The World’s Best English Epic Poetry – Swinburne’s Tristram of Lyonesse

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The world’s best English epic and narrative poetry includes Swinburne‘s Tristram of Lyonesse. In fantastic verse, Swinburne recounts the life and loves of Sir Tristram: and how his life is torn apart by his conflicting loyalties to his king (King Mark), his queen (Queen Iseult of Cornwall), and his wife (Queen Iseult of Brittany).

Tristram initially serves his king faithfully: successfully completing many hazardous quests on his behalf. However, by singular misfortune, Tristram and Iseult unwittingly imbibe together a love-potion that causes them to fall irretrievably in love with each other. In this way begins Tristram’s ill-fated love-affair with his queen: until King Mark’s latent suspicious are aroused and he vows to catch Tristram in the act. King Mark succeeds in catching the lovers together and lays violent hands upon Tristram: who barely escapes with his life to take refuge in Brittany, safely beyond his king’s clutches.

Tristram – apparently – is now completely safe and secure: the beautiful daughter of his benefactor, King Hoel, falls in love with him – and they are betrothed. What can go wrong?

And indeed, for a time, Tristram believes that he can forget his previous adulterous liaison in his lovely new wife’s embraces. Until Tristram’s Doom once more overtakes him…

  • Can Tristram ever break free of the ancient love-potion’s power?
  • Tristram is honoured, wealthy, and married to the lovely Iseult of Brittany. So then why is Tristram therefore not the happiest man alive?

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Tristram & Iseult