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Matthew Arnold (1822–88). The Poems of Matthew Arnold, 1840–1867. 1909.

Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems

Tristram and Iseult. II. Iseult of Ireland

RAISE the light, my Page, that I may see her.—

Thou art come at last then, haughty Queen!

Long I’ve waited, long I’ve fought my fever:

Late thou comest, cruel thou hast been.

Blame me not, poor sufferer, that I tarried:

I was bound, I could not break the band.

Chide not with the past, but feel the present:

I am here—we meet—I hold thy hand.

Thou art come, indeed—thou hast rejoin’d me;

Thou hast dar’d it: but too late to save.

Fear not now that men should tax thy honour.

I am dying: build—(thou may’st)—my grave!

Tristram, for the love of Heaven, speak kindly!

What, I hear these bitter words from thee?

Sick with grief I am, and faint with travel—

Take my hand—dear Tristram, look on me!

I forgot, thou comest from thy voyage.

Yes, the spray is on thy cloak and hair.

But thy dark eyes are not dimm’d, proud Iseult!

And thy beauty never was more fair.

Ah, harsh flatterer! let alone my beauty.

I, like thee, have left my youth afar.

Take my hand, and touch these wasted fingers—

See my cheek and lips, how white they are.

Thou art paler:—but thy sweet charm, Iseult!

Would not fade with the dull years away.

Ah, how fair thou standest in the moonlight!

I forgive thee, Iseult!—thou wilt stay?

Fear me not, I will be always with thee;

I will watch thee, tend thee, soothe thy pain;

Sing thee tales of true long-parted lovers

Join’d at evening of their days again.

No, thou shalt not speak; I should be finding

Something alter’d in thy courtly tone.

Sit—sit by me: I will think, we’ve liv’d so

In the greenwood, all our lives, alone.

Alter’d, Tristram? Not in courts, believe me,

Love like mine is alter’d in the breast.

Courtly life is light and cannot reach it.

Ah, it lives, because so deep suppress’d.

Royal state with Marc, my deep-wrong’d husband—

That was bliss to make my sorrows flee!

Silken courtiers whispering honied nothings—

Those were friends to make me false to thee!

What, thou think’st, men speak in courtly chambers

Words by which the wretched are consol’d?

What, thou think’st, this aching brow was cooler,

Circled, Tristram, by a band of gold?

Ah, on which, if both our lots were balanc’d,

Was indeed the heaviest burden thrown,

Thee, a weeping exile in thy forest—

Me, a smiling queen upon my throne?

Vain and strange debate, where both have suffer’d;

Both have pass’d a youth constrain’d and sad;

Both have brought their anxious day to evening,

And have now short space for being glad.

Join’d we are henceforth: nor will thy people,

Nor thy younger Iseult take it ill,

That a former rival shares her office,

When she sees her humbled, pale, and still.

I, a faded watcher by thy pillow,

I, a statue on thy chapel floor,

Pour’d in grief before the Virgin Mother,

Rouse no anger, make no rivals more.

She will cry—‘Is this the foe I dreaded?

This his idol? this that royal bride?

Ah, an hour of health would purge his eyesight:

Stay, pale queen! for ever by my side.’

Hush, no words! that smile, I see, forgives me.

I am now thy nurse, I bid thee sleep.

Close thine eyes—this flooding moonlight blinds them—

Nay, all’s well again: thou must not weep.

I am happy: yet I feel, there’s something

Swells my heart, and takes my breath away:

Through a mist I see thee: near!—come nearer!

Bend—bend down—I yet have much to say

Heaven! his head sinks back upon the pillow!—

Tristram! Tristram! let thy heart not fail.

Call on God and on the holy angels!

What, love, courage!—Christ! he is so pale.

Hush, ’tis vain, I feel my end approaching.

This is what my mother said should be,

When the fierce pains took her in the forest,

The deep draughts of death, in bearing me.

‘Son,’ she said, ‘thy name shall be of sorrow!

Tristram art thou call’d for my death’s sake!’

So she said, and died in the drear forest.

Grief since then his home with me doth make.

I am dying.—Start not, nor look wildly!

Me, thy living friend, thou canst not save.

But, since living we were ununited,

Go not far, O Iseult! from my grave.

Rise, go hence, and seek the princess Iseult:

Speak her fair, she is of royal blood.

Say, I charg’d her, that ye live together:—

She will grant it—she is kind and good.

Now to sail the seas of Death I leave thee;

One last kiss upon the living shore!

Tristram!—Tristram!—stay—receive me with thee!

Iseult leaves thee, Tristram, never more.


You see them clear: the moon shines bright.

Slow—slow and softly, where she stood,

She sinks upon the ground: her hood

Had fallen back: her arms outspread

Still hold her lover’s hand: her head

Is bow’d, half-buried, on the bed.

O’er the blanch’d sheet her raven hair

Lies in disorder’d streams; and there,

Strung like white stars, the pearls still are,

And the golden bracelets heavy and rare

Flash on her white arms still.

The very same which yesternight

Flash’d in the silver sconces’ light,

When the feast was gay and the laughter loud

In Tyntagel’s palace proud.

But then they deck’d a restless ghost

With hot-flush’d cheeks and brilliant eyes,

And quivering lips on which the tide

Of courtly speech abruptly died,

And a glance that over the crowded floor,

The dancers, and the festive host,

Flew ever to the door.

That the knights eyed her in surprise,

And the dames whisper’d scoffingly—

‘Her moods, good lack, they pass like showers!

But yesternight and she would be

As pale and still as wither’d flowers,

And now to-night she laughs and speaks

And has a colour in her cheeks.

Christ keep us from such fantasy!’—

The air of the December night

Steals coldly around the chamber bright,

Where those lifeless lovers be.

Swinging with it, in the light

Flaps the ghostlike tapestry.

And on the arras wrought you see

A stately Huntsman, clad in green,

And round him a fresh forest scene.

On that clear forest knoll he stays

With his pack round him, and delays.

He stares and stares, with troubled face,

At this huge gleam-lit fireplace,

At the bright iron-figur’d door,

And those blown rushes on the floor.

He gazes down into the room

With heated cheeks and flurried air,

And to himself he seems to say—

‘What place is this, and who are they?

Who is that kneeling Lady fair?

And on his pillows that pale Knight

Who seems of marble on a tomb?

How comes it here, this chamber bright

Through whose mullion’d windows clear

The castle court all wet with rain,

The drawbridge and the moat appear,

And then the beach, and, mark’d with spray,

The sunken reefs, and far away

The unquiet bright Atlantic plain?

What, has some glamour made me sleep,

And sent me with my dogs to sweep,

By night, with boisterous bugle peal,

Through some old, sea-side, knightly hall,

Not in the free greenwood at all?

That Knight’s asleep, and at her prayer

That Lady by the bed doth kneel:

Then hush, thou boisterous bugle peal!’—

The wild boar rustles in his lair—

The fierce hounds snuff the tainted air—

But lord and hounds keep rooted there.

Cheer, cheer thy dogs into the brake,

O Hunter! and without a fear

Thy golden-tassell’d bugle blow,

And through the glades thy pastime take!

For thou wilt rouse no sleepers here.

For these thou seest are unmov’d;

Cold, cold as those who liv’d and lov’d

A thousand years ago.