TRISTAN PROLOGUE

Grace in your annals with good charity

Those whose good works have wrought prosperity.

For when regard has lapsed from charity,

So will lapse to naught gracious prosperity.

 

Duty in all hearts naught regards passed purpose,

And duty's art's to wrought all prosperous;

To denigrate the man of dutiful purpose,

Thus, is to design all hearts unprosperous.

 

Integrity in want is a subtle art;

His right desires I scarce hear man impart.

So the land teems over with men of middling art;

What rightly man wants, scarce man dares impart.

 

Esteem I maintain for the man who'll attest

Most keen acclaim for desire's keenest interest,

Who virtue marks, thus virtue will attest;

May honor impress his most virtuous interest.

 

Truth thus affirmed of all men's perfect worth

By the man of firm reserve to boldly unearth

The righteous and vile at their truest worth,

Man's private worth will pardon and unearth.

 

Equity in acclaim will art divest,

Where to acclaim the art contends to be so blessed;

For when to equitable praise art is blessed,

Profusion in kind will all art invest.

Reverence and praise denied of fit designs,

Their potent promise to neglect declines;

Yet for the broad felicity inclines

All art when reverent praise marks art's designs.

 

Idealism though wanes with our age's term;

Today teem scholars who the righteous affirm

As vile, and the vile vouch right, who but to affirm

Rightly design, yet to plight assign art's term.

Competence compels proper accord,

Where right to art's phrasing criticism is scored;

When by envy their antiphon is scored,

Both art and criticism will lapse to discord.

 

Hallowed virtue, how narrow your lay,

And how arduous yet endures your way!

Blessed is he who sustains to sight a way
Which rightly may prevail your path's narrow lay!

Tempered as I am to prudent age by time,

To idly devise of so supple a mold

As this life's span, and in elusion model

My own neglect through the world, would be to devise

With my age in neglect to the term I've borne.

 

I thusly have this labor undertaken,

To lay before the world, and to solace

All noble hearts—those hearts so dear to my own,

And that world my own heart so keenly regards.

It is a labor not of the common world,

Nor for its common men, who, as I've learned,

Will not endure the heart's most trivial sorrow,

But wish to revel in their impassioned bliss;

May God justly reward such bliss with His!

 

All I must say and they must hear but meager

Semblance may bear; the lay their course and that
Which I'll convey cannot but course astray.

It is that other way, that other life

To which my labor pleads, which in one heart

Divergent ways may yet concede; which jointly

May bear its bitter-sweet, its dear regret;

Its heart's content, its heart's lament; its dearest

Life, its lamentful death; its lamentful life,

Its dearest death. That life with the life of my own

Lives in a dear accord; to that world would
I cast my life to live in evermore,

And with it be damned, or by it restored.

It is with that world that I've held my term,

It's by that world that I have been informed,

And guided through a life profoundly borne.

I offer then my art, my one true purpose,

My keenest bequest, that the world I love

May win diversion, and abate a time

Its long anguish. For when the troubled heart

Permits immersion in some suited task,
The heart's despair a moment may thus lapse.

All surely must this cede: the leisurely,

When overwrought by the heart's keenest woe,

In languor not but tend and bud their sorrow.

When such men languish in their idleness,

Their heart's anguish out-blooms in bitterness.

One heart thus by itself so pressed and bound,

Which reveres and preserves its barrier pain,

May, by distraction, to itself thus bestow

A liberty, and brief solace obtain.

Yet would I never to a man who

Pursues diversion thus, advise that man

To look for pleasures ill-befit to pure love.

Let then a lover to his love-tale,

And with his heart, and with his lips let him

Gently devote an hour.

 

             Often have we

Been moved to believe—and I nearly will grant—

That the love-sick soul, immersed in doleful tales

Of love's keenest pain, his own hurt through them

Can but gain; that through these tales he'll submit

To his despair. This sentiment I must,

However near, resist; though love and pain
Be intimately trussed, yet the heart must

Ever persist. For, as the lover's

Passion, so set to flame by its desire,

Must by this flame thrive, so in his passion's

Relentless gain does the fire ever rise.

This dear grief is the heart's most ardent will,

Which no noble heart may ever yield.

Of this I am certain as I am of death,

For I have learned it through the same dear distress:

All noble lovers love to read of love-tales.

Therefore all those lovers who seek a solace

Need seek no further; I will provide
To all who need, the tale of purest love

In two noble hearts: of a lover and beloved;

A man, a woman and a woman,

A man: Tristan, Isolde, Isolde, Tristan.

 

I am informed of those departed bards

Who formerly imparted the tale of Tristan,

Yet rare has my regard, though oft' I've sought,

Discerned, truly, the tale performed aright.

 

Though were I to attest but slight acclaim,

And restrain all esteem for those who've wrought,

Then deem, save ill, their works offered naught,

Would be to attest in ill-accord with my

Own interest. No nobler duty in man's heart

Man man devise that to have wrought for all,

That the broad prosperity he may comprise.

Their tales were composed charitably,

Between our hearts then, as in our regard,

There must be right accord. However,

When I pronounced the tale had but scarcely

Been told aright, I aver, this is the case,

For few have followed the telling of the bard

Of Brittany, Thomas, who'd carefully read

Of all the lords and knights in the books of the Britons.

 

As I carefully began to seek myself

Of Tristan's tale, to read it told aright,

I reviewed the books in both of Latin

And the Romance languages, and took great pains

That I, in my offering, might rightly compel

Noble hearts in reading the tale along the course

Thomas had well-devised, and burgeon
Further that route with what grace I may.
The issue of these labors I then offer
To all noble hearts, that their diversion
They may secure, and thus relieve their anguish

In a good love tale. Good? Yes, the profoundest.

It shall exalt love and ennoble the spirit,
Invigorate all constancy, and shall

Adorn life with the virtue which each heart

Has ever truly sought. Believe, where

A virtuous man has heard or read of such
Pure loyalty between lovers, in him

Loyalty and virtues bountiful

Will flourish higher. Love, loyalty,

Constancy, honor, and all the virtues

Never endear themselves so completely

As when a man has read of love's bliss

And of love's anguish in a love tale.

Love is so blessed a thing, and so hallowed

An endeavor, that apart from love

And love's teaching, a man may never

Truly attain honor; indeed, so numerous

Are the virtuous lives which have been advised

And solaced by love—so entirely good

Is love. If only more would brave the pursuit

Of their heart's keenest bliss, and for their love

Endure, to receive so little as the anguish

Which, when that longed-for time has come at last,

May only stay concealed within the heart.

 

Should it be naught than naturally contrary

To noble hearts to forsake for but one woe

A thousand joys? He who has never

Suffered through love's keenest anguish never

Pleasured either in love's keenest bliss,

For love's great gift, which grief, is ever-banded,

And by this blessing may we attain

That otherwise-enwrapped and unattainable

Grace so revered by all noble hearts, of honor.

If those of whom this tale tells had not

Endured with constancy their love's keen grief

For that one joy, their love, their sorrow,

Their names, their tale, would not persist.

So sweet and ever-fresh is their tale to all,

That today yet we joy to hear of their devotion,

Their content, their lament, their anguish,

Their rapture; though long dead, their lives endure,

As sustains their death, to grace all noble hearts,

Bestowing loyalty to those who

Loyalty seek; granting honor

To those who honor yet seek: in death they live,

 

And bequeath the living with life; for when men

Have heard performed their perfect loyalty,

Their bliss, their anguish, their lives, and their deaths,

 

This is as bread to noble hearts.

With this, though dead, they yet endure.

We read their lives, we read their deaths,

And to us it is as bread.

 

Their lives, their deaths are as our bread.

Thus live their lives, thus live their deaths.

Thus still they live and yet are dead,

And to the living their deaths are as bread.

 

Those who now yearn to be told of their lives,

Their deaths, their bliss, their anguish, let them

Lend their heart, lend their lips; for they shall find
All that they ever have desired.