Sunday, April 7, 2013

Tristan and Isolde

Herbert James Draper

Some years ago, a friend wrote a lovely song about Guinevere.  It was beautiful, haunting, and sad, and it made me cry.   It moved me so much that I wanted to write a poem of equal beauty, only about Tristan and Isolde.

I failed.   Some whimsical part of me hijacked the project, and instead of deep poetry, what I got was silly doggerel.  As you'll see from the last verse (if you get that far), I'm still more journalist than poet.  But since it's National Poetry Month (and since I don't have another blog post written), here it is anyway.  Don't expect profundity, but enjoy.

N.C. Wyeth


In a world made of legend, where honor is priceless,
And heroes and lovers can live unafraid, 
Imbibing a potion while crossing an ocean 
Will surely screw up all the plans that you've made.

Isolde was thirsty and offered to Tristan
A sip of the magical brew she had brought.
The poor silly kid didn't know what she did -
Now the best of intentions would all be for naught.

John William Waterhouse

Not knowing the drink had been brewed for her wedding,
She poured him a cup, then she drank up the dregs.
The effect was exotic and highly erotic,
He opened his heart, and she opened her legs.

He was only her escort.  The king was her bridegroom,
Her love potion charged with a sorcerer's spell.
Though betrothed to a king, she was having a fling,
And there really was no way the thing could end well.

When the voyage was over, she met with her bridegroom.
Though most unenthused, to this match she'd agree -
But her wedding night loomed, and Isolde felt doomed,
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
For her maidenhead wasn't what it used to be.

"Now what shall I do to protect my best interests,
And to make sure that nothing upsets good King Mark?
Perhaps I'll make a trade with my trusty handmaid,
For they say that all cats will look gray in the dark."

 The wedding was over and nighttime approaching,
And Mark looking forward to wedded delight,
But Isolde, to be sure, was a trifle impure,
So her faithful maidservant was queen for the night.

And so life continued, with meetings clandestine.
For sneaking around, Tristan had quite a knack,
And Isolde, who was clever in every endeavor,
Could think on her feet (although not on her back).

Hughes Merle

But Tristan was worried 'bout knightly comportment,
He was brave but uncertain - confused, although bold.
She was dearer than life, but another man's wife,
So he snuck off and married the other Isolde.

The marriage was troubled, and rather platonic -
He lay wide awake while his lady wife slept.
Was this latest Isolde perhaps overly cold?
Or was Tristan too faithful, or merely inept?

Edmund Leighton

He knew that he loved only one of his ladies,
Of misguided passion he'd never be free,
But suspicion was lurking. It just wasn't working,
So he sent for Isolde to come over the sea.

Tristan said to his henchman, "Now, here is the signal:
If she is aboard, let the sails be of white.
If she will not sail, if my pleadings should fail,
Let the sails be as black as the Stygian night."

Evelyn Paul

The henchman was loyal, and faithfully promised,
By all of his gods and the stars up above.
The boat sailed away on the very next day,
But Tristan was ailing, and dying of love.

As our hero lay dying, he turned to his lady,
And he begged her to tell, with his voice full of dole,
"The sails on yon bark, be they light or pitch-dark?"
Said his lady, "They're black as the Irish queen's soul."

Louis Rhead
Now, heroes are bold and they're brave and they're noble,
But "bright" isn't always a prominent trait.
Though his lady wife lied, Tristan still up and died -
When his love stepped ashore, he was lying in state.

So ended the saga of Isolde and Tristan,
The truest of lovers, who paid a high price.
Their potion was magic, their story was tragic,
And could have been different with this good advice:

When seeking an update on current conditions,
Like the color of sails coming out of the west,
There are things you can do to avoid pain and rue,
And checking your sources is one of the best.

Wilhelm Peters

 Images in this post are in the public domain by virtue of age.  All are taken from Wikimedia Commons.

1 comment:

Danica West said...

This is so delightfully silly, Tinney. I'm terrible at commenting on poetry, especially good poetry, but I enjoyed this immensely.