History of Literature








Richard Wagner




The attempt has been made in the following to give an idea of the charm and interest of the original text of the Wagner operas, of Wagner's extraordinary power and fertility as a dramatist. It is not critique or commentary, it is presentation, picture, narrative; it offers nothing that is not derived directly and exclusively from the Wagner libretti and scores.

The stories of the operas are widely known already, of course. As literature, however, one may almost say they are not known at all, unless by students of German. The translators had before them a task so tremendous, in the necessity to fit their verse-rendering of the master's poetry to extremely difficult music, that we respect them for achieving it at all. None the less must the translations included in our libretti be pronounced painfully inadequate. To give a better, more complete knowledge of the original poems is the object of these essays. The poems form, even apart from the music, a whole beautiful, luminous, romantic world. One would not lose more by dropping out of literature the Idylls of the King than the Wagnerian romances.


Parsifal  (libretto by Richard Wagner)
Illustrated by Franz Stassen

The Ring of the Nibelung
The Rhine-Gold
The Valkyrie
The Twilight of the Gods
The Master-Singers of Nuremberg

Tristan and Isolde (libretto by Richard Wagner)

Lohengrin  (libretto by Richard Wagner)

 (libretto by Richard Wagner)
The Flying Dutchman



Tristan and Iseult





The Ouverture to Tristan and Isolde is singularly calculated to create the mood in which the Opera needs to be heard. It discourses of nothing but love. It is long, it knocks and presses upon chords lying abysmally below thought, until these vibrate in response,—and the curtain goes up before an almost helplessly sympathetic listener.

Chief among the emotions expressed in this harmonious setting-forth of the argument,—rich in sighs, glances, caresses,—is certain tragic yearning, which seems of the very essence of love, the love in question; tragic, because it is a thirst which from the nature of things admits of no satisfaction upon the earth we know, since its demand is no less than fusion of one soul and flesh into another, so that each is completely possessed and neither knows any more which of the two he is; the condition we hear the lovers sigh for later on their bank of flowers in the warm summer night: "I," says the man, "shall be Isolde, you will be Tristan."—"I shall be Tristan," the woman says, "and you Isolde." Nay, there shall be no more Tristan, no more Isolde, but nameless, indivisible, possessed of a single consciousness, they shall float in an eternal night of love to ever-new recognitions, ever-new ardours....

The story belongs to the period of King Arthur and his Round Table. At that time Cornwall, we learn, was subject  to Ireland, to the extent at least of owing tribute. But the subject country, with increase of power, had become impatient of the tax, and, when the Irish hero Morold was sent to collect it, a knight of the Cornish court, Tristan, fought and slew him, and in lieu of the exacted tribute sent back his head to Ireland.

Tristan had not come forth unhurt from the combat in which Morold had fallen. With the peculiar daring which earned him the fame of "hero without equal, wonder of all nations," he took the wound of which he was dying to the country of the enemy, to the very castle of the Irish King whose daughter Isolde's affianced he had slain. For Isolde was renowned for her skill in the art of medicine. The Queen, her mother, possessed even rarer secrets of magic. In a small skiff, almost unattended, Tristan, obscuring his glory under the name of Tantris, came to Isolde to be healed. The high-born physician gave him faithful care. No one suspected him, until Isolde, remarking a trifling notch in his sword, made the discovery that a steel splinter which she had removed from the severed head of Morold fitted it. This man, then, completely in her power, was Tristan, the enemy of her land, the slayer of her betrothed. The duty of a princess of the time was clear. She caught up the sword and approached his bed with the intention of avenging Morold's death. But the wounded man unclosed his eyes, and glancing past the sword, past the hand which brandished it, looked into her eyes. And, inexplicably, she could not proceed; pity moved her, she let the sword sink. She kept the secret of his identity. She applied herself more than ever diligently to heal him, "that he might betake himself home, and burden her no more with the look of his eyes." He went at last with professions of eternal gratitude. The least he could have done, in accordance with these, so it seemed to her, was to preserve silence as she had preserved it, to let the  incident have no more result than as if oblivion had engulfed it. Instead of which, behold before long Tristan arriving in his own resplendent person, with an embassy of Cornish nobles, to arrange peace between the two countries and obtain the hand of the Irish king's daughter for the Cornish sovereign, Mark, his uncle.

Now the Irish, being, as we gather, at a disadvantage in any match of force with the insolent tributaries who had cast off their yoke, could not well refuse,—could not afford to give offence by refusing. The alliance was in truth a splendid one,—were it not for that old unavenged affront! Even as matters stood, the proposal admitted of being looked upon in the light of reparation,—if one did not see in it, as did one of the principal personages involved, a second insult more intolerable than the first.

The Cornish suit was successful. The feud was publicly declared at an end, and peace sworn to. The heiress of the Irish crown set sail for Cornwall under the escort of Tristan.

The curtain rising shows the rich pavilion on ship-deck where Isolde hides her face from the light against the cushions of a day-bed. Her attendant, Brangaene, stands gazing over the ship-side. The voice of a young sailor is heard from the rigging out of sight. Now, though the Cornish diplomats have comported themselves during their mission with delicacy, the crew accompanying them take less trouble to conceal the glee they feel over the humiliation of their former lords, signified in this present carrying off of Ireland's proudest jewel. Isolde, spite of all courteous forms, is regarded by them as, in a sense, a prize of war. Some hint of this appears in the song of the young seaman, who permits himself references to the "wild and lovely Irish maid," and asks whether they be her sighs which swell his sail. The words penetrate through Isolde's  absorption; she starts up in sudden fury, crying: "Who dares to mock me?" and looks wildly around, as if she had been so engrossed in other scenes that she did not, on returning to the light of day, know for a moment where she was. Then she recognises Brangaene, and remembers, and inquires where they are. "Streaks of blue are rising up out of the West," Brangaene describes what she is watching, "softly and swiftly sails the ship; on a calm sea before evening we surely shall reach the land."—"What land?" Isolde asks unexpectedly. "The verdant coast of Cornwall."—"Nevermore!" bursts from the princess, "Not to-day! Not to-morrow!"

Brangaene hurries to her, alarmed and wondering at the hurricane of passion she now lets loose,—calling upon the arts of magic to restore to her the lost power of commanding sea and storm, calling upon the winds and waves to wreck this insolent ship and drown everyone upon it! Brangaene stands aghast. What she had but dimly apprehended, then, was true. She clings to her mistress, endeavouring to calm her. "What, dear heart, have you so long been concealing from me? Not one tear did you shed at parting from father and mother. Hardly a word of farewell did you speak to those remaining behind. Coldly and dumbly you left the land of home; pale and silent you have been on the voyage, taking no food, taking no sleep, deeply troubled, rigid and wretched,—how am I to endure to see you thus, to be nothing to you, to stand before you as a stranger? Oh, tell me what troubles you! Tell me, make known to me what is torturing you! If she is to think herself in any measure dear to you, confide now in Brangaene!" The unhappy Isolde, suffocating, gasps for air: "Air!... Air!... My heart is smothering!... Open! Open wide!" Brangaene hurriedly draws apart the tapestries which form the wall of the apartment at the back. The deck of the ship  is seen from mainmast to stern; sailors busy with ropes, groups of knights and their esquires lounging. Tristan stands apart from the rest, with folded arms, staring abstractedly over the water. His servant Kurwenal lies idly outstretched at his feet. Isolde's eyes at once find the half-averted figure; her absorption in it becomes equal to his in the unknown object of the thoughts engrossing him. She does not hear this time the sailor at the topmast singing over again the song she had before resented; "O Irish maid, where tarriest thou? Is it the force of thy sighs which fills my sails?" Slow, involuntary, words drop from her lips, her inmost thoughts speaking to herself, while her eyes brood gloomily upon the unconscious head. "Mine elected,—lost to me! Lofty and beautiful,—brave and craven! Death-devoted head! Death-devoted heart!" Starting awake at the ring of her own words, she laughs unpleasantly and, turning to Brangaene: "What do you think of the lackey yonder?" Brangaene's glance follows Isolde's. She does not understand. "Whom do you mean?"—"The hero over there who averts his glance from mine, who in shame and embarassment gazes away from me. Tell me, how does he impress you?"—"Are you inquiring, my dear lady," Brangaene asks in wonder, "of Tristan, the marvel of all nations, the man of exalted renown, the hero without equal, honour's treasure and vaunt?" Isolde catches up her tone, to continue in scornful mimicry: "Who terrified at his own achievement flies to refuge wherever he can, having won for his master a corpse to bride?... Is my saying dark to you? Go then and ask himself, the presumably free man, whether he dare to venture near me? All forms of reverence and considerate service he forgets toward his sovereign mistress, the shrinking hero, that of all things her glance may not light on him.... Oh, he no doubt knows why!" Suddenly overmastered by an impulse  of her too-long controlled rancour: "Go to the haughty one," she orders Brangaene, "bear to him this message from his lady: Let him come into my presence forthwith, prepared to do my command."—"Am I to bid him come and offer his duty?" Brangaene timidly interprets. "Nay," Isolde storms, "let the self-sufficient one be warned to fear the mistress! That do I bid him, I, Isolde!"

Fixedly she watches the attendant moving along the deck, past the sailors at their work, toward the solitary figure of the knight. She watches the two fixedly while their interview lasts.

Kurwenal, catching sight of the woman approaching, tugs at his master's mantle: "Attention, Tristan! Message from Isolde!" Tristan's start suggests how complete his abstraction, and what the effect of that name unexpectedly pronounced. As Brangaene comes before him, the stage-directions say, he rapidly composes himself. Deferently he inquires of his lady's wishes. Bragaene tells him, barely, that her lady wishes to see him. Then begins the series of his evasions, courteous as possible, but determined as courteous. "If she be weary of the long voyage, that is nigh ended. Before sunset we shall touch land. Whatsoever orders my lady have for me shall be faithfully carried out." Brangaene repeats the order: "Let Sir Tristan then go to her, such is our lady's will."—"Yonder where the green meadows are still coloured blue to the eye, my king awaits my lady. That I may escort her to him, soon will I approach the Bright One. To none would I yield the privilege." The maid repeats, still patiently: "Tristan, my lord, listen and attend: My lady requests your service,—that you should betake yourself to the place where she awaits you."—"At what place soever I be found, faithfully do I serve her, to the greater honour of women. If I should forsake the helm  at this moment, how could I safely guide the keel to King Mark's land?" Brangaene's temper flashes a faint reflection of Isolde's fire. "Tristan, my lord, are you mocking me? If the stupid handmaid cannot make her meaning clear to you, hear my mistress's own words. This she bade me say: Be warned, a self-sufficient one, to fear the mistress! That is her behest,—Isolde's!" Without giving Tristan time to hesitate, Kurwenal jumps up: "May I frame an answer?"—"What would your answer be?" Tristan asks, for the moment at a loss. And Kurwenal, very loud, that his words may not fail to reach Isolde's ears: "This say to Madam Isolde: That he who made over to the maid of Ireland the crown of Cornwall and the inheritance of England cannot be the chattel of that same maid, presented by himself to his uncle. A lord of the world,—Tristan, the hero! I cry it aloud and do you report my words, though they should bring upon me the wrath of a thousand Madam Isoldes!" Tristan has vainly tried to silence him. As Brangaene indignantly hastens away, the irrepressible servant sings after her at the top of his voice a mocking fragment of ballad, popular no doubt in Cornwall: "Lord Morold came over the sea to Cornwall to collect tribute. An island floats in a lonely sea, there he now lies buried. His head, however, hangs in Ireland, the tribute paid by England. Hurrah for our lord Tristan! What a one is he to pay tribute!" Tristan drives the fellow off, orders him below. But the whole crew have taken up the last lines of the song and shout them with a will. Brangaene drags together the curtains, shutting from sight the cruel rabble. Isolde, who has with difficulty controlled herself, seems on the point of an outburst, but she quells it, and in the restored silence asks with forced composure: "But now, about Tristan?—I wish to be told exactly." Brangaene, at first unwilling, reports the interview. When she has finished,  Isolde, whose anger has made room for a sorrowful intense dejection, reveals to her what explains the humour, to her so far inexplicable, of her mistress. Her deeply wounded feelings bleeding afresh at their exposure, Isolde makes the relation almost tearfully. "You have been a witness to my humiliation, hear now what brought it about. They sing to me derisive songs. I could reply if I would! Of a boat I could tell which, small and mean, drew to the coast of Ireland. In it a sick and suffering man, in woful plight, at the point of death...." She tells the story of her recognition in this Tantris of Tristan; of her resolve to take immediate vengeance upon him; of the look which disarmed her, her dismissal of him, healed, that he "might go home and burden her no more with the look of his eyes!"—"Oh, wonder!" breathes Brangaene. "Where were my eyes? The guest whom I once helped to nurse...?"—"You heard his praise a moment ago! 'Hurrah for our lord Tristan!' He was that unhappy man. He swore a thousand oaths of eternal gratitude to me, and truth. Now hear how a hero keeps his word. He whom I dismissed unknown as Tantris, as Tristan comes boldly back. On a proud tall ship he draws to land, and desires the heiress of Ireland in marriage for the worn King of Cornwall, for Mark, his uncle. In Morold's lifetime who had ventured to offer us such an affront? To sue for the crown of Ireland for the King of the tribute-owing Cornish!... Oh, woe is me! It was I, I, who in secret prepared for myself this shame! Instead of smiting with the avenging sword, weak, I let it drop. Now I am the servant of my own vassal!" Brangaene, when all is told, does not apparently recognise in the situation cause for so much bitterness. "When peace, reconciliation, and friendship were sworn on all sides," she says wonderingly, "we all rejoiced to see the day. How could I suppose it was a source of affliction to you?" The  point then appears of that bitterness, which would hardly in reality have been a point but for a sentiment not among those which Isolde confesses to her confidante. That what she kept silent the other should reveal! That what he could only know and live to report through the weakness of her woman's heart, he should publicly make use of, to his own glory and his relative's advantage! She paints his attitude, as she imagines him, victory-flushed, hale and whole now, pointing at her and saying in loud, clear tones: "There were a treasure for you, my lord and uncle! What do you think of her as a wife? The pretty Irish-woman I will bring to you here. By roads and by-paths well known to me, give the sign, I fly to Ireland: Isolde is yours! I delight in the adventure!" The picture goads her to very madness, and, with a cry for its mingling of ferocity with anguish like the roar of a baited and wounded lioness, she breaks into maledictions upon his head, calling down vengeance upon him, death upon him, nay,—at the climax of her rage and insupportable pain,—death upon them both! With impetuous tenderness Brangaene showers words of endearment on the exhausted friend, hushes her with caresses, heaps, as it were, smothering flowers upon her angry coals. She forces her gently to a seat, comforting her with word and touch. Then she holds up all in a different light, endeavours to make her see the thing reasonably, as it must appear to others. "What delusion is this? What idle raving? How can you stultify yourself till you neither can see nor hear? Whatever debt of gratitude Sir Tristan owes you, tell me, could he better repay it than with the most magnificent of crowns? Thus does he at the same time faithfully serve his noble uncle and bestow upon you the world's most enviable prize. He has renounced, generous and true-hearted, his own inheritance, and placed it at your feet, that he may call you Queen. And if through him you are  to wed Mark, how should you find fault with the choice? Can you fail to prize and honour the man? Of great lineage and gentle nature, where is his equal in power and splendour? Who would not wish to share his good fortune, as consort to tarry beside him, whom the greatest of heroes so devotedly serves?" Isolde, but half heeding, has fallen again to her miserable brooding. Brangaene's last words find their way to her brain and produce an image there which she stares at with gloomy and tragic eyes. As before, unconscious in her perturbation that she is doing it, she voices her inmost thoughts audibly, like a somnambulist: "Unloved by him, to behold the unrivalled man ever near, how could I endure the torment?" Brangaene catches the words, and innocently supposes them applied to King Mark. She presses fondly against this unaccountably humble-minded mistress: "What are you dreaming, perverse one? Unloved? Where does the man live who would not love you? Who could see Isolde and not blissfully dissolve in love for her? But, if so were that he who has been chosen for you should be of a nature to that degree cold, if so were that some evil magic drew him away from you, I should know how very soon to bind the unkind one to you, the power of love should work its spell upon him...." She draws so near to Isolde that she can speak without fear of being overheard. "Do you forget your mother's magic? Do you imagine that she, who ponders all things so sagely, has sent me void of counsel along with you to a strange land?"—"At the right moment I am reminded of my mother's counsel," Isolde murmurs thoughtfully before her; "Her art I prize and welcome its aid. Vengeance it affords for the betrayal, peace in the need of the heart. Bring the casket here to me."—"It contains what shall secure your happiness!" Brangaene joyfully hurries to fetch the small golden coffer, lifts the lid, fingers  the phials. "In this very order were they placed by your mother, the mighty magic potions. For hurts and wounds here is balm; here, for poison, is counterpoison...." She takes out and holds up before Isolde with a significant smile a small flask. "The sweetest draught of all I hold here!" Isolde pushes aside her hand and stretches her own to the casket. "You are mistaken. I know better which one that is. I marked it with a deep incision. Here is the draught which shall serve my turn!" Brangaene stares at the phial which Isolde has taken from among the rest. "The death-potion!" she gasps, recoiling.

A sing-song shout interrupts them, the voices of the sailors hauling at ropes, taking in sail,—a reminder to Isolde that the land, the terrible land, is near. Kurwenal hurries in: "Up, up, you ladies! Briskly and cheerily! Quickly prepare to land! Ready at once, nimble and spry! And to Madam Isolde I was to say from Tristan, my master: the pennant of joy waves merrily from the mast, making her approach known in Mark's royal castle. Wherefore he begs Madam Isolde to haste and make ready, that he may escort her ashore." Isolde, for a minute convulsed with a shuddering horror at her realization of the decisive moment so near, reconquers her composure, and replies with contrasting dignity and calm to Kurwenal's familiar and rude pressing of the high-born ladies to haste. "To Sir Tristan bear my greetings and report to him what I say. If he look to have me walk at his side and stand before King Mark, as custom and seemliness demand, let him know that this shall in no wise happen if he have not before sought pardon of me for an uncondoned offence. Let him therefore cast himself upon my clemency!" As Kurwenal by a gesture signifies his stiff-necked resistance to her command, she repeats it, more regally peremptory than before: "Take careful heed  of what I say and carefully report it. I refuse to make ready to accompany him to land, I refuse to walk beside him and stand before King Mark, unless he have before, as is fit and becoming, sued for forgiveness and forgetfulness of an unexpiated fault. Let him hope these from my grace!"—"Be quite sure that I shall tell him!" the bluff serving-man replies, turning to go: "Now wait and see how he takes it!"

Isolde flings her arms around Brangaene: "Farewell, Brangaene! Commend me to the world! Commend me to my father and mother!"—"What is it?" the handmaid asks, not understanding, yet half frightened; "What are you meditating? Are you planning flight? Whither must I follow you?"—"Nay, did you not hear? I shall remain where I am. I intend to await Tristan. Follow faithfully my command. At once prepare the peace-draught,—you know the one I showed you."—"What draught do you mean?" Brangaene asks, not daring to understand. Isolde takes it out of the coffer once more and holds it up for Brangaene to see well, the little deadly phial. "This draught! Pour it into the golden goblet; it will contain the whole without brimming over.—Mind you are true to me!" she adds, forcing it into the maid's hand. "But this drink..." falters the appalled girl, "for whom?"—"For him who betrayed me!"—"Tristan?"—"Shall drink to our peace-making!" Brangaene falls at Isolde's feet, entreating her to spare her. "Do you spare me, disloyal girl!" Isolde passionately chides. What was the purpose, she asks, of that provision made by her mother for their assistance in a strange land? For hurts and wounds she had given balm; for poison, antidote; for deepest woe, for utmost affliction, she had given the death-draught: thanks be rendered to her now—by death! Brangaene still resisting, Isolde imperiously presses her command. Their struggle is cut short by  Kurwenal announcing Tristan. Brangaene staggers to the back. Isolde visibly summons up all her courage, all her strength, and with queenly self-possession bids Tristan approach.

The music introducing the following scene has the effect of lifting the story on to a plane of larger things. The proportions of the personages, in the light of the magnifying music, are seen to be heroic, their natures vast, their passions, in their very tremendousness, august.

Tristan stops at the entrance and waits deferentially. Constraint makes him into a man of chill iron. There is a long moment of heavy-laden silence. He is first to speak: "Make known to me, lady, your wish!" She comes to the point at once. "Do you not know my wish, when the dread of fulfilling it has kept you afar from my glance?" He evades her, as he had before evaded Brangaene. "Reverence laid its compulsion upon me!"—"Small reverence have you shown me. With overt scorn you have refused obedience to my command."—"Obedience alone restrained me."—"Paltry cause should I have to thank your master, if his service required of you discourtesy to his own consort."—"Custom demands," he quietly meets this, "where I have lived, that the escort of the bride, while bringing her home, should keep afar from her presence."—"For what reason?"—Stiffly as he stands, his answer resembles a shrug. "Ask of custom!"—"Since you cherish so great a regard for custom, my lord Tristan," Isolde mocks, "let me remind you of what likewise is a custom: to make peace with the enemy, if he is to report you as his friend." "And what enemy?" he questions, unmoved. "Inquire of your terror!... Blood-guiltiness stands between us!"—"That was made good!"—"Not between us!"—"In the open field, before the assembled people, a solemn oath was sworn to let vengeance rest."—"Not  there was it, not in the open field, that I kept Tantris concealed, that Tristan lay at my mercy. In the open field he stood magnificent, hale and brave; the thing however which he swore, I fore bore to swear. I had learned to keep silence. When he lay languishing in the hushed chamber, and I stood silent before him with the sword, though my mouth no made sound, though my hand refrained, yet the thing which I had sworn with hand and mouth I silently renewed my oath to perform. I now intend to keep it."—"What did you swear, lady?" Tristan asks simply, without effect of defiance. "Vengeance for Morold!" she hurls at him. He seems to wonder. A sort of numbness has been creeping over him; an atmosphere of dream has closed around him; her neighbourhood, her voice, no matter what words she is saying, even these angry and cruel ones, have an effect of lulling, of making the real world seem unreal. "Are you concerned for that?" he asks, with the sincerity of that state of having lost grasp on things as it is agreed to pretend they are. "Dare you to mock me?" she rages, "He was affianced to me, the gallant Irish hero. I had consecrated his arms, for me he went into battle. When he fell, my honour fell with him. In the heaviness of my heart I swore an oath that if no man would take vengeance for his murder, I, a woman, would find the hardihood for it. Why, when sick and feeble you lay in my power, I did not strike, explain to yourself by easy interpretation: I cared for your wound, that a man in sound health should be struck down by the vengeful hand of him who won Isolde. Judge for yourself now what your doom shall be. Since the men are all your adherents, who is to smite Tristan?" More than ever it seems like the atmosphere of a dream closing down upon him, a dream in which they move, projecting incredible things. But he has perfectly seized her meaning, and even in a dream a  man acts in character. Pale and self-contained, he hands her his unsheathed sword, and his voice shows a first tinge of emotion as he speaks the name of Morold, whom, it would almost seem, she had loved. "If Marold was so dear to you, again take up the sword, and drive it surely and steadfastly, that it may not drop from your grasp!"

If she seemed somewhat like a lioness before, striding and chafing in her regal rage, she is again, it must be confessed, a little like one now, but presenting a different aspect of the great feline, a sort of cruelty, a need to torment before sacrificing. "What would King Mark say if I were to slay his best servant, the most faithful of his retainers, who won for him crown and land? Does it seem to you such a paltry matter, that for which he stands indebted to you, bringing home to him the Irish bride, that he would not chide, should I slay the envoy who so faithfully delivers into his hands the hostage of the peace-compact?... Put up your sword! When upon a time I brandished it, my heart hot with desire for vengeance, at your gazing upon me with an eye that took my measure, to see if I would answer as a wife for King Mark"—(There, there is point of insufferable bitterness!)—"I let the sword sink. Let us drink now to our reconciliation!"

By a sign she orders Brangaene to bring the draught. The poor creature shrinks away shuddering. Isolde, by a gesture more peremptory still, repeats her command, and Brangaene is seen tremulously busying herself with the golden casket and the golden cup. Again the sing-song chorus is heard, of the sailors hauling in the topsail. The sound falls with a shock upon Tristan's ear. "Where are we?" he cries, in bewilderment. "Close to our destination!" Isolde replies significantly. They are so close indeed to the end of their voyage that anything there is to say must be said now, and she invites, with a  first suspicion of softness, some expression from him of regret, some explanation before they die, some attempt at justification of his so unkind-seeming return to the woman who had nursed and saved him. "Tristan, shall I obtain amends? What have you to say to me?" But he is guarded now as earlier; the compulsion of honour is no less strong upon him than before. "The lady of silence," he replies darkly, "teaches me to be silent. I apprehend, mayhap, what she concealed.... I conceal what she does not apprehend!"—"I shall apprehend the reason of your silence," she exclaims angrily, "if you mean to elude me. Do you refuse to drink to our peace-making?"

Brangaene has brought the cup. Tristan gazes rigidly into Isolde's eyes as she approaches him bearing it. "The voyage nears its end. In brief space we shall stand," her lip curls with irony, "before King Mark! As you lead me to him, should you not deem it an apt speech to make: My lord and uncle, look at her well! A meeker woman you could never hope to win. I slew her affianced, I sent home to her his head; the wound made by his weapon she graciously healed. My life lay in her power; the gentle maid made me a gift of it, and gave her consent to the dishonour and degradation of her country that she might become your wife. In kind acknowledgment of my good gifts to her, she mixed me a sweet peace-draught; of her grace she tendered this to me, to make all offences forgotten!" No, Tristan can hardly entertain a doubt of the cup's contents which the princess holds toward him with her ambiguous smile. But her right, aside from any other consideration, is recognised as indubitable to the life which she saved. We have from his own lips later what his emotions were in this moment so pregnant with fate. What we see is that he stands like a man in a dream. A voice is heard outside shouting orders to the sailors: "Up with the cable! Free  the anchor!" He starts awake—he rises as if with a spring to the height of the moment. "Anchor loose!" he cries wildly. "Helm to the stream! Sails and mast to the wind!" Ay, let go all regards and restraints of life, since life itself is about to be tossed over. There is zest in doing it, and then rid at once forever of the puzzling world of duty and prudence and heart-starvation! He snatches the goblet from Isolde's hand: "Well do I know Ireland's queen and the magic power of her arts. I made use of the balm which she proffered, I take the cup from her now, that I to-day may completely recover. And do you mark the pledge with which, grateful, I drink to our peace!" It is an answer, this enigmatic pledge, to her wistful question: "What have you to say to me?" He cannot pass into silence, and leave her forever with her unmingled contempt for him. By broken intimations he flashes light upon the thing which his lips are interdicted from revealing. Charged with emotion, the words chime slowly: "Tristan's honour,—highest truth!... Tristan's misery,—cruellest spite!... Lure of the heart!... Dream-intuitions!... Sole comforter of an eternal woe, merciful draught of forgetfulness, unwaveringly I drink!" He sets the cup to his lips and is drinking as he said, when with the cry: "Defrauded here too! Mine, one half!" Isolde wrests the goblet from him: "Traitor, I drink to you!" and drains it, unwavering as he.

The empty cup drops from her hand. They stand in suspense, gazing at each other, as defiantly they await death. The searching potion in a moment begins to take effect; each sees in the eyes of the other a new thing dawning, strange and beautiful; a trembling seizes upon their limbs. They press their hands convulsively to their hearts, the seat of an incomprehensible trouble, then to their foreheads, within which the brain seems to have become subject to over-wild delusions.  Their eyes meet again, and are averted in a confused terror; but, invincibly allured, again seek the other—and both gaze with increasing, at last unconquerable, yearning. With tremulous lips she speaks his name,—a complete confession in the one word so spoken. Passionately he calls hers,—confession for confession. She sinks overpowered on his breast. He clasps her ardently to him. Brangaene wrings her hands at sight of them locked in their long, mute embrace. Her work this, the work of her disobedient hands which, too weak for the stern task assigned them, poured out the love-potion in place of the death-draught. "Woe, woe," she wails, "eternal, irredeemable woe, instead of brief death! Behold the pernicious work of a foolish fondness blossoming heavenward in lamentation!"

The two move apart for a moment in order better to gaze at each other. "What was I dreaming," he falters, "of Tristan's honour?" "What was I dreaming," she wonderingly asks, "of indignities to Isolde?"—"You, lost to me?" Could man have imagined so wild a thing! "You repulsing me?" Probable, it seems, as he stretches to her those yearning arms! It has all been a malignant trick, then, of evil sorcery! Restored at length from that delusion, they yield themselves exultantly to the tide of passion that has caught them away and shall carry them whither it will, scornful of the whole world, lost in each other, conscious of a sweetness in the surrender surpassing all that life had given them to suspect.

The peculiar action of the potion is detected from the above. It seems less to create passion than to remove all that obscured and controlled it, dissolve the barriers which up to the moment of drinking stood so effectively between the two. Tristan's will crumbles under it, the will which had kept him loyal to Mark, which had made him, to the point of offence, shun the  radius of her dangerous magnetism. Isolde's pride melts under it, which had enabled her to keep up with herself and him a fiction of hate for the man who had wronged her. All that keeps love within bounds being burned away, it towers in a sublime conflagration. Their sense of the change is that they have awakened from a dream; but the effect of the potion has been in truth rather more to plunge them into a state of dream, in which while one emotion is in the ascendant the others sleep,—reason sleeps, will sleeps, all other interests and considerations sleep, leaving love free to reach proportions and an intensity unknown during wakefulness.

They have not heard or heeded the cries of the crew: "Hail, hail, King Mark!" The curtains of the pavilion are suddenly drawn wide apart. The ship's company crowds the deck; all are gazing toward the land. Tristan and Isolde take account of nothing, their senses fast sealed to all but the contemplation of each other. Brangaene and other women place on Isolde's unconscious shoulders the royal mantle, and deck her, unaware of it, with jewels. Kurwenal comes running to his master: "Hail, Tristan, fortunate hero! King Mark, with rich rout of courtiers, approaches in a barge. Ha! He looks well pleased, coming to meet the bride!" Tristan asks, dazed: "Who approaches?"—"The King!"—"What king?"—Kurwenal points overboard. Tristan stares landward, not comprehending. The men shout and wave their caps. "Hail, King Mark!"—"What is it?" Isolde inquires, reached in her trance by the clamour; "Brangaene, what cry is that?"—"Isolde, mistress," the distraught Brangaene implores, "self-control for this one day!"—"Where am I?" the bewildered lady asks helplessly. "Am I alive?..." What, the question asks itself, what is this still familiar surrounding scene, when they ought, by true working of the drug, to be dead? If any  thought had accompanied the overmastering impulse which she had blindly followed, it had been that before death all disguises drop, that in dying one is sincere. But since death had not followed the drinking of the draught—"Ha! What draught was that?" she asks in consternation. Brangaene gives the desperate truth. "The love-draught!" Isolde's eyes widen with horror, and turning from Brangaene fix themselves upon Tristan. The situation flashes before her for one shocked moment in its true colours; and as before her calling his name had revealed all love, it reveals now her sense of an unspeakable awfulness in what has happened to them. As he calls her name, too, it expresses, with his boundless tenderness, pity and a tragic recognition of the black ingredient in the cup which had lifted them to such heights of intoxication. "Must I live?" speaks the last glimmer of the old Isolde, provided normally with a moral nature; and overwhelmed by the greatness of the catastrophe she sinks fainting upon his breast. A last glimmer of the old Tristan groans aloud: "O rapture beset with snares! Bliss on betrayal built!"

Trumpets are heard. The eager expectancy of all indicates that the King's barge is close at hand. The curtain falls.


The introduction to the second act opens with the motif of the Day. It is no tender dawn described, with tremulous lights among the clouds; it has little of the touching Morgenpracht in Parsifal. It is a startling announcement of a fateful fact, an obtruder feared and unloved; it is like a clash of cymbals or call of trumpets summoning to unwelcome tasks, away from delights and dreams. It is indeed the day as it appears to lovers when, dispelling the gentle night which united them,  with cruel golden shafts it drives them apart. The musical rendering follows upon it of love's impatient heart-beats, love's ungovernable eagerness for the beloved's presence, love listening for the footsteps of the beloved. The curtain rises upon a garden under a cloudless summer night. Beside the door of Isolde's apartment a torch is burning. The sound is heard of hunting-horns gradually retreating. Brangaene stands on the castle-steps, listening to these. Isolde, all in a happy agitation, hurries forth to ask if they still be audible. She herself cannot hear them any more. But to Brangaene's ear the sound is still distinct. Isolde listens again: No! Brangaene, she believes, is deceived by her over-great anxiety, deceived by the rustling of the leaves. "You," Brangaene retorts, "are deceived by the impetuosity of your desire! I hear the sound of the horns." Isolde again listens. "No!" she discourses in her over-running tender exhilaration, "the sound of horns was never so pleasing as that! It is the soft purling of the fountain whose music comes so sweetly borne to us; how could I hear it, if hunting-horns were still blaring near by? In the silence, all I hear is the murmured laughter of the fountain. The one who is waiting for me in the hushed night, are you determined to keep him away from me as if horns were still close at hand?"—"The one who is waiting for you—do but listen to my warning," Brangaene pleads, "there are spies in the night lying in wait for him! Because you are blind, do you believe the eyes of the world dulled to your actions and his?" Against Melot she warns her, Melot, who, when he came aboard the ship with King Mark to receive the bride,—and the kindly King was engrossed by anxiety for the condition of the pale and fainting princess,—with treacherous, suspicious eye, Brangaene had seen it, scrutinised the countenance of Tristan, to read in it what might thereafter serve his purpose. Often  since then she has come upon him eavesdropping. Against Melot let Isolde be warned!... Melot? Isolde rejects the idea with light scorn. Is not he Tristan's dearest friend? When Tristan is forced to keep afar from her, with whom does he spend the time but Sir Melot? "The thing which makes him suspicious to me, to you endears him!" cries Brangaene, in despair at such wilful blindness. "From Tristan to Mark lies Melot's road. He there sows evil seed. This nocturnal hunting-party, so hurriedly concerted, has in view a nobler quarry than your fancy deems!"—"Melot," Isolde persists in his defence, "invented the stratagem, out of compassion for his friend. And do you make it into a reproach to him? He cares for me better than do you. He opens to me that which you close. Oh, spare me the misery of hesitation! The signal, Brangaene, give the signal! Extinguish the light to its last flicker. Beckon to the Night, that she may completely bend over us. Already she has poured her silence upon grove and house. Already she has filled the heart with her happy trepidation. Quench the light! Smother its frightening glare! Throw open the way to my beloved!"—"Oh, let the torch of warning stand!" Brangaene struggles with her still, "Let it stand to illumine your danger!" And she wrings her hands anew, lamenting over this which is the work of those unfaithful hands, in a single instance disobedient to the mistress's will. "Your work?" Isolde smiles, with that mortal lightness which is upon her to-night; "Oh, foolish girl! Do you not know the Lady of Love? Do you not know her power, her miracles? Queen of high hearts, ruler of earth's destinies, life and death are subject to her. She weaves them out of pain and pleasure. She can change hate into love. Presumptuous, I took in hand the work of death. The Lady of Love wrested it from me. The death-devoted she took into her keeping, she seized the  work in her own hands. To whatever purpose she will to turn it, however she will to end it, whatever the doom she appoint me, I am become her own. Let me then show myself obedient to her!" Clearly, Isolde to-night is fey. A rapturous madness is upon her. Aphrodite, the Lady of Love, possesses her indeed, and no impression is to be made upon her great mood by anything Brangaene can say. The girl might talk more hopefully to a gust of summer wind. Poor-spirited and grey-hued she appears, with her anguish and forebodings, beside the glowing, rosily-smiling queen, in her secure expectation. Still she presses the prayer of her terror: Just this one night let Isolde listen to her pleading! Just this one night let her not put out the light! But the mad Queen declares bafflingly that Frau Minne, Madam Love, desires that it shall become night, that she herself may illumine the place whence Brangaene's torch banishes her. To the watch-turret with Brangaene, whence let her keep faithful look-out. "The torch," Isolde cries, grasping it, "were it the light of my life, laughing, without a tremor, I would put it out!" She dashes it to the ground, where it slowly dies. The troubled Brangaene disappears with heavy step up the stairway to the battlements.

Then is heard the motif again of love's impatience, of love listening. Isolde peers down the avenue of trees, strains her ear for the sound of footsteps. She waves her veil, which glimmers white in the darkness; she waves it, in her impatience, more and more quickly. She has caught sight of him, as an ecstatic gesture betrays. She hurries to the top of the stairs, the better to see him from afar and wave welcome to him. She rushes at last to meet him and they are gathered in each other's arms. So over-great is their joy that neither can believe the witness of his senses; nothing so good could be true as that this verily which can be seen and clasped should be the so  sorely desired one. They vent themselves in such childish, fond, incredulous exclamations as: Is it you yourself? Are they your eyes? Are they your lips? Have I here your hand? Have I here your heart? Is it I? Is it you? Do I hold you close? Is it no fancy? Is it no dream? And, as if finally convinced, they burst forth in a hymn of thanksgiving and joy.

"The light! The light! Oh, that light!" the lover voices his grudge against it. "How long ere it went out! The sun sank, day departed, but the ill-will of the Day was still unsated. It lit a fearful danger-signal and fastened it at the beloved's door, to prevent me coming to her!"—"But the hand of the beloved extinguished the light," Isolde pacifies him; "What the handmaid refused, I feared not to do. At the command and under the protection of Great Love, I cried defiance to the Day!"—"The Day! The Day! the malignant Day!" he inveighs; "To that implacable enemy hate and reproach! Oh, might I, even as you quenched the light, put out the torches of the insolent Day, in vengeance for all the sufferings of love!"

There is a great deal in the often fanciful, yet ever earnest, conversation between the lovers, about the Day and the Night; the Day being devoted to their hate, the Night to their worship. It is not only, however, that the day divides them, and their trysts belong to the night. They make the image of Day to stand for falsehood and evil illusion, while Night represents truth. The reason of this is not far to seek. Their love is not like the love of other mortals. Inevitably in the latter many elements enter. Will controls it, at least to some extent; reason guides and bounds it; sense of humour even qualifies it. A thousand things besides love find room in the most enamoured human heart and brain: other persons, pursuits,  interests,—what Rossetti calls "all life's confederate pleas, work, contest, fame." The many-sided nature of man is appealed to by myriad things. Only for brief moments do lovers stand on the high peaks of pure passion where Tristan and Isolde perpetually reside. Love they never so truly, lovers who have not quaffed the magic potion love great part of the time almost unconsciously, in a divine under-current,—no otherwise indeed than Tristan before the potion, when, despite the Image in his heart, he devoted thought to his career, cherished dreams of ambition. But after the cup Tristan and Isolde are lovers, nothing more,—or less. All the furniture of the day which has nothing to do with their love is therefore an impertinence, an obtrusion; all day's pageants and activities are a vanity, and a pernicious vanity; a glaring mask hiding from sight the only true and beautiful. Everything that the garish daylight shows, which can never show them the depths of the other's heart, is a false show, an ugly delusion. The night, during which all the troublesome, battering appeals of the day are suspended, in which everything fades from the eye, leaving it free to fix itself upon the only reality, love,—the night is fosterer and patroness of truth. To love the night, to yearn for it, to wish it forever prolonged, is natural in these lovers who have drank of the cup; and, by a natural step further, since earthly life affords no such night, to wish for the night of death, as we hear them presently doing, a night in which they picture themselves eternally floating in a state of ever-renewed joy in each other, ever fresh ardour, two and yet one. It is not in the least like Paradise. Paradise, with its interfering light and shows and other-souls-in-bliss, could be to them but another version of the Day. The Paradise of their desire is an eternal twilight, and nothing more asked for each than the heaven of the other.

 Meanwhile they are talking together like commoner lovers, of the past, of their first meeting, the beginnings of their love. How, she asks him, very humanly, how could he do to her the thing he did, betray her as he had done, claim her for another, give her over to death? "It was the Day!" he explains. "The Day, shining about me, which showed Isolde, where she stood sun-like, in the splendour of glory and greatness, infinitely far removed. That which so ravished my eye, weighted down my heart to the earth. How, in the brilliant light of the Day, how could Isolde be mine?"—"Was she not yours, whose elect you were? What falsehoods did the evil Day tell you, that you should betray the faithful one, who had preferred you?" The love of glory it had been, he avows, which moved him. That sun of the Day, worldly honour, with its idle and false rays had allured him. An Image all the while lay in the deepest shrine of his heart, an unsleeping Image which had impressed itself while he was hardly aware, and lived in the chaste night there, closely shut in. Till a ray of the Day had penetrated even so deep, and that which was so secret and sacred that his eyes scarcely trusted themselves to look at it, that Image, smitten by Daylight, lay brilliantly revealed. And, Day-deluded, he had vaunted before the whole army that which seemed to him so desirable and beautiful, the fairest King's-bride of all the earth; and to silence the envy and hatred which had begun to make his honours heavy to him, to maintain his glory, he had undertaken that boldest exploit, his quest to Ireland. "Vain slave of the Day!" Isolde calls him. She tells her part of the story, and we are enlightened concerning the mood in which she proffered to him the death-draught: how, deceived she too by the Day, tortured in her love for him, she had, while ardently loving him, hated him to the bottom of her heart. From the light of Day, which showed him an ingrate and a traitor, she had  longed to flee, to draw him along with her into the night, where her heart foretold an end of the mistake, a dispelling of the apprehended delusion; to drink to him eternal love and enter death simultaneously with him.

We learn thereupon the mood in which he accepted the cup from her. "When I recognised the sweet draught proffered by your hand, when intuition clearly and surely told me what it was the peace-drink promised me, there dawned in my bosom, mild and divine, the Night—my Day had reached its close!" In other words, when he had stood facing, as he knew, death, all the vain shows and disguises of the Day had melted away, he had seen for the first time clearly in his own heart. "O hail to the draught!" he exclaims, "Hail to its sublime magic! At the portal of death, where I quaffed it, it opened wide to me the region where I theretofore had wandered but in dream, the wonder-kingdom of the Night! From the Face in the innermost shrine of the heart it dispelled the deceiving glare of the Day, that my eyes, grown accustomed to the Night, might see it in its truth." But the Day, she carries on the conceit with gathering sadness, had its revenge! The Day entered into league with his sins, and that Face which the Night had vouchsafed him to see he had been forced to surrender to the royal power of the Day, and behold it shining lonesomely afar, in barren magnificence. "How have I endured it?" she moans, "How do I still endure it?" Nay, he comforts her, "We are now become the initiate of the Night. The malevolent Day, the cruel, can divide, but no longer deceive us. They whose eyes the Night has consecrated laugh to scorn Day's idle splendour, his braggart brilliancy. The fugitive flashes of his lightning cannot dazzle them more. He who has gazed longingly into the night of death, he to whom that Night has confided her deep secret, the lies of the Day, honour and glory, power and  gain, lovely and shining though they be, like idle star-dust he sees them float past. Amid the vain delusions of the Day he is possessed by a single longing, the longing for the holy Night, in which the one thing from all eternity true, Love with its rapture, awaits him!" He draws her gently to a flowery bank, sinks kneeling before her and lays his head within her arm. And they breathe forth together, with an equal dreamy devoutness, their invocation to the Night. "Oh, close around us, night of love! Give forgetfuless of life! Gather us up in your arms, release us from the world!..." Quenched is the last torch, quenched all thought, all memory. In a sacred twilight full of wondrous divinations, the dread illusions of the world melt away, leaving free the spirit. And the sun in the breast having set, softly shine forth the stars of joy. And when, heart upon heart, lip against lip, breathing one breath, the lovers' eyes are blinded with joy, the world with its dazzling deceits fades from sight, the world which the Day had flashed before their eyes for their delusion, and they themselves are the world, and the world is life, is love, is joy, is a beautiful wish come true, from which there shall be no awakening....

Reaching completely the state they describe, of forgetfulness of the world and the Day, each the whole world to the other, they sink back side by side, cheek to cheek, among the flowers.

From the turret comes the lonely voice of Brangaene, warning the lovers to have a care, have a care, the night is nearly over! There is a leisurely moment. Isolde stirs: "Hark, beloved!" But Tristan, too deeply steeped in the languor of night and dreams, replies with a sigh: "Let me die!" Isolde raises herself a little: "Oh, envious sentinel!" Tristan remains reclining: "Never to waken!"—"But the Day must rouse Tristan?" she softly exhorts. "Let the Day yield unto  death!" She considers this quietly: "Day and death then with a simultaneous stroke shall overtake our love?" He comes a little more awake to protest that death cannot destroy such love as theirs, that love is stronger than death, is eternally living, that all that could die in death would be the disturbing things which now prevent him from being always with her, whereas were they to die,—inseparable,—to all eternity one,—nevermore to awake,—nevermore to know fear,—nameless, close enfolded in love,—belonging singly to themselves,—they should live wholly for love!... She says the words after him, dreamily, charmed, allured by the vista they open before her. And when Brangaene's voice is heard again from her turret warning them to have a care, have a care, day is at hand, and Tristan bends over her smiling to ask: "Shall I heed?" she sighs, as he had done before: "Let me die!"—"Shall I awake?" he very gently teases. "Never to wake again!"—"Must the Day rouse Tristan?"—"Let the Day yield unto death!"—"We will brave then the threats of the Day?" With increasing earnestness she cries: "To be rid of his malice forever!"—"Day-break shall never more frighten us apart?"—"Eternal shall be our night!"

This is really but a lovers' device for clinging together a little longer; one does not feel that they have seriously determined to remain where they are till they shall have been discovered and sacrificed on the altar of a husband's honour. They plainly are in the state they have described: quenched is thought, is memory; they are intoxicated with the Liebes-wonne they celebrate, and so while day is whitening overhead, feeling really, as far as they are capable of thought, besottedly secure,—Frau Minne will protect!—they caress, clasped in each other's arms, the thought of the eternal night lying beyond the death they would die for love, where far from the sun,  far from the lamentation of Day-decreed partings, delivered from fear, delivered from all ill, they shall dream, in exquisite solitude and in unbounded space, a super-adorable dream. He shall be Isolde, she Tristan,—but no, there shall be no more Tristan, no more Isolde, but undivided, inexpressible, they shall move to ever-new recognitions, new ardours, possessed in everlasting of a single consciousness—Ineffable joy of love! Their voices soar with these flights of fancy.... Of a sudden, as if with a crash, the sweet harmonies turn to discord. A shriek is heard from Brangaene. Kurwenal rushes in with drawn sword, crying: "Save yourself, Tristan!"

Hard upon his heels come Mark, Melot, and a flock of courtiers in hunting-attire. They stop in consternation before the lovers, who have seen nothing, heard nothing, and stand quietly lost in each other's embrace. It is only when Brangaene seizes her that Isolde becomes aware of the spectators. With a natural impulse of womanly shame she averts her face from all those eyes and hides it against the flowery bank. Tristan with one arm holds his mantle wide outspread so that it screens her from sight, and for long moments continues so, motionless, gazing rigidly at the motionless men who return his gaze in silence. In the pale first glimmer of dawn, he might well think them unreal, creations of a bad dream. The spell of silence is broken by the cry bursting from his lips: "The desolate Day—for the last time!" Melot steps forward and points at him: "You shall now tell me," he speaks to Mark, "whether I rightfully accused him? Whether I am to retain my head which I placed at stake? I have shown him to you in the very act. I have faithfully preserved your name and honour from stain."

The King is deeply shaken. No anger is in his unsteady voice, but utter sorrow. Something deeper has been reached  than his pride in his honour, and that is not his love for Isolde, but his faith in Tristan. "Have you really?" he bitterly takes up Melot's last assurance and his boast of fidelity. "Do you imagine it? Behold him there, the most loyal among the loyal! Look upon him, the friendliest of friends! The most generous act of his devotion he has used to stab my heart with deadliest perfidy. If Tristan then has betrayed me, am I to hope that my honour, which his treason has struck at, has been loyally defended by Melot?"

These are strange words for Tristan the knight to hear. Applied to himself, such words as perfidy, treason.... He brushes his arm wildly across his eyes: "Phantoms of the Day! Morning-dreams! empty and lying,—vanish, disperse!" The heart-broken King, with a gentleness more effectual in punishing than the angriest objurgations, goes on to sear the false friend's conscience by holding up before him, simply, what he has done; comparing the image of him as he has in fact proved with the image of him which Mark had cherished. The reproach is intolerable in view of what Mark himself is: noble, gentle, great-hearted, and toward Tristan so full of affection! "To me—this? This, Tristan, to me? Where now shall one look for truth, since Tristan has deceived me? Where look for honour and uprightness, since the pattern of all honour, Tristan, has lost them? Whither has virtue fled, since she is gone from Tristan, who had made her into his shield and defence, yet has now betrayed me?"

Tristan's eyes, which had been fixed steadily upon Mark, slowly sink to the ground; a wondering sadness overspreads his countenance, heavier and heavier as the royal master proceeds with his arraignment. Why Tristan's innumerable services, the greatness he had won for his King, if they were to be paid with the receiver's dishonour? Was it too small a reward  that the King had made him his heir? So dearly he had loved him that, having lost his wife, and being childless, he had resolved for his sake not to wed again. He had been obdurate to the prayers of his people, to Tristan's own entreaties, until Tristan had threatened to leave the kingdom unless he were himself despatched to bring home a bride for the King. And his courage had won for Mark this woman, lovely to a wonder, whom who could know, who behold, who proudly call his own, without accounting himself blessed? This one, to whom he, Mark, would never have presumed to aspire, Tristan, braving enemies and danger, had brought home to him. And now that through such a possession his heart had become more vulnerable to pain than before, wherefore wound him in the very spot where it was tenderest?—destroy his faith in his friend, fill his frank heart with distrust, bring him to the degradation of dogging his friend by night and listening covertly? "Wherefore to me this hell which no heaven can deliver me from? Wherefore to me this indignity which no suffering can wash out? The dreadful, deep, undiscoverable, thrice-mysterious reason,—who will reveal it to the world?"

Tristan's eyes, as, thus questioned, he lifts them at last again to Mark's, express boundless compassion. "Oh! King, I cannot answer; and that which you ask you never can learn!" No, for it is as strange, as full of black mystery, to Tristan as to Mark. It is the very impossible which has happened, the never to be accounted for. Tristan, the soul of honour, has betrayed his friend, and with all those circumstances of aggravation which the friend has just counted off. Nothing can explain it. It is surely like a dream, a curious dream, the worst of the Day's lies. But in a dream also, as we remarked before, there is a right thing to do, for a man of heart. Tristan is not long deciding upon his course. But before acting he  turns to Isolde, where she sits with eyes of undiminished love raised toward the companion in shame and agony. In following the call of honour he has no mind to forsake her. "Whither Tristan now departs, will you, Isolde, follow him? The country Tristan means no beam of the sun illumines. It is the dim nocturnal land from which my mother sent me forth, when dying she gave to the light a dead man's child. The refuge to which, having borne me, she carried her love, the wonder-kingdom of the night from which of old I woke. That is what Tristan offers. Thither he goes before. If she will follow, kind and true, let now Isolde say!" With touching more-than-readiness Isolde, trustful and unashamed, declares: "When once before the friend bade her to a strange land, Isolde, kind and true, must follow the unkind one. But now you lead to your own dominions, to show me your heritage. How should I avoid the realm which lies about the whole world? Where Tristan's house and home, there let Isolde take her abode. That she may follow, kind and true, let him now show Isolde the way!" Again for a moment so lost in her that it is no else than as if they were alone in all the world, he slowly bends over her and kisses her forehead. A cry of indignation breaks from Melot. "Traitor! Ha, King, revenge! Shall you endure this outrage?" But Tristan has suddenly cast off the inertia of dreams, bared his sword, and turned about. "Who will match his life against mine?" He gazes full into Melot's face. "He was my friend. He loved me, he held me high. He, more than any, was concerned for my honour, my fame. He made proud my heart to arrogance. He headed the band of those who urged me on to augment my glory and renown by wedding you to the King. Your eye, Isolde, has dazzled him too. From envy he betrayed me to the King—whom I betrayed!" With a feint of attack he springs toward Melot. "Defend  yourself, Melot!" Melot quickly thrusts with his sword. Tristan who has not parried, who has let the sword drop from his hand, sinks back wounded in Kurwenal's arms. Isolde casts herself upon his breast. The music makes a brief sorrowful comment—and the curtain falls.


The introduction to the third act not only presents the emotions belonging to what shall follow, heaving deep heart-groans and expending itself in pity over the stricken hero; it paints with strange clearness a scene: the sea stretching to the horizon, under leaden sunshine, empty of every sail—the sea which lies in fact before us when the curtain rises, fading off into the sky beyond low battlements which enclose on the outer-side a neglected castle-garden.

Tristan lies with closed eyes upon a couch, in the shadow of a tree. Kurwenal, sitting at his head, bends a careworn face to listen for his breathing. A shepherd's pipe is heard playing a little wavering tune, melancholy in its simplicity to heartbreak. The tune grieves itself out. A shepherd looks over the wall and, after a moment watching, calls to Kurwenal, asking if he does not yet awake? Kurwenal sadly shakes his head. "Even if he should awake, it would only be to take his leave forever, unless the Physician, the only one who can help us, should first arrive...." Has he seen nothing, he inquires, no ship on the sea? "In that case you should hear a different tune," the shepherd answers, "as merry a one as I can play! But tell me the truth, old friend, what has happened to our master?"—"Let be that question!" Kurwenal heavily turns from it: "not for any asking can you learn! Keep diligent look-out; go, and when you see a ship pipe loud and merrily."  The shepherd shades his eyes and looks off over the endless blue waste of the waters. "Barren and empty the sea!" He sets his pipe to his lips again and plays over, withdrawing, the hauntingly melancholy tune of before.

Without premonitory sign of returning consciousness, Tristan's lips move. His voice comes very faint: "The ancient tune.... what does it wake me?" He opens his hollow eyes. "Where am I?" Kurwenal starts up with a shout of joy: "Ha, that voice! His voice! Tristan, my master! my hero! my Tristan!" Tristan by a great effort brings his mind to consider these sounds, and with great effort speaks: "Who... calls me?"—"At last! At last!" Kurwenal's heart overflows. "Life! Oh, life! Sweet life, given back to my Tristan!" Tristan knows him now. "Kurwenal... is it you? Where have I been?... Where am I?" Kurwenal on the spot assumes that ultra-joyous tone of persons about a sick-bed when their faces are turned toward the patient whom they are determined to infect with hope. "Where you are? In peace, in safety, in freedom! At Kareol, master! Do you not recognise the castle of your fathers.?"—"Of my fathers?" Tristan murmurs stupidly. "Just look about you!"—"What—" the sick man asks after a vague glance, "what was the sound I heard?"—"The shepherd's pipe you heard again, after so many days! On the hillside he keeps your flocks."—"My flocks?..."—"Master, that is what I said! This is your house, your court and castle. Your people, loyal to the beloved lord, saved for you, as well as they could, the patrimony which my hero once made over to them outright, when he forsook all to travel to a distant land."—"To what land?"—"Cornwall, to be sure!" And the anxious grey-bearded nurse, to rouse in the patient some gleam of joy in being, of pride in past prowess, breaks enthusiastically forth: "Oh, what good  fortune Tristan, brave and bonny, met with there! What splendour of glory, what honors he won in the teeth of his enemies!"—"Am I in Cornwall?" Tristan asks discouragingly. "No, no, I have told you! At Kareol."—"How did I get here?" Kurwenal almost laughs, and in the pride of the unhoped-for hour cracks a joke. "How you got here? Not on horseback! A little ship brought you, but to the ship I carried you on these shoulders of mine. They are broad, they bore you to the shore. And now you are safe at home, on your own land, the right land, the native land, where amid familiar pastures and homely joys, under the rays of the old sun, from death and wounds you blessedly shall recover!" The rough fellow presses his cheek to his master's breast, like a woman. There is silence. Tristan stares vacantly ahead, vaguely pondering the servant's last words, of which the echo has lingered teasingly in his ear. "Do you believe so?" he says at last. "I know a different thing—but the manner of it I cannot tell you! This where I have awakened is not the place where I have been,—but where I have been—I cannot tell you! I did not see the sun, I saw no earthly scene, nor any people, but what I saw—I cannot tell you! I found myself—where from everlasting I was, whither to everlasting I go: in the boundless realm of the night which girds the world. One knowledge alone belongs to us there,—divine eternal perfection of oblivion! How"—he faintly wails, with a beginning of restlessness—"how have I lost the sense of it? Is it you again, unforgotten longing, driving me back to the light of the day? All that still survives in me, a pitiless torturing love, impels me forth to gaze upon the light which, deceivingly bright and golden, shines, Isolde, upon you!" With the memory of Isolde becoming clear-defined again, as he emerges more completely from the deathlike stupor which had chained him, agitation seizes upon him, greater from moment  to moment. Isolde still in the region of the sunshine! Still in the light of the day, Isolde! Unendurable longing to see her repossesses him. For that it is he has turned back from the portals of death, come back from among the shadows, to seek for her, to behold her, to find her, in whom alone it is granted to Tristan to lose himself and cease to be! His old hatred of the day is upon him, and one's sympathy feels, well enough, the distress to his fever of being thus drawn from the dark of unconsciousness and thrust into this glare of summer. By a natural confusion of ideas, as his agitation turns to delirium, this day torturing him, this day upon which he calls a malediction, becomes his old enemy, the Day which used to keep him from her,—and shifts from that into the signal-light which even at night used to warn him off. His delusion complete, he calls imploringly to Isolde, Sweetest, Loveliest, "When, oh, finally, when, will you quench the torch, that it may announce to me my happiness? The light... when will it go out?... When will the house be wrapped in rest?" He falls back exhausted. Kurwenal, whose joy of a little while before has dropped at the contemplation of this torment, takes heart again from his hope in the good news he has to impart. "The one whom of old I braved, from devotion to you, how am I brought to longing for her now! Rely upon my word, you shall see her, here, and this very day, if only she be still among the living!"

The meaning of his words has not penetrated. Tristan is far away among old scenes. "The torch has not yet gone out! Not yet is the house wrapped in darkness!... Isolde lives and keeps watch.... She called to me out of the night!"—"If then she lives," Kurwenal eagerly, seizes the cue, "let hope comfort you. Dullard as you must esteem Kurwenal, this time you shall not chide him. Ever since the day when Melot, the  infamous, dealt you the wound, you lay like one dead. The evil wound, how to heal it? Then I, thick-witted fellow, reflected that the one who closed the wound made by Morold could find easy remedy to the injury from Melot's sword. Not long was I deciding upon the best physician! I have sent to Cornwall,—a trusty fellow. It cannot be but that he will bring Isolde over the sea here to you!"

He has understood, Tristan has understood, and started up ablaze, so beside himself with joy that after the great incredulous cry: "Isolde is coming! Isolde is near!" he struggles vainly for breath and words. Then his overflowing gratitude finds an immediate, a pertinent thing to do, and Kurwenal has all in a moment the reward of his long passionately-devoted service. The master in his madness of joy throws his arms around the servant to whom he owes the hope which in a moment has made him strong and well again. "My Kurwenal, you faithful friend, whose loyalty knows no wavering, how shall Tristan ever thank you? My shield and defence in battle and warfare, in pleasure and pain equally prompt at command,—whom I have hated, you have hated, whom I have cherished, you have cherished; when in all truth I served the good Mark, how were you true to him as gold! When I must betray the noble King, how willingly did you deceive him! Not your own, but wholly mine, you suffer with me when I suffer, but what I suffer—that you cannot suffer!" As before the excitement of his pain, now the excitement of his joy is gradually turning to delirium. "This dreadful longing which consumes me, this languishing fire which devours me, if I could describe it, if you could comprehend it, not here would you loiter but would haste to the watch-tower, with every sense astrain longingly would you reach out and spy toward the point where her sail shall appear, where, blown by the wind and urged on by the fire  of love, Isolde comes steering to me!... There it comes!..." he points wildly, "There it comes, with brave speed!... See it wave, see it wave, the pennant at the mast!... The ship! The ship! It streaks along the reef! Do you not see it?... Kurwenal, do you not see it?" With watchful intensity he scans Kurwenal's face. Kurwenal hesitates, between the wish to humour him by going to the watch-tower, and the fear of leaving him, when the shepherd's pipe is heard again in the same plaintive tune, and Kurwenal has no heart to pretend. "No ship as yet on the sea!" he announces heavily. Tristan's excitement, as the notes spin out their thin music, whose message he seems to divine, gradually dies; the happy delusion fades; a deeper sadness than ever, of reaction, closes down upon him. The minor strains which now for a moment hold his flickering attention are full of associations for him, all sorrowful. The sound of them came wafted to him upon the breath of evening when as a child he was told the manner of his father's death; it came again, plaintive and more deeply plaintive, in the morning grey, when he learned his mother's fate. And in their day, he wanderingly reflects, "when leaving an unborn son he died; when she in dying gave me birth, the ancient air, full of yearning and foreboding, no doubt pierced its sorrowful way to them too,—the ancient air, which has asked me before this, and asks me again in this hour, to what possible end, what destiny, I was born into the world?... To what destiny?... The ancient song tells me over again: To spend myself in longing and to die!...

"No! No!" he in a moment corrects himself, and his misery surges back upon him in all its violence, "That is not what it says! Longing! Longing! To spend myself in longing, not in longing to find death! This longing which cannot die to the distant physician calls out for the peace of death!"  Confused images crowd upon him of the beginning of this affliction. The voyage to Ireland, the wound of which he was dying, her healing of his wound—only to open it again; her offering him the poisoned cup which when he drank, hoping to be cured of ills forever, a fiery charm was upon him, dooming him never to die, but exist eternally in torture! We remember how in the fragrant summer night and the balmy presence of Isolde he blessed the magic draught which opened the region of all enchantment; but in this hour, parted from her, it seems, forever, the draught which keeps him vainly aching for her presence, which will not let him die apart from her, or find a little rest, which makes him a spectacle of torture for the Day to feed its eyes upon, the draught seems to him verily no blessing. They are the bitter dregs he is drinking now of the cup of wonder. "The dreadful draught," he terms it, and reaching, with the enumeration of his sufferings, the point of cursing it, he has the flashed intuition of a truth; by a poet's spring reaches a conclusion worthy of a philosopher: that he, he himself is responsible for the effect upon him of the drink. "The dreadful draught," he cries, "which devoted me to torment, I myself, I myself, I brewed it! From my father's anguish and my mother's woe, from the tears of love of all my life, from laughing and weeping, joys and hurts, I furnished the poisoned ingredients of the cup!" He had, more plainly, if we seize the sense of his raving, fed and fostered an inherited emotional nature which made him the cup's easy victim. And recognising it, he adds to his curse upon the dreadful cup, with all the strength of his tortured heart, his curse upon him who brewed it,—and exhausted with his own delirious violence drops back in a swoon. Kurwenal, who has vainly striven to calm his frenzy, now sees him with horror relapsed into deathlike stillness; he calls him, laments over him and over this fatal  love, the world's loveliest madness, which rewards so ill those who follow its lure. "Are you then dead?" he weeps, "Do you still live?... Have you succumbed to the curse?" He listens almost hopelessly for his breathing, and starts up with a return of joy: "No! He lives! He rises! How softly his lips stir...."—"The ship!" Tristan murmurs, "Do you not see it yet?"—"The ship?... Certainly!" the poor nurse answers, with his determined cheerfulness, "It will arrive this very day.... It cannot delay much longer!"—"And upon it"—Tristan describes the vision which is calling back the light to his eyes—"upon it, Isolde. How she beckons, how graciously she drinks to our peace! Do you see her?... Do you not see her yet?... How sweetly, lovely and gentle, she comes wandering over the plains of the sea. On soft billows of joyous flowers she advances, luminous, toward the land. She smiles comfort to me and delicious rest, she brings me utmost relief.... Ah, Isolde, Isolde! How kind, how fair are you!... What, Kurwenal," he breaks off with that return to agitation toward which his fever by its law begins from the moment of returning consciousness to drive his poor brain, till, reaching a violence his strength cannot support, it plunges him back exhausted into unconsciousness, "What, Kurwenal, you do not see her? Away, to the watch-tower, dull-witted churl, that the sight may not escape you which is so plain to me! Do you not hear me?... To the tower! Quick, to the tower!... Are you there?... The ship! The ship! Isolde's ship! You must—must see it! The ship!... Is it possible," he cries despairingly, "that you do not see it yet?" He has been starting up from his bed, in his eagerness. Kurwenal has struggled with him to keep him down. While he hesitates as before between obedience and fear to leave his patient, the servant realises that the shepherd's pipe has changed its tune,—has  changed it for a shrill, lively, tripping air. He listens with all his soul for a second, then with a shout of triumph dashes to the battlements and sends his eyes sweeping the sea. "Ha! The ship!... I see it nearing from the north!"—"Did I not know it?" Tristan exults like a child. "Did I not say so? Did I not say she lived and knit me still to life? From the world which for me contains her only, how should Isolde have departed?" His joy is new life poured into him; his agitation this time produces no exhaustion, he has strength for the moment to squander. "Hahei! Hahei!" shouts Kurwenal from his post, "How boldly it steers, how the sails strain in the wind! How it chases, how it flies!"—"The pennant?... The pennant?" Tristan holds his breath for the answer. "The bright pennant of joy floats gaily from the topmast!"—"Cheer! The pennant of joy!... In the bright light of day, Isolde coming to me! To me, Isolde!... Do you see her self?"—"The ship has disappeared behind the reef..." Tristan's joy drops like a shot bird. One seems to feel his heart stop. "The reef?..." he asks trembling, "Is there danger in it?... That is where the surf rages, the ships founder.... Who is at the helm?"—"The safest of sea-men."—"Could he betray me? Might he be a confederate of Melot's?"—"Trust him as you would myself!"—"But you, wretch, are a traitor too!... Do you see her again?"—"Not yet!"—"Lost!" wails Tristan—but at Kurwenal's shout in a moment more that the ship has cleared the rocks and is sailing up the safe channel into port, springs again to the peaks of joy and promises Kurwenal the bequest of all his worldly goods. And now Kurwenal from his outlook communicates that he sees Isolde,—she is waving,—the keel is in the harbour,—Isolde has sprung ashore. "Down!" Tristan orders wildly, "Down to the shore! Assist her! Assist my lady!"—"I will bring her up here in my arms—trust  to them! But you, Tristan," the poor nurse stops on his hurried way down to enjoin, "stay reliably on the bed!"

Tristan, left alone, falls to tossing and writhing with impatience. His burning fever is confused to his sense with the heat of the sun, and this day of joy he calls the sunniest of all days. This tumult of the blood, this julibant urge to action, this immeasurable delight, this frenzy of joy, how, how to endure them prostrate upon the couch? Up, bravely up and away, where hearts are alive and throbbing! We can see his fever again working itself toward delirium. It reaches this time complete madness. With the proud cry: "Tristan, the hero, in jubilant strength has raised himself up from death!" he in fact lifts himself suddenly quite up. And then no doubt some reminder, at the violent motion, of his wound, suggests to his madness its next wild fancy, that a sort of glory is in a streaming wound, such as he bore while fighting Morold, that he will meet Isolde in the same manner, gloriously bleeding, not ignobly constrained by a bandage. And prompted by some obscure instinct perhaps to relieve a torture of which his flaming brain will not permit him duly to take account, he tears the wrappings from his wound, shouting with gladness, and bidding his blood now flow merrily forth. He jumps from the couch, he goes a few feet in swaying progress toward the castle-gate: She who shall heal the wound forever draws near like a hero, draws near bringing health, let the world fade away before his victorious haste!... The victorious haste has taken him a staggering step or two, when Isolde's voice comes borne to him, calling before she appears. "Tristan, Tristan! Beloved!" He stops short and listens, shocked out of the idea of what he was trying to do, losing his grasp on the present. "What?... Do I hear the light?" he falters, taken back by the spell of that voice to the old time, when never the light  called to him, or never the beloved called to him out of the light, but ever and only out of the night. The suggestion of the darkness now gathering over his eyes is that the torch is going out,—her signal to him to come. "To her!" therefore he cries, "To her!" and is making such effort to hurry as one makes in a dream, when behold, there she is! There she comes flying to him through the castle-gate, breathless with her haste. He has strength enough still, in his transporting joy, to get as far as her arms; but, with the relief of being caught in them, all relaxes, he sinks to the earth. Frightened, she calls him. He turns his eyes upon her with the last of their long yearning, and softly breathes forth his life upon her name. He could not die before she came, but now at once it is grown sweet and easy.

Isolde cannot believe this which she seems to see. She falls on her knees beside him, beseeches, coaxes, reproaches him, and wrings her hands over his obdurate unresponse. "Just for one hour! Just for one hour, be awake to me still! Such long days of terror and yearning Isolde has endured for the sake of one hour to spend with you! Will Tristan defraud her, defraud Isolde of this single infinitely-short last earthly joy? The wound,—where? Let me heal it, that we may have the joyous night together!... Oh, do not die of the wound! Let the light of life go out for us clasped together!... Too late! Too late!... Hard-hearted!... Do you punish me so with ruthless sentence? Do you shut your heart to my complaint?... Only once... only once more!... Look, he wakes! Beloved!..." Consciousness mercifully forsakes her. She sinks senseless upon his body.

Kurwenal has been standing apart with eyes bent in dumb and rigid despair upon his master. A confused tumult of arms is heard. The shepherd climbs hurriedly over the parapet with the announcement: "A second ship!" Kurwenal starts  from his trance of grief and rushes to look off. He breaks into curses, recognising Mark and Melot among the men just landed. His resolution is instantly taken. "Arms and stones! Help me! To the gate!" With the shepherd's help he is fastening and barricading the castle-gate, when Isolde's skipper hurries in with the cry: "Mark is behind me with men-of-arms and folk. Vain to attempt defence, we are overpowered!" Kurwenal does not pause in his preparations: "While I live, no one shall look in here! Take your post and help!" Brangaene's voice is heard, calling her mistress. Kurwenal's excitement, his rage of determination to keep the sight of those helpless embraced bodies sacred from profane eyes, shuts his reason to every sign. Brangaene's cry to him not to close the gate he takes to signify that she is in league with the enemy. Melot's voice, just outside: "Back, madman! Bar not the way!" calls forth a fierce laugh: "Hurrah for the day which gives me the chance to have at you!" The gate resists but a moment; Melot is first to break in. Kurwenal with a savage cry cuts him down. Brangaene is heard calling to him that he labours under a mistake; Mark calling upon him to desist from this insanity. He sees, understands but one thing, to keep out these enemies of Tristan's, defend the master to the last against this intrusion. He orders one of his party to throw back Brangaene, who is coming by the way of the wall; he hurls himself at the invaders now crowding in. In self-defence they draw arms upon the slashing madman. He extorts his death-wound as it were by force from one of them...

Painfully he drags himself along the earth, until he can touch his master's hand: "Tristan, dear lord! Chide not that the faithful one comes along too!" The last note about him as he expires is a fragment of the theme of determined cheerfulness, his pitiful sick-nurse encouragements to Tristan.

 Brangaene has reached Isolde and is making frightened efforts to restore her. Mark stands regarding the still forms with profound emotion. Reproach is in his tone when he now speaks, as earlier, the gentle complainingness of one in all things blameless, who, doing all for the best, has met with unmerited suffering. "Dead! All dead!" he mourns, "My hero! My Tristan! Most tenderly-beloved friend! To-day again must you betray your friend, to-day when he comes to give you proof of highest faith. Awake! Awake at the voice of my sorrow, O faithless, faithfullest friend!"

Brangaene's ministrations have brought back a little life to Isolde. Brangaene holds her in her arms and labours to reassure her. "Hear me, sweetest lady, happy news let me report. Would you not trust Brangaene? For her blind fault she has made amends. When you disappeared, quickly she sought the King. No sooner had the secret of the potion been made known to him than in all haste he put to sea, to overtake you, to renounce you, to lead you himself to the friend!" Mark completes the revelation: "When I was brought to understand what before I could not grasp, how happy was I to find my friend free from blame! To wed you to the peerless hero with full sails I flew in your wake,—but how does ravaging misfortune overtake him who came bringing peace! I but made greater the harvest of death! Madness heaped the measure of disaster!"

Isolde has neither heard what they say, nor does she appear to recognise them. Half of her clearly has gone with Tristan, the rest is near taking wing, according to her word: "Where Tristan's house and home, there will Isolde abide." Her own swan-song takes us a little way with her into her Liebes-tod, her love-death. Her eyes, fixed in contemplation of his face, have the vision of it returning to life. She  sees him re-arise, powerful and loving, growing in glory till he assumes transcendent splendour. "Do you see it, friends,—do you not see it?" she asks, of what shines so vividly before her that her face is transfigured as if with reflected light. And music is shed from this luminous ascending form.... "Am I alone to hear it?" she exclaims, it is so clear to her,—music wonderful and soft, which says everything, which gently reconciles one to all. It grows, it swells, it penetrates, uplifts.... And what is this enfolding her? Floods of soft air! Billows of perfume! They softly surge and murmur around her.... She is in wonder whether to inhale, or to listen, or drink and be immersed and yield up the breath sweetly amid perfumes.... Ah, yes, in the billowing surge, in the great harmony, in the breath of the spheres, to sink under, to drown, to be lost... that, that will be the supreme ecstasy!... As the mysterious experiences she describes absorb her soul, her body sinks softly upon Tristan's. Mark extends his hands in blessing over the dead.

And so the curtain fans on this wonderful and moving drama, and the thousands scatter in an exalted mood, impressed once more with the incomprehensible loveliness of love. The point of fascination of this work does not lie surely in any celebration of enviable joys, or sorrows nearly as enviable; it is not that it is spiritual, which would strengthen its appeal for some, neither that it is sensuous, which would make it alluring to others; it is that it breathes love,—love, indefinable but unmistakable, mysterious but absolute, understood of all, explainable by none, and of greater, or at least more universal, interest than any other emotion. Those equally fitted to enjoy all Wagner's operas show, it is observed, a predilection usually for Tristan and Isolde. If the pre-eminent beauty of  the music accounts for this, the fact suggests none the less that Wagner could reach his utmost eloquence on the theme. It is as if the composer had wished for once a fair field to render all he felt and understood of love, and so had chosen a story in which it moves free from ordinary trammels and is permitted an intensity more prolonged, more fervid deeps, languors more abandoned, than love in the shackles of thought and will.

A thing which must not be forgotten. The love of Tristan and Isolde is not to be brought under the head of what is vulgarly termed a guilty love. We have seen how Mark learning the secret of the potion instantly and completely exonerated them and rejoiced that he could return to his faith in Tristan. We know little of love-potions, and had best forget such attempts at rational explanation of them as we may have read, accepting the old story as it is offered, with its cup of magic by which all struggle against the power of love became vain. The lovers must be regarded as essentially innocent. The language of their hearts is always perfectly noble, their music is never sultry.

It seems to matter less, in the case of this opera than of Wagner's other operas, that one should be able to distinguish the motifs. When Fasolt falls, or the dragon, or Mime, it is distinctly interesting to know that the conspicuous phrase thrilling the air is the Curse of the Ring; but we are easily willing to let Glances and Sighs and the Effect of the Love-draught melt into one general fire of tenderness.

There is likewise less need in the case of this opera than, I think, any other of Wagner's, to be familiar beforehand with the argument. Any one seeing the Rhine-gold unprepared would probably not understand anything whatever, as far as the story is concerned. The same is in some degree true of Walkuere and Goetterdaemmerung; even of Parsifal one need  to know the inwardness of the plot. But Tristan and Isolde can be grasped through the eye by the dullest. A Woman is seen expressing great anger; there is a scene of coldness and incrimination between her and a Man. They drink from a golden cup and are from that moment lovers. They talk lengthily and most mellifluously of love in a garden at night. They are surprised by one with an evident right to be incensed. The lover is wounded. In a different scene he lies dying. His love comes to him. He expires in her arms and she follows him in death. Any one can understand, everyone sympathises.

In spite of which the study of the original text is full of great reward; not only because one will hear the music after all with a richer intellectual enjoyment, but even if one had no hope of hearing the music. The text produces upon one to a singular extent—or do we imagine it?—the effect of music. Its musical counterpart is contained somehow in the written poetry, and mists rise before our eyes when the small black type informs us that Isolde cries in the ears of deaf love: "Isolde rutt!... Isolde kam!" no otherwise than if the violins played upon our hearts.






Richard Wagner

Tristan and Iseult



Tristan, a valiant Cornish knight, is bringing Isolda, princess of Ireland, over as a bride for his uncle, King Mark. He is himself in love with her, but owing to a blood feud between them, forces himself to conceal his passion. Isolda, in anger at his seeming unkindness, attempts to poison herself and him, but her attendant, Brangæna, changes the draft for a love potion, which enflames their passion beyond power of restraint.


Isolda has been wedded to King Mark, but holds stolen interviews with Tristan, during one of which they are surprised, for Tristan has been betrayed by a jealous friend, Melot. Touched by King Mark's bitter reproaches, Tristan provokes Melot to fight and suffers himself to be mortally wounded.


Tristan's faithful servant, Kurvenal, has carried his wounded master to his native home in Brittany, where he is carefully tended. Isolda has also been sent for, as being skilled above all others in the healing art. The excitement of her approach only hastens Tristan's death, and he breathes his last sigh in her arms. Mark has followed Isolda; he has had matters explained, and is prepared to reunite the lovers, but it is too late. Isolda utters her lament over the body of her lover, and her heart breaks: in death alone are they united.




Tristan and Iseult




[A pavilion erected on the deck of a ship, richly hung with tapestry, quite closed in at back at first. A narrow hatchway at one side leads below into the cabin.]



ISOLDA on a couch, her face buried in the cushions.— BRANGÆNA holding open a curtain, looks over the side of the vessel.

THE VOICE OF A YOUNG SAILOR (from above as if at the mast-head).



ISOLDA (starting up suddenly).
What wight dares insult me?

(She looks round in agitation.)

Brangæna, ho!
Say, where sail we?

BRANGÆNA (at the opening).
Bluish stripes
are stretching along the west:
swiftly sails
the ship to shore;
if restful the sea by eve
we shall readily set foot on land.

ISOLDA. What land?

BRANGÆNA. Cornwall's verdant strand.

ISOLDA. Never more!
To-day nor to-morrow!

BRANGÆNA. What mean you, mistress? say!

(She lets the curtain fall and hastens to ISOLDA.)

ISOLDA (with wild gaze).
O fainthearted child,
false to thy fathers!
Ah, where, mother,
hast given thy might
that commands the wave and the tempest?
O subtle art
of sorcery,
for mere leech-craft followed too long!
Awake in me once more,
power of will!
Arise from thy hiding
within my breast!
Hark to my bidding,
fluttering breezes!
Arise and storm
in boisterous strife!
With furious rage
and hurricane's hurdle
waken the sea
from slumbering calm;
rouse up the deep
to its devilish deeds!
Shew it the prey
which gladly I proffer!
Let it shatter this too daring ship
and enshrine in ocean each shred!
And woe to the lives!
Their wavering death-sighs
I leave to ye, winds, as your lot.

BRANGÆNA (in extreme alarm and concern for ISOLDA).
Out, alas!
Ah, woe!
I've ever dreaded some ill!—
Isolda! mistress!
Heart of mine!
What secret dost thou hide?
Without a tear
thou'st quitted thy father and mother,
and scarce a word
of farewell to friends thou gavest;
leaving home thou stood'st,
how cold and still!
pale and speechless
on the way,
food rejecting,
reft of sleep,
stern and wretched,
wild, disturbed;
how it pains me
so to see thee!
Friends no more we seem,
being thus estranged.
Make me partner
in thy pain!
Tell me freely
all thy fears!
Lady, thou hearest,
sweetest and dearest;
if for true friend you take me,
your confidant O make me!

ISOLDA. Air! air!
or my heart will choke!
Open! open there wide!

(BRANGÆNA hastily draws the centre curtains apart.)

Tristan and Iseult



[The whole length of the ship is now seen, down to the stern, with the sea and horizon beyond. Round the mainmast sailors are ensconced, busied with ropes; beyond them in the stern are groups of knights and attendants, also seated; a little apart stands TRISTAN folding his arms and thoughtfully gazing out to sea; at his feet KURVENAL reclines carelessly. From the mast-head above is once more heard the voice of the young sailor.]

THE YOUNG SAILOR (at the mast-head invisible).
The wind so wild
blows homewards now;
my Irish child,
where waitest thou?
Say, must our sails be weighted,
filled by thy sighs unbated?
Waft us, wind strong and wild!
Woe, ah woe for my child!

ISOLDA (whose eyes have at once sought TRISTAN and fixed
stonily on him—gloomily
). Once beloved—
now removed—
brave and bright,
coward knight!—
Death-devoted head!
Death-devoted heart!—

(laughing unnaturally).

Think'st highly of yon minion?

BRANGÆNA (following her glance).
Whom mean'st thou?

ISOLDA. There, that hero
who from mine eyes
averts his own:
in shrinking shame
my gaze he shuns—
Say, how hold you him?

BRANGÆNA. Mean you Sir Tristan,
lady mine?
Extolled by ev'ry nation,
his happy country's pride,
The hero of creation,—
whose fame so high and wide?

ISOLDA (jeeringly).
In shrinking trepidation
his shame he seeks to hide,
While to the king, his relation,
he brings the corpse-like bride!—
Seems it so senseless
What I say?
Go ask himself,
our gracious host,
dare he approach my side?
No courteous heed
or loyal care
this hero t'wards
his lady turns;
but to meet her his heart is daunted,
this knight so highly vaunted!
Oh! he wots
well the cause!
To the traitor go,
bearing his lady's will!
As my servant bound,
straightway should he approach.

BRANGÆNA. Shall I beseech him
to attend thee?

ISOLDA. Nay, order him:
pray, understand it:—
I, Isolda
do command it!

[At an imperious sign from ISOLDA BRANGÆNA withdraws and timidly walks along the deck towards the stern, past the working sailors. ISOLDA, following her with fixed gaze, sinks back on the couch, where she remains seated during the following, her eyes still turned sternward.]

KURVENAL (observing Brangæna's approach, plucks Tristan by the robe without rising.) Beware, Tristan!
Message from Isolda!

TRISTAN (starting). What is't?—Isolda?—

(He quickly regains his composure as BRANGÆNA approaches and curtsies to him.)

What would my lady?
I her liegeman,
fain will listen
while her loyal
woman tells her will.

BRANGÆNA. My lord, Sir Tristan,
Dame Isolda
would have speech
with you at once.

TRISTAN. Is she with travel worn?
The end is near:
nay, ere the set of sun
sight we the land.
All that your mistress commands me,
trust me, I shall mind.

BRANGÆNA. That you, Sir Tristan,
go to her,--
this is my lady's wish.

TRISTAN. Where yonder verdant meadows
in distance dim are mounting,
waits my sov'reign
for his mate:
to lead her to his presence
I'll wait upon the princess:
'tis an honor
all my own.

BRANGÆNA. My lord, Sir Tristan,
list to me:
this one thing
my lady wills,
that thou at once attend her,
there where she waits for thee.

TRISTAN. In any station
where I stand
I truly serve but her,
the pearl of womanhood.
If I unheeding
left the helm,
how might I pilot her ship
in surety to King Mark?

BRANGÆNA. Tristan, my master,
why mock me thus?
Seemeth my saying
obscure to you?
list to my lady's words:
thus, look you, she hath spoken:
"Go order him,
and understand it,
do command it."

KURVENAL (springing up). May I an answer make her?

TRISTAN. What wouldst thou wish to reply?

KURVENAL. This should she say
to Dame Isold':
"Though Cornwall's crown
and England's isle
for Ireland's child he chose,
his own by choice
she may not be;
he brings the king his bride.
A hero-knight
Tristan is hight!
I've said, nor care to measure
your lady's high displeasure."

[While TRISTAN seeks to stop him, and the offended BRANGÆNA turns to depart, KURVENAL sings after her at the top of his voice, as she lingeringly withdraws.]

"Sir Morold toiled
o'er mighty wave
the Cornish tax to levy;
In desert isle
was dug his grave,
he died of wounds so heavy.
His head now hangs
in Irish lands,
Sole were-gild won
at English hands.
Bravo, our brave Tristan!
Let his tax take who can!"

[KURVENAL, driven away by TRISTAN'S chidings, descends into the cabin. BRANGÆNA returns in discomposure to ISOLDA, closing the curtains behind her, while all the men take up the chorus and are heard without.]

"His head now hangs
in Irish lands,
sole were-gild won
at English hands.
Bravo, our brave Tristan!
Let his tax take who can!"

Tristan and Iseult



[ISOLDA and BRANGÆNA alone, the curtain being again completely closed. ISOLDA rises with a gesture of despair and wrath. BRANGÆNA falls at her feet.]

BRANGÆNA. Ah! an answer
so insulting!

ISOLDA (checking herself on the brink of a fearful outburst).
How now? of Tristan?
I'd know if he denies me.

BRANGÆNA. Ah! question not!

ISOLDA. Quick, say without fear!

BRANGÆNA. With courteous phrase
he foiled my will.

ISOLDA. But when you bade him hither?

BRANGÆNA. When I had straightway
bid him come,
where'er he stood,
he said to me,
he truly served but thee,
the pearl of womanhood;
if he unheeded
left the helm
how could he pilot the ship
in surety to King Mark?

ISOLDA (bitterly).
"How could he pilot the ship
in surety to King Mark!"
And wait on him with were-gild
from Ireland's island won!

As I gave out the message
and in thy very words,
thus spoke his henchman Kurvenal—

Heard I not ev'ry sentence?
it all has reached my ear.
If thou hast learnt my disgrace
now hear too whence it has grown.
How scoffingly
they sing about me!
Quickly could I requite them!
What of the boat
so bare and frail,
that floated by our shore?
What of the broken
stricken man,
feebly extended there?
Isolda's art
he gladly owned;
with herbs, simples
and healing salves
the wounds from which he suffered
she nursed in skilful wise.
Though "Tantris"
The name that he took unto him,
as "Tristan"
anon Isolda knew him,
when in the sick man's keen blade
she perceived a notch had been made,
wherein did fit
a splinter broken
in Morold's head,
the mangled token
sent home in hatred rare:
this hand did find it there.
I heard a voice
from distance dim;
with the sword in hand
I came to him.
Full well I willed to slay him,
for Morold's death to pay him.
But from his sick bed
he looked up
not at the sword,
not at my arm—
his eyes on mine were fastened,
and his feebleness
softened my heart:
the sword—dropped from my fingers.
Though Morold's steel had maimed him
to health again I reclaimed him!
when he hath homeward wended
my emotion then might be ended.

O wondrous! Why could I not see this?
The guest I sometime
helped to nurse—?

His praise briskly they sing now:—
"Bravo, our brave Tristan!"—
he was that distressful man.
A thousand protestations
of truth and love he prated.
Hear how a knight
fealty knows!—
When as Tantris
unforbidden he'd left me,
as Tristan
boldly back he came,
in stately ship
from which in pride
Ireland's heiress
in marriage he asked
for Mark, the Cornish monarch,
his kinsman worn and old.
In Morold's lifetime
dared any have dreamed
to offer us such an insult?
For the tax-paying
Cornish prince
to presume to court Ireland's princess!
Ah, woe is me!
I it was
who for myself
did shape this shame!
with death-dealing sword
should I have stabbed him;
weakly it escaped me:—
now serfdom I have shaped me.
Curse him, the villain!
Curse on his head!
Vengeance! Death!
Death for me too!

BRANGÆNA (throwing herself upon ISOLDA with impetuous tenderness).
Isolda! lady!
loved one! fairest!
sweet perfection!
mistress rarest!
Hear me! come now,
sit thee here.—

(Gradually draws ISOLDA to the couch.)

What a whim!
what causeless railing!
How came you so wrong-minded
and by mere fancy blinded?
Sir Tristan gives thee
Cornwall's kingdom;
then, were he erst thy debtor,
how could he reward thee better?
His noble uncle
serves he so:
think too what a gift
on thee he'd bestow!
With honor unequalled
all he's heir to
at thy feet he seeks to shower,
to make thee a queenly dower.

(ISOLDA turns away.)

If wife he'd make thee
unto King Mark
why wert thou in this wise complaining?
Is he not worth thy gaining?
Of royal race
and mild of mood,
who passes King Mark
in might and power?
If a noble knight
like Tristan serves him,
who would not but feel elated,
so fairly to be mated.

ISOLDA (gazing vacantly before her).
Glorious knight!
And I must near him
loveless ever languish!
How can I support such anguish?

What's this, my lady?
loveless thou?

(Approaching coaxingly and kissing ISOLDA.)

Where lives there a man
would not love thee?
Who could see Isolda
And not sink
at once into bondage blest?
And if e'en it could be
any were cold,
did any magic
draw him from thee,
I'd bring the false one
back to bondage,
And bind him in links of love.—

(Secretly and confidentially, close to ISOLDA.)

Mindest thou not
thy mother's arts?
Think you that she
who'd mastered those
would have sent me o'er the sea,
without assistance for thee?

ISOLDA (darkly).
My mother's rede
I mind aright,
and highly her magic
arts I hold:—
Vengeance they wreak for wrongs,
rest give to wounded spirits.—
Yon casket hither bear.

It holds a balm for thee.—

(She brings forward a small golden coffer, opens it, and points to its contents.)

Thy mother placed inside it
her subtle magic potions.
There's salve for sickness
or for wounds,
and antidotes
for deadly drugs.—

(She takes a bottle.)

The helpfullest draught
I hold in here.

Not so, I know a better.
I make a mark
to know it again—
This draught 'tis I would drain.

(Seizes flask and shows it.)

BRANGÆNA (recoiling in horror).
The draught of death!

(ISOLDA has risen from the sofa and now hears with increasing dread the cries of the sailors.)

"Ho! heave ho! hey!
Reduce the sail!
The mainsail in!
Ho! heave ho! hey!"

Our journey has been swift.
Woe is me! Near to the land!

'Madam,' said Sir Tristram, 'this is a fair shield and a mighty'
Sir William Russell Flint



(KURVENAL boisterously enters through the curtains.)

Up, up, ye ladies!
Look alert!
Straight bestir you!
Loiter not,—here is the land!—
To dame Isolda
says the servant
of Tristan,
our hero true:—
Behold our flag is flying!
it waveth landwards aloft:
in Mark's ancestral castle
may our approach be seen.
So, dame Isolda,
he prays to hasten,
for land straight to prepare her,
that thither he may bear her.

ISOLDA (who has at first cowered and shuddered on hearing the message, now speaks calmly and with dignity). My greeting take
unto your lord
and tell him what I say now:
Should he assist to land me
and to King Mark would he hand me,
unmeet and unseemly
were his act,
the while my pardon
was not won
for trespass black and base:
So bid him seek my grace.

(KURVENAL makes a gesture of defiance.)

Now mark me well,
This message take:—
Nought will I yet prepare me,
that he to land may bear me;
I will not by him be landed,
nor unto King Mark be handed
ere granting forgiveness
and forgetfulness,
which 'tis seemly
he should seek:—
for all his trespass base
I tender him my grace.

Be assured,
I'll bear your words:
we'll see what he will say!

(He retires quickly.)



ISOLDA (hurries to BRANGÆNA and embraces her vehemently).
Now farewell, Brangæna!
Greet ev'ry one,
Greet my father and mother!

What now? what mean'st thou?
Wouldst thou flee?
And where must I then follow?

ISOLDA (checking herself suddenly).
Here I remain:
heard you not?
Tristan will I await.—
I trust in thee
to aid in this:
prepare the true
cup of peace:
thou mindest how it is made.

What meanest thou?

ISOLDA (taking a bottle from the coffer).
This it is!
From the flask go pour
this philtre out;
yon golden goblet 'twill fill.

BRANGÆNA (filled with terror receiving the flask).
Trust I my wits?

Wilt thou be true?

The draught—for whom?

ISOLDA. Him who betrayed!

BRANGÆNA. Tristan?

ISOLDA. Truce he'll drink with me.

BRANGÆNA (throwing herself at ISOLDA'S feet). O horror!
Pity thy handmaid!

ISOLDA. Pity thou me,
false-hearted maid!
Mindest thou not
my mother's arts?
Think you that she
who'd mastered those
would have sent thee o'er the sea
without assistance for me?
A salve for sickness
doth she offer
and antidotes
for deadly drugs:
for deepest grief
and woe supreme
gave she the draught of death.
Let Death now give her thanks!

BRANGÆNA (scarcely able to control herself). O deepest

ISOLDA. Now, wilt thou obey?

BRANGÆNA. O woe supreme!

ISOLDA. Wilt thou be true?

BRANGÆNA. The draught?

KURVENAL (entering). Sir Tristan!

(BRANGÆNA rises, terrified and confused. ISOLDA strives with immense effort to control herself.)

ISOLDA (to Kurvenal). Sir Tristan may approach!



[KURVENAL retires again. BRANGÆNA, almost beside herself, turns up the stage. ISOLDA, mustering all her powers of resolution, walks slowly and with dignity towards the sofa, by the head of which she supports herself, turning her eyes firmly towards the entrance]

(TRISTAN enters, and pauses respectfully at the entrance.)



TRISTAN. Demand, lady,
what you will.

ISOLDA. While knowing not
what my demand is,
wert thou afraid
still to fulfil it,
fleeing my presence thus?

Held me in awe.

ISOLDA. Scant honor hast thou
shown unto me;
for, unabashed,
withheldest thou
obedience unto my call.

TRISTAN. Obedience 'twas
forbade me to come.

ISOLDA. But little I owe
thy lord, methinks,
if he allows
ill manners
unto his own promised bride.

TRISTAN. In our land
it is the law
that he who fetches
home the bride
should stay afar from her.

ISOLDA. On what account?

TRISTAN. 'Tis the custom.

ISOLDA. Being so careful,
my lord Tristan,
another custom
can you not learn?
Of enemies friends make:
for evil acts amends make.

TRISTAN. Who is my foe?

ISOLDA. Find in thy fears!
gets between us.

TRISTAN. That was absolved.

ISOLDA. Not between us.

TRISTAN. In open field,
'fore all the folk
our old feud was abandoned.

ISOLDA. 'Twas not there
I held Tantris hid
when Tristan was laid low,
He stood there brawny,
bright and brave;
but in his truce
I took no part:
my tongue its silence had learnt.
When in chambered stillness
sick he lay
with the sword I stood
before him, stern;
silent—my lips,
motionless—my hand.
But that which my hand
and lips had once vowed,
I swore in stealth to adhere to:
lo! now my desire I'm near to.

TRISTAN. What hast thou sworn?

ISOLDA (quickly). Vengeance for Morold!

TRISTAN (quietly). Mindst thou that?

ISOLDA (animated). Dare you to flout me?—
Was he not my betrothed,
that noble Irish knight?
For his sword a blessing I sought;
for me only he fought.
When he was murdered
no honor fell.
In that heartfelt misery
my vow was framed;
if no man remained to right it,
I, a maid, must needs requite it.—
Weak and maimed,
when might was mine,
why at thy death did I pause?
Thou shalt know the secret cause.—
Thy hurts I tended
that, when sickness ended,
thou shouldst fall by some man,
as Isolda's revenge should plan.
But now attempt
thy fate to foretell me?
if their friendship all men do sell thee,
what foe can seek to fell thee?

TRISTAN (pale and gloomy, offers her his sword). If
thou so lovedst this lord,
then lift once more my sword,
nor from thy purpose refrain;
let the weapon not fail again.

ISOLDA. Put up thy sword
which once I swung,
when vengeful rancor
my bosom wrung,
when thy masterful eyes
did ask me straight
whether King Mark
might seek me for mate.
The sword harmless descended.—
Drink, let our strife be ended!

(ISOLDA beckons BRANGÆNA. She trembles and hesitates to obey. ISOLDA commands her with a more imperious gesture. BRANGÆNA sets about preparing the drink.)

VOICES OF THE CREW (without). Ho! heave ho! hey!
Reduce the sail!
The foresail in!
Ho! heave ho! hey!

TRISTAN (starting from his gloomy brooding). Where
are we?

ISOLDA. Near to shore.
Tristan, is warfare ended?
Hast not a word to offer?

TRISTAN (darkly). Concealment's mistress
makes me silent:
I know what she conceals,
conceal, too, more than she knows.

ISOLDA. Thy silence nought
but feigning I deem.
Friendship wilt thou still deny?

(Renewed cries of the Sailors.)

(At an impatient sign from ISOLDA BRANGÆNA hands her the filled cup.)

ISOLDA (advancing with the cup to TRISTAN, who gazes immovably into her eyes).
Thou hear'st the cry?
The shore's in sight:
we must ere long (with slight scorn)
stand by King Mark together.

SAILORS (without). Haul the warp!
Anchor down!

TRISTAN (starting wildly). Down with the anchor!
Her stern to the stream!
The sails a-weather the mast!

(He takes the cup from ISOLDA.)

I know the Queen
of Ireland well,
unquestioned are
her magic arts:
the balsam cured me
which she brought;
now bid me quaff the cup,
that I may quite recover.
Heed to my all—
atoning oath,
which in return I tender
Tristan's honor—
highest truth!
Tristan's anguish—
brave distress!
Traitor spirit,
Endless trouble's
only truce!
Oblivion's kindly draught,
with rapture thou art quaff'd!

(He lifts the cup and drinks.)

ISOLDA. Betrayed e'en here?
I must halve it!—

(She wrests the cup from his hand.)

Betrayer, I drink to thee!

[She drinks, and then throws away the cup. Both, seized with shuddering, gaze with deepest emotion, but immovable demeanor, into one another's eyes, in which the expression of defiance to death fades and melts into the glow of passion. Trembling seizes them, they convulsively clutch their hearts and pass their hands over their brows. Their glances again seek to meet, sink in confusion, and once more turn with growing longing upon one another.]

ISOLDA (with trembling voice). Tristan!

TRISTAN (overpowered). Isolda!

ISOLDA (sinking upon his breast). Traitor beloved!

TRISTAN. Woman divine!

(He embraces her with ardor. They remain in a silent embrace.)

ALL THE MEN (without). Hail! Hail!
Hail our monarch!
Hail to Mark, the king!

BRANGÆNA (who, filled with confusion and horror, has leaned over the side with averted face, now turns to behold the pair locked in their close embrace, and rushes to the front, wringing her hands in despair). Woe's me! Woe's me!
Endless mis'ry
I have wrought
instead of death!
Dire the deed
of my dull fond heart:
it cries aloud to heav'n!

(They start from their embrace.)

TRISTAN (bewildered). What troubled dream
of Tristan's honor?

ISOLDA. What troubled dream
Of Isolda's shame?

TRISTAN. Have I then lost thee?

ISOLDA. Have I repulsed thee?

TRISTAN. Fraudulent magic,
framing deceit!

BOTH. Languishing passion,
longing and growing,
love ever yearning,
loftiest glowing!
Rapture confess'd
rides in each breast!
Isolda! Tristan!
Tristan! Isolda!
World, I can shun thee
my love is won me!
Thou'rt my thought, all above:
highest delight of love!



[The curtains are now drawn wide apart; the whole ship is covered with knights and sailors, who, with shouts of joy, make signs over towards the shore which is now seen to be quite near, with castle-crowned cliffs. Tristan and Isolda remain absorbed in mutual contemplation, perceiving nothing that is passing.]

BRANGÆNA (to the women, who at her bidding ascend from below).
Quick—the mantle!
the royal robe!—

(Rushing between TRISTAN and ISOLDA.)

Up, hapless ones!
See where we are!

(She places the royal mantle on ISOLDA, who notices nothing.)

ALL THE MEN. Hail! Hail!
Hail our monarch!
Hail to Mark the king!

KURVENAL (advancing gaily). Hail, Tristan,
knight of good hap!
Behold King Mark approaching,
in a bark
with brave attendance.
Gladly he stems the tide,
coming to seek his bride.

TRISTAN (looking up in bewilderment). Who comes?

KURVENAL. The king 'tis.

TRISTAN. What king mean you?

(KURVENAL points over the side. TRISTAN gazes stupefied at the shore.)

ALL THE MEN (waving their hats). Hail to King Mark!
All hail!

ISOLDA (bewildered). What is't, Brangæna?
What are those cries?

BRANGÆNA. Isolda—mistress!
Compose thyself!

ISOLDA. Where am I! living?
What was that draught?

BRANGÆNA (despairingly). The love-potion!

ISOLDA (staring with horror at TRISTAN). Tristan!

TRISTAN. Isolda!

ISOLDA. Must I live, then?

(Falls fainting upon his breast.)

BRANGÆNA (to the women). Look to your lady!

TRISTAN. O rapture fraught with cunning!
O fraud with bliss o'er-running!

ALL THE MEN (in a general burst of acclamation).
Hail to King Mark!
Cornwall, hail!

[People have clambered over the ship's side, others have extended a bridge, and the aspect of all indicates the immediate arrival of the expected ones, as the curtain falls.]

Tristan and Iseult



[A Garden before ISOLDA'S Chamber which lies at one side and is approached by steps. Bright and pleasant summer night. At the open door a burning torch is fixed. Sounds of hunting heard.]



[BRANGÆNA, on the steps leading to the chamber, is watching the retreat of the still audible hunters. She looks anxiously back into the chamber as ISOLDA emerges thence in ardent animation.]

ISOLDA. Yet do you hear?
I lost the sound some time.

BRANGÆNA (listening). Still do they stay:
clearly rings the horns.

ISOLDA (listening). Fear but deludes
thy anxious ear;
by sounds of rustling
leaves thou'rt deceived,
aroused by laughter of winds.

BRANGÆNA. Deceived by wild
desire art thou,
and but hear'st as would thy will:—
I still hear the sound of horns.

ISOLDA (listens). No sound of horns
were so sweet:
yon fountain's soft
murmuring current
moves so quietly hence.
If horns yet brayed,
how could I hear that?
In still night alone
it laughs on mine ear.
My lov'd one hides
in darkness unseen:
wouldst thou hold from my side my dearest?
deeming that horns thou hearest?

BRANGÆNA. Thy lov'd one hid—
oh heed my warning!—
for him a spy waits by night.
Listening oft
I light upon him:
he lays a secret snare.
Of Melot oh beware!

ISOLDA. Mean you Sir Melot?
O, how you mistake!
Is he not Tristan's
trustiest friend?
May my true love not meet me,
with none but Melot he stays.

BRANGÆNA. What moves me to fear him
makes thee his friend then?
Through Tristan to Mark's side
is Melot's way:
he sows suspicion's seed.
And those who have
to-day on a night-hunt
so suddenly decided,
a far nobler game
than is guessed by thee
taxes their hunting skill.

ISOLDA. For Tristan's sake
contrived was this scheme
by means of
Melot, in truth:
now would you decry his friendship?
He serves Isolda
better than you
his hand gives help
which yours denies:
what need of such delay?
The signal, Brangæna!
O give the signal!
Tread out the torch's
trembling gleam,
that night may envelop
all with her veil.
Already her peace reigns
o'er hill and hall,
her rapturous awe
the heart does enthral;
allow then the light to fall!
Let but its dread lustre die!
let my beloved draw nigh!

BRANGÆNA. The light of warning suppress not!
Let it remind thee of peril!—
Ah, woe's me! Woe's me!
Fatal folly!
The fell pow'r of that potion!
That I framed
a fraud for once
thy orders to oppose!
Had I been deaf and blind,
thy work
were then thy death:
but thy distress,
thy distraction of grief,
my work
has contrived them, I own it!

ISOLDA. Thy—act?
O foolish girl!
Love's goddess dost thou not know?
nor all her magic arts?
The queen who grants
unquailing hearts,
the witch whose will
the world obeys,
life and death
she holds in her hands,
which of joy and woe are wove?
she worketh hate into love.
The work of death
I took into my own hands;
Love's goddess saw
and gave her good commands
The death—condemned
she claimed as her prey,
planning our fate
in her own way.
How she may bend it,
how she may end it,
what she may make me,
wheresoe'er take me,
still hers am I solely;—
so let me obey her wholly.

BRANGÆNA. And if by the artful
love-potion's lures
thy light of reason is ravished,
if thou art reckless
when I would warn thee,
this once, oh, wait
and weigh my pleading!
I implore, leave it alight!—
The torch! the torch!
O put it not out this night!

ISOLDA. She who causes thus
my bosom's throes,
whose eager fire
within me glows,
whose light upon
my spirit flows,
Love's goddess needs
that night should close;
that brightly she may reign
and shun the torchlight vain.

(She goes up to the door and takes down the torch.)

Go watch without—
keep wary guard!
The signal!—
and were it my spirit's spark,
I'd destroy it and hail the dark!

[She throws the torch to the ground where it slowly dies out. BRANGÆNA turns away, disturbed, and mounts an outer flight of steps leading to the roof, where she slowly disappears. ISOLDA listens and peers, at first shyly, towards an avenue. Urged, by rising impatience, she then approaches the avenue and looks more boldly. She signs with her handkerchief, first slightly, then more plainly, waving it quicker as her impatience increases. A gesture of sudden delight shows that she has perceived her lover in the distance. She stretches herself higher and higher, and then, to look better over the intervening space, hastens back to the steps, from the top of which she signals again to the on-comer. As he enters, she springs to meet him.]

Tristan and Iseult



TRISTAN (rushing in). Isolda! Beloved!

ISOLDA. Tristan! Beloved one!

(Passionate embrace, with which they come down to the front.)

BOTH. Art thou mine?
Do I behold thee?
Do I embrace thee?
Can I believe it?
At last! At last!
Here on my breast!
Do I then clasp thee!
Is it thy own self?
Are these thine eyes?
These thy lips?
Here thy hand?
Here thy heart?
Is't I?—Is't thou,
held in my arms?
Am I not duped?
Is it no dream?
O rapture of spirit!
O sweetest, highest,
fairest, strongest,
holiest bliss?
Endless pleasure!
Boundless treasure!
Ne'er to sever!
Never! Never!
high in heaven,
earth ignoring!
Tristan mine!
Isolda mine!
Mine alone!
Thine alone!
Ever all my own!

TRISTAN. The light! The light!
O but this light,
how long 'twas let to burn!
The sun had sunk,
the day had fled;
but all their spite
not yet was sped:
the scaring signal
they set alight,
before my belov'd one's dwelling,
my swift approach repelling.

ISOLDA. Thy belov'd one's hand
lowered the light,
for Brangæna's fears
in me roused no fright:
while Love's goddess gave me aid,
sunlight a mock I made.
But the light its fear
and defeat repaid;
with thy misdeeds
a league it made.
What thou didst see
in shadowing night,
to the shining sun
of kingly might
must thou straightway surrender,
that it should
exist in bright
bonds of empty splendor.—
Could I bear it then?
Can I bear it now?

TRISTAN. O now were we
to night devoted,
the dishonest day
with envy bloated,
lying, could not mislead,
though it might part us indeed.
Its pretentious glows
and its glamouring light
are scouted by those
who worship night.
All its flickering gleams
in flashes out-blazing
blind us no more
where we are gazing.
Those who death's night
boldly survey,
those who have studied
her secret way,
the daylight's falsehoods—
rank and fame,
honor and all
at which men aim—
to them are no more matter
than dust which sunbeams scatter,
In the daylight's visions thronging
only abides one longing;
we yearn to hie
to holy night,
where, unending,
only true,
Love extendeth delight!

(TRISTAN draws ISOLDA gently aside to a flowery bank, sinks on his knee before her and rests his head on her arm.)



(TRISTAN and ISOLDA sink into oblivious ecstasy, reposing on the flowery bank close together.)

BRANGÆNA (from the turret, unseen). Long I watch
alone by night:
ye enwrapt
in love's delight,
heed my boding
voice aright.
I forewarn you
woe is near;
waken to
my words of fear.
Have a care!
Have a care!
Swiftly night doth wear!

ISOLDA. List, beloved!

TRISTAN. Let me die thus!

ISOLDA (slowly raising herself a little). Envious

TRISTAN (remaining in reclining position). I'll ne'er

ISOLDA. But the Day
must dawn and rouse thee?

TRISTAN (raising his head slightly). Let the Day
to Death surrender!

ISOLDA. Day and Death
will both engender
feud against
our passion tender.

TRISTAN (drawing ISOLDA gently towards him with expressive action). O might we then
together die,
each the other's
own for aye!
never fearing,
never waking,
blest delights
of love partaking,—
each to each be given,
in love alone our heaven!

ISOLDA (gazing up at him in thoughtful ecstasy).
O might we then
together die!

TRISTAN. Each the other's—

ISOLDA. Own for aye,—

TRISTAN. Never fearing—

ISOLDA. Never waking—

TRISTAN. Blest delights
of love partaking—

ISOLDA. Each to each be given;
in love alone our heaven.

(ISOLDA, as if overcome, droops her head on his breast.)

BRANGÆNA'S VOICE (as before).
Have a care!
Have a care!
Night yields to daylight's glare.

TRISTAN (bends smilingly to ISOLDA).
Shall I listen?

ISOLDA (looking fondly up at TRISTAN).
Let me die thus!

TRISTAN. Must I waken?

ISOLDA. Nought shall wake me!

TRISTAN. Must not daylight
dawn, and rouse me?

ISOLDA. Let the Day
to Death surrender!

TRISTAN. May thus the Day's
evil threats be defied?

ISOLDA (with growing enthusiasm).
From its thraldom let us fly.

TRISTAN. And shall not its dawn
be dreaded by us?

ISOLDA (rising with a grand gesture).
Night will shield us for aye!

(TRISTAN follows her; they embrace in fond exaltation.)

BOTH. O endless Night!
blissful Night!
glad and glorious
lover's Night!
Those whom thou holdest,
lapped in delight,
how could e'en the boldest
unmoved endure thy flight?
How to take it,
how to break it,—
joy existent,
sunlight distant,
Far from mourning,
fancies spurning,
softly yearning,
fear expiring,
sweet desiring!
Anguish flying,
gladly dying;
no more pining,
ne'er divided
whate'er betided,
side by side
still abide
in realms of space unmeasured,
vision blest and treasured!
Thou Isolda,
Tristan I;
no more Tristan,
no more Isolda.
Never spoken,
never broken,
newly sighted,
newly lighted,
endless ever
all our dream:
in our bosoms gleam
love delights supreme!

Tristan and Iseult



[BRANGÆNA utters a piercing cry. TRISTAN and ISOLDA remain in their absorbed state. KURVENAL rushes in with drawn sword.]

KURVENAL. Save yourself, Tristan!

[He looks fearfully off behind him. MARK, MELOT, and courtiers, in hunting dress, come swiftly up the avenue and pause in the foreground in consternation before the lovers. BRANGÆNA at the same time descends from the roof and hastens towards ISOLDA. The latter in involuntary shame leans on the flowery bank with averted face. TRISTAN with an equally unconscious action stretches his mantle wide out with one arm, so as to conceal ISOLDA from the gaze of the new-comers. In this position he remains for some time, turning a changeless look upon the men, who gaze at him in varied emotion. The morning dawns.]

TRISTAN. The dreary day—
its last time comes!

MELOT (to Mark). Now say to me, my sov'reign,
was my impeachment just?
I staked my head thereon:
How is the pledge redeemed?
Behold him in
the very act:
honor and fame,
faithfully I
have saved from shame for thee.

MARK (deeply moved, with trembling voice). Hast thou
preserved them?
Say'st thou so?—
See him there,
the truest of all true hearts!
Look on him
the faithfulest of friends, too
His offence
so black and base
fills my heart
with anguish and disgrace.
Tristan traitor,
what hope stayeth
that the honor
he betrayeth
should by Melot's rede
rest to me indeed?

TRISTAN (with convulsive violence). Daylight phantoms—
morning visions
empty and vain—
Avaunt! Begone!

MARK (in deep emotion). This—blow.
Tristan, to me?
Where now has truth fled,
if Tristan can betray?
Where now are faith
and friendship fair,
when from the fount of faith,
my Tristan, they are gone?
The buckler Tristan
once did don,
where is that shield
of virtue now?
when from my friends it flies,
and Tristan's honor dies?

(TRISTAN slowly lowers his eyes to the ground. His features express increasing grief while MARK continues.)

Why hast thou noble
service done,
and honor, fame
and potent might
amassed for Mark, thy king?
Must honor, fame,
power and might,
must all thy noble
service done
be paid with Mark's dishonor?
Seemed the reward
too slight and scant
that what thou hast won him—
realms and riches—
thou art the heir unto, all?
When childless he lost
once a wife,
he loved thee so
that ne'er again
did Mark desire to marry.
When all his subjects,
high and low,
demands and pray'rs,
on him did press
to choose himself a consort—
a queen to give the kingdom,
when thou thyself
thy uncle urged
that what the court
and country pleaded
well might be conceded,
opposing high and low,
opposing e'en thyself,
with kindly cunning
still he refused,
till, Tristan, thou didst threaten
forever to leave
both court and land
if thou receivedst
not command
a bride for the king to woo:
then so he let thee do.—
This wondrous lovely wife,
thy might for me did win,
who could behold her,
who address her,
who in pride
and bliss possess her,
but would bless his happy fortune?
She whom I have
paid respect to ever,
whom I owned,
yet possess'd her never
she, the princess
proud and peerless,
lighting up
my life so cheerless,
'spite foes,—without fear,
the fairest of brides
thou didst bring me here.
Why in hell must I bide,
without hope of a heaven?
Why endure disgrace
unhealed by tears or grief?
The unexplained,
cause of all these woes,
who will to us disclose?

TRISTAN (raising his eyes pitifully towards MARK).
O monarch! I—
may not tell thee, truly;
what thou dost ask
remains for aye unanswered.—

(He turns to ISOLDA, who looks tenderly up at him.)

Where Tristan now is going,
wilt thou, Isolda, follow?
The land that Tristan means
of sunlight has no gleams;
it is the dark
abode of night,
from whence I first
came forth to light,
and she who bore me
thence in anguish,
gave up her life,
nor long did languish.
She but looked on my face,
then sought this resting-place.
This land where Night doth reign,
where Tristan once hath lain—
now thither offers he
thy faithful guide to be.
So let Isolda
straight declare
if she will meet him there.

ISOLDA. When to a foreign land
before thou didst invite,
to thee, traitor,
resting true,
did Isolda follow.
Thy kingdom now art showing,
where surely we are going!
why should I shun that land
by which the world is spann'd?
For Tristan's house and home
Isold' will make her own.
The road whereby
we have to go
I pray thee quickly show!—

(TRISTAN bends slowly over her and kisses her softly on the forehead. MELOT starts furiously forward.)

MELOT (drawing his sword). Thou villain! Ha!
Avenge thee, monarch!
Say, wilt suffer such scorn?

TRISTAN (drawing his sword and turning quickly round)
Who's he will set his life against mine?

(casting a look at MELOT).

This was my friend;
he told me he loved me truly:
my fame and honor
he upheld more than all men.
With arrogance
he filled my heart,
and led on those
who prompted me
fame and pow'r to augment me
by wedding thee to our monarch.—
Thy glance, Isolda,
glamoured him thus;
and, jealous, my friend
played me false
to King Mark, whom I betrayed.—

(He sets on MELOT.)

Guard thee, Melot!

[As MELOT presents his sword TRISTAN drops his own guard and sinks wounded into the arms of KURVENAL. ISOLDA throws herself upon his breast. MARK holds MELOT back. The curtain falls quickly.]

Manuscript illustration from an early
fifteenth-century Roman de Tristan



A Castle-Garden.

[At one side high castellated buildings, on the other a low breastwork interrupted by a watch tower; at back the castle-gate. The situation is supposed to be on rocky cliffs; through openings the view extends over a wide sea horizon. The whole gives an impression of being deserted by the owner, badly kept, and here and there dilapidated and overgrown.]



[In the foreground, in the garden, lies TRISTAN sleeping on a couch under the shade of a great lime-tree, stretched out as if lifeless. At his head sits KURVENAL, bending over him in grief and anxiously listening to his breathing. From without comes the mournful sound of a shepherd's pipe.



Presently the shepherd comes and looks in with interest, showing the upper half of his body over the wall.]

SHEPHERD. Kurvenal, ho!—
Say, Kurvenal,—
tell me, friend!
Does he still sleep?

KURVENAL (turning a little towards him and shaking his head sadly). If he awoke
it would be
but for evermore to leave us,
unless we find
the lady-leech;
alone can she give help.—
See'st thou nought?
No ship yet on the sea?

SHEPHERD. Quite another ditty
then would I play
as merry as ever I may.
But tell me truly,
trusty friend,
why languishes our lord?

KURVENAL. Do not ask me;—
for I can give no answer.
Watch the sea,
if sails come in sight
a sprightly melody play.

SHEPHERD (turns round and scans the horizon, shading his eyes with his hand).
Blank appears the sea!

(He puts the reed pipe to his mouth and withdraws, playing.)

TRISTAN (motionless—faintly).
The tune so well known—
why wake to that?

(opens his eyes and slightly turns his head).

Where am I?

KURVENAL (starting in joyous surprise).
Ha!—who is speaking?
It is his voice!—
Tristan! lov'd one!
My lord! my Tristan!

TRISTAN (with effort). Who—calls me?

KURVENAL. Life—at last—
O thanks be to heaven!—
sweetest life
unto my Tristan newly given!

TRISTAN (faintly). Kurvenal!—thou?
Where—was I?—
Where—am I?

KURVENAL. Where art thou?
In safety, tranquil and sure!
Kareol 'tis;
dost thou not know
thy fathers' halls?

TRISTAN. This my fathers'?

KURVENAL. Look but around.

TRISTAN. What awoke me?

KURVENAL. The herdsman's ditty
hast thou heard, doubtless;
he heedeth thy herds
above on the hills there.

TRISTAN. Have I herds, then?

KURVENAL. Sir, I say it!
Thine are court,
To thee yet true,
thy trusty folk,
as best they might,
have held thy home in guard:
the gift which once
thy goodness gave
to thy serfs and vassals here,
when going far away,
in foreign lands to dwell.

TRISTAN. What foreign land?

KURVENAL. Why! in Cornwall;
where cool and able,
all that was brilliant,
brave and noble,
Tristan, my lord, lightly took.

TRISTAN. Am I in Cornwall?

KURVENAL. No, no; in Kareol.

TRISTAN. How came I here?

KURVENAL. Hey now! how you came?
No horse hither you rode:
a vessel bore you across.
But on my shoulders
down to the ship
you had to ride: they are broad,
they carried you to the shore.
Now you are at home once more;
your own the land,
your native land;
all loved things now are near you,
unchanged the sun doth cheer you.
The wounds from which you languish
here all shall end their anguish.

(He presses himself to TRISTAN'S breast.)

TRISTAN. Think'st thou thus!
I know 'tis not so,
but this I cannot tell thee.
Where I awoke
ne'er I was,
but where I wandered
I can indeed not tell thee.
The sun I could not see,
nor country fair, nor people;
but what I saw
I can indeed not tell thee.
It was—
the land from which I once came
and whither I return:
the endless realm
of earthly night.
One thing only
there possessed me:
blank, unending,
How faded all forebodings!
O wistful goadings!—
Thus I call
the thoughts that all
t'ward light of day have press'd me.
What only yet doth rest me,
the love-pains that possess'd me,
from blissful death's affright
now drive me toward the light,
which, deceitful, bright and golden,
round thee, Isolda, shines.
Accurséd day
with cruel glow!
Must thou ever
wake my woe?
Must thy light
be burning ever,
e'en by night
our hearts to sever?
Ah, my fairest,
sweetest, rarest!
When wilt thou—
when, ah, when—
let the torchlight dwindle,
that so my bliss may kindle?
The light, how long it glows!
When will the house repose?

(His voice has grown fainter and he sinks back gently, exhausted.)

KURVENAL (who has been deeply distressed, now quickly rousts himself from his dejection).
I once defied,
through faith in thee,
the one for whom
now with thee I'm yearning.
Trust in my words,
thou soon shalt see her
face to face.
My tongue that comfort giveth,—
if on the earth still she liveth.

TRISTAN (very feebly). Yet burns the beacon's spark:
yet is the house not dark,
Isolda lives and wakes:
her voice through darkness breaks.

KURVENAL. Lives she still,
then let new hope delight thee.
If foolish and dull you hold me,
this day you must not scold me.
As dead lay'st thou
since the day
when that accursed Melot
so foully wounded thee.
Thy wound was heavy:
how to heal it?
Thy simple servant
there bethought
that she who once
closed Morold's wound
with ease the hurt could heal thee
that Melot's sword did deal thee.
I found the best
of leeches there,
to Cornwall have I
sent for her:
a trusty serf
sails o'er the sea,
bringing Isold' to thee.

TRISTAN (transported). Isolda comes!
Isolda nears! (He struggles for words.)
O friendship! high
and holy friendship!

(Draws KURVENAL to him and embraces him.)

O Kurvenal,
thou trusty heart,
my truest friend I rank thee!
Howe'er can Tristan thank thee?
My shelter and shield
in fight and strife;
in weal or woe
thou'rt mine for life.
Those whom I hate
thou hatest too;
those whom I love
thou lovest too.
When good King Mark
I followed of old,
thou wert to him truer than gold.
When I was false
to my noble friend,
to betray too thou didst descend.
Thou art selfless,
solely mine;
thou feel'st for me
when I suffer.
But—what I suffer,
thou canst not feel for me!
this terrible yearning in my heart,
this feverish burning's
cruel smart,—
did I but show it,
couldst thou but know it,
no time here wouldst thou tarry,
to watch from tow'r thou wouldst hurry;
with all devotion
viewing the ocean,
with eyes impatiently spying,
there, where her ship's sails are flying.
Before the wind she
drives to find me;
on the wings of love she neareth,—
Isolda hither steereth!—
she nears, she nears,
so boldly and fast!
It waves, it waves,
the flag from the mast!
Hurra! Hurra!
she reaches the bar!
Dost thou not see?
Kurvenal, dost thou not see?

(As KURNEVAL hesitates to leave TRISTAN, who is gazing at him in mute expectation, the mournful tune of the shepherd is heard, as before.)

KURVENAL (dejectedly). Still is no ship in sight.

TRISTAN (has listened with waning excitement and now recommences with growing melancholy).
Is this the meaning then,
thou old pathetic ditty,
of all thy sighing sound?—
On evening's breeze
it sadly rang
when, as a child,
my father's death-news chill'd me;
through morning's mist
it stole more sadly,
when the son
his mother's fate was taught,
when they who gave me breath
both felt the hand of death
to them came also
through their pain
the ancient ditty's
yearning strain,
which asked me once
and asks me now
which was the fate before me
to which my mother bore me?—
What was the fate?—
The strain so plaintive
now repeats it:—
for yearning—and dying!

(He falls back senseless.)

KURVENAL (who has been vainly striving to calm TRISTAN, cries out in terror).
My master! Tristan!—
Frightful enchantment!—
O love's deceit!
O passion's pow'r!
Most sweet dream 'neath the sun,
see the work thou hast done!—
Here lies he now,
the noblest of knights,
with his passion all others above:
behold! what reward
his ardor requites;
the one sure reward of love!

(with sobbing voice.)

Art thou then dead?
Liv'st thou not?
Hast to the curse succumbed?—

(He listens for TRISTAN'S breath.)

O rapture! No!
He still moves! He lives!
and gently his lips are stirr'd.

TRISTAN (very faintly). The ship—is't yet in sight?

KURVENAL. The ship? Be sure
t'will come to-day:
it cannot tarry longer.

TRISTAN. On board Isolda,—
see, she smiles—
with the cup
that reconciles.
Dost thou see?
Dost thou see her now?
Full of grace
and loving mildness,
floating o'er
the ocean's wildness?
By billows of flowers
lightly lifted,
gently toward
the land she's drifted.
Her look brings ease
and sweet repose;
her hand one last
relief bestows.
Isolda! Ah, Isolda!
How fair, how sweet art thou!—
And Kurvenal, why!—
what ails thy sight?
Away, and watch for her,
foolish I see so well and plainly,
let not thine eye seek vainly
Dost thou not hear?
Away, with speed!
Haste to the watch-tow'r!
Wilt thou not heed?
The ship, the ship!
Isolda's ship!—
Thou must discern it,
must perceive it!
The ship—dost thou see it?—

(Whilst KURVENAL, still hesitating, opposes TRISTAN, the Shepherd's pipe is heard without, playing a joyous strain.)

KURVENAL (springing joyously up).
O rapture! Transport!

(He rushes to the watch-tower and looks out.)

Ha! the ship!
From northward it is nearing.

TRISTAN. So I knew,
so I said!
Yes, she yet lives,
and life to me gives.
How could Isold'
from this world be free,
which only holds
Isolda for me?

KURVENAL (shouting). Ahoy! Ahoy!
See her bravely tacking!
How full the canvas is filled!
How she darts! how she flies!

TRISTAN. The pennon? the pennon?

KURVENAL. A flag is floating at mast-head,
joyous and bright.

TRISTAN. Aha! what joy!
Now through the daylight
comes my Isolda.
Isolda, oh come!
See'st thou herself?

KURVENAL. The ship is shut
from me by rocks.

TRISTAN. Behind the reef?
Is there not risk!
Those dangerous breakers
ships have oft shattered.—
Who steereth the helm?

KURVENAL. The steadiest seaman.

TRISTAN. Betrays he me?
Is he Melot's ally?

KURVENAL. Trust him like me.

TRISTAN. A traitor thou, too!—
O caitiff!
Canst thou not see her?

KURVENAL. Not yet.

TRISTAN. Destruction!

KURVENAL. Aha! Halla-halloa I
they clear! they clear!
Safely they clear!
Inside the surf
steers now the ship to the strand.

TRISTAN (shouting in joy). Hallo-ho! Kurvenal!
Trustiest friend!
All the wealth I own
to-day I bequeath thee.

KURVENAL. With speed they approach.

TRISTAN. Now dost thou see her?
See'st thou Isolda?

KURVENAL. 'Tis she! she waves!

TRISTAN. O woman divine!

KURVENAL. The ship is a-land!
With but one leap
lightly she springs to land!

TRISTAN. Descend from the watch-tow'r,
indolent gazer!
Away! away
to the shore!
Help her! help my belov'd!

KURVENAL. In a trice she shall come;
Trust in my strong arm!
But thou, Tristan,
hold thee tranquilly here!

(He hastens off.)

TRISTAN (tossing on his couch in feverish excitement).
O sunlight glowing,
glorious ray!
Ah, joy-bestowing
radiant day!
Boundeth my blood,
boisterous flood!
Infinite gladness!
Rapturous madness!
Can I bear to lie
couched here in quiet?
Away, let me fly
to where hearts run riot!
Tristan the brave,
exulting in strength,
has torn himself
from death at length.

(He raises himself erect.)

All wounded and bleeding
Sir Morold I defeated;
all bleeding and wounded
Isolda now shall be greeted.

(He tears the bandage from his wound.)

Ha, ha, my blood!
Merrily flows it.

(He springs from his bed and staggers forward.)

She who can help
my wound and close it,
she comes in her pride,
she comes to my aid.
Be space defied:
let the universe fade!

(He reels to the centre of the stage.)

ISOLDA'S VOICE (without).
Tristan! Tristan! Belovéd!

TRISTAN (in frantic excitement).
What! hails me the light?
The torchlight—ha!—
The torch is extinct!
I come! I come!



[ISOLDA hastens breathlessly in. TRISTAN, delirious with excitement, staggers wildly towards her. They meet in the centre of the stage; she receives him in her arms, where he sinks slowly to the ground.]

ISOLDA. Tristan! Ah!

TRISTAN (turning, his dying eyes on ISOLDA). Isolda!—

(He dies.)

ISOLDA. 'Tis I, 'tis I—
dearly belov'd!
Wake, and once more
hark to my voice!
Isolda calls.
Isolda comes,
with Tristan true to perish.—
Speak unto me!
But for one moment,
only one moment
open thine eyes!
Such weary days
I waited and longed,
that one single hour
I with thee might awaken.
Betrayed am I then?
Deprived by Tristan
of this our solitary,
swiftly fleeting,
final earthly joy?—
His wound, though—where?
Can I not heal it?
The rapture of night
O let us feel it?
Not of thy wounds,
not of thy wounds must thou expire!
Together, at least,
let fade life's enfeebled fire!—
How lifeless his look!—
still his heart!—
Dared he to deal me
Buch a smart?
Stayed is his breathing's
gentle tide!
Must I be wailing
at his side,
who, in rapture coming to seek him,
fearless sailed o'er the sea?
Too late, too late!
Desperate man!
Casting on me
this cruelest ban!
Comes no relief
for my load of grief?
Silent art keeping
while I am weeping?
But once more, ah!
But once again!—
he wakens—hark!

(She sinks down senseless upon his body.)

Edmund Blair-Leighton
Tristan and Isolde



[KURVENAL, who reëntered close behind ISOLDA, has remained by the entrance speechless and petrified, gazing motionless on TRISTAN. From below is now heard the dull murmur of voices and the clash of weapons. The Shepherd clambers over the wall.]

SHEPHERD (coming hastily and softly to KURVENAL).
Kurvenal! Hear!
Another ship!

(KURVENAL starts up in haste and looks over the rampart, whilst the Shepherd stands apart, gazing in consternation on TRISTAN and ISOLDA.)

KURVENAL. Fiends and furies!

(In a burst of anger.)

All are at hand!
Melot and Mark
I see on the strand,—
Weapons and missiles!—
Guard we the gate!

(He hastens with the Shepherd to the gate, which they both try quickly to barricade.)

THE STEERSMAN (rushing in).
Mark and his men
have set on us:
defence is vain!
We're overpowered.

KURVENAL. Stand to and help!—
While lasts my life
I'll let no foe enter here!

BRANGÆNA'S VOICE (without, calling from below).
Isolda! Mistress!

KURVENAL. Brangæna's voice! (Falling down.)
What want you here?

BRANGÆNA. Open, Kurvenal!
Where is Isolda?

KURVENAL. With foes do you come?
Woe to you, false one!

MELOT'S VOICE (without). Stand back, thou fool!
Bar not the way!

KURVENAL (laughing savagely). Hurrah for the day
on which I confront thee!

(MELOT, with armed men, appears under the gateway. KURVENAL falls on him and cuts him down.)

Die, damnable wretch!

Tristan and Iseult



MELOT. Woe's me!—Tristan! (He dies.)

BRANGÆNA (still without). Kurvenal! Madman!
O hear—thou mistakest!

KURVENAL. Treacherous maid! (To his men.)
Come! Follow me!
Force them below! (They fight.)

MARK (without). Hold, thou frantic man!
Lost are thy senses?

KURVENAL. Here ravages Death!
Nought else, O king,
is here to be holden!
If you would earn it, come on!

(He sets upon MARK and his followers.)

MARK. Away, rash maniac!

BRANGÆNA (has climbed over the wall at the side and hastens in the front).
Isolda! lady!
Joy and life!—
What sight's here—ha!
Liv'st thou, Isolda! (She goes to ISOLDA'S aid.)

MARK (who with his followers has driven KURVENAL and his men back from the gate and forced his way in). O wild mistake! Tristan, where art thou?

KURVENAL (desperately wounded, totters before MARK to the front).
He lieth—there—
here, where I lie too.—

(Sinks down at TRISTAN'S feet.)

MARK. Tristan! Tristan!
Isolda! Woe!

KURVENAL (trying to grasp TRISTAN'S hand).
Tristan! true lord!
Chide me not
that I try to follow thee! (He dies.)

MARK. Dead together!—
All are dead!
My hero Tristan!
truest of friends,
must thou again
be to thy king a traitor?
Now, when he comes
another proof of love to give thee!
Awaken! awaken.
O hear my lamentation,
thou faithless, faithful friend!

(Kneels down sobbing over the bodies.)

BRANGÆNA (who has revived ISOLDA in her arms).
She wakes! she lives!
Isolda, hear!
Hear me, mistress beloved!
Tidings of joy
I have to tell thee:
O list to thy Brangæna!
My thoughtless fault I have atoned;
after thy flight
I forthwith went to the king:
the love potion's secret
he scarce had learned
when with sedulous haste
he put to sea,
that he might find thee,
nobly renounce thee
and give thee up to thy love.

MARK. O why, Isolda,
Why this to me?
When clearly was disclosed
what before I could fathom not,
what joy was mine to find
my friend was free from fault!
In haste to wed
thee to my hero
with flying sails
I followed thy track:
but howe'er can
o'ertake the swift course of woe?
More food for Death did I make:
more wrong grew in mistake.

BRANGÆNA. Dost thou not hear?
Isolda! Lady!
O try to believe the truth!

ISOLDA (unconscious of all around her, turning her eyes with, rising inspiration on TRISTAN'S body).
Mild and softly
he is smiling;
how his eyelids sweetly open!
See, oh comrades,
see you not
how he beameth
ever brighter—
how he rises
ever radiant
steeped in starlight,
borne above?
See you not
how his heart
with lion zest,
calmly happy
beats in his breast?
From his lips
in heavenly rest
sweetest breath
he softly sends.
Harken, friends!
Hear and feel ye not?
Is it I
alone am hearing
strains so tender
and endearing?
Passion swelling,
all things telling,
gently bounding,
from him sounding,
in me pushes,
upward rushes
trumpet tone
that round me gushes.
Brighter growing,
o'er me flowing,
are these breezes
airy pillows?
Are they balmy
beauteous billows?
How they rise
and gleam and glisten!
Shall I breathe them?
Shall I listen?
Shall I sip them,
dive within them,
to my panting
breathing win them?
In the breezes around,
in the harmony sound
in the world's driving
whirlwind be drown'd—
and, sinking,
be drinking—
in a kiss,
highest bliss!

(ISOLDA sinks, as if transfigured, in BRANGÆNA'S arms upon TRISTAN'S body. Profound emotion and grief of the bystanders. MARK invokes a blessing on the dead. Curtain.)

Aubrey Beardsley
 "How Sir Tristram Drank of the Love Drink"







It was in 1854, when still an exile from his native land, that Wagner, weary of his long work, ‘The Ring of the Niblungs,’ of which only the first two parts were completed, conceived the idea of using the legend of Tristan as basis for a popular opera. Three years later the poem was finished, but the opera was played in Munich only in 1865 for the first time.

The libretto is based on an ancient Celtic myth or legend, which was very popular during the Middle Ages. It was already known in the seventh century, but whether it originally came from Wales or Brittany is a disputed point. It was very widely known, however, and, thanks to the wandering minstrels, it was translated into all the Continental idioms, and became the theme of many poets, even of later times. Since the days when Godfried of Strasburgh wrote his version of the story it has been versified by many others, among whom, in our days, are Matthew Arnold and Swinburne. While the general outline of these various versions remains the same, the legend has undergone many transformations, but Wagner has preserved many of the fundamental ideas of the myth, which is intended to illustrate the overpowering force of passion. The scene was originally laid in Ireland, Cornwall, and French Brittany.

Blanchefleur, sister of King Mark of Cornwall, falls in love with Rivalin, who dies shortly after their union. Withdrawing to her husband's castle in Brittany, Blanchefleur gives birth to a child whom she calls Tristan, as he is the child of sorrow, and, feeling that she cannot live much longer, she intrusts him to the care of her faithful steward, Kurvenal. When the young hero has reached the age of fifteen, his guardian takes him over to Cornwall, where King Mark not only recognises him as his nephew, but also designates him as his heir.

Tristan has been carefully trained, and is so expert in the use of his arms that he soon excites the envy of the courtiers, who are watching for an opportunity to do him harm. The King of Cornwall, having been defeated in battle by the King of Ireland, is obliged to pay him a yearly tribute, which is collected by Morold, a huge giant and a relative of the Irish king. Morold, coming as usual to collect the tribute money, behaves so insolently that Tristan resolves to free the country from thraldom by slaying him. A challenge is given and accepted, and after a terrible combat, such as the mediæval poets love to describe with minute care, the giant falls, after wounding Tristan with his poisoned spear.

The King of Cornwall, instead of sending the wonted tribute to Ireland, now forwards Morold's head, which is piously preserved by Ysolde, the Irish princess, who finds in the wound a fragment of sword by which she hopes to identify the murderer, and avenge her kinsman's death.

Tristan, finding that the skill of all the Cornwall leeches can give him no relief, decides to go to Ireland and claim the help of Ysolde the princess, who, like her mother, is skilled in the art of healing, and knows the antidote for every poison. Fearing, however, lest she may seek to avenge Morold's death, he goes alone, disguised as a harper, and presents himself before her as Tantris, a wandering minstrel.

His precarious condition touches Ysolde's compassionate heart, and she soon uses all her medical science to accomplish his cure, tenderly nursing him back to health. While sitting beside him one day, she idly draws his sword from the scabbard, and her sharp eyes perceive that a piece is missing. Comparing the break in the sword with the fragment in her possession, she is soon convinced that Morold's murderer is at her mercy, and she is about to slay her helpless foe when an imploring glance allays her wrath.

Tristan, having entirely recovered under her care, takes leave of the fair Ysolde, who has entirely lost her heart to him, and returns to Cornwall, where he relates his adventures, and speaks in such glowing terms of Ysolde's beauty and goodness that the courtiers finally prevail upon the king to sue for her hand.

As the courtiers have tried to make the king believe that his nephew would fain keep him single lest he should have an heir, Tristan reluctantly accepts the commission to bear the king's proposals and escort the bride to Cornwall. Ysolde is of course overjoyed at his return, for she fancies he reciprocates her love; but when he makes his errand known, she proudly conceals her grief, and prepares to accompany the embassy to Cornwall, taking with her her faithful nurse, Brangeane.

The Queen of Ireland, another Ysolde, well versed in every magic art, then brews a mighty love potion, which she intrusts to Brangeane's care, bidding her conceal it in her daughter's medicine chest, and administer it to the royal bride and groom on their wedding night, to insure their future happiness by deep mutual love.

Wagner's opera opens on shipboard, where Ysolde lies sullen and motionless under a tent, brooding over her sorrow and nursing her wrath against Tristan, who has further embittered her by treating her with the utmost reserve, and never once approaching her during the whole journey. The call of the pilot floats over the sea, and Ysolde, roused from her abstraction, asks Brangeane where they are. When she learns that the vessel is already within sight of Cornwall, where a new love awaits her, Ysolde gives vent to her despair, and openly regrets that she does not possess her mother's power over the elements, as she would gladly conjure a storm which would engulf the vessel and set her free from a life she abhors.

Brangeane, alarmed at this outburst, vainly tries to comfort her, and as the vessel draws near the land she obeys Ysolde's command and goes to summon Tristan into her presence. Approaching the young hero, who is at the helm, the maid delivers her message, but Tristan refuses to comply, under pretext of best fulfilling his trust by steering the vessel safe to land:—

‘In every station
Where I stand
I serve with life and blood
The pearl of womanhood:—
If I the rudder
Rashly left,
Who steer'd then safely the ship
To good King Mark's fair land?’

He further feigns to misunderstand the purport of her message, by assuring her that the discomforts of the journey will soon be over. Kurvenal, his companion, incensed by Brangeane's persistency, then makes a taunting speech to the effect that his master Tristan, the slayer of Morold, is not the vassal of any queen, and the nurse returns to the tent to report her failure. Ysolde, however, has overheard Kurvenal's speech, and when she learns that Tristan refuses to obey her summons, she comments bitterly upon his lack of gratitude for all her tender care, and confides to Brangeane how she spared him when he was ill and at her mercy.

Brangeane vainly tries to make her believe that Tristan has shown his appreciation by wooing her for the king rather than for himself, and when Ysolde murmurs against a loveless marriage, she shows her the magic potion intrusted to her care, which will insure her becoming a loving and beloved wife.

The sight of the medicine chest in which it is secreted unfortunately reminds Ysolde that she too knows the secret of brewing draughts of all kinds, so she prepares a deadly potion, trying all the while to make Brangeane believe that it is a perfectly harmless drug, which will merely make her forget the unhappy past.

While she is thus occupied, Kurvenal suddenly appears to announce that they are about to land, and to bid her prepare to meet the king, who has seen their coming and is wending his way down to the shore to bid her welcome. Ysolde haughtily replies that she will not stir a step until Tristan proffers an apology for his rude behaviour and obeys her summons. After conferring together for a few moments, Tristan and Kurvenal agree that it will be wiser to appease the irate beauty by yielding to her wishes, than to have an esclandre, and Tristan prepares to appear before her. Ysolde, in the mean while, has passionately flung herself into Brangeane's arms, fondly bidding her farewell, and telling her to have the magic draught she has prepared all ready to give to Tristan, with whom she means to drink atonement.

While Brangeane, who mistrusts her young mistress, is still pleading with her to forget the past, Tristan respectfully approaches the princess, and when she haughtily reproves him for slighting her commands, he informs her, with much dignity, that he deemed it his duty to keep his distance:—

‘Good breeding taught,
Where I was upbrought,
That he who brings
The bride to her lord
Should stay afar from his trust.’

Ysolde retorts, that, as he is such a rigid observer of etiquette, it would best behoove him to remember that as yet he has not even proffered the usual atonement for shedding the blood of her kin, and that his life is therefore at her disposal. Tristan, seeing she is bent upon revenge, haughtily hands her his sword, telling her that, since Morold was so dear to her, she had better avenge him. Under pretext that King Mark might resent such treatment of his nephew and ambassador, Ysolde refuses to take advantage of his defencelessness, and declares she will consider herself satisfied if he will only pledge her in the usual cup of atonement, which she motions to Brangeane to bring.

The bewildered handmaiden hastily pours a drug into the cup. This she tremblingly brings to her mistress, who, hearing the vessel grate on the pebbly shore, tells Tristan his loathsome task will soon be over, and that he will soon be able to relinquish her to the care of his uncle.

Tristan, suspecting that the contents of the cup are poisonous, nevertheless calmly takes it from her hand and puts it to his lips. But ere he has drunk half the potion, Ysolde snatches it from his grasp and greedily drains the rest. Instead of the ice-cold chill of death which they both expected, Tristan and Ysolde suddenly feel the electric tingle of love rushing madly through all their veins, and, forgetting all else, fall into each other's arms, exchanging passionate vows of undying love.

Brangeane, the only witness of this scene, views with terror the effect of her subterfuge, for, fearing lest her mistress should injure Tristan or herself, she had hastily substituted the love potion intrusted to her care for the poison Ysolde had prepared. While the lovers, clasped in each other's arms, unite in a duet of passionate love, the vessel is made fast to the shore, where the royal bridegroom is waiting, and it is only when Brangeane throws the royal mantle over Ysolde's shoulders, and when Kurvenal bids them step ashore, that the lovers suddenly realise that their brief dream of love is over.

The sudden revulsion from great joy to overwhelming despair proves too much for Ysolde's delicate frame, and she sinks fainting to the deck, just as King Mark appears and the curtain falls upon the first act.

Several days are supposed to have elapsed, when the second act begins. Ysolde after her fainting fit has been conveyed to the king's palace, where she is to dwell alone until her marriage takes place, and where she forgets everything except the passion which she feels for Tristan, who now shares all her feelings. In a hurried private interview the lovers have arranged a code of signals, and it is agreed that as soon as the light in Ysolde's window is extinguished her lover will join her as speedily as possible.

It is a beautiful summer night, and the last echoes of the hunting horn are dying away on the evening breeze, when Ysolde turns to Brangeane, and impatiently bids her put out the light. The terrified nurse refuses to do so, and implores Ysolde not to summon her lover, declaring that she is sure that Melot, one of the king's courtiers, noted her pallor and Tristan's strange embarrassment. In vain she adds that she knows his suspicions have been aroused, and that he is keeping close watch over them both to denounce them should they do anything amiss. Ysolde refuses to believe her.

The princess is so happy that she makes fun of her attendant's forebodings, and, after praising the tender passion she feels, she again bids her put out the light. As Brangeane will not obey this command, Ysolde, too much in love to wait any longer, finally extinguishes the light with her own hand, and bids her nurse go up in the watch-tower and keep a sharp lookout.

Ysolde then hastens to the open door, and gazes anxiously out into the twilighted forest, frantically waving her veil to hasten the coming of her lover, and runs to meet and embrace him when at last he appears.

Blissful in each other's company, Tristan and Ysolde now forget all else, while they exchange passionate vows and declarations of love, bewailing the length of the days which keep them apart, and the shortness of the nights during which they can see each other. In a passionate duet of mutual love and admiration, they also rejoice that, instead of dying together, as Ysolde had planned, they are still able to live and love.

Brangeane, posted in the watch-tower above, repeatedly warns them that they had better part, but her wise advice proves useless, and it is only when she utters a loud cry of alarm that Tristan and Ysolde start apart. Simultaneously almost with Brangeane's cry, Kurvenal rushes upon the scene with drawn sword, imploring his master to fly; but ere this advice can be followed King Mark and the traitor Melot appear, closely followed by all the royal hunting party. Ysolde, overcome with shame at being thus detected with her lover, sinks fainting to the ground, while Tristan, wishing to shield her as much as possible from the scornful glances of these men, stands in front of her with his mantle outspread. He, too, is overwhelmed with shame, and silently bows his head when his uncle bitterly reproves him for betraying him, and robbing him of the bride he had already learned to love. Even the sentence of banishment pronounced upon him seems none too severe, and Tristan, almost broken-hearted at the sight of his uncle's grief, sadly turns to ask Ysolde whether she will share his lot. Shame and discovery have in no wise diminished her affection for him, and when she promises to follow him even to the end of the earth he cannot restrain his joy, and notwithstanding the king's presence he passionately clasps her in his arms:

‘Wherever Tristan's home may be,
That will Ysolde share with thee:
That she may follow
And to thee hold,
The way now shown to Ysold'!’

Melot, enraged at this sight, rushes upon Tristan with drawn sword, and wounds him so sorely that he falls back unconscious in Kurvenal's arms, while Ysolde, clinging to him, faints away as the curtain falls on the second act.

The third act is played in Tristan's ancestral home in Brittany, whither he has been conveyed by Kurvenal, who vainly tries to nurse his wounded master back to health and strength. The sick man is lying under a great linden tree, in death-like lethargy, while Kurvenal anxiously watches for the vessel which he trusts will bring Ysolde from Cornwall. She alone can cure his master's grievous wound, and her presence only can woo him back from the grave into which he seems rapidly sinking.

From time to time Kurvenal interrupts his sad watch beside the pallid sleeper to call to a shepherd piping on the hillside, and to inquire of him whether he descries any signs of the coming sail. Slowly and feebly Tristan at last opens his eyes, gazes dreamily at his attendant and surroundings, and wonderingly inquires how he came thither. Kurvenal gently tells him that he bore him away from Cornwall while wounded and unconscious, and brought him home to recover his health amid the peaceful scenes of his happy youth; but Tristan sadly declares that life has lost all its charms since he has parted from Ysolde. In a sudden return of delirium the wounded hero then fancies he is again in the forest, watching for the light to go out, until Kurvenal tells him that Ysolde will soon be here, as he has sent a ship to Cornwall to bring her safely over the seas.

These tidings fill Tristan's heart with such rapture that he embraces Kurvenal, thanking him brokenly for his lifelong devotion, and bidding him climb up into the watch-tower that he may catch the first glimpse of the coming sail. While Kurvenal is hesitating whether he shall obey this order and leave his helpless patient alone, the shepherd joyfully announces the appearance of the ship. Kurvenal, ascending the tower, reports to his master how it rounds the point, steers past the dangerous rocks, touches the shore, and permits Ysolde to land.

Tristan has feverishly listened to all these reports, and bids Kurvenal hasten down to bring Ysolde to him; then, left alone, he bursts forth into rapturous praise of the happy day which brings his beloved to him once more, and of the deep love which has called him back from the gates of the tomb. His impatience to see Ysolde soon gets the better of his weakness, however, and he struggles to rise from his couch, although the exertion causes his wounds to bleed afresh. Painfully he staggers half across the stage to meet Ysolde, who appears only in time to hear his last passionate utterance of her beloved name, and to catch his dying form in her arms. She does not realise that he has breathed his last, however, and gently tries to woo him back to life, and make him open his eyes. But when all her efforts have failed, and she finds his heart no longer beats beneath her hand, she reproaches him tenderly for leaving her thus alone, and sinks unconscious upon his breast. Kurvenal, standing beside the lovers, speechless with grief, is roused to sudden action by the shepherd's hurried announcement that a second ship has arrived, and that King Mark, Melot, and all his train, are about to appear. Frenzied with grief, and thinking that they have come once more to injure his master, Kurvenal seizes his sword, and, springing to the gate, fights desperately until he has slain Melot, and falls mortally wounded at Tristan's feet.

While the fight is taking place, King Mark and Brangeane, standing without the castle wall, vainly call to him to stay his hand, as they have come with friendly intentions only, and now that he can resist them no longer they all come rushing in. They are horror-struck at the sight of Tristan and Ysolde, both apparently dead; but Brangeane, having discovered that her mistress has only swooned, soon restores her to consciousness. King Mark hastens to assure Ysolde that she and Tristan are both forgiven; for Brangeane having penitently revealed to him the secret of the love potion which she administered, he realises that they could not but yield to its might. Ysolde, however, pays no heed to his words, but, gazing fixedly at Tristan, she mournfully extols his charms and love, until her heart breaks with grief, and she too sinks lifeless to the ground. No restoratives can now avail to recall the life which has flown forever, and King Mark blesses the corpses of the lovers, and of the faithful servant who has expired at their feet, as the curtain falls.



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