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
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.
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 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!
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!
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.
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.
Would not fade with the dull years away.
Ah, how fair thou standest in the moonlight!
I forgive thee, Iseult!—thou wilt stay?
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.
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.
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.
That was bliss to make my sorrows flee!
Silken courtiers whispering honied nothings—
Those were friends to make me false to thee!
Words by which the wretched are consol’d?
What, thou think’st, this aching brow was cooler,
Circled, Tristram, by a band of gold?
Was indeed the heaviest burden thrown,
Thee, a weeping exile in thy forest—
Me, a smiling queen upon my throne?
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.
Nor thy younger Iseult take it ill,
That a former rival shares her office,
When she sees her humbled, pale, and still.
I, a statue on thy chapel floor,
Pour’d in grief before the Virgin Mother,
Rouse no anger, make no rivals more.
This his idol? this that royal bride?
Ah, an hour of health would purge his eyesight:
Stay, pale queen! for ever by my side.’
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.
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
Tristram! Tristram! let thy heart not fail.
Call on God and on the holy angels!
What, love, courage!—Christ! he is so pale.
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.
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.
Me, thy living friend, thou canst not save.
But, since living we were ununited,
Go not far, O Iseult! from my grave.
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.
One last kiss upon the living shore!
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.
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.