Tristan John S

Writer, Filmmaker, Musician

- being an Arthurian legend after Tennyson.

There is a story, now forgot,
Before the Lady of Shalott
Had seen her dread Sir Lancelot,
In the king’s court at Camelot,
Of a girl from Chrystlemain,
Who grew to be a woman, fair –
Possessing many virtues, rare;
And those who knew her, still do swear,
Her name, it was Elaine.

There was a willow grew ascant
A little brook, as some recount,
Where she was wont to go and chant,
In rhymes all sweet and assonant,
Which she had heard at Chrystlemain.
And there, among the wild reeds,
Came men of many noble deeds,
That they might hear her, who decreed,
“There’s magic in Elaine.”

She, all the kingdom did astound:
The birds bestirred them at her sound,
The grass blades bowed low to the ground,
The willow whispered “she is found –
The child born at Chrystlemain!”
Ere any knight had held her hand,
She spake in riddles most profound,
And she was known throughout the land –
The lady called Elaine.

But of her royal heritage,
She had no mem’ry or knowledge,
And as she sojourned by the sedge,
And looked upon the lake’s long ledge,
She wondered oft of Chrystlemain,
But there was no one to explain;
Though many tried, but e’er in vain,
To put in words, both true and plain,
Its meaning, to Elaine.

They were agreed there was a town
There, nobody could ever own –
Built by no human hand alone;
But it was of such high renown,
This sacred town at Chrystlemain,
Because it housed the wisest souls,
Who dwelt pre-Lapsian, and whole,
And asked Love only for their toll.
And this they told Elaine.

For it was the Holy Grail,
Which every knight, who could avail
Himself to seek, would only fail,
And return, loitering and pale;
And, often, only to remain,
Within the thrall of heresy,
Which was the fairy pow’r of she
They called
la belle dame sans merci
(Whose name was not Elaine).

And as these knights, imprisoned there –
Beguiled by her floating hair –
Did suddenly become aware
Another maid, who, just as fair,
Was singing songs of Chrystlemain;
They listened, and then, gradually,
Her magic chanting set them free
From e’en
la belle dame sans merci!
This lady called Elaine.

And happily, the dawn conspired,
With all the flames that heaven fired
From her eye and, it transpired –
All who saw her there desired
To see this child of Chrystlemain –
To touch her golden curls, and not,
Think all the coins of Camelot,
Could buy the wealth that she had got,
By virtue of her name.

And as the summer sat, enthroned,
Above the lake, the lady honed
The harmonies that men had groaned,
Which, in man’s infancy, was loaned,
Him for a time, at Chrystlemain.
Although she had no memory
Of even how she came to be,
She sang them all so perfectly,
The lady called Elaine.


And elsewhere, was a knight who went
By name of Tristan, who had spent
His life in quest, without relent
Until his eyes could feast, content,
Upon the town at Chrystlemain.
And he, on hearing of her fame,
And how she sang about the same
As he was seeking, turned again,
To seek out this Elaine.

In all King Arthur’s court, this knight
Was most convinced he was aright,
And often took he great delight,
Debating all throughout the night,
The whereabouts of Chrystlemain.
And having sworn an oath, went out
To see if he could find the route,
And as he rode, he had no doubt,
And so he sought Elaine.

But Tristan, was no more allowed
At Camelot – was disavowed –
Because Isolde he had wooed,
And of his sin he was not proud:
But for his quest at Chrystlemain,
He would have stayed away, and yet
It would have been his one regret,
For then he never would have met,
The lady called Elaine.

Her face was gentle, and her hair
Was radiant as it was fair;
It brought a blessing on the air,
That, in her eye, he thought he stared
Into the heart of Chrystlemain.
And as he did, his thoughts returned
Unto the friend and king he’d spurned,
Because his mistress he had yearned,
Who brought such joy and pain.

She was his older, and his best
And how he held her in his breast!
And never could he take his rest,
For he had never been so blessed –
Not e’en in chasing Chrystlemain;
Her hair was dark, her heart was good,
And he had never understood
The way she loved him as she could,
And would she love again?

For this, sweet, older love, so named
‘Isolde’, had his heart quite tamed,
But, in so doing, had profaned
King Mark, but they could not be blamed;
For, as they searched for Chrystlemain,
A vial of potion did they drink,
Which bound them, so that they did sink
Into a love of fiercest link,
That brought them such disdain.

But now this knight his exile broke:
He galloped on and, stroke by stroke,
He still was fixed by the yoke,
And with each mile he did invoke
The sacred name of Chrystlemain.
He tried to pray Mark might forgive,
And hoped ’twould not be abortive,
To visit where that lady lived –
The lady called Elaine.

And where the willow tree still grew
Ascant the brook, bare breezes blew,
There she did grant him interview ;
And so he asked her what she knew
About the town at Chrystlemain.
She answered him she did not know,
For it was many years ago;
So he asked her if tomorrow
He might see her again.


Next day he asked her if she thought
What, from his quest could e’er be wrought,
And, humbly, she said, ‘if aught,
It’s that the spirit can be taught
By what’s inside it. Do not strain,
Just introspectively apply
Your reason to your heart – ask why
You wish to know the way, and try
To find this Chrystlemain?’

Then Tristan closed his eyes and saw,
Of all the things he did adore,
He wanted, mainly, to explore
Himself, and so he did implore
This lady, born at Chrystlemain,
To speak – that he might understand,
The last conundrum in the land:
“What is man’s place?” he did demand,
Him of the fair Elaine.

And in such sweet a sound she spake,
That e’en the Lady of the Lake,
From her deep drowsy depths, did wake,
And almost did her words mistake,
For those she’d heard at Chrystlemain.
Her voice burned softly in his ears,
With wisdom older than her years,
And how she brought such faith and fears!
He listened to Elaine:

“When everything is stripped away,
And we do, in a vacuum, lay,
We nothing have to do or say –
Our spirits cannot even pray,
Or bend to thoughts of ‘Chrystlemain’.
What are we then? And what is this?
These lips, which can no longer kiss,
Nor speak in language – shall they miss
Their matter?” asked Elaine.

And Tristan thus replied to she,
“Our language is analogy:
Describes relationship – for we
Contingent are, not necess’ry;
We only think of Chrystlemain,
And only speak because we, first,
Were spoken to: wherefore, we thirst
For our desires, carnal, and curst.
What thinkest thou, Elaine?”

“We must respect ourselves before,
We any creature may adore;
And our eternal spirits pour
Away, when we look out to more –
More than ourselves; Our teeming brain,
Will murder us – our intellect
Could never think, but we collect
What others thought and, I expect,
That’s true of Chrystlemain.”

And in the pause between them blew
A little flower, then a few –
A host of daffodils, that grew
Beneath the willow. Tristan knew,
That he would never look the same
On Nature. Taking up that gold
Of yellow triumph, did behold
The legends lost and tales told
Of ancient Chrystlemain.

“Perhaps”, he quoth, “there’s nought without –
For you have sowed a seed of doubt
Which, still, is faith, and most devout,
But you have made me think about
The verity of Chrystlemain.
Consider this – that we believe
Because we have learned to receive
From others. Do we all deceive
Ourselves, Lady Elaine?”

And taking, from his hand, the flower,
She, in all her fairy power
Of a maiden with no dower
But herself, more fair, each hour,
Did, last, begin to speak again,
And asked him, “essentially
I am inclined to agree –
But we must, introspectively,
Discern ourselves, more plain”.

Then Tristan asked, “but, all the same,
I wonder still, from whence it came,
That you and I should have a name?
And is it only all in vain,
That I should hope of Chrystlemain –
That we should think religiously,
Or maidens long to married be?
Wherefore Imagine? Who named thee?
And wherefore choose ‘Elaine?’”

And he continued, “for it seems,
That we are most awake in dreams,
For to th’unconscious mind, there teems,
The mighty sum of all the things
Forever speaking, to our brains.
And, hark, when all is stripped away,
We cannot think, we cannot say,
‘I am’ because we won’t, one day;
And there is more, Elaine:

We know because we’re relative
To others; and do only live
Within a history; we sieve
Our memories for what we give
Our children; but, let me explain –
There must be one who Is, methought,
When, stripped of all is stripped of nought,
And who has, singularly, wrought
Existence from His name:

Pure Spirit, or pure energy,
Which, from whose light we may now see,
And from whose origin we be
Derived, who, then, is necess’ry,
Who sparked my quest for Chrystlemain;
For as we speak, there is a birth
Of Love now stealing through the earth –
From God to man through Nature’s mirth,
Canst thou hear it, Elaine?”

“But there are many Loves” she quoth,
“And many lovers oft are loath
To look first at themselves, for sloth.
But, Tristan, what about thine oath,
How shall you now to Chrystlemain?”
So sadly standing near, apart,
The knight made ready to depart,
And kissed her hand who kissed his heart,
The lady called Elaine.

For though she told him not the way,
He was again, able to pray,
And in his mind he heard her, aye,
As aspens quivered on the way
From Camelot to Chrystlemain.
And, as he galloped in the grove,
He wondered if he e’er could prove
The origin of Truth and Love,
And looked back at Elaine.


But, as his journey took him to
The wintry depths of time, a crew
Of pirates, or their like, who knew
He was approaching, quickly drew
Their sword upon the knight. In pain,
Tristan was brought to Ireland; there,
A White Isolde took his care,
And nursed him, but, though she was fair,
She loved him in vain.

Then Tristan, as the legends say,
Did send the fastest ship away
Unto his older love; each day
He waited for her, and did pray
If he could not see Chrystlemain,
Isolde would return, once more,
And White Isolde he did implore
Keep vigil for her ship; she swore,
She would, to ease his pain.

He waited long on her advent,
If she sailed white, it would have meant
She loved him, still, and did repent.
Isolde to the window went,
And saw the ship from Chrystlemain.
“And canst thou now her sail see?”
“She cometh not”, she lied, and he
Began to die, unhappily,
Not seeing her again.

She withdrew from the pane, and cast,
No more, her eye upon the mast,
Which with white sail had been made fast;
And Tristan, thinking to his past,
And to his quest at Chrystlemain,
Ere he had loved another’s wife,
Almost resigned up his life
Repenting his Isolde’s strife;
His thoughts turned to Elaine.

And he remembered how she said,
That love would rid the soul of dread,
And how his spirit could, instead,
Of being busy, be like led
To conscious joy at Chrystlemain.
And he, at last, began to feel
The sense that had begun to steal
His latter abject prayer’s appeal;
He gave thanks for Elaine.

And in his wise and passive mind,
The exiled knight began to find
A strength of quite a different kind,
To the old faith, which was, oft, blind,
In all its earnest strife and strain;
As he was able to dispel
His old despair, and turn from hell
And all its vacuum, he ’came well!
And blessed he then Elaine.

Then up upon his saddle-leather,
Leapt he, lighter than the feather
In his helmet set together;
His spirit was unclouded weather,
As Tristan rode to Chrystlemain.
And, in the distance, Lancelot,
Came from the court of Camelot
To woo the lady of Shalott –
The lady called Elaine.


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