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by Marie de France

translated by Robert Hanning and Joan Ferrante

I should like very much

to tell you the truth

about the lai men call Chevrefoil-

why it was composed and where it

                        came from.                            

Many have told and recited it to me

and I have found it in writing,

about Tristan and the queen

and their love that was so true,

that brought them much suffering

and caused them to die on the same day.

King Mark was annoyed,

angry at his nephew Tristan;

he exiled Tristan from his land

because of the queen whom he loved.

Tristan returned to his own country,

South Wales, where he was born,

he stayed a whole year;

he couldn’t come back.

Afterward he began to expose himself

to death and destruction.

Don’t be surprised at this:

for one who loves very faithfully

is sad and troubled

when he cannot satisfy his desires.

Tristan was sad and worried,

so he set out from his land.

He traveled straight to Cornwall,

where the queen lived,

and entered the forest all alone-

he didn’t want anyone to see him;

he came out only in the evening

when it was time to find shelter.

He took lodging that night,

with peasants, poor people.

He asked them for news

of the king-what he was doing.

They told him they had heard

that the barons had been summoned

   by ban.

They were to come to Tintagel

where the king wanted to hold his court;

at Pentecost they would all be there,

there’d be much joy and pleasure,

and the queen would be there too.

Tristan heard and was very happy;

she would not be able to go there

without his seeing her pass.

The day the king set out,

Tristan also came to the woods

by the road he knew

their assembly must take.

He cut a hazel tree in half,

then he squared it.

When he had prepared the wood,

he wrote his name on it with his knife.

If the queen noticed it-

and she should be on the watch for it,

for it had happened before

and she had noticed it then-

she’d know when she saw it,

that the piece of wood had come

   from her love.

This was the message of the writing

that he had sent to her:

he had been there a long time,

had waited and remained

to find out and to discover

how he could see her,

for he could not live without her.

With the two of them it was just

as it is with the honeysuckle

that attaches itself to the hazel tree:

when it has wound and attached

and worked itself around the trunk,

the two can survive together;

but if someone tries to separate them,

the hazel dies quickly

and the honeysuckle with it.

“Sweet love, so it is with us:

You cannot live without me, nor I

   without you.”

The queen rode along;

she looked at the hillside

and saw the piece of wood; she knew

   what is was,

she recognized all the letters.

The knights who were accompanying her,

who were riding with her,

she ordered to stop:

she wanted to dismount and rest.

They obeyed her command.

She went far away from her people

and called her girl

Brenguein, who was loyal to her.

She went a short distance from the road;

and in the woods she found him

whom she loved more than any living thing.

They took great joy in each other.

He spoke to her as much as he desired,

she told him whatever she liked.

Then she assured him

that he would be reconciled with the king-

for it weighed on him

that he had sent Tristan away;

he’d done it because of the accusation.

Then she departed, she left her love,

but when it came to the separation,

they began to weep.

Tristan went to Wales,

to wait until his uncle sent for him.

For the joy that he’d felt

from his love when he saw her,

by means of the stick he inscribed

as the queen had instructed,

and in order to remember the words,

Tristan, who played the harp well,

composed a new lai about it.

I shall name it briefly:

in English they call it Goat’s Leaf

the French call it Chevrefoil.

I have given you the truth

about the lai that I have told here. (717-719)


de France, Marie. “Chevrefoil.” World Literature. Trans. Robert Hanning and Joan

Ferrante. 3rd ed. Ed. Bill Wahlgren. Austin: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2001.