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Fantasy Poetry: Arthurian Legend

Arthur’s Harrowing


What would I not give,
To hold you here,
And rejoice in a moment’s,
Limitless strength?
What would I not do,
To carry you home,
And dispel the shadows,
Hateful stain?

What would I not say,
To extend my soul,
Unburdened by circumstance’s,
Feeble rage?
What would I not build,
To pay homage to,
The days we cherished,
And threw away?

The Death of Tristan and Isolde


Between the towers of the berg,
And the broad river’s crossing,
Where the green land slopes downward,
To join the battle plane,
We met in secret,
And consummated our shame.

Untouched by fear,
Or petty grief,
We basked in the moments,
Enchanted maze,
Like mad children,
Searching for respite,
After yet another,
Troubled day.

Resting my head,
Against a gnarled willow,
I plucked my harp,
And hummed a quaint tune,
Ignorant to,
Fate’s calling.

Unaware of,
My immanent doom.
For crouching beneath a neighboring tree,
Nestled amongst the weeds and thorns,
Fumed the man to whom my lady was betrothed,
And the king of all that unlawful country.

If only we had spied the nave,
And armed ourselves in defense,
He might have stayed his hand,
Or fled in anonymous terror.

Yet we were oblivious,
And he was ready,
To pounce and kill,
What love had wrought,
So that even as,
I put my harp aside,
Death found me,
Helpless and afraid.

The lance’s point cleaved my chest,
Exiting my body in a rush of pain,
While my murderer gloated over me,
Like some monstrous beast.

But long before he could claim my lady,
By threat of force,
Or will of arms,
She cast herself on the very sword,
I had brought to defend her.

Baffled and outraged by the gory deed,
Our killer looked on in shock,
Unable to surmise what he had done-
Unable to shelter himself from the evidence of his villainy.

So we departed,
Stained red,
At the zenith of our youth,
Victims of lust’s circumstance,
Bourn upon desire’s fickle way.

Author’s Note-
The Legend of Tristan and Isolde has been told in numerous and conflicting ways. As a result the manner of their deaths is often consistent from one retelling to another. My poem derives its narrative structure from the Prose Tristan of the High Middle Ages, as further expanded by Mallory, in which the wicked King Mark slays Tristan while he is serenading Isolde in secret. According to most of these prose versions Isolde also dies in the action that ensues. However there is a much older and more popular poetic tradition in which Tristan perishes in despair, falsely believing Isolde has forsaken him, only to be joined in the hereafter by his love. As this version has already been explored via poetry, I thought I would attempt the later prose tradition in verse. I hope you enjoy my addition to the great saga.

John Evans

John Evans is an avid student of Medieval Literature and the writings of J.R.R Tolkien. He is a member of Doctor Cory Olsen’s Silmarillion Seminar and has been a proud supporter of Legendarium and the Mythgard institute. Along with these interests, he is the founder of the folk rock band Wrecked Haven, an amateur political theorist, and life-long writer of prose and poetry.

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