,
"Long wet tendrils clasp and creep
Where the good knight lies asleep."

No one heard the words she said
On the pillows of the bed,
Praise and prayer for Tristram dead.

No one saw her girdle slip,
Saw her loosen it to weep,
Thinking how he touched her lip.

Heavily her robe sank white,
Heavily her hair sank bright,
Rustling down in the dead night.

And her breast was loosened so
From the hunger of its woe,
Where the samite rustled low.

Clothèd queenlike sate she there,
Sate she in the moonlight bare,
Golden light and golden hair.

To much evil was she brought,
Very bitter things she thought
Thro' her quiet lips said naught.

And the sweet saints pitied her
As they saw the weeping hair,
And the face so very fair.

At her side no queen might stand,
Was none like her in the land,
Golden hair and arrow hand.

Then she prayed, if any heard,
And the air about her stirr'd
As the motions of a bird.

And she thought an angel came,
Poised his wings of painted flame,
And spoke bitterly her name.

For she bowed before his look,
And her heart such trembling took,
That her limbs with weeping shook.

Then she rose and did not pray,
Far off sounds she heard at play
Blown about a windy bay.

Down athwart the window bright
Leant she into the dead light,
Wept for Tristram the good knight.

The deep sky and sharp grey crag,
Black with many a jut and jag,
The pale stream where stirred the flag,

All the long white lines of sea,
All the long white slope of lea,
In the moonlight watchèd she.

Then again she sank to weep,
In the rushes rustling deep,
Flung a white and golden heap,

And she thought, "The world is wide,
Somewhere I might flee and hide,
So the king should ease his pride.

"And thereafter will he know
All the chance of this our woe,
And repent him, hearing so.

"He will say in all men's sight
That this Yseult had not right,
Who took Tristram for her knight.

"If King Mark should weep," said she,
Thinking what a woe might be,
"Shall not all men pity me?

"For none ever," soft she said,
"Any truer woman had
Than this Tristram that is dead.

"All things had my lord of me,
Love and help and mercy free,
And my thought his thought to be."

So her heart was comforted
Of the bitter pain it had,
As she lay down on the bed.

And the saints sent sleep to her,
In the moonlight very fair,
Golden light and golden hair.

She remembered that old night
When across the courts all white
Bare she Tristram the good knight.

And she smiled with pride anon,
As came to her one by one
All the mercies she had done.

How for very love she bore
Things no woman knew before,
And would bear for evermore.

And a dumb great smile smiled she,
And it deepened still to see,
Till she laughed low laughters three.

And she said, "This love put by
(In a holy voice and high)
Shall not perish tho' I die.

"And when men shall praise him dead
(Both her cheeks flushed royal-red)
All my story shall be said.

"For I shall not blush to know
(And she rose up, speaking so)
That men speak of this my woe.

"For that I love Tristram well
(And her voice rang like a bell)
Is no shame for them to tell.

"Since indeed no shame it were
(Said she, shaking back her hair)
That one loved him thrice as fair.

"For such knight was never seen
(Spake most loftily the Queen)
Since a noble man has been.

"For the wars he warred of old
(Straight she drew the hair of gold)
In all people will be told.

"So by Tristram the good knight
(All her face was full of light)
Shall I stand in all men's sight.

"Hair and eyes and smile and speech
(Soft she wove it, plait and pleach)
Gave I to Sir Tristram each.

"Men would praise me oft in place
(Wondrous was her lighted face)
For my smile and spoken grace.

"Many singers sang of me
(Stately stood she, as a tree)
For pure heart and courtesy.

"Thought and grace and loving heart
(She looked up with lips apart)
All I gave to be his part.

"Now there is no more to say
(Said she softly as one may)
Tho' I die for him ere day."

And she knew the measures bland,
"Is none like her in the land,
Golden hair and arrow hand."

All day long the eager light
Was a trouble in her sight,
And the festal lamps by night.

Then the king soft speeches made,
Half in hate and half afraid,
And she loathed the words he said,

Tho' she hearkened not a whit;
And a sorrow vexed her wit,
Ever turning over it.

And her pride was made most weak,
And a shadow blind and meek
Took her brows and altered cheek.

And old thoughts about her came
When the dais was all aflame
With large lights, each day the same.

And she wist not what to say
Could not move her lips to pray
For the heart that beat alway.

And she paused before her glass,
For so tight the girdle was
By her breast, she could not pass.

And she thought, "If he should come
Back across the grey salt foam
I were altered in his doom.

"Nay," she said, "for love were there,
And the corn-ripe golden hair,
Tho' the face should be less fair."

Then she smiled, and faintlier
Came the silken courtly stir;
But the king's eyes hated her.

And their straight cold look she knew,
And again more faint she grew
Than a lily dead in dew.

So she saw days go and come,
And at night in the old room
Lay she gazing thro' the gloom.
Additional Information:
First canto originally published in Undergraduate Papers (Dec. 1858, no. 1), pp. 41-50.