The Poetry of Ellin Anderson

TRISTAN AND ISOLDE

By John Gower (1330
1408)
The Poet Who Inspired Shakespeare

Modern English Version
by Richard Brodie and Ellin Anderson
 

And if you’d look for evidence
That’s based on true experience,
As it befell, and still is sung,
You’ll find this tale on every tongue:
How Tristan was so drunk with love
For Fair Isolde, partaking of
The drink that Brangäne, in the dark,
Had served to them, before King Mark,
His uncle, took Isolde to wife.
And also, if you’d know from life
Another case to underscore
Love’s lesson, proving even more
Why drunkenness one ought to dread,
As happened long ago, it’s said,
Whereof you might do well to learn
Away from drunken men to turn,
And of such company stay clear,
A great example you shall hear.


JUPITER'S TWO CASKS

What luck may chance to come our way
Depends on what the gods purvey
To man, as governed from above,
So that the course of every love
Is shaped there, as it shall befall.
For Jupiter, who over all
The gods is sovereign, and holds sway,
Has in his cellar, as men say,
Two barrels full of love’s own drink,
Which have made many a heart to sink,
While others float, upon love’s power,
For one is sweet and one is sour.
The one is filled with such sweet wine,
Surpassing all the most divine
That man has known, if he should taste:
It makes a joyful heart, with haste.
The other brew is bitter gall:
Upon men’s hearts, it casts a pall
Of drunkenness that breeds distress,
And sickens with its bitterness.
Blind Cupid must serve up these brews:
Strong potions no one can refuse.
The sour and the sweet go down
To make some laugh, and others frown;
But insomuch as he is blind,
He often will mistake the kind
Of wine, and serves the bad for good
So lovers don’t feast as they should,
Without a cause, while others gain:
Then, some are lovesick and in pain
When they have reason to be whole.
The undeserving find love’s bowl
By chance, and like a fool in jest,
Drink, without merit, of the best.
And thus the purblind butler will
Pour cloudy wine for clear, and fill
The cup with clear, where gloom should bubble:
See how he can cause heart trouble!
Laws of chance make all men fools,
Without the governance of rules:
If Cupid taps the sweeter one,
Then sorrow’s cup is made to run
And flow with love, so none shall grieve
If they should fall down drunk at eve.
For then it’s no more than a game,
But when the drink is not the same,
And from the bitter cask he draws,
Such drunkenness fills hearts, and gnaws
At thought, enfeebling what men think,
So that it’s best they did not drink,
And all their bread had eaten dry,
For then their spirits can’t be high
From drinking, and they know not where
To go – the paths are slippery there,
On which, perhaps, they’ll take a fall
And go to pieces, wits and all.
Men thus are made intoxicated
By the drink with which they’re sated:
But no two may drink alike,
For some shall sing, while others strike.
So, nothing more surprises me.
My son, love is your malady,
For by your tale of how you fare,
I know you’ll drink, between the pair,
Of bitterness, till God can send
Such grace as puts you on the mend.
But first, you shall beseech and pray
In such a manner as I say,
And from the well of joy partake,
That you this woeful thirst can slake
With love, and taste a good sweetness,
As Bacchus did in his distress,
When thirst of body left him spent
In those strange countries where he went.


More Middle English translations by
Richard Brodie and Ellin Anderson

© 2010 by Ellin Anderson. All rights reserved.
No part of this work may be copied or used in any way
without written permission from the author.

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