Arthurian and Grail Poetry

When Tristram to Tintagel Came
By Cyril Emra

When Tristram with his fifty knights
On a midnight hour
Back to long Tintagel came,
Queen Iseult sate watching them
In the glare of the cresset-lights,
From her royal tower.

Hurry and hum of hoofs she had heard,
(Who sooner than she?)
And the chains in the gateway groaned and stirred,
Straining heavily;
And the mighty drawbridge downward swung
Massive and slow;
And through the vaulted archway rung
Voice and tread of steel-girt men,
When Tristram's knights came home again
In Cornwall long ago!
Over the drawbridge came the knights
Riding together,
Three abreast,
With clank of steel and rattle of leather
And flaunt of many a scarf and crest
In the windy flare of the dancing lights
Agleam on shining arms and mail;
But here and there, as they rode,
Was a sun-tanned face dead pale, -
Ay, there was rust and stain of blood,
And shoulder-high the splash of mud
When the watchers gave them hail.
Greet ye well and true, Sir Tristram,
That ye come back from war!
Welcome to Cornwall's chivalry!
And how did ye fare?

'I give ye thanks,' Sir Tristram said,
'For your brave welcoming.
We have fought and gotten victory,
So good news I bring!
I greet ye well, fair gentlemen.
And whither is Mark the King?'

'Well is thee for victory,
Tristram, Sir Knight!
King Mark went out a-hunting
To-day at dawn-light;
And no more cometh he
Till the third night.'

Then waxed Sir Tristram
Right wroth with King Mark,
And bitter his smile was,
And his face grew dark.
'A strange thing is this,' said he,
'That Mark has done! -
But left he aught word for me?'
And they told him, 'None!'

'That is an ill thing!' Tristram said,
'And it grieves me full sore;
Here win we back with a dozen dead
And wounded a score, -
And Mark is out a-hunting gone
While I fight his war"
I trow me well, by Godis head,
It grieves me full sore!'

And here came a lady's lad
With golden curled hair,
Desiring of Tristram,
From Iseult, with courtesies,
To learn how he fare.

Then made he none else other word,
But bade his squire to him,
And did him off his great fell sword
And his harness hacked and grim,
And girt him with a chain of gold
And his long cloak of green,
And gat him as a gentle knight
To greet that fair queen.

All alone in her royal chamber
Iseult watched for him,
Where she screened candles made her
A light soft and dim;
They lit the beauty of her face
And the glory of her hair:
There was no maid in Christendom
Half so wondrous fair.

'Hail to thee, Tristram, back from thy warfare!
Home again come again, hero, to me!
Lone I have waited, fain for thy welfare,
Longing and praying, dear one, for thee!'

'Yea, I come again, O my belovèd,
Back to Tintagel, home dear to thee.
In the red warfare thy will for my welfare,
Praying, has holpen and comforted me!'

'Comest thou spent from the foemen who pressed thee?'
'Yea, I am weary with travail of war!'
'Ah, lay thy head on my bosom and rest thee.'
'Dear, at thy touch, I am weary no more!'


He knelt before her knightly-wise
And kissed her finger-tips;
She kissed him once on either cheek
And twice upon the lips.
'And now,' quoth he, 'is dole on me,
That I may not abide with thee:
Iseult, mine own, I pray thee then,
Think me not graceless if I go,
For much is now for me to do
When home again come we;
And I wis my gallant gentlemen
Are calling for me!'

'Nay till this candle burn away,'
She said, 'O tarry thou, -
And that will be, as well we see,
Short while enough from now!'
And Tristram, watching near her, smiled
As one on whom old memories fall,
Saying, 'Iseult, art still a child
In spite of all, in spite of all!'
And low he sat him at her feet
And took in his the hand she gave,
And felt her presence, rare and sweet,
As ever sway him, till it drave
From sense and limb the weariness
Of battle and the road, and lent
Its lulling magic to caress
His soul with some divine content.

The pine-log smouldering on the hearth
Shone through the shaded gloom;
The flowers on her table thrilled
With drowsy, faint perfume.
They talked of battle and the chase,
They spake of life and love,
So that they saw no shadow
Across the dim wall more,
Neither behind them wist they
From the corner curtain-screened
King Mark out of the darkness
Creep with face of fiend!

'Tristram! - ah no -!' A gleam like silver swung
Downward and struck. And frozen on her tongue
The low cry died that warned him of his fate,
Ah God, too late, too late!
Too late she saw the shadowed image fall
Of a man's huge armed hand upon the wall,
And felt the presence clutch her heart, of one
Like doom behind them, silent, knowing all.
Dear Christ! too late she heard
That sudden gasp of sharply loosened breath
As sheer the great blade fell.
And Mark stood forth with face of flaming hell,
And they two looked on death
And spake no word.