Cupid ensures the path of love is hard
And makes us long for what we cannot have.
Instead of any of the twenty girls or more
Who watched his every movement day by day
And dreamed of him by night,
Tristan fixed on Dorigen herself.
And so we complicate our lives,
When we choose husbands, or we look for wives.
We rarely make the choice that’s sound,
For love will always flit around,
And land wherever it fancies,
Often for loss instead of gain,
And so the world is balanced out again.
To her he could not speak a word.
For months he suffered and endured.
In some songs that he wrote,
He sang of unrequited love,
But who doesn’t do that when they are young?
In youth that song is often sung.
Sometimes when they were gathered in the dance,
He would steal a sidelong glance,
And sometimes look into her eyes,
But she danced on all unconcerned,
And unaware of what was in his mind.
But one evening when the dance was done,
Because he was her neighbour
And a man of fame and honour
Whom she had known some time,
By chance or by design they met.
They talked of this and that, and then
Just when he felt that the right time had come,
Tristan began and spoke to Dorigen.
‘Madam, the day your husband went away
Across the sea to England,
I wish that I had travelled too
To some place never to return.
I see so well my service is in vain.
Am I to be always ignored?
Am I to have no more reward?
Pity me, madam, pity me.
Have you not seen, can you not see
What my love for you has done to me?’
She looked at him astounded. Then she said,
‘Can I believe what I have heard?”
‘Madam it is the truth,’ he said and sighed.
Dorigen turned to him and then replied,
Tristan, listen. Listen hard.
By God that gave me soul and life
I will never be a faithless wife
In word or deed as long as I shall live.
I am true to the man who married me.
This is the only answer I will give.’
But seeing him so shocked and pale, she added with a smile,
‘Poor Tristan, since you take it so,
Listen to me now and hear what I will say.
I will be your love
When along the coast of Brittany from end to end
Every rock and every stone is gone.
When the coast and cliffs mile after mile
Are cleared of all the jagged rocks, and every one
Lies buried deep beneath the sea.
These black rocks that men fear so much,
You must remove, so ships may sail
North to England or way down south to Spain,
And each may reach their chosen port in peace
And rest at ease inside the harbour wall.
Then every sailor will safely leave his ship
And see his family and friends again.
Yes, when you have cleared the coast of every stone
And of every cursed sharp-edged rock
That lifts its ugly head above the sea,
Then you can surely come to me,
And as you wish, I will then love you,
And here you have my promise true.’
‘No pity more than that?’ he said.
‘No none’, she said. ‘For this can never be.
The rocks are there for all eternity!
Forget this nonsense! Find a girl who you can wed!
To think like this of another man’s wife,
Is madness and will ruin your life.’
Tristan looked her in the eye and spoke,
‘To clear the rocks now each and every one,
Madam, we know that this cannot be done.’
And saying this he turned and walked away.
As he went out through the garden door,
Her friends came up to her at last
And walked with her along the paths.
They nothing knew of what had passed.
They talked and played until the evening came,
And the flowers closed, and shadows spread
Across the lawns, and all the well-mown grass
Began to glisten with the evening dew
And showed white droplets in the sun’s last rays.
And then they closed the garden door,
And to their homes they took their different ways.