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an extract from Tristram and Iseult. by Matthew Arnold.

Tristram

Is she not come? The messenger was sure.
Prop me upon the pillows once again -
Raise me, my page! this cannot long endure.
- Christ, what a night~ how the sleet whips the pane!
What lights will those out to northward be?

The Page

The lanterns of the fishing-boats at sea.

Tristram

Soft - who is that, stands by the dying fire?

The Page

Iseult.

Tristram

Ah! not the Iseult I desire.
* * * * *
What Knight is this so weak and pale,
Through the locks are yet brown on his noble head,
Propt on pillows in his bed,
Gazing seaward for the light
Of some ship that fights the gale
On this wild December night?
Over the sick man's feet is spread
A dark green forest-dress;
A gold harp leans against the bed,
Ruddy in the fire's light.
I know him by his harp of gold,
Famous in Arthur's court of old;
I know him by his forest-dress -
The peerless hunter, harper, knight,
Tristram of Lyoness.
What lady is this, whose silk attire
Gleams so rich in the light of the fire?
The ringlets on her shoulders lying
In their flitting lustre vying
With the clasp of burnish'd gold
Which her heavy robe doth hold.
Her looks are sweet, her fingers slight
As the driven snow are white;
But her cheeks are sunk and pale.
Is it that the bleak sea-gale
Beating from the Atlantic sea
On this coast of Brittany,
Nips too keenly the sweet flower?
Is it that a deep fatigue
Hath come on her, chilly fear
Passing all her youthful hour
Spinning with her maidens here,
Listlessly through the window-bars
Gazing sea-ward many a league
From her lonely-shore built tower
While the knights are at the wars?
Or, perhaps has her young heart
Felt already some deeper smart
Of those that in secret the heart-strings rive,
Leaving her sunk and pale, though fair?
Who is this snowdrop by the sea? -
I know her by her mildness rare,
Her snow-white hands, her golden hair;
I know her by her rich silk dress,
And her fragile loveliness -
The sweetest Christian soul alive,
Iseult of Brittany.
Iseult of Brittany? - but where
Is that other Iseult fair,
That proud, first Iseult, Cornwall's queen?
She, whom Tristram's ship of yore
From Ireland to Cornwall bore,
To Tyntagel, to the side
Of King Marc, to be his bride?
She who, as they voyaged, quaff'd
With Tristram that spiced magic draught,
Which since then for ever rolls
Through their blood, and binds their souls,
Working love, but working teen? -
There were two Iseults who did sway
Each her hour of Tristram's day;
But one possess'd his waning time,
The other his resplendent prime.
Behold her here, the patient flower,
Who possess'd his darkest hour!
Iseult of the Snow-White Hand
Watches pale by Tristram's bed.
She is here who had is gloom,
Where are thou who hadst his bloom?
One such kiss as those of yore
Might thy dying Knight restore!
Does the love-draught work no more?
Art thou cold, or false, or dead,
Iseult of Ireland?
* * * * *