When I Set Out For Lyonesse
   by Thomas Hardy

 When I set out for Lyonnesse,
  A hundred miles away,
  The rime was on the spray,
 And starlight lit my lonesomeness
 When I set out for Lyonnesse
  A hundred miles away.

 What would bechance at Lyonnesse
  While I should sojourn there
  No prophet durst declare,
 Nor did the wisest wizard guess
 What would bechance at Lyonnesse
  While I should sojourn there.

 When I came back from Lyonnesse
  With magic in my eyes,
  All marked with mute surmise
 My radiance rare and fathomless,
 When I came back from Lyonnesse
  With magic in my eyes!

Lyonesse holds a significant place in Arthurian legend, notably featuring in the tragic tale of Tristan and Iseult. It served as the homeland of the heroic Tristan, a distinguished Knight of the Round Table, whose father, King Meliodas, ruled over Lyonesse. In Arthurian lore, Lyonesse is a mythical and “lost” land believed to have once connected Cornwall in western England to the Isles of Scilly in the English Channel.

The name “Lyonesse” first emerged in Thomas Malory’s late 15th-century work, Le Morte Darthur, where it was portrayed as the native land of Tristan. Interestingly, earlier Arthurian legends had associated Tristan with Leonois, likely the region around Saint-Pol-de-Léon in Brittany. Malory’s adoption of the name “Lyonesse” is a deviation from the original association.

Legend holds that Lyonesse met a tragic fate by sinking beneath the waves in a single night. Discrepancies exist in stories regarding the date of this catastrophic event, with some narratives pointing to 11 November 1099, while others suggest it occurred a decade earlier. According to one version, the kingdom faced divine retribution for an unspecified heinous crime committed by its people. The ensuing night witnessed a devastating storm culminating in a colossal wave that engulfed Lyonesse.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Arthurian epic, Idylls of the King, contributes to Lyonesse’s mythical legacy. Within this narrative, Lyonesse becomes the backdrop for the climactic battle between King Arthur and Mordred, the king’s nephew and illegitimate son. Tennyson’s verses weave in references to the legends of Lyonesse, emphasizing its emergence from and eventual submersion into the ocean.

Then rose the King and moved his host by night
And ever pushed Sir Mordred, league by league,
Back to the sunset bound of Lyonesse—
A land of old upheaven from the abyss
By fire, to sink into the abyss again;
Where fragments of forgotten peoples dwelt,
And the long mountains ended in a coast
Of ever-shifting sand, and far away
The phantom circle of a moaning sea.

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