"Tristan and Isolde" by Edmond Blair LeightonTranslation of Gottfried von Strassburg’s ‘Tristan’ Prologue The Society April 26, 2019 Beauty, Culture, Poetry, Translation 2 Comments Translation by Matthew Wildermuth Note: In the time of its composition—the first decade of the 13th century—Tristan was already a timeless story of heroism and romance, yet in the hands of a great master—Gottfried von Strassburg—the tale of Tristan and Isolde was transformed into the greatest romance of the German Middle Ages. Gottfried prevailed in a transformative era; no longer were marriages to be decided merely by one’s parents or church, rather the echo of the divine found in one’s love was to direct matrimony. As yielded this “tyranny of the heart,” as Joseph Campbell named our lost tradition, there erupted across Europe a poetry of noble love, and the expression of this moment’s power is nowhere to be found expressed to such efficacy than in Gottfried. Tristan’s author prepared a prologue of startling brilliance, which sets the central ideas of his work in the most evocative and musical expression, to then develop and restate throughout the epic. The work presented today is an excerpt of my translation of Gottfried’s prologue and the accompanying Middle High German as set by Karl Marold in the year 1906. I thusly have this labor undertaken, To lay before the world, and to solace All noble hearts—those hearts so dear to my own, And that world my own heart so keenly regards. It is a labor not of the common world, Nor for its common men, who, as I’ve learned, Will not endure the heart’s most trivial sorrow, But wish to revel in their impassioned bliss; May God justly reward such bliss with His! X All I must say and they must hear but meager Semblance may bear; the lay they course and that Which I’ll convey cannot but course astray. It is that other way, that other life To which my labor pleads, which in one heart Divergent ways may yet concede; which jointly May bear its bitter-sweet, its dear regret; [line 60] Its heart’s content, its heart’s lament; its dearest Life, its lamentful death; its lamentful life, Its dearest death. That life with the life of my own Lives in a dear accord; to that world would I cast my life to live in evermore, And with it be damned or by it restored. It is with that world that I’ve held my term, It’s by that world that I have been informed, And guided through a life profoundly borne. I offer then my art, my one true purpose, My keenest bequest, that the world I love May win diversion and abate a time Its long anguish. For when the troubled heart Permits immersion in some suited task, The heart’s despair a moment may thus lapse. [line 80] All surely must this cede: the leisurely, When overwrought by the heart’s keenest woe, In languor not but tend and bud their sorrow. When such men languish in their idleness, Their heart’s anguish out-blooms in bitterness. One heart thus by itself so pressed and bound, Which reveres and preserves its barrier pain, May, by distraction, to itself thus bestow A liberty, and brief solace obtain. Yet would I never to a man who Pursues diversion thus, advise that man To look for pleasures ill befit to pure love. Let then a lover to his love-tale, And with his heart and with his lips let him Gently devote an hour. _________________Often have we [line 100] Been moved to believe, and I nearly will grant, That the love-sick soul, immersed in doleful tales Of love’s keenest pain, his own hurt through them Can but gain, that through these tales he’ll submit To his despair. This sentiment I must, However near, resist; though love and pain Be intimately trussed, yet the heart must Ever persist. For, as the lover’s Passion, so set to flame by it’s desire, Must by this flame thrive, so in his passion’s Relentless gain does the fire ever rise. This dear grief is the heart’s most ardent will, Which no noble heart may ever yield. Of this I am certain as I am of death, For I have learned it through the same dear distress: [line 120] All noble lovers love to read of love-tales. Therefore all those lovers who seek a solace Need seek no further; I will provide To noble lovers the tale of purest love In two noble hearts: a lover, a beloved; A man, a woman; and a woman, A man: Tristan, Isolt; and Isolt, Tristan. X X The following Middle High German text is taken from Karl Marold’s 1906 edition. Ich hân mir eine unmüezekeit der werlt ze liebe vür geleit und edelen herzen zeiner hage: den herzen den ich herze trage, der werlde in die mîn herze siht. ine meine ir aller werlde niht als die, von der ich hœre sagen, diu keine swære müge getragen und niwan in fröuden welle sweben: die lâze ouch got mit fröuden leben! der werlde und diseme lebene enkumt mîn rede niht ebene: ir leben und mînez zweigent sich, ein ander werlt die meine ich, diu sament in eime herzen treit ir süeze sûr, ir liebez leit, [line 60] ir herzeliep, ir senede nôt, ir liebez leben, ir leiden tôt, ir lieben tôt, ir leidez leben, dem lebene sî mîn leben ergeben, der werlt wil ich gewerldet wesen, mit ir verderben oder genesen. ich bin mit ir biz her beliben und hân mit ir die tage vertriben, die mir ûf nâhe gêndem leben lêre unde geleite solten geben. der hân ich mîne unmüezekeit ze kurzewtîe vür geleit, daz sî mit mînem mære ir nâhe gênde swære ze halber senfte bringe, ir nôt dâ mite geringe. wan swer des iht vor ougen hât, da mite der muot zunmuoze gât, daz entsorget sorgehaften muot, daz ist ze herzesorgen guot. [line 80] ir aller volge diu ist dar an: swâ sô der müezige man mit senedem schaden sî überladen, dâ mêre muoze seneden schaden. bi senedem leide müezekeit, dâ wahset iemer senede leit. durch daz ist guot, swer herzeklage und senede nôt ze herzen trage, daz er mit allem ruoche dem lîbe unmuoze suoche: dâ mite sô müezeget der muot und ist dem muote ein michel guot; und gerâte ich niemer doch dar an, daz iemer liebe gernder man dekeine solhe unmuoze im neme, diu reiner liebe missezeme. ein senelîchez mære daz trîbe ein senedære mit herzen und mit munde und senfte sô die stunde. [line 100] nu ist aber einer jehe ze vil, der ich vil nâch gevolgen wil: der senede muot, sô der ie mê mit seneden maeren umbe gê, sô sîner swaere ie mêre sî. Der selben jehe der stuende ich bî, wan ein dinc daz mir widerstât: swer inneclîche liebe hât, doch ez im wê von herzen tuo, daz herze stât doch ie dar zuo. Der inneclîche minnenmuot, sô der in sîner senegluot ie mêre und mêre brinnet, sô er ie sêrer minnet. Diz leit is liebes alse vol, daz ubel daz tuot sô herzewol, daz es kein edel herze enbirt, sît ez hie von geherzet wirt. ich weiz ez wârez als den tôt und erkenne ez bî der selben nôt: [line 120] der edele senedære der minnet senedie mære. Von die swer senedaer maere ger, der envar niht verrer danne her; ich wil in wol bemæren von edelen senedæren, die reine sene wol tâten schîn: ein senedære und ein senedærîn, ein man ein wîp, ein wîp ein man, Tristan Isolt, Isolt Tristan. Matthew Wildermuth is a father, poet, and video artist. His work has appeared in Concentric Literary Magazine. Views expressed by individual poets and writers on this website and by commenters do not represent the views of the entire Society. The comments section on regular posts is meant to be a place for civil and fruitful discussion. Pseudonyms are discouraged. The individual poet or writer featured in a post has the ability to remove any or all comments by emailing submissions@ classicalpoets.org with the details and under the subject title “Remove Comment.” Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window) Related 2 Responses Lew Icarus Bede April 27, 2019 Mr. Wildermuth has heartily brought forth the prologue of “Tritan und Isolde” to the SCP, that work which touched the harsh vision of T. S. Eliot in “The Wasteland”—”Oed’ und leer das Meer”. I remain amazed to this day at the flourishing of Middle German literature in the middle of the Hohenstaufen dynasty around 1200. The epic tragic vision of those times is staggering. In addition to Gottfriend von Strassburg’s epic poetic narrative, there were minnesinger Walther von der Vogelweide, the great narrative poet Hartmann von Aue, Wolfram von Eschenbach, the author of “Parzival”, and the Austrian “Nibelungenlied”. To attempt to bring any large part of that stupefying vision would be remarkable indeed, if not stupendous. It makes so much of what we do in the New Millennium seem pale indeed. I suppose that is why Wagner’s maniacal operas were so invigourating to many in the 19th century; for such an interpretation of that era is not only dreadful, it is also impressively grandiose. I am always amazed at how hard it is to embrace the profound aspects of World literature, as writers and translators. At times it can be absolutely excruciating, and yet, heroic. That is the main reason, if any were ever needed, as to why I shall remain to the end of my life impressed by the classical literatures of Greece and Rome. Reply Carl Uwe Diebes April 28, 2019 It seems that lowly Mr. Bede has mistyped “Tristan und Isolde” and its author “Gottfried von Strassburg”. Of those writers in English who have drawn material from the Hohenstaufen period, the one who comes first to mind is Longfellow, who, in “The Golden Legend” draws upon Hartmann von Aue’s “Der arme Heinrich”. The late Romantics and the Victorians did enjoy a flowery tale. Reply Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.