“The New Lay of Tristan and Isolde” is a retelling of the legend, famously told in Gottfried von Strassburg’s romance, of Tristan and Isolde—of the love between them and of their tragic deaths. In the poem, I attempt not only to make the story more palatable for the modern reader, but also to better understand the characters emotionally and psychologically. Perhaps more importantly though, I attempt to offer some redemption for a tale that did not entirely sit well with me, and in doing so find a way to move past many of the difficulties that Tristan and Isolde face—not just in the grief of the world around them, but also in the darkness within themselves—and thus reach closer to an understanding of love that transcends (as it must) the fickleness and shortcomings of language.
COURSE: THINK 43: What is Love?
INSTRUCTORS: Kathryn Starkey, David Lummus, Ray Kania
The New Lay of Tristan and Isolde
There comes a tale from days of old
Of love and sorrow intertwined–
Sweet anguish and affection cold:
Ennobled hearts with passion blind,
Who nonetheless, in steadfast light,
Saw truth outlasting earthly vows,
Who in their unrelenting plight
Discovered all that love endows:
A feeling that shall never die
Though chased toward the ends of earth,
That if we can, in grief, espy
Its beauty, shall turn pain to mirth.
I am a North Carolina native with a long-standing love of the worlds of epic poetry, primal myth, and high fantasy. More recently, I have developed an interest in traditional (mostly iambic) forms of writing English poetry, which have become a bit archaic given the last hundred years of poetic development and the immense popularity of free verse. Still, having being influenced heavily by the sheer vigor of Vergil and Ovid, the personality and conviction of Keats and Tolkien, and the thematic force of T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams, I cannot help but be beckoned into the past. In college, I hope to pursue a study of (naturally) English, but I also hope to delve into Philosophy, Classics, and (surprisingly, or perhaps not) Computer Programming. No matter where I end up, there will always be a place in my heart for poetry.