Sitting one day, lost in thought, Tristan began to review his congenital despondency. He brooded, deep within his heart over the many kinds of want his other life Isolt, the lovely blonde queen, the key to his passion, had borne for his sake while remaining so steadfast in every affliction. He felt it like a deep wound to the center of his being that he had let no woman, except Isolt, share his passion, or ever thought of such a thing. Despairing, he accused himself— "how can I act so faithlessly? This I know, sure as death— Isolt, my heart and my life, have I been so thoughtless of you, who neither thinks nor cares of anything on earth nor admits to your affections anything but me alone, and now I admit to mine 19150 some life apart from yours— what can have so perverted me? What has got into me, me, Tristan, faithless wretch? I'm in love with two Isolts, very fond of them both, while my other life, Isolt, holds only a single Tristan dear. She alone will no other Tristan but me alone, and the one I'm courting compulsively is yet another Isolt. Woe to thee, senseless man, Tristan, utterly confounded! Leave off this blinded travesty, have done with this depraved notion!" Thus he recovered from his craving, and laid aside the love and fondness he had conceived for the maid Isolt, although he continued to pay her such sweet solicitations that she still thought she had all the evidence of his love, when that was no longer so. Things went as they were destined to— Isolt had stolen from Isolt Tristan's inner mindfulness, but Tristan again grew mindful of his love-heritage. Now his heart and his senses were consumed with their old pain. Still he remained courteous— when he saw in the maid that yearning dissatisfaction was beginning to take hold, he spared himself no effort to please her and divert her. He told her pretty legends, he sang to her, he wrote and read, and remained at all times attentive to whatever might be her pleasure by keeping her company, and helped her while away the hours, now with his singing, again when he played. Tristan also invented for every different instrument many lays and pleasing music which are still much loved today. At this time he also composed 19200 the noble lay of Tristan which is now so well known and loved in all lands, and will be while the world lasts. He often performed for them when they sat in company, he and Isolt and Kaedin, the duke and his duchess, ladies and noblemen, improvising schanzune, rundate, and courtly tunes, ending always with the refrain, "Isolt ma drue, Isolt mamie, en vus ma mort, en vus ma vie!" Because he sang with such fervor it was only natural for all of them to suppose he meant by this their Isolt, at which they were greatly pleased, no one among them more so than Tristan's comrade Kaedin, who was always there to see that Tristan was seated at the side of his sister. And this was her heart's delight— she took him into her care and gave him her full attention. Her clear eyes and thoughtfulness then took him for their playground. On not a few occasions the tender name of virginity averted its steady gaze of modesty and chasteness when in plain sight of all she laid her hand in his, as though she meant the gesture as a favor to Kaedin. However he may have seen it, she did it for her own pleasure. All this time the girl made herself so inviting with bright smiles and laughter, a constant stream of patter, flattering, and coquetry that she aroused him again, and once more he began to waver in his thoughts and mind from his resolve of love. He didn't know what he wanted when it came to Isolt. 19250 He responded to her charm with feelings of irresolution. Again and again he thought to himself, "is this what I want or not? It is not, and it is." Then Steadfastness spoke: "Sir Tristan, it is not. Consider your faith in Isolt— you must remember Isolt in her loyalty, who never swerved an inch from you." This at once put an end to his fruitless brooding and cast him back in to pain through passion for Isolt, still the queen of his heart. His custom and demeanor underwent such a change that everywhere and always he now could only sorrow. When he sat with Isolt and tried to talk with her again he fell into reverie, able only to sit and sigh. This concealed agony soon became so obvious that everyone at court declared that Isolt must be the cause of his sorrow and distress. And indeed, they were right. All Tristan's gloom and anguish were due to nothing but Isolt. Isolt was his nemesis, but not at all the one they believed it to be, she of the white hands. No, it was Isolt la bele, not the one of Arundel, as they imagined it to be. Isolt, too, was much affected, quite thrown into confusion, because the yearning Tristan suffered for this particular Isolt was at no time so severe as was hers for him. The two of them passed the hours in unequal disconsolation. Both were filled with yearning and their share of sorrow, but different for each of them. 19300 They did not share between them their loves and affections. As to love for each other neither of them kept pace, Tristan nor the maid Isolt. Tristan needed desperately a different Isolt, and Isolt had no desire for any other Tristan. She of the white hands loved and preferred him with all her heart and feelings, and so his sorrow distressed her. She noticed how often his face grew pale and how he then sighed with inward intensity. She watched him inwardly, and matched him sigh for sigh. Out of true companionship she bore with him a sorrow that concerned her not at all. His pain hurt her greatly, which made it bear down harder on him than on her. He felt deeply sorry for this kind, loving girl who remained so faithful to him. He could only have pity that she was so far in love for nothing in return, and had put all her heart into such a vain illusion. He showed her every courtesy, trying to entertain her with his most diverting skills, with performances and stories. It would have pleased him greatly to relieve her of her sorrow. But she had descended a long way into its depths. Redoubling his exertions to retrieve and console her, he began to arouse the sorrowing maid Isolt at first little by little, but with the result in the end that love again reclaimed her. Again she showered on him all her enticements 19350 with actions, talk, and glances. For the third time he succumbed to his old indecision and the ship of his heart was again cast adrift on the seas of uncertainty. That was not at all surprising, for when Desire, God knows, laughs before a man's eyes every hour of the day, she blinds both his eyes and senses and drags his heart after her. Lovers all, you may learn by the example of this story that it's much easier to endure a distant pain for distant love than to love in the neighborhood with a love that isn't close. Indeed, as far as I can see, it's much easier for a man to love and lose at a distance than to lose a love close at hand, or divest himself of the one afar than abstain from the nearer. Tristan was caught in this tangle. He longed for distant love, suffering much because of something he could neither hear nor see, and renounced one much closer that was always there in plain sight. He desired at all times that distant blonde Isolt, the radiance of Irlant, fleeing from the white-handed, highborn maid of Karke. He longed greatly for the former, and withdrew from the nearer, straying thus from both. He wanted and he didn't want this Isolt and that Isolt. He fled this one and sought that. The maid Isolt had invested her faith, longing, and integrity in a most unwise endeavor. She desired what withdrew from her and pursued what fled her presence. It was her object that deceived her. Tristan had misled her so by means of subtle operation with his eyes and his tongue 19400 that she was led to believe she had won his mind and heart. and of all the trickery that Tristan had committed, it was the one artifice that had so won her heart and compelled her to love him, that he sang so earnestly, "Isolt ma drue, Isolt mamie, en vus ma mort, en vus ma vie!" This completed her temptation and bore the ripe fruit of love. What he sang took her in. She pursued her fleeing man with such tender attentions that on the fourth try for love she caught up with her quarry and drew him back to herself so that he submitted, but still he spent night and day deep in anxious contemplation of himself and his life, always brooding uselessly. "Ah, me," he reflected, "how I have gone astray in love. This love, that so afflicts me, that's stealing my life and senses, that has so weighed me down— if ever on this earth it can somehow be lightened, it will take an alien love. I have often read in books and know myself that one alliance can reduce the force of another. Not all the rushing of the Rin is anywhere so powerful that it could not be diverted through many much smaller channels by which it should be much reduced and left with but little force, leaving the mighty Rin itself little more than a trickle. No great blaze is so strong, if one is persistent, that it cannot be scattered into lesser glowing brands leaving but a small fire. So is it for the lover, who faces a similar task. He may divide the mainstream 19450 of his affections so often into separate rivulets, scatter the heat of his mind among many smaller sparks until of the whole so little remains that it can do but slight damage. It may be that I too can succeed in dispersing my passions and desires into many smaller ones. If I focus my intent on more that a single love, I could well become thereby a Tristan free of sorrows. I have but to try it. If my luck is with me, it's time I should begin. All this love and loyalty I so hold to for my lady can do me but little good. On her I waste my life and being but get small comfort in return for either my being or my life. It is for nothing that I suffer this burden and anxiety. Oh, my amie, beloved Isolt, this one life is now too much torn apart between us. Things are not as they once were, when we bore, you and I, a single weal, a single woe, one love and one pain. Sadly, that's no longer so. Now I sorrow, you do not. All my feelings are consumed with longing for your love, while yours, I rather think, are consumed less for mine. The pleasures I renounce for you, you indulge, alas, alas, as often as it pleases you. In this you have company. You and your lord Marke have each other all the time. Here I am alone, a stranger. I think I never shall receive more from you than small comfort, although it is impossible for my heart to escape from you. Why have you robbed me of myself, 19500 since you have no desire for me and can do without me very well? Ah, sweetest Queen Isolt, with how many a heartache my life with you is passing by, while I mean so little to you that never once have you tried to learn something of my life! Ask about me? What do I say? Where would she go to inquire, or how could she learn of me? So long have I been blown about by the winds of uncertainty— how could anyone find me now? By no means can I imagine how. You seek me there—I am here. You look here—now I am there. How shall you find me, or where? Find me where? Why, where I am! Countries do not run away, and I am there in those countries where Tristan is to be found. Yes, whoever would attempt it would search until I was found, for if you seek a wanderer, there can be no certain goal or target for your quest. You must continue your efforts whether they pay off or not or you can accomplish nothing. My lady, God knows, my other life, should by now have inquired in secret about me everywhere, through entire Curnewal, Engelant, Franze and Normandie, my own land Parmenie, or wherever it might be rumored that her lover Tristan was— she would have searched thoroughly if she cared for me at all— but she cares nothing for me, she whom I love and cherish more than my life and soul. I forsake all other women for her, and am deprived of her. I have no right to ask of her that which would give me in this world a joyful life and happiness . . ." 19548
(I condensed the following brief summary from A.T. Hatto’s complete translation of the surviving part of Thomas of Brittany’s story, in Tristan [Penguin, 1960], 301-353:) After much soul-searching, Tristran marries Ysolt as blanche mains for her beauty and the bitter solace of her name, but pleading an old wound, avoids consummation. He orders a statuary hall of facsimiles including his true Ysolt, Brengvein holding a vial, and a golden Peticru whose soothing bells tinkle. It causes him nothing but sorrow, while in reality Marke possesses his grieving queen at will. As Tristran, Ysolt, and her brother Caerdin are riding, water splashes Ysolt, who laughs. Caerdin demands to know why. She declares the water came farther up her thigh than Tristran ever ventured. To the gravely indignant Caerdin Tristan then shows the statuary hall to prove how superior is his true love. Caerdin, enamored of Brengvein’s waxen counterfeit, adventures with Tristran into Mark’s land, where by stealth they tryst with Ysolt and Brengvein, but must quickly escape again. Twice more the disguised Tristran returns to seek Ysolt, but in vain. Then, trying to help the powerful knight Tristran the Dwarf regain his abducted lady, he sustains another poisoned thrust to his loins. White-Hands overhears his charge to Caerdin to summon the true Ysolt, who alone can cure him. The ship bringing her shall set a white sail if she is aboard. Repeatedly he sends White-Hands to watch, who at last falsely reports a black sail approaching. Tristran expires in agony, just as Ysolt arrives to die also in his lifeless arms.
|Index of Episodes