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Acts of God
18. Medieval self2 1000.00 43320.00
435 0More pages
translated by JESSIE L. WESTON (1898)
After the siege and the assault of Troy, when that burg was
destroyed and burnt to ashes, and the traitor tried for his treason, the noble
Ăneas and his kin sailed forth to become princes and patrons of well-nigh all
the Western Isles. Thus Romulus built Rome (and gave to the city his own name,
which it bears even to this day); and Ticius turned him to Tuscany; and
Langobard raised him up dwellings in Lombardy; and Felix Brutus sailed far
over the French flood, and founded the kingdom of Britain, wherein have been
war and waste and wonder, and bliss and bale, ofttimes since.
And in that kingdom of Britain have been wrought more
gallant deeds than in any other; but of all British kings Arthur was the most
valiant, as I have heard tell, therefore will I set forth a wondrous adventure
that fell out in his time. And if ye will listen to me, but for a little
while, I will tell it even as it stands in story stiff and strong, fixed in
the letter, as it hath long been known in the land.
King Arthur lay at Camelot upon a Christmas-tide, with many
a gallant lord and lovely lady, and all the noble brotherhood of the Round
Table. There they held rich revels with gay talk and jest; one while they
would ride forth to joust and tourney, and again back to the court to make
carols; 2 for there was the feast holden fifteen days with
all the mirth that men could devise, song and glee, glorious to hear, in the
daytime, and dancing at night. Halls and chambers were crowded with noble
guests, the bravest of knights and the loveliest of ladies, and Arthur himself
was the comeliest king that ever held a court. For all this fair folk were in
their youth, the fairest and most fortunate under heaven, and the king himself
of such fame that it were hard now to name so valiant a hero.
Now the New Year had but newly come in, and on that day a
double portion was served on the high table to all the noble guests, and
thither came the king with all his knights, when the service in the chapel had
been sung to an end. And they greeted each other for the New Year, and gave
rich gifts, the one to the other (and they that received them were not wroth,
that may ye well believe!), and the maidens laughed and made mirth till it was
time to get them to meat. Then they washed and sat them down to the feast in
fitting rank and order, and Guinevere the queen, gaily clad, sat on the high
da´s. Silken was her seat, with a fair canopy over her head, of rich
tapestries of Tars, embroidered, and studded with costly gems; fair she was to
look upon, with her shining grey eyes, a fairer woman might no man boast
himself of having seen.
But Arthur would not eat till all were served, so full of
joy and gladness was he, even as a child; he liked not either to lie long, or
to sit long at meat, so worked upon him his young blood and his wild brain.
And another custom he had also, that came of his nobility, that he would never
eat upon an high day till he had been advised of some knightly deed, or some
strange and marvellous tale, of his ancestors, or of arms, or of other
ventures. Or till some stranger knight should seek of him leave to joust with
one of the Round Table, that they might set their lives in jeopardy, one
against another, as fortune might favour them. Such was the king's custom when
he sat in hall at each high feast with his noble knights, therefore on that
New Year tide, he abode, fair of face, on the throne, and made much mirth
Thus the king sat before the high tables, and spake of many
things; and there good Sir Gawain was seated by Guinevere the queen, and on
her other side sat Agravain, Ó la dure main; 3 both
were the king's sister's sons and full gallant knights. And at the end of the
table was Bishop Bawdewyn, and Ywain, King Urien's son, sat at the other side
alone. These were worthily served on the da´s, and at the lower tables sat
many valiant knights. Then they bare the first course with the blast of
trumpets and waving of banners, with the sound of drums and pipes, of song and
lute, that many a heart was uplifted at the melody. Many were the dainties,
and rare the meats, so great was the plenty they might scarce find room on the
board to set on the dishes. Each helped himself as he liked best, and to each
two were twelve dishes, with great plenty of beer and wine.
Now I will say no more of the service, but that ye may know
there was no lack, for there drew near a venture that the folk might well have
left their labour to gaze upon. As the sound of the music ceased, and the
first course had been fitly served, there came in at the hall door one
terrible to behold, of stature greater than any on earth; from neck to loin so
strong and thickly made, and with limbs so long and so great that he seemed
even as a giant. And yet he was but a man, only the mightiest that might mount
a steed; broad of chest and shoulders and slender of waist, and all his
features of like fashion; but men marvelled much at his colour, for he rode
even as a knight, yet was green all over.
For he was clad all in green, with a straight coat, and a
mantle above; all decked and lined with fur was the cloth and the hood that
was thrown back from his locks and lay on his shoulders. Hose had he of the
same green, and spurs of bright gold with silken fastenings richly worked; and
all his vesture was verily green. Around his waist and his saddle were bands
with fair stones set upon silken work, 'twere too long to tell of all the
trifles that were embroidered thereon--birds and insects in gay gauds of green
and gold. All the trappings of his steed were of metal of like enamel, even
the stirrups that he stood in stained of the same, and stirrups and saddle-bow
alike gleamed and shone with green stones. Even the steed on which he rode was
of the same hue, a green horse, great and strong, and hard to hold, with
broidered bridle, meet for the rider.
The knight was thus gaily dressed in green, his hair falling
around his shoulders; on his breast hung a beard, as thick and green as a
bush, and the beard and the hair of his head were clipped all round above his
elbows. The lower part of his sleeves were fastened with clasps in the same
wise as a king's mantle. The horse's mane was crisp and plaited with many a
knot folded in with gold thread about the fair green, here a twist of the
hair, here another of gold. The tail was twined in like manner, and both were
bound about with a band of bright green set with many a precious stone; then
they were tied aloft in a cunning knot, whereon rang many bells of burnished
gold. Such a steed might no other ride, nor had such ever been looked upon in
that hall ere that time; and all who saw that knight spake and said that a man
might scarce abide his stroke.
The knight bore no helm nor hauberk, neither gorget nor
breast-plate, neither shaft nor buckler to smite nor to shield, but in one
hand he had a holly-bough, that is greenest when the groves are bare, and in
his other an axe, huge and uncomely, a cruel weapon in fashion, if one would
picture it. The head was an ell-yard long, the metal all of green steel and
gold, the blade burnished bright, with a broad edge, as well shapen to shear
as a sharp razor. The steel was set into a strong staff, all bound round with
iron, even to the end, and engraved with green in cunning work. A lace was
twined about it, that looped at the head, and all adown the handle it was
clasped with tassels on buttons of bright green richly broidered.
The knight rideth through the entrance of the hall, driving
straight to the high da´s, and greeted no man, but looked ever upwards; and
the first words he spake were, "Where is the ruler of this folk? I would
gladly look upon that hero, and have speech with him." He cast his eyes
on the knights, and mustered them up and down, striving ever to see who of
them was of most renown.
Then was there great gazing to behold that chief, for each
man marvelled what it might mean that a knight and his steed should have even
such a hue as the green grass; and that seemed even greener than green enamel
on bright gold. All looked on him as he stood, and drew near unto him
wondering greatly what he might be; for many marvels had they seen, but none
such as this, and phantasm and faŰrie did the folk deem it. Therefore were
the gallant knights slow to answer, and gazed astounded, and sat stone still
in a deep silence through that goodly hall, as if a slumber were fallen upon
them. I deem it was not all for doubt, but some for courtesy that they might
give ear unto his errand.
Then Arthur beheld this adventurer before his high da´s,
and knightly he greeted him, for fearful was he never. "Sir," he
said, "thou art welcome to this place--lord of this hall am I, and men
call me Arthur. Light thee down, and tarry awhile, and what thy will is, that
shall we learn after."
"Nay," quoth the stranger, "so help me He
that sitteth on high, 'twas not mine errand to tarry any while in this
dwelling; but the praise of this thy folk and thy city is lifted up on high,
and thy warriors are holden for the best and the most valiant of those who
ride mail-clad to the fight. The wisest and the worthiest of this world are
they, and well proven in all knightly sports. And here, as I have heard tell,
is fairest courtesy, therefore have I come hither as at this time. Ye may be
sure by the branch that I bear here that I come in peace, seeking no strife.
For had I willed to journey in warlike guise I have at home both hauberk and
helm, shield and shining spear, and other weapons to mine hand, but since I
seek no war my raiment is that of peace. But if thou be as bold as all men
tell thou wilt freely grant me the boon I ask."
And Arthur answered, "Sir Knight, if thou cravest
battle here thou shalt not fail for lack of a foe."
And the knight answered, "Nay, I ask no fight, in faith
here on the benches are but beardless children, were I clad in armour on my
steed there is no man here might match me. Therefore I ask in this court but a
Christmas jest, for that it is Yule-tide, and New Year, and there are here
many fain for sport. If any one in this hall holds himself so hardy,
4 so bold both of blood and brain, as to dare strike me one stroke for
another, I will give him as a gift this axe, which is heavy enough, in sooth,
to handle as he may list, and I will abide the first blow, unarmed as I sit.
If any knight be so bold as to prove my words let him come swiftly to me here,
and take this weapon, I quit claim to it, he may keep it as his own, and I
will abide his stroke, firm on the floor. Then shalt thou give me the right to
deal him another, the respite of a year and a day shall he have. Now haste,
and let see whether any here dare say aught."
Now if the knights had been astounded at the first, yet
stiller were they all, high and low, when they had heard his words. The knight
on his steed straightened himself in the saddle, and rolled his eyes fiercely
round the hall, red they gleamed under his green and bushy brows. He frowned
and twisted his beard, waiting to see who should rise, and when none answered
he cried aloud in mockery, "What, is this Arthur's hall, and these the
knights whose renown hath run through many realms? Where are now your pride
and your conquests, your wrath, and anger, and mighty words? Now are the
praise and the renown of the Round Table overthrown by one man's speech, since
all keep silence for dread ere ever they have seen a blow!"
With that he laughed so loudly that the blood rushed to the
king's fair face for very shame; he waxed wroth, as did all his knights, and
sprang to his feet, and drew near to the stranger and said, "Now by
heaven foolish is thy asking, and thy folly shall find its fitting answer. I
know no man aghast at thy great words. Give me here thine axe and I shall
grant thee the boon thou hast asked." Lightly he sprang to him and caught
at his hand, and the knight, fierce of aspect, lighted down from his charger.
Then Arthur took the axe and gripped the haft, and swung it
round, ready to strike. And the knight stood before him, taller by the head
than any in the hall; he stood, and stroked his beard, and drew down his coat,
no more dismayed for the king's threats than if one had brought him a drink of
Then Gawain, who sat by the queen, leaned forward to the
king and spake, "I beseech ye, my lord, let this venture be mine. Would
ye but bid me rise from this seat, and stand by your side, so that my liege
lady thought it not ill, then would I come to your counsel before this goodly
court. For I think it not seemly when such challenges be made in your hall
that ye yourself should undertake it, while there are many bold knights who
sit beside ye, none are there, methinks, of readier will under heaven, or more
valiant in open field. I am the weakest, I wot, and the feeblest of wit, and
it will be the less loss of my life if ye seek sooth. For save that ye are
mine uncle naught is there in me to praise, no virtue is there in my body save
your blood, and since this challenge is such folly that it beseems ye not to
take it, and I have asked it from ye first, let it fall to me, and if I bear
myself ungallantly then let all this court blame me."
Then they all spake with one voice that the king should
leave this venture and grant it to Gawain.
Then Arthur commanded the knight to rise, and he rose up
quickly and knelt down before the king, and caught hold of the weapon; and the
king loosed his hold of it, and lifted up his hand, and gave him his blessing,
and bade him be strong both of heart and hand. "Keep thee well,
nephew," quoth Arthur, "that thou give him but the one blow, and if
thou redest him rightly I trow thou shalt well abide the stroke he may give
Gawain stepped to the stranger, axe in hand, and he, never
fearing, awaited his coming. Then the Green Knight spake to Sir Gawain,
"Make we our covenant ere we go further. First, I ask thee, knight, what
is thy name? Tell me truly, that I may know thee."
"In faith," quoth the good knight, "Gawain am
I, who give thee this buffet, let what may come of it; and at this time
twelvemonth will I take another at thine hand with whatsoever weapon thou
wilt, and none other."
Then the other answered again, "Sir Gawain, so may I
thrive as I am fain to take this buffet at thine hand," and he quoth
further, "Sir Gawain, it liketh me well that I shall take at thy fist
that which I have asked here, and thou hast readily and truly rehearsed all
the covenant that I asked of the king, save that thou shalt swear me, by thy
troth, to seek me thyself wherever thou hopest that I may be found, and win
thee such reward as thou dealest me to-day, before this folk."
"Where shall I seek thee?" quoth Gawain.
"Where is thy place? By Him that made me, I wot never where thou dwellest,
nor know I thee, knight, thy court, nor thy name. But teach me truly all that
pertaineth thereto, and tell me thy name, and I shall use all my wit to win my
way thither, and that I swear thee for sooth, and by my sure troth."
"That is enough in the New Year, it needs no
more," quoth the Green Knight to the gallant Gawain, "if I tell thee
truly when I have taken the blow, and thou hast smitten me; then will I teach
thee of my house and home, and mine own name, then mayest thou ask thy road
and keep covenant. And if I waste no words then farest thou the better, for
thou canst dwell in thy land, and seek no further. But take now thy toll, and
let see how thy strikest."
"Gladly will I," quoth Gawain, handling his axe.
Then the Green Knight swiftly made him ready, he bowed down
his head, and laid his long locks on the crown that his bare neck might be
seen. Gawain gripped his axe and raised it on high, the left foot he set
forward on the floor, and let the blow fall lightly on the bare neck. The
sharp edge of the blade sundered the bones, smote through the neck, and clave
it in two, so that the edge of the steel bit on the ground, and the fair head
fell to the earth that many struck it with their feet as it rolled forth. The
blood spurted forth, and glistened on the green raiment, but the knight
neither faltered nor fell; he started forward with out-stretched hand, and
caught the head, and lifted it up; then he turned to his steed, and took hold
of the bride, set his foot in the stirrup, and mounted. His head he held by
the hair, in his hand. Then he seated himself in his saddle as if naught ailed
him, and he were not headless. He turned his steed about, the grim corpse
bleeding freely the while, and they who looked upon him doubted them much for
For he held up the head in his hand, and turned the face
towards them that sat on the high da´s, and it lifted up the eyelids and
looked upon them and spake as ye shall hear. "Look, Gawain, that thou art
ready to go as thou hast promised, and seek leally till thou find me, even as
thou hast sworn in this hall in the hearing of these knights. Come thou, I
charge thee, to the Green Chapel, such a stroke as thou hast dealt thou hast
deserved, and it shall be promptly paid thee on New Year's morn. Many men know
me as the knight of the Green Chapel, and if thou askest, thou shalt not fail
to find me. Therefore it behoves thee to come, or to yield thee as
With that he turned his bridle, and galloped out at the hall
door, his head in his hands, so that the sparks flew from beneath his horse's
hoofs. Whither he went none knew, no more than they wist whence he had come;
and the king and Gawain they gazed and laughed, for in sooth this had proved a
greater marvel than any they had known aforetime.
Though Arthur the king was astonished at his heart, yet he
let no sign of it be seen, but spake in courteous wise to the fair queen:
"Dear lady, be not dismayed, such craft is well suited to Christmas-tide
when we seek jesting, laughter and song, and fair carols of knights and
ladies. But now I may well get me to meat, for I have seen a marvel I may not
forget." Then he looked on Sir Gawain, and said gaily, "Now, fair
nephew, hang up thine axe, since it has hewn enough," and they hung it on
the dossal above the da´s, where all men might look on it for a marvel, and
by its true token tell of the wonder. Then the twain sat them down together,
the king and the good knight, and men served them with a double portion, as
was the share of the noblest, with all manner of meat and of minstrelsy. And
they spent that day in gladness, but Sir Gawain must well bethink him of the
heavy venture to which he had set his hand.
This beginning of adventures had Arthur at the New Year; for
he yearned to hear gallant tales, though his words were few when he sat at the
feast. But now had they stern work on hand. Gawain was glad to begin the jest
in the hall, but ye need have no marvel if the end be heavy. For though a man
be merry in mind when he has well drunk, yet a year runs full swiftly, and the
beginning but rarely matches the end.
For Yule was now over-past 5, and the year
after, each season in its turn following the other. For after Christmas comes
crabbed Lent, that will have fish for flesh and simpler cheer. But then the
weather of the world chides with winter; the cold withdraws itself, the clouds
uplift, and the rain falls in warm showers on the fair plains. Then the
flowers come forth, meadows and grove are clad in green, the birds make ready
to build, and sing sweetly for solace of the soft summer that follows
thereafter. The blossoms bud and blow in the hedgerows rich and rank, and
noble notes enough are heard in the fair woods.
After the season of summer, with the soft winds, when zephyr
breathes lightly on seeds and herbs, joyous indeed is the growth that waxes
thereout when the dew drips from the leaves beneath the blissful glance of the
bright sun. But then comes harvest and hardens the grain, warning it to wax
ripe ere the winter. The drought drives the dust on high, flying over the face
of the land; the angry wind of the welkin wrestles with the sun; the leaves
fall from the trees and light upon the ground, and all brown are the groves
that but now were green, and ripe is the fruit that once was flower. So the
year passes into many yesterdays, and winter comes again, as it needs no sage
to tell us.
When the Michaelmas moon was come in with warnings of
winter, Sir Gawain bethought him full oft of his perilous journey. Yet till
All Hallows Day he lingered with Arthur, and on that day they made a great
feast for the hero's sake, with much revel and richness of the Round Table.
Courteous knights and comely ladies, all were in sorrow for the love of that
knight, and though they spake no word of it, many were joyless for his sake.
And after meat, sadly Sir Gawain turned to his uncle, and
spake of his journey, and said, "Liege lord of my life, leave from you I
crave. Ye know well how the matter stands without more words, to-morrow am I
bound to set forth in search of the Green Knight."
Then came together all the noblest knights, Ywain and Erec,
and many another. Sir Dodinel le Sauvage, the Duke of Clarence, Launcelot and
Lionel, and Lucan the Good, Sir Bors and Sir Bedivere, valiant knights both,
and many another hero, with Sir Mador de la Porte, and they all drew near,
heavy at heart, to take counsel with Sir Gawain. Much sorrow and weeping was
there in the hall to think that so worthy a knight as Gawain should wend his
way to seek a deadly blow, and should no more wield his sword in fight. But
the knight made ever good cheer, and said, "Nay, wherefore should I
shrink? What may a man do but prove his fate?"
He dwelt there all that day, and on the morn he arose and
asked betimes for his armour; and they brought it unto him on this wise:
first, a rich carpet was stretched on the floor 6 (and
brightly did the gold gear glitter upon it), then the knight stepped on to it,
and handled the steel; clad he was in a doublet of silk, with a close hood,
lined fairly throughout. Then they set the steel shoes upon his feet, and
wrapped his legs with greaves, with polished knee-caps, fastened with knots of
gold. Then they cased his thighs in cuisses closed with thongs, and brought
him the byrny of bright steel rings sewn upon a fair stuff. Well burnished
braces they set on each arm with good elbow-pieces, and gloves of mail, and
all the goodly gear that should shield him in his need. And they cast over all
a rich surcoat, and set the golden spurs on his heels, and girt him with a
trusty sword fastened with a silken bawdrick. When he was thus clad his
harness was costly, for the least loop or latchet gleamed with gold. So armed
as he was he hearkened Mass and made his offering at the high altar. Then he
came to the king, and the knights of his court, and courteously took leave of
lords and ladies, and they kissed him, and commended him to Christ.
With that was Gringalet ready, girt with a saddle that
gleamed gaily with many golden fringes, enriched and decked anew for the
venture. The bridle was all barred about with bright gold buttons, and all the
covertures and trappings of the steed, the crupper and the rich skirts,
accorded with the saddle; spread fair with the rich red gold that glittered
and gleamed in the rays of the sun.
Then the knight called for his helmet, which was well lined
throughout, and set it high on his head, and hasped it behind. He wore a light
kerchief over the vintail, that was broidered and studded with fair gems on a
broad silken ribbon, with birds of gay colour, and many a turtle and
true-lover's knot interlaced thickly, even as many a maiden had wrought
diligently for seven winter long. But the circlet which crowned his helmet was
yet more precious, being adorned with a device in diamonds. Then they brought
him his shield, which was of bright red, with the pentangle painted thereon in
gleaming gold 7. And why that noble prince bare the pentangle
I am minded to tell you, though my tale tarry thereby. It is a sign that
Solomon set ere-while, as betokening truth; for it is a figure with five
points and each line overlaps the other, and nowhere hath it beginning or end,
so that in English it is called "the endless knot." And therefore
was it well suiting to this knight and to his arms, since Gawain was faithful
in five and five-fold, for pure was he as gold, void of all villainy and
endowed with all virtues. Therefore he bare the pentangle on shield and
surcoat as truest of heroes and gentlest of knights.
For first he was faultless in his five senses; and his five
fingers never failed him; and all his trust upon earth was in the five wounds
that Christ bare on the cross, as the Creed tells. And wherever this knight
found himself in stress of battle he deemed well that he drew his strength
from the five joys which the Queen of Heaven had of her Child. And for this
cause did he bear an image of Our Lady on the one half of his shield, that
whenever he looked upon it he might not lack for aid. And the fifth five that
the hero used were frankness and fellowship above all, purity and courtesy
that never failed him, and compassion that surpasses all; and in these five
virtues was that hero wrapped and clothed. And all these, five-fold, were
linked one in the other, so that they had no end, and were fixed on five
points that never failed, neither at any side were they joined or sundered,
nor could ye find beginning or end. And therefore on his shield was the knot
shapen, red-gold upon red, which is the pure pentangle. Now was Sir Gawain
ready, and he took his lance in hand, and bade them all Farewell, he
deemed it had been for ever.
Then he smote the steed with his spurs, and sprang on his
way, so that sparks flew from the stones after him. All that saw him were
grieved at heart, and said one to the other, "By Christ, 'tis great pity
that one of such noble life should be lost! I'faith, 'twere not easy to find
his equal upon earth. The king had done better to have wrought more warily.
Yonder knight should have been made a duke; a gallant leader of men is he, and
such a fate had beseemed him better than to be hewn in pieces at the will of
an elfish man, for mere pride. Who ever knew a king to take such counsel as to
risk his knights on a Christmas jest?" Many were the tears that flowed
from their eyes when that goodly knight rode from the hall. He made no
delaying, but went his way swiftly, and rode many a wild road, as I heard say
in the book.
So rode Sir Gawain through the realm of Logres, on an errand
that he held for no jest. Often he lay companionless at night, and must lack
the fare that he liked. No comrade had he save his steed, and none save God
with whom to take counsel. At length he drew nigh to North Wales, and left the
isles of Anglesey on his left hand, crossing over the fords by the foreland
over at Holyhead, till he came into the wilderness of Wirral 8,
where but few dwell who love God and man of true heart. And ever he asked, as
he fared, of all whom he met, if they had heard any tidings of a Green Knight
in the country thereabout, or of a Green Chapel? And all answered him, Nay,
never in their lives had they seen any man of such a hue. And the knight
wended his way by many a strange road and many a rugged path, and the fashion
of his countenance changed full often ere he saw the Green Chapel.
Many a cliff did he climb in that unknown land, where afar
from his friends he rode as a stranger. Never did he come to a stream or a
ford but he found a foe before him, and that one so marvellous, so foul and
fell, that it behoved him to fight. So many wonders did that knight behold,
that it were too long to tell the tenth part of them. Sometimes he fought with
dragons and wolves; sometimes with wild men that dwelt in the rocks; another
while with bulls, and bears, and wild boars, or with giants of the high
moorland that drew near to him. Had he not been a doughty knight, enduring,
and of well-proved valour, and a servant of God, doubtless he had been slain,
for he was oft in danger of death. Yet he cared not so much for the strife,
what he deemed worse was when the cold clear water was shed from the clouds,
and froze ere it fell on the fallow ground. More nights than enough he slept
in his harness on the bare rocks, near slain with the sleet, while the stream
leapt bubbling from the crest of the hills, and hung in hard icicles over his
Thus in peril and pain, and many a hardship, the knight rode
alone till Christmas-Eve, and in that tide he made his prayer to the Blessed
Virgin that she would guide his steps and lead him to some dwelling. On that
morning he rode by a hill, and came into a thick forest, wild and drear; on
each side were high hills, and thick woods below them of great hoar oaks, a
hundred together, of hazel and hawthorn with their trailing boughs
intertwined, and rough ragged moss spreading everywhere. On the bare twigs the
birds chirped piteously, for pain of the cold. The knight upon Gringalet rode
lonely beneath them, through marsh and mire, much troubled at heart lest he
should fail to see the service of the Lord, who on that self-same night was
born of a maiden for the cure of our grief; and therefore he said, sighing,
"I beseech Thee, Lord, and Mary Thy gentle Mother, for some shelter where
I may hear Mass, and Thy mattins at morn. This I ask meekly, and thereto I
pray my Paternoster, Ave, and Credo." Thus he rode praying, and lamenting
his misdeeds, and he crossed himself, and said, "May the Cross of Christ
Now that knight had crossed himself but thrice ere he was
aware in the wood of a dwelling within a moat, above a lawn, on a mound
surrounded by many mighty trees that stood round the moat. 'Twas the fairest
castle that ever a knight owned 9; built in a meadow with a
park all about it, and a spiked palisade, closely driven, that enclosed the
trees for more than two miles. The knight was ware of the hold from the side,
as it shone through the oaks. Then he lifted off his helmet, and thanked
Christ and S. Julian that they had courteously granted his prayer, and
hearkened to his cry. "Now," quoth the knight, "I beseech ye,
grant me fair hostel." Then he pricked Gringalet with his golden spurs,
and rode gaily towards the great gate, and came swiftly to the bridge end.
The bridge was drawn up and the gates close shut; the walls
were strong and thick, so that they might fear no tempest. The knight on his
charger abode on the bank of the deep double ditch that surrounded the castle.
The walls were set deep in the water, and rose aloft to a wondrous height;
they were of hard hewn stone up to the corbels, which were adorned beneath the
battlements with fair carvings, and turrets set in between with many a
loophole; a better barbican Sir Gawain had never looked upon. And within he
beheld the high hall, with its tower and many windows with carven cornices,
and chalk-white chimneys on the turreted roofs that shone fair in the sun. And
everywhere, thickly scattered on the castle battlements, were pinnacles, so
many that it seemed as if it were all wrought out of paper, so white was it.
The knight on his steed deemed it fair enough, if he might
come to be sheltered within it to lodge there while that the Holy-day lasted.
He called aloud, and soon there came a porter of kindly countenance, who stood
on the wall and greeted this knight and asked his errand.
"Good sir," quoth Gawain, "wilt thou go mine
errand to the high lord of the castle, and crave for me lodging?"
"Yea, by S. Peter," quoth the porter. "In
sooth I trow that ye be welcome to dwell here so long as it may like ye."
Then he went, and came again swiftly, and many folk with him
to receive the knight. They let down the great drawbridge, and came forth and
knelt on their knees on the cold earth to give him worthy welcome. They held
wide open the great gates, and courteously he bid them rise, and rode over the
bridge. Then men came to him and held his stirrup while he dismounted, and
took and stabled his steed. There came down knights and squires to bring the
guest with joy to the hall. When he raised his helmet there were many to take
it from his hand, fain to serve him, and they took from him sword and shield.
Sir Gawain gave good greeting to the noble and the mighty
men who came to do him honour. Clad in his shining armour they led him to the
hall, where a great fire burnt brightly on the floor; and the lord of the
household came forth from his chamber to meet the hero fitly. He spake to the
knight, and said: "Ye are welcome to do here as it likes ye. All that is
here is your own to have at your will and disposal."
"Gramercy!" quote Gawain, "may Christ requite
As friends that were fain each embraced the other; and
Gawain looked on the knight who greeted him so kindly, and thought 'twas a
bold warrior that owned that burg.
Of mighty stature he was, and of high age; broad and flowing
was his beard, and of a bright hue. He was stalwart of limb, and strong in his
stride, his face fiery red, and his speech free: in sooth he seemed one well
fitted to be a leader of valiant men.
Then the lord led Sir Gawain to a chamber, and commanded
folk to wait upon him, and at his bidding there came men enough who brought
the guest to a fair bower. The bedding was noble, with curtains of pure silk
wrought with gold, and wondrous coverings of fair cloth all embroidered. The
curtains ran on ropes with rings of red gold, and the walls were hung with
carpets of Orient, and the same spread on the floor. There with mirthful
speeches they took from the guest his byrny and all his shining armour, and
brought him rich robes of the choicest in its stead. They were long and
flowing, and became him well, and when he was clad in them all who looked on
the hero thought that surely God had never made a fairer knight: he seemed as
if he might be a prince without peer in the field where men strive in battle.
Then before the hearth-place, whereon the fire burned, they
made ready a chair for Gawain, hung about with cloth and fair cushions; and
there they cast around him a mantle of brown samite, richly embroidered and
furred within with costly skins of ermine, with a hood of the same, and he
seated himself in that rich seat, and warmed himself at the fire, and was
cheered at heart. And while he sat thus the serving men set up a table on
trestles, and covered it with a fair white cloth, and set thereon salt-cellar,
and napkin, and silver spoons; and the knight washed at his will, and set him
down to meat.
The folk served him courteously with many dishes seasoned of
the best, a double portion. All kinds of fish were there, some baked in bread,
some broiled on the embers, some sodden, some stewed and savoured with spices,
with all sorts of cunning devices to his taste. And often he called it a
feast, when they spake gaily to him all together, and said, "Now take ye
this penance, and it shall be for your amendment." Much mirth thereof did
Sir Gawain make.
Then they questioned that prince courteously of whence he
came; and he told them that he was of the court of Arthur, who is the rich
royal King of the Round Table, and that it was Gawain himself who was within
their walls, and would keep Christmas with them, as the chance had fallen out.
And when the lord of the castle heard those tidings he laughed aloud for
gladness, and all men in that keep were joyful that they should be in the
company of him to whom belonged all fame, and valour, and courtesy, and whose
honour was praised above that of all men on earth. Each said softly to his
fellow, "Now shall we see courteous bearing, and the manner of speech
befitting courts. What charm lieth in gentle speech shall we learn without
asking, since here we have welcomed the fine father of courtesy. God has
surely shewn us His grace since He sends us such a guest as Gawain! When men
shall sit and sing, blithe for Christ's birth, this knight shall bring us to
the knowledge of fair manners, and it may be that hearing him we may learn the
cunning speech of love."
By the time the knight had risen from dinner it was near
nightfall. Then chaplains took their way to the chapel, and rang loudly, even
as they should, for the solemn evensong of the high feast. Thither went the
lord, and the lady also, and entered with her maidens into a comely closet,
and thither also went Gawain. Then the lord took him by the sleeve and led him
to a seat, and called him by his name, and told him he was of all men in the
world the most welcome. And Sir Gawain thanked him truly, and each kissed the
other, and they sat gravely together throughout the service.
Then was the lady fain to look upon that knight; and she
came forth from her closet with many fair maidens. The fairest of ladies was
she in face, and figure, and colouring, fairer even than Guinevere, so the
knight thought. She came through the chancel to greet the hero, another lady
held her by the left hand, older than she, and seemingly of high estate, with
many nobles about her. But unlike to look upon were those ladies, for if the
younger were fair, the elder was yellow. Rich red were the cheeks of the one,
rough and wrinkled those of the other; the kerchiefs of the one were broidered
with many glistening pearls, her throat and neck bare, and whiter than the
snow that lies on the hills; the neck of the other was swathed in a gorget,
with a white wimple of her black chin. Her forehead was wrapped in silk with
many folds, worked with knots, so that naught of her was seen save her black
brows, her eyes, her nose and her lips, and those were bleared, and ill to
look upon. A worshipful lady in sooth one might call her! In figure was she
short and broad, and thickly made--far fairer to behold was she whom she led
by the hand.
When Gawain beheld that fair lady, who looked at him
graciously, with leave of the lord he went towards them, and, bowing low, he
greeted the elder, but the younger and fairer he took lightly in his arms, and
kissed her courteously, and greeted her in knightly wise. Then she hailed him
as a friend, and he quickly prayed to be counted as her servant, if she so
willed. Then they took him between them, and talking, led him to the chamber,
to the hearth, and bade them bring spices, and they brought them in plenty
with the good wine that was wont to be drunk at such seasons. Then the lord
sprang to his feet and bade them make merry, and took off his hood, and hung
it on a spear, and bade him with the worship thereof who should make most
mirth that Christmas-tide. "And I shall try, by my faith, to fool it with
the best, by the help of my friends, ere I lose my raiment." Thus with
gay words the lord made trial to gladden Gawain with jests that night, till it
was time to bid them light the tapers, and Sir Gawain took leave of them and
gat him to rest.
In the morn when all men call to mind how Christ our Lord
was born on earth to die for us, there is joy, for His sake, in all dwellings
of the world; and so was there here on that day. For high feast was held, with
many dainties and cunningly cooked messes. On the da´s sat gallant men, clad
in their best. The ancient dame sat on the high seat, with the lord of the
castle beside her. Gawain and the fair lady sat together, even in the midst of
the board, when the feast was served; and so throughout all the hall each sat
in his degree, and was served in order. There was meat, there was mirth, there
was much joy, so that to tell thereof would take me too long, though
peradventure I might strive to declare it. But Gawain and that fair lady had
much joy of each other's company through her sweet words and courteous
converse. And there was music made before each prince, trumpets and drums, and
merry piping; each man hearkened his minstrel, and they too hearkened theirs.
So they held high feast that day and the next, and the third
day thereafter, and the joy on S. John's Day was fair to hearken, for 'twas
the last of the feast and the guests would depart in the grey of the morning.
Therefore they awoke early, and drank wine, and danced fair carols, and at
last, when it was late, each man took his leave to wend early on his way.
Gawain would bid his host farewell, but the lord took him by the hand, and led
him to his own chamber beside the hearth, and there he thanked him for the
favour he had shown him in honouring his dwelling at that high season, and
gladdening his castle with his fair countenance. "I wis, sir, that while
I live I shall be held the worthier that Gawain has been my guest at God's own
"Gramercy, sir," quoth Gawain, "in good
faith, all the honour is yours, may the High King give it you, and I am but at
your will to work your behest, inasmuch as I am beholden to you in great and
small by rights."
Then the lord did his best to persuade the knight to tarry
with him, but Gawain answered that he might in no wise do so. Then the host
asked him courteously what stern behest had driven him at the holy season from
the king's court, to fare all alone, ere yet the feast was ended?
"Forsooth," quoth the knight, "ye say but the
truth: 'tis a high quest and a pressing that hath brought me afield, for I am
summoned myself to a certain place, and I know not whither in the world I may
wend to find it; so help me Christ, I would give all the kingdom of Logres an
I might find it by New Year's morn. Therefore, sir, I make request of you that
ye tell me truly if ye ever heard word of the Green Chapel, where it may be
found, and the Green Knight that keeps it. For I am pledged by solemn compact
sworn between us to meet that knight at the New Year if so I were on life; and
of that same New Year it wants but little--I'faith, I would look on that hero
more joyfully than on any other fair sight! Therefore, by your will, it
behoves me to leave you, for I have but barely three days, and I would as fain
fall dead as fail of mine errand."
Then the lord quoth, laughing, "Now must ye needs stay,
for I will show you your goal, the Green Chapel, ere your term be at an end,
have ye no fear! But ye can take your ease, friend, in your bed, till the
fourth day, and go forth on the first of the year and come to that place at
mid-morn to do as ye will. Dwell here till New Year's Day, and then rise and
set forth, and ye shall be set in the way; 'tis not two miles hence."
Then was Gawain glad, and he laughed gaily. "Now I
thank you for this above all else. Now my quest is achieved I will dwell here
at your will, and otherwise do as ye shall ask."
Then the lord took him, and set him beside him, and bade the
ladies be fetched for their greater pleasure, tho' between themselves they had
solace. The lord, for gladness, made merry jest, even as one who wist not what
to do for joy; and he cried aloud to the knight, "Ye have promised to do
the thing I bid ye: will ye hold to this behest, here, at once?"
"Yea, forsooth," said that true knight,
"while I abide in your burg I am bound by your behest."
"Ye have travelled from far," said the host,
"and since then ye have waked with me, ye are not well refreshed by rest
and sleep, as I know. Ye shall therefore abide in your chamber, and lie at
your ease tomorrow at Mass-tide, and go to meat when ye will with my wife, who
shall sit with you, and comfort you with her company till I return; and I
shall rise early and go forth to the chase." And Gawain agreed to all
"Sir knight," quoth the host, "we shall make
a covenant. Whatsoever I win in the wood shall be yours, and whatever may fall
to your share, that shall ye exchange for it. Let us swear, friend, to make
this exchange, however our hap may be, for worse or for better."
"I grant ye your will," quoth Gawain the good;
"if ye list so to do, it liketh me well."
"Bring hither the wine-cup, the bargain is made,"
so said the lord of that castle. They laughed each one, and drank of the wine,
and made merry, these lords and ladies, as it pleased them. Then with gay talk
and merry jest they arose, and stood, and spoke softly, and kissed
courteously, and took leave of each other. With burning torches, and many a
serving-man, was each led to his couch; yet ere they gat them to bed the old
lord oft repeated their covenant, for he knew well how to make sport.
Full early, ere daylight, the folk rose up; the guests who
would depart called their grooms, and they made them ready, and saddled the
steeds, tightened up the girths, and trussed up their mails. The knights, all
arrayed for riding, leapt up lightly, and took their bridles, and each rode
his way as pleased him best.
The lord of the land was not the last. Ready for the chase,
with many of his men, he ate a sop hastily when he had heard Mass, and then
with blast of the bugle fared forth to the field. 10 He and
his nobles were to horse ere daylight glimmered upon the earth.
Then the huntsmen coupled their hounds, unclosed the kennel
door, and called them out. They blew three blasts gaily on the bugles, the
hounds bayed fiercely, and they that would go a-hunting checked and chastised
them. A hundred hunters there were of the best, so I have heard tell. Then the
trackers gat them to the trysting-place and uncoupled the hounds, and forest
rang again with their gay blasts.
At the first sound of the hunt the game quaked for fear, and
fled, trembling, along the vale. They betook them to the heights, but the
liers in wait turned them back with loud cries; the harts they let pass them,
and the stags with their spreading antlers, for the lord had forbidden that
they should be slain, but the hinds and the does they turned back, and drave
down into the valleys. Then might ye see much shooting of arrows. As the deer
fled under the boughs a broad whistling shaft smote and wounded each sorely,
so that, wounded and bleeding, they fell dying on the banks. The hounds
followed swiftly on their tracks, and hunters, blowing the horn, sped after
them with ringing shouts as if the cliffs burst asunder. What game escaped
those that shot was run down at the outer ring. Thus were they driven on the
hills, and harassed at the waters, so well did the men know their work, and
the greyhounds were so great and swift that they ran them down as fast as the
hunters could slay them. Thus the lord passed the day in mirth and joyfulness,
even to nightfall.
So the lord roamed the woods, and Gawain, that good night,
lay ever a-bed, curtained about, under the costly coverlet, while the daylight
gleamed on the walls. And as he lay half slumbering, he heard a little sound
at the door, and he raised his head, and caught back a corner of the curtain,
and waited to see what it might be. It was the lovely lady, the lord's wife;
she shut the door softly behind her, and turned towards the bed; and Gawain
was shamed, laid him down softly and made as if he slept. And she came lightly
to the bedside, within the curtain, and sat herself down beside him, to wait
till he wakened. The knight lay there awhile, and marvelled within himself
what her coming might betoken; and he said to himself, "'Twere more
seemly if I asked her what hath brought her hither." Then he made feint
to waken, and turned towards her, and opened his eyes as one astonished, and
crossed himself; and she looked on him laughing, with her cheeks red and
white, lovely to behold, and small smiling lips.
"Good morrow, Sir Gawain," said that fair lady;
"ye are but a careless sleeper, since one can enter thus. Now are ye
taken unawares, and lest ye escape me I shall bind you in your bed; of that be
ye assured!" Laughing, she spake these words.
"Good morrow, fair lady," quoth Gawain blithely.
"I will do your will, as it likes me well. For I yield me readily, and
pray your grace, and that is best, by my faith, since I needs must do
so." Thus he jested again, laughing. "But an ye would, fair lady,
grant me this grace that ye pray your prisoner to rise. I would get me from
bed, and array me better, then could I talk with ye in more comfort."
"Nay, forsooth, fair sir," quoth the lady,
"ye shall not rise, I will rede ye better. I shall keep ye here, since ye
can do no other, and talk with my knight whom I have captured. For I know well
that ye are Sir Gawain, whom all the world worships, wheresoever ye may ride.
Your honour and your courtesy are praised by lords and ladies, by all who
live. Now ye are here and we are alone, my lord and his men are afield; the
serving men in their beds, and my maidens also, and the door shut upon us. And
since in this hour I have him that all men love, I shall use my time well with
speech, while it lasts. Ye are welcome to my company, for it behoves me in
sooth to be your servant."
"In good faith," quoth Gawain, "I think me
that I am not him of whom ye speak, for unworthy am I of such service as ye
here proffer. In sooth, I were glad if I might set myself by word or service
to your pleasure; a pure joy would it be to me!"
"In good faith, Sir Gawain," quoth the gay lady,
"the praise and the prowess that pleases all ladies I lack them not, nor
hold them light; yet are there ladies enough who would liefer now have the
knight in their hold, as I have ye here, to dally with your courteous words,
to bring them comfort and to ease their cares, than much of the treasure and
the gold that are theirs. And now, through the grace of Him who upholds the
heavens, I have wholly in my power that which they all desire!"
Thus the lady, fair to look upon, made him great cheer, and
Sir Gawain, with modest words, answered her again: "Madam," he quoth,
"may Mary requite ye, for in good faith I have found in ye a noble
frankness. Much courtesy have other folk shown me, but the honour they have
done me is naught to the worship of yourself, who knoweth but good."
"By Mary," quoth the lady, "I think
otherwise; for were I worth all the women alive, and had I the wealth of the
world in my hand, and might choose me a lord to my liking, then, for all that
I have seen in ye, Sir Knight, of beauty and courtesy and blithe semblance,
and for all that I have hearkened and hold for true, there should be no knight
on earth to be chosen before ye!"
"Well I wot," quoth Sir Gawain, "that ye have
chosen a better; but I am proud that ye should so prize me, and as your
servant do I hold ye my sovereign, and your knight am I, and may Christ reward
So they talked of many matters till mid-morn was past, and
ever the lady made as though she loved him, and the knight turned her speech
aside. For though she were the brightest of maidens, yet had he forborne to
shew her love for the danger that awaited him, and the blow that must be given
Then the lady prayed her leave from him, and he granted it
readily. And she bade him good-day, with laughing glance, but he must needs
marvel at her words:
"Now He that speeds fair speech reward ye this disport;
but that ye be Gawain my mind misdoubts me greatly."
"Wherefore?" quoth the knight quickly, fearing
lest he had lacked in some courtesy.
And the lady spake: "So true a knight as Gawain is
holden, and one so perfect in courtesy, would never have tarried so long with
a lady but he would of his courtesy have craved a kiss at parting."
Then quoth Gawain, "I wot I will do even as it may
please ye, and kiss at your commandment, as a true knight should who forbears
to ask for fear of displeasure."
At that she came near and bent down and kissed the knight,
and each commended the other to Christ, and she went forth from the chamber
Then Sir Gawain arose and called his chamberlain and chose
his garments, and when he was ready he gat him forth to Mass, and then went to
meat, and made merry all day till the rising of the moon, and never had a
knight fairer lodging than had he with those two noble ladies, the elder and
And even the lord of the land chased the hinds through holt
and heath till eventide, and then with much blowing of bugles and baying of
hounds they bore the game homeward; and by the time daylight was done all the
folk had returned to that fair castle. And when the lord and Sir Gawain met
together, then were they both well pleased. The lord commanded them all to
assemble in the great hall, and the ladies to descend with their maidens, and
there, before them all, he bade the men fetch in the spoil of the day's
hunting, and he called unto Gawain, and counted the tale of the beasts, and
showed them unto him, and said, "What think ye of this game, Sir Knight?
Have I deserved of ye thanks for my woodcraft?"
"Yea, I wis," quoth the other, "here is the
fairest spoil I have seen this seven year in the winter season."
"And all this do I give ye, Gawain," quoth the
host, "for by accord of covenant ye may claim it as your own."
"That is sooth," quoth the other, "I grant
you that same; and I have fairly won this within walls, and with as good will
do I yield it to ye." With that he clasped his hands round the lord's
neck and kissed him as courteously as he might. "Take ye here my spoils,
no more have I won; ye should have it freely, though it were greater than
"'Tis good," said the host, "gramercy
thereof. Yet were I fain to know where ye won this same favour, and if it were
by your own wit?"
"Nay," answered Gawain, "that was not in the
bond. Ask me no more: ye have taken what was yours by right, be content with
They laughed and jested together, and sat them down to
supper, where they were served with many dainties; and after supper they sat
by the hearth, and wine was served to them; and oft in their jesting they
promised to observe on the morrow the same covenant that they had made before,
and whatever chance might betide to exchange their spoil, be it much or
little, when they met at night. Thus they renewed their bargain before the
whole court, and then the night-drink was served, and each courteously took
leave of the other and gat him to bed.
By the time the cock had crowed thrice the lord of the
castle had left his bed; Mass was sung and meat fitly served. The folk were
forth to the wood ere the day broke, with hound and horn they rode over the
plain, and uncoupled their dogs among the thorns. Soon they struck on the
scent, and the hunt cheered on the hounds who were first to seize it, urging
them with shouts. The others hastened to the cry, forty at once, and there
rose such a clamour from the pack that the rocks rang again. The huntsmen
spurred them on with shouting and blasts of the horn; and the hounds drew
together to a thicket betwixt the water and a high crag in the cliff beneath
the hillside. There where the rough rock fell ruggedly they, the huntsmen,
fared to the finding, and cast about round the hill and the thicket behind
them. The knights wist well what beast was within, and would drive him forth
with the bloodhounds. And as they beat the bushes, suddenly over the beaters
there rushed forth a wondrous great and fierce boar, long since had he left
the herd to roam by himself. Grunting, he cast many to the ground, and fled
forth at his best speed, without more mischief. The men hallooed loudly and
cried, "Hay! Hay!" and blew the horns to urge on the hounds,
and rode swiftly after the boar. Many a time did he turn to bay and tare the
hounds, and they yelped, and howled shrilly. Then the men made ready their
arrows and shot at him, but the points were turned on his thick hide, and the
barbs would not bite upon him, for the shafts shivered in pieces, and the head
but leapt again wherever it hit.
But when the boar felt the stroke of the arrows he waxed mad
with rage, and turned on the hunters and tare many, so that, affrightened,
they fled before him. But the lord on a swift steed pursued him, blowing his
bugle; as a gallant knight he rode through the woodland chasing the boar till
the sun grew low.
So did the hunters this day, while Sir Gawain lay in his bed
lapped in rich gear; and the lady forgat not to salute him, for early was she
at his side, to cheer his mood.
She came to the bedside and looked on the knight, and Gawain
gave her fit greeting, and she greeted him again with ready words, and sat her
by his side and laughed, and with a sweet look she spoke to him:
Sir, if ye be Gawain, I think it a wonder that ye be so
stern and cold, and care not for the courtesies of friendship, but if one
teach ye to know them ye cast the lesson out of your mind. Ye have soon
forgotten what I taught ye yesterday, by all the truest tokens that I
"What is that?" quoth the knight. "I trow I
know not. If it be sooth that ye say, then is the blame mine own."
"But I taught ye of kissing, " quoth the fair
lady. "Wherever a fair countenance is shown him, it behoves a courteous
knight quickly to claim a kiss."
"Nay, my dear," said Sir Gawain, "cease that
speech; that durst I not do lest I were denied, for I were forbidden I wot I
were wrong did I further entreat."
"I'faith," quoth the lady merrily, "ye may
not be forbid, ye are strong enough to constrain by strength an ye will, were
any so discourteous as to give ye denial."
"Yea, by Heaven," said Gawain, "ye speak
well; but threats profit little in the land where I dwell, and so with a gift
that is given not of good will! I am at your commandment to kiss when ye like,
to take or to leave as ye list."
Then the lady bent her down and kissed him courteously.
And as they spake together she said, "I would learn
somewhat from ye, an ye would not be wroth, for young ye bare and fair, and so
courteous and knightly as ye are known to be, the head of all chivalry, and
versed in all wisdom of love and war--'tis ever told of true knights how they
adventured their lives for their true love, and endured hardships for her
favours, and avenged her with valour, and eased her sorrows, and brought joy
to her bower; and ye are the fairest knight of your time, and your fame and
your honour are everywhere, yet I have sat by ye here twice, and never a word
have I heard of love! Ye who are so courteous and skilled in such love ought
surely to teach one so young and unskilled some little craft of true love! Why
are ye so unlearned who art otherwise so famous? Or is it that ye deemed me
unworthy to hearken to your teaching? For shame, Sir Knight! I come hither
alone and sit at your side to learn of ye some skill; teach me of your wit,
while my lord is from home."
"In good faith," quoth Gawain, "great is my
joy and my profit that so fair a lady as ye are should deign to come hither,
and trouble ye with so poor a man, and make sport with your knight with kindly
countenance, it pleaseth me much. But that I, in my turn, should take it upon
me to tell of love and such like matters to ye who know more by half, or a
hundred fold, of such craft than I do, or ever shall in all my lifetime, by my
troth 'twere folly indeed! I will work your will to the best of my might as I
am bounden, and evermore will I be your servant, so help me Christ!"
Then often with guile she questioned that knight that she
might win him to woo her, but he defended himself so fairly that none might in
any wise blame him, and naught but bliss and harmless jesting was there
between them. They laughed and talked together till at last she kissed him,
and craved her leave of him, and went her way.
Then the knight arose and went forth to Mass, and afterward
dinner was served and he sat and spake with the ladies all day. But the lord
of the castle rode ever over the land chasing the wild boar, that fled through
the thickets, slaying the best of his hounds and breaking their backs in
sunder; till at last he was so weary he might run no longer, but made for a
hole in a mound by a rock. He got the mound at his back and faced the hounds,
whetting his white tusks and foaming at the mouth. The huntsmen stood aloof,
fearing to draw nigh him; so many of them had been already wounded that they
were loth to be torn with his tusks, so fierce he was and mad with rage. At
length the lord himself came up, and saw the beast at bay, and the men
standing aloof. Then quickly he sprang to the ground and drew out a bright
blade, and waded through the stream to the boar.
When the beast was aware of the knight with weapon in hand,
he set up his bristles and snorted loudly, and many feared for their lord lest
he should be slain. Then the boar leapt upon the knight so that beast and man
were one atop of the other in the water; but the boar had the worst of it, for
the man had marked, even as he sprang, and set the point of his brand to the
beast's chest, and drove it up to the hilt, so that the heart was split in
twain, and the boar fell snarling, and was swept down by the water to where a
hundred hounds seized on him, and the men drew him to shore for the dogs to
Then was there loud blowing of horns and baying of hounds,
the huntsmen smote off the boar's head, and hung the carcase by the four feet
to a stout pole, and so went on their way homewards. The head they bore before
the lord himself, who had slain the beast at the ford by force of his strong
It seemed him o'er long ere he saw Sir Gawain in the hall,
and he called, and the guest came to take that which fell to his share. And
when he saw Gawain the lord laughed aloud, and bade them call the ladies and
the household together, and he showed them the game, and told them the tale,
how they hunted the wild boar through the woods, and of his length and breadth
and height; and Sir Gawain commended his deeds and praised him for his valour,
well proven, for so mighty a beast had he never seen before.
Then they handled the huge head, and the lord said aloud,
"Now, Gawain, this game is your own by sure covenant, as ye right well
"'Tis sooth," quoth the knight, "and as truly
will I give ye all I have gained." He took the host round the neck, and
kissed him courteously twice. "Now are we quits," he said,
"this eventide, of all the covenants that we made since I came
And the lord answered, "By S. Giles, ye are the best I
know; ye will be rich in a short space if ye drive such bargains!"
Then they set up the tables on trestles, and covered them
with fair cloths, and lit waxen tapers on the walls. The knights sat and were
served in the hall, and much game and glee was there round the hearth, with
many songs, both at supper and after; song of Christmas, and new carols, with
all the mirth one may think of. And ever that lovely lady sat by the knight,
and with still stolen looks made such feint of pleasing him, that Gawain
marvelled much, and was wroth with himself, but he could not for his courtesy
return her fair glances, but dealt with her cunningly, however she might
strive to wrest the thing.
When they had tarried in the hall so long as it seemed them
good, they turned to the inner chamber and the wide hearthplace, and there
they drank wine, and the host proffered to renew the covenant for New Year's
Eve; but the knight craved leave to depart on the morrow, for it was nigh to
the term when he must fulfil his pledge. But the lord would withhold him from
so doing, and prayed him to tarry, and said,
"As I am a true knight I swear my troth that ye shall
come to the Green Chapel to achieve your task on New Year's morn, long before
prime. Therefore abide ye in your bed, and I will hunt in this wood, and hold
ye to the covenant to exchange with me against all the spoil I may bring
hither. For twice have I tried ye, and found ye true, and the morrow shall be
the third time and the best. Make we merry now while we may, and think on joy,
for misfortune may take a man whensoever it wills."
Then Gawain granted his request, and they brought them
drink, and they gat them with lights to bed.
Sir Gawain lay and slept softly, but the lord, who was keen
on woodcraft, was afoot early. After Mass he and his men ate a morsel, and he
asked for his steed; all the knights who should ride with him were already
mounted before the hall gates.
'Twas a fair frosty morning, for the sun rose red in ruddy
vapour, and the welkin was clear of clouds. The hunters scattered them by a
forest side, and the rocks rang again with the blast of their horns. Some came
on the scent of a fox, and a hound gave tongue; the huntsmen shouted, and the
pack followed in a crowd on the trail. The fox ran before them, and when they
saw him they pursued him with noise and much shouting, and he wound and turned
through many a thick grove, often cowering and hearkening in a hedge. At last
by a little ditch he leapt out of a spinney, stole away slily by a copse path,
and so out of the wood and away from the hounds. But he went, ere he wist, to
a chosen tryst, and three started forth on him at once, so he must needs
double back, and betake him to the wood again.
Then was it joyful to hearken to the hounds; when all the
pack had met together and had sight of their game they made as loud a din as
if all the lofty cliffs had fallen clattering together. The huntsmen shouted
and threatened, and followed close upon him so that he might scarce escape,
but Reynard was wily, and he turned and doubled upon them, and led the lord
and his men over the hills, now on the slopes, now in the vales, while the
knight at home slept through the cold morning beneath his costly curtains.
But the fair lady of the castle rose betimes, and clad
herself in a rich mantle that reached even to the ground, left her throat and
her fair neck bare, and was bordered and lined with costly furs. On her head
she wore no golden circlet, but a network of precious stones, that gleamed and
shone through her tresses in clusters of twenty together. Thus she came into
the chamber, closed the door after her, and set open a window, and called to
him gaily, "Sir Knight, how may ye sleep? The morning is so fair."
Sir Gawain was deep in slumber, and in his dream he vexed
him much for the destiny that should befall him on the morrow, when he should
meet the knight at the Green Chapel, and abide his blow; but when the lady
spake he heard her, and came to himself, and roused from his dream and
answered swiftly. The lady came laughing, and kissed him courteously, and he
welcomed her fittingly with a cheerful countenance. He saw her so glorious and
gaily dressed, so faultless of features and complexion, that it warmed his
heart to look upon her.
They spake to each other smiling, and all was bliss and good
cheer between them. They exchanged fair words, and much happiness was therein,
yet was there a gulf between them, and she might win no more of her knight,
for that gallant prince watched well his words--he would neither take her
love, nor frankly refuse it. He cared for his courtesy, lest he be deemed
churlish, and yet more for his honour lest he be traitor to his host.
"God forbid," quoth he to himself, "that it should so
befall." Thus with courteous words did he set aside all the special
speeches that came from her lips.
Then spake the lady to the knight, "Ye deserve blame if
ye hold not that lady who sits beside ye above all else in the world, if ye
have not already a love whom ye hold dearer, and like better, and have sworn
such firm faith to that lady that ye care not to loose it--and that am I now
fain to believe. And now I pray ye straitly that ye tell me that in truth, and
hide it not."
And the knight answered, "By S. John", (and he
smiled as he spake) "no such love have I, nor do I think to have yet
"That is the worst word I may hear," quoth the
lady, "but in sooth I have mine answer; kiss me now courteously, and I
will go hence; I can but mourn as a maiden that loves much."
Sighing, she stooped down and kissed him, and then she rose
up and spake as she stood, "Now, dear, at our parting do me this grace:
give me some gift, if it were but thy glove, that I may bethink me of my
knight, and lessen my mourning."
"Now, I wis," quoth the knight, "I would that
I had here the most precious thing that I possess on earth that I might leave
ye as love-token, great or small, for ye have deserved forsooth more reward
than I might give ye. But it is not to your honour to have at this time a
glove for reward as gift from Gawain, and I am here on a strange errand, and
have no man with me, nor mails with goodly things--that mislikes me much,
lady, at this time; but each man must fare as he is taken, if for sorrow and
"Nay, knight highly honoured," quoth that lovesome
lady, "though I have naught of yours, yet shall ye have somewhat of
mine." With that she reached him a ring of red gold with a sparkling
stone therein, that shone even as the sun (wit ye well, it was worth many
marks); but the knight refused it, and spake readily,
"I will take no gift, lady, at this time. I have none
to give, and none will I take."
She prayed him to take it, but he refused her prayer, and
sware in sooth that he would not have it.
The lady was sorely vexed, and said, "If ye refuse my
ring as too costly, that ye will not be so highly beholden to me, I will give
you my girdle 11 as a lesser gift." With that she
loosened a lace that was fastened at her side, knit upon her kirtle under her
mantle. It was wrought of green silk, and gold, only braided by the fingers,
and that she offered to the knight, and besought him though it were of little
worth that he would take it, and he said nay, he would touch neither gold nor
gear ere God give him grace to achieve the adventure for which he had come
hither. "And therefore, I pray ye, displease ye not, and ask me no
longer, for I may not grant it. I am dearly beholden to ye for the favour ye
have shown me, and ever, in heat and cold, will I be your true servant."
"Now," said the lady, "ye refuse this silk,
for it is simple in itself, and so it seems, indeed; lo, it is small to look
upon and less in cost, but whoso knew the virtue that is knit therein he
would, peradventure, value it more highly. For whatever knight is girded with
this green lace, while he bears it knotted about him there is no man under
heaven can overcome him, for he may not be slain for any magic on earth."
Then Gawain bethought him, and it came into his heart that
this were a jewel for the jeopardy that awaited him when he came to the Green
Chapel to seek the return blow--could he so order it that he should escape
unslain, 'twere a craft worth trying. Then he bare with her chiding, and let
her say her say, and she pressed the girdle on him and prayed him to take it,
and he granted her prayer, and she gave it him with good will, and besought
him for her sake never to reveal it but to hide it loyally from her lord; and
the knight agreed that never should any man know it, save they two alone. He
thanked her often and heartily, and she kissed him for the third time.
Then she took her leave of him, and when she was gone Sir
Gawain arose, and clad him in rich attire, and took the girdle, and knotted it
round him, and it beneath his robes. Then he took his way to the chapel, and
sought out a priest privily and prayed him to teach him better how his soul
might be saved when he should go hence; and there he shrived him, and showed
his misdeeds, both great and small, and besought mercy and craved absolution;
and the priest assoiled him, and set him as clean as if Doomsday had been on
the morrow. And afterwards Sir Gawain made him merry with the ladies, with
carols, and all kinds of joy, as never he did but that one day, even to
nightfall; and all the men marvelled at him, and said that never since he came
thither had he been so merry.
Meanwhile the lord of the castle was abroad chasing the fox;
awhile he lost him, and as he rode through a spinny he heard the hounds near
at hand, and Reynard came creeping through a thick grove, with all the pack at
his heels. Then the lord drew out his shining brand, and cast it at the beast,
and the fox swerved aside for the sharp edge, and would have doubled back, but
a hound was on him ere he might turn, and right before the horse's feet they
all fell on him, and worried him fiercely, snarling the while.
Then the lord leapt from his saddle, and caught the fox from
the jaws, and held it aloft over his head, and hallooed loudly, and many brave
hounds bayed as they beheld it; and the hunters hied them thither, blowing
their horns; all that bare bugles blew them at once, and all the others
shouted. 'Twas the merriest meeting that ever men heard, the clamour that was
raised at the death of the fox. They rewarded the hounds, stroking them and
rubbing their heads, and took Reynard and stripped him of his coat; then
blowing their horns, they turned them homewards, for it was nigh nightfall.
The lord was gladsome at his return, and found a bright fire
on the hearth, and the knight beside it, the good Sir Gawain, who was in
joyous mood for the pleasure he had had with the ladies. He wore a robe of
blue, that reached even to the ground, and a surcoat richly furred, that
became him well. A hood like to the surcoat fell on his shoulders, and all
alike were done about with fur. He met the host in the midst of the floor, and
jesting, he greeted him, and said, "Now shall I be first to fulfil our
covenant which we made together when there was no lack of wine." Then he
embraced the knight, and kissed him thrice, as solemnly as he might.
"Of a sooth," quoth the other, "ye have good
luck in the matter of this covenant, if ye made a good exchange!"
"Yea, it matters naught of the exchange," quoth
Gawain, "since what I owe is swiftly paid."
"Marry," said the other, "mine is behind, for
I have hunted all this day, and naught have I got but this foul fox-skin, and
that is but poor payment for three such kisses as ye have here given me."
"Enough," quoth Sir Gawain, "I thank ye, by
Then the lord told them of his hunting, and how the fox had
With mirth and minstrelsy, and dainties at their will, they
made them as merry as a folk well might till 'twas time for them to sever, for
at last they must needs betake them to their beds. Then the knight took his
leave of the lord, and thanked him fairly.
"For the fair sojourn that I have had here at this high
feast may the High King give ye honour. I give ye myself, as one of your
servants, if ye so like; for I must needs, as you know, go hence with the
morn, and ye will give me, as ye promised, a guide to show me the way to the
Green Chapel, an God will suffer me on New Year's Day to deal the doom of my
"By my faith," quoth the host, "all that ever
I promised, that shall I keep with good will." Then he gave him a servant
to set him in the way, and lead him by the downs, that he should have no need
to ford the stream, and should fare by the shortest road through the groves;
and Gawain thanked the lord for the honour done him. Then he would take leave
of the ladies, and courteously he kissed them, and spake, praying them to
receive his thanks, and they made like reply; then with many sighs they
commended him to Christ, and he departed courteously from that folk. Each man
that he met he thanked him for his service and his solace, and the pains he
had been at to do his will; and each found it as hard to part from the knight
as if he had ever dwelt with him.
Then they led him with torches to his chamber, and brought
him to his bed to rest. That he slept soundly I may not say, for the morrow
gave him much to think on. Let him rest awhile, for he was near that which he
sought, and if ye will but listen to me I will tell ye how it fared with him
Now the New Year drew nigh, and the night passed, and the
day chased the darkness, as is God's will; but wild weather wakened therewith.
The clouds cast the cold to the earth, with enough of the north to slay them
that lacked clothing. The snow drave smartly, and the whistling wind blew from
the heights, and made great drifts in the valleys. The knight, lying in his
bed, listened, for though his eyes were shut, he might sleep but little, and
hearkened every cock that crew.
He arose ere the day broke, by the light of a lamp that
burned in his chamber, and called to his chamberlain, bidding him bring his
armour and saddle his steed. The other gat him up, and fetched his garments,
and robed Sir Gawain.
First he clad him in his clothes to keep off the cold, and
then in his harness, which was well and fairly kept. Both hauberk and plates
were well burnished, the rings of the rich byrny freed from rust, and all as
fresh as at first, so that the knight was fain to thank them. Then he did on
each piece, and bade them bring his steed, while he put the fairest raiment on
himself; his coat with its fair cognizance, adorned with precious stones upon
velvet, with broidered seams, and all furred within with costly skins. And he
left not the lace, the lady's gift, that Gawain forgot not, for his own good.
When he had girded on his sword he wrapped the gift twice about him, swathed
around his waist. The girdle of green silk set gaily and well upon the royal
red cloth, rich to behold, but the knight ware it not for pride of the
pendants, polished though they were with gold that gleamed brightly on the
ends, but to save himself from sword and knife, when it behoved him to abide
his hurt without question. With that the hero went forth, and thanked that
kindly folk full often.
Then was Gringalet ready, that was great and strong, and had
been well cared for and tended in every wise; in fair condition was that proud
steed, and fit for a journey. Then Gawain went to him, and looked on his coat,
and said by his sooth, "There is a folk in this place that thinketh on
honour; much joy may they have, and the lord who maintains them, and may all
good betide that lovely lady all her life long. Since they for charity cherish
a guest, and hold honour in their hands, may He who holds the heaven on high
requite them, and also ye all. And if I might live anywhere on earth, I would
give ye full reward, readily, if so I might." Then he set foot in the
stirrup and bestrode his steed, and his squire gave him his shield, which he
laid on his shoulder. Then he smote Gringalet with his golden spurs, and the
steed pranced on the stones and would stand no longer.
By that his man was mounted, who bare his spear and lance,
and Gawain quoth, "I commend this castle to Christ, may He give it ever
good fortune." Then the drawbridge was let down, and the broad gates
unbarred and opened on both sides; the knight crossed himself, and passed
through the gateway, and praised the porter, who knelt before the prince, and
gave him good-day, and commended him to God. Thus the knight went on his way
with the one man who should guide him to that dread place where he should
receive rueful payment.
The two went by hedges where the boughs were bare, and
climbed the cliffs where the cold clings. Naught fell from the heavens, but
'twas ill beneath them; mist brooded over the moor and hung on the mountains;
each hill had a cap, a great cloak, of mist. The streams foamed and bubbled
between their banks, dashing sparkling on the shores where they shelved
downwards. Rugged and dangerous was the way through the woods, till it was
time for the sun-rising. Then were they on a high hill; the snow lay white
beside them, and the man who rode with Gawain drew rein by his master.
"Sir," he said, "I have brought ye hither,
and now ye are not far from the place that ye have sought so specially. But I
will tell ye for sooth, since I know ye well, and ye are such a knight as I
well love, would ye follow my counsel ye would fare the better. The place
whither ye go is accounted full perilous, for he who liveth in that waste is
the worst on earth, for he is strong and fierce, and loveth to deal mighty
blows; taller is he than any man on earth, and greater of frame than any four
in Arthur's court, or in any other. And this is his custom at the Green
Chapel; there may be no man pass by that place, however proud his arms, but he
does him to death by force of his hand, for he is a discourteous knight, and
shews no mercy. Be he churl or chaplain who rides by that chapel, monk or mass
priest, or any man else, he thinks it as pleasant to slay them as to pass
alive himself. Therefore, I tell ye, as sooth as ye sit in saddle, if ye come
there and that knight know it, ye shall be slain, though ye had twenty lives;
trow me that truly! He has dwelt here full long and seen many a combat; ye may
not defend ye against his blows. Therefore, good Sir Gawain, let the man be,
and get ye away some other road; for God's sake seek ye another land, and
there may Christ speed ye! And I will hie me home again, and I promise ye
further that I will swear by God and the saints, or any other oath ye please,
that I will keep counsel faithfully, and never let any wit the tale that ye
fled for fear of any man."
"Gramercy," quoth Gawain, but ill-pleased.
"Good fortune be his who wishes me good, and that thou wouldst keep faith
with me I will believe; but didst thou keep it never so truly, an I passed
here and fled for fear as thou sayest, then were I a coward knight, and might
not be held guiltless. So I will to the chapel let chance what may, and talk
with that man, even as I may list, whether for weal or for woe as fate may
have it. Fierce though he may be in fight, yet God knoweth well how to save
"Well," quoth the other, "now that ye have
said so much that ye will take your own harm on yourself, and ye be pleased to
lose your life, I will neither let nor keep ye. Have here your helm and the
spear in your hand, and ride down this same road beside the rock till ye come
to the bottom of the valley, and there look a little to the left hand, and ye
shall see in that vale the chapel, and the grim man who keeps it. Now fare ye
well, noble Gawain; for all the gold on earth I would not go with ye nor bear
ye fellowship one step further." With that the man turned his bridle into
the wood, smote the horse with his spurs as hard as he could, and galloped
off, leaving the knight alone.
Quoth Gawain, "I will neither greet nor groan, but
commend myself to God, and yield me to His will."
Then the knight spurred Gringalet, and rode adown the path
close in by a bank beside a grove. So he rode through the rough thicket, right
into the dale, and there he halted, for it seemed him wild enough. No sign of
a chapel could he see, but high and burnt banks on either side and rough
rugged crags with great stones above. An ill-looking place he thought it.
Then he drew in his horse and looked around to seek the
chapel, but he saw none and thought it strange. Then he saw as it were a mound
on a level space of land by a bank beside the stream where it ran swiftly, the
water bubbled within as if boiling. The knight turned his steed to the mound,
and lighted down and tied the rein to the branch of a linden; and he turned to
the mound and walked round it, questioning with himself what it might be. It
had a hole at the end and at either side, and was overgrown with clumps of
grass, and it was hollow within as an old cave or the crevice of a crag; he
knew not what it might be.
"Ah," quoth Gawain, "can this be the Green
Chapel? Here might the devil say his mattins at midnight! Now I wis there is
wizardry here. 'Tis an ugly oratory, all overgrown with grass, and 'twould
well beseem that fellow in green to say his devotions on devil's wise. Now
feel I in five wits, 'tis the foul fiend himself who hath set me this tryst,
to destroy me here! This is a chapel of mischance: ill-luck betide it, 'tis
the cursedest kirk that ever I came in!"
Helmet on head and lance in hand, he came up to the rough
dwelling, when he heard over the high hill beyond the brook, as it were in a
bank, a wondrous fierce noise, that rang in the cliff as if it would cleave
asunder. 'Twas as if one ground a scythe on a grindstone, it whirred and
whetted like water on a mill-wheel and rushed and rang, terrible to hear.
"By God," quoth Gawain, "I trow that gear is
preparing for the knight who will meet me here. Alas! naught may help me, yet
should my life be forfeit, I fear not a jot!" With that he called aloud.
"Who waiteth in this place to give me tryst? Now is Gawain come hither:
if any man will aught of him let him hasten hither now or never."
"Stay," quoth one on the bank above his head,
"and ye shall speedily have that which I promised ye." Yet for a
while the noise of whetting went on ere he appeared, and then he came forth
from a cave in the crag with a fell weapon, a Danish axe newly dight,
wherewith to deal the blow. An evil head it had, four feet large, no less,
sharply ground, and bound to the handle by the lace that gleamed brightly. And
the knight himself was all green as before, face and foot, locks and beard,
but now he was afoot. When he came to the water he would not wade it, but
sprang over with the pole of his axe, and strode boldly over the brent that
was white with snow.
Sir Gawain went to meet him, but he made no low bow. The
other said, "Now, fair sir, one may trust thee to keep tryst. Thou art
welcome, Gawain, to my place. Thou hast timed thy coming as befits a true man.
Thou knowest the covenant set between us: at this time twelve months agone
thou didst take that which fell to thee, and I at this New Year will readily
requite thee. We are in this valley, verily alone, here are no knights to
sever us, do what we will. Have off thy helm from thine head, and have here
thy pay; make me no more talking than I did then when thou didst strike off my
head with one blow."
"Nay," quoth Gawain, "by God that gave me
life, I shall make no moan whatever befall me, but make thou ready for the
blow and I shall stand still and say never a word to thee, do as thou
With that he bent his head and shewed his neck all bare, and
made as if he had no fear, for he would not be thought a-dread.
Then the Green Knight made him ready, and grasped his grim
weapon to smite Gawain. With all his force he bore it aloft with a mighty
feint of slaying him: had it fallen as straight as he aimed he who was ever
doughty of deed had been slain by the blow. But Gawain swerved aside as the
axe came gliding down to slay him as he stood, and shrank a little with the
shoulders, for the sharp iron. The other heaved up the blade and rebuked the
prince with many proud words:
"Thou art not Gawain," he said, "who is held
so valiant, that never feared he man by hill or vale, but thou
shrinkest for fear ere thou feelest hurt. Such cowardice did I never hear of
Gawain! Neither did I flinch from thy blow, or make strife in King
Arthur's hall. My head fell to my feet, and yet I fled not; but thou didst wax
faint of heart ere any harm befell. Wherefore must I be deemed the braver
Quoth Gawain, "I shrank once, but so will I no more,
though an my head fall on the stones I cannot replace it. But haste,
Sir Knight, by thy faith, and bring me to the point, deal me my destiny, and
do it out of hand, for I will stand thee a stroke and move no more till thine
axe have hit me--my troth on it."
"Have at thee, then," quoth the other, and heaved
aloft the axe with a fierce mien, as if he were mad. He struck at him fiercely
but wounded him not, withholding his hand ere it might strike him.
Gawain abode the stroke, and flinched in no limb, but stood
still as a stone or the stump of a tree that is fast rooted in the rocky
ground with a hundred roots.
Then spake gaily the man in green, "So now thou hast
thine heart whole it behoves me to smite. Hold aside thy hood that Arthur gave
thee, and keep thy neck thus bent lest it cover it again."
Then Gawain said angrily, "Why talk on thus? Thou dost
threaten too long. I hope thy heart misgives thee."
"Forsooth," quoth the other, "so fiercely
thou speakest I will no longer let thine errand wait its reward." Then he
braced himself to strike, frowning with lips and brow, 'twas no marvel that it
pleased but ill him who hoped for no rescue. He lifted the axe lightly and let
it fall with the edge of the blade on the bare neck. Though he struck swiftly
it hurt him no more than on the one side where it severed the skin. The sharp
blade cut into the flesh so that the blood ran over his shoulder to the
ground. And when the knight saw the blood staining the snow, he sprang forth,
swift-foot, seized his helmet and set it on his head, cast his shield over his
shoulder, drew out his bright sword, and spake boldly (never since he was born
was he half so blithe), "Stop, Sir Knight, bid me no more blows. I have
stood a stroke here without flinching, and if thou give me another, I shall
requite thee, and give thee as good again. By the covenant made betwixt us in
Arthur's hall but one blow falls to me here. Halt, therefore."
Then the Green Knight drew off from him and leaned on his
axe, setting the shaft on the ground, and looked on Gawain as he stood all
armed and faced him fearlessly--at heart it pleased him well. Then he spake
merrily in a loud voice, and said to the knight, "Bold sir, be not so
fierce, no man here hath done thee wrong, nor will do, save by covenant, as we
made at Arthur's court. I promised thee a blow and thou hast it--hold thyself
well paid! I release thee of all other claims. If I had been so minded I might
perchance have given thee a rougher buffet. First I menaced thee with a
feigned one, and hurt thee not for the covenant that we made in the first
night, and which thou didst hold truly. All the gain didst thou give me as a
true man should. The other feint I proffered thee for the morrow: my fair wife
kissed thee, and thou didst give me her kisses--for both those days I gave
thee two blows without scathe--true man, true return. But the third time thou
didst fail, and therefore hadst thou that blow. For 'tis my weed thou
wearest, that same woven girdle, my own wife wrought it, that do I wot for
sooth. Now know I well thy kisses, and thy conversation, and the wooing of my
wife, for 'twas mine own doing. I sent her to try thee, and in sooth I think
thou art the most faultless knight that ever trode earth. As a pearl among
white peas is of more worth than they, so is Gawain, i'faith, by other
knights. But thou didst lack a little, Sir Knight, and wast wanting in
loyalty, yet that was for no evil work, nor for wooing neither, but because
thou lovedst thy life--therefore I blame thee the less."
Then the other stood a great while, still sorely angered and
vexed within himself; all the blood flew to his face, and he shrank for shame
as the Green Knight spake; and the first words he said were, "Cursed be
ye, cowardice and covetousness, for in ye is the destruction of virtue."
Then he loosed the girdle, and gave it to the knight. "Lo, take there the
falsity, may foul befall it! For fear of thy blow cowardice bade me make
friends with covetousness and forsake the customs of largesse and loyalty,
which befit all knights. Now am I faulty and false and have been afeared: from
treachery and untruth come sorrow and care. I avow to thee, Sir Knight, that I
have ill done; do then thy will. I shall be more wary hereafter."
Then the other laughed and said gaily, "I wot I am
whole of the hurt I had, and thou hast made such free confession of thy
misdeeds, and hast so borne the penance of mine axe edge, that I hold thee
absolved from that sin, and purged as clean as if thou hadst never sinned
since thou wast born. And this girdle that is wrought with gold and green,
like my raiment, do I give thee, Sir Gawain, that thou mayest think upon this
chance when thou goest forth among princes of renown, and keep this for a
token of the adventure of the Green Chapel, as it chanced between chivalrous
knights. And thou shalt come again with me to my dwelling and pass the rest of
this feast in gladness." Then the lord laid hold of him, and said,
"I wot we shall soon make peace with my wife, who was thy bitter
"Nay, forsooth," said Sir Gawain, and seized his
helmet and took it off swiftly, and thanked the knight: "I have fared
ill, may bliss betide thee, and may He who rules all things reward thee
swiftly. Commend me to that courteous lady, thy fair wife, and to the other my
honoured ladies, who have beguiled their knight with skilful craft. But 'tis
no marvel if one be made a fool and brought to sorrow by women's wiles, for so
was Adam beguiled by one, and Solomon by many, and Samson all too soon, for
Delilah dealt him his doom; and David thereafter was wedded with Bathsheba,
which brought him much sorrow--if one might love a woman and believe her not,
'twere great gain! And since all they were beguiled by women, methinks 'tis
the less blame to me that I was misled! But as for thy girdle, that will I
take with good will, not for gain of the gold, nor for samite, nor silk, nor
the costly pendants, neither for weal nor for worship, but in sign of my
frailty. I shall look upon it when I ride in renown and remind myself of the
fault and faintness of the flesh; and so when pride uplifts me for prowess of
arms, the sight of this lace shall humble my heart. But one thing would I
pray, if it displease thee not: since thou art lord of yonder land wherein I
have dwelt, tell me what thy rightful name may be, and I will ask no
"That will I truly," quoth the other. "Bernlak
de Hautdesert am I called in this land. Morgain le Fay dwelleth in mine house
12, and through knowledge of clerkly craft hath she taken many. For long
time was she the mistress of Merlin, who knew well all you knights of the
court. Morgain the goddess is she called therefore, and there is none so
haughty but she can bring him low. She sent me in this guise to yon fair hall
to test the truth of the renown that is spread abroad of the valour of the
Round Table. She taught me this marvel to betray your wits, to vex Guinevere
and fright her to death by the man who spake with his head in his hand at the
high table. That is she who is at home, that ancient lady, she is even thine
aunt, Arthur's half-sister, the daughter of the Duchess of Tintagel, who
afterward married King Uther. Therefore I bid thee, knight, come to thine
aunt, and make merry in thine house; my folk love thee, and I wish thee as
well as any man on earth, by my faith, for thy true dealing."
But Sir Gawain said nay, he would in no wise do so; so they
embraced and kissed, and commended each other to the Prince of Paradise, and
parted right there, on the cold ground. Gawain on his steed rode swiftly to
the king's hall, and the Green Knight got him whithersoever he would.
Sir Gawain who had thus won grace of his life, rode through
wild ways on Gringalet; oft he lodged in a house, and oft without, and many
adventures did he have and came off victor full often, as at this time I
cannot relate in tale. The hurt that he had in his neck was healed, he bare
the shining girdle as a baldric bound by his side, and made fast with a knot 'neath
his left arm, in token that he was taken in a fault--and thus he came in
safety again to the court.
Then joy awakened in that dwelling when the king knew that
the good Sir Gawain was come, for he deemed it gain. King Arthur kissed the
knight, and the queen also, and many valiant knights sought to embrace him.
They asked him how he had fared, and he told them all that had chanced to
him--the adventure of the chapel, the fashion of the knight, the love of the
lady--at last of the lace. He showed them the wound in the neck which he won
for his disloyalty at the hand of the knight, the blood flew to his face for
shame as he told the tale.
"Lo, lady," he quoth, and handled the lace,
"this is the bond of the blame that I bear in my neck, this is the harm
and the loss I have suffered, the cowardice and covetousness in which I was
caught, the token of my covenant in which I was taken. And I must needs wear
it so long as I live, for none may hide his harm, but undone it may not be,
for if it hath clung to thee once, it may never be severed."
Then the king comforted the knight, and the court laughed
loudly at the tale, and all made accord that the lords and the ladies who
belonged to the Round Table, each hero among them, should wear bound about him
a baldric of bright green for the sake of Sir Gawain 13. And
to this was agreed all the honour of the Round Table, and he who ware it was
honoured the more thereafter, as it is testified in the best book of romance.
That in Arthur's days this adventure befell, the book of Brutus bears witness.
For since that bold knight came hither first, and the siege and the assault
were ceased at Troy, I wis
Many a venture herebefore
Hath fallen such as this:
May He that bare the crown of thorn
Bring us unto His bliss.
JESSIE WESTON'S NOTES
1. "The Legend of Sir Gawain," Grimm Library, Vol. VII.
(Chapter IX, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight).
2. Dance accompanied by song. Often mentioned in old romances.
3. Agravain, "Ó la dure main." This
characterisation of Gawain's brother seems to indicate that there was a French
source at the root of this story. The author distinctly tells us more than
once that the tale, as he tells it, was written in a book, M. Gaston
Paris thinks that the direct source was an Anglo-Norman poem, now lost.
4. If any in this hall holds himself so hardy. This,
the main incident of the tale, is apparently of very early date. The oldest
version we possess is that found in the Irish tale of the Fled Bricrend
(Bricriu's feast) [edited and translated by the Rev. G. Henderson, M.A., Irish
Texts Society, vol. ii], where the hero of the tale is the Irish champion,
Cuchulinn. Two mediŠval romances, the Mule sans Frein (French) and Diu
Kr˘ne (German) again attribute it to Gawain; while the continuator of ChrÚtien
de Troye's Conte del Graal gives as hero a certain Carados, whom he
represents as Arthur's nephew; and the prose Perceval has Lancelot. So
far as the mediŠval versions are concerned, the original hero is undoubtedly
Gawain; and our poem gives the fullest and most complete form of the story we
possess. In the Irish version the magician is a giant, and the abnormal
size and stature of the Green Knight is, in all probability, the survival of a
primitive feature. His curious colour is a trait found nowhere else. InDiu
Kr˘ne we are told that the challenger changes shapes in a terrifying
manner, but no details are given.
5. For Yule was over-past. This passage, descriptive of
the flight of the year, should be especially noticed. Combined with the other
passages--the description of Gawain's journey, the early morning hunts, the
dawning of New Year's Day, and the ride to the Green Chapel--they indicate a
knowledge of Nature, and an observant eye for her moods, uncommon among mediŠval
poets. It is usual enough to find graceful and charming descriptions of spring
and early summer--an appreciation of May in especial, when the summer
courts were held, is part of the stock-in-trade of mediŠval romancers--but a
sympathy with the year in all its changes is far rarer, and certainly deserves
to be specially reckoned to the credit of this nameless writer.
6. First a rich carpet was stretched on the floor. The
description of the arming of Gawain is rather more detailed in the original,
but some of the minor points are not easy to understand, the identification of
sundry of the pieces of armour being doubtful.
7. The pentangle painted thereupon is gleaming gold. I
do not remember that the pentangle is elsewhere attributed to Gawain. He often
bears a red shield; but the blazon varies. Indeed, the heraldic devices borne
by Arthur's knights are distractingly chaotic--their legends are older than
the science of heraldry, and no one has done for them the good office that the
compiler of the Thidrek Saga has rendered to his Teutonic heroes.
8. The Wilderness of Wirral. This is in Cheshire. Sir
F. Madden suggests that the forest which forms the final stage of Gawain's
journey is that of Inglewood, in Cumberland. The geography here is far clearer
than is often the case in such descriptions.
9. 'Twas the fairest castle that ever a knight owned.
Here, again, I have omitted some of the details of the original, the
architectural terms lacking identification.
10. With blast of the bugle fared forth to the field.
The account of each day's hunting contains a number of obsolete terms and
details of woodcraft, not given in full. The meaning of some has been lost,
and the minute descriptions of skinning and dismembering the game would be
distinctly repulsive to the general reader. They are valuable for a student of
the history of the English sport, but interfere with the progress of the
story. The fact that the author devotes so much space to them seems to
indicate that he lived in the country and was keenly interested in field
sports. (Gottfried von Strassbourg's Tristan contains a similar and
almost more detailed description.)
11. I will give [you] my girdle. This magic girdle,
which confers invulnerability on its owner, is a noticeable feature of our
story. It is found nowhere else in this connection, yet in other romances we
find that Gawain possesses a girdle with similar powers (cf., my Legend of
Sir Gawain, Chap. IX.). Such a talisman was also owned by Cuchulinn, the
Irish hero, who has many points of contact with Gawain. It seems not
improbable that this was also an old feature of the story. I have commented,
in the Introduction, on the lady's persistent wooing of Gawain, and need not
repeat the remarks here. In the Lay the hero is mysteriously deprived
of his legs, through the draught from a cup offered by a Grugach or
magician. He comes to a castle, the lord of which goes out hunting, leaving
his wife in the care of the Great Fool, who is to allow no man to enter. He
falls asleep, and a young knight arrives and kisses the host's wife. The Great
Fool, awaking, refuses to allow the intruder to depart; and, in spite of
threats and blandishments, insists on detaining him till the husband returns.
Finally, the stranger reveals himself as the host in another shape; he is also
the Grugach, who deprived the hero of his limbs, and the Great Fool's
brother. He has only intended to test the Amadon Mor's fidelity. A
curious point in connection with this story is that it possesses a prose
opening which shows a marked affinity with the "Perceval" enfances.
That the Perceval and Gawain stories early became connected is certain, but
what is the precise connection between them and the Celtic Lay is not
clear. In its present form the latter is certainly posterior to the
Grail romances, but it is quite possible that the matter with which it deals
represents a tradition older than the Arthurian story.
12. Morgain le Fay, who dwelleth in my house. The
enmity between Morgain le Fay and Guinevere, which is here stated to have the motif
of the enchantment, is no invention of the author, but is found in the Merlin,
probably the earliest of the Arthurian prose romances. In a later
version of our story, a poem, written in ballad form, and contained in the
"Percy" MS., Morgain does not appear; her place is taken by an old
witch, mother to the lady, but the enchantment is still due to her spells. In
this later form the knight bears the curious name of Sir Bredbeddle..
That given in our romance, Bernlak de Hautdesert,, seems to point to
the original French source of the story. (It is curious that Morgain should
here be represented as extremely old, while Arthur is still in his first
youth. There is evidently a discrepancy or misunderstanding of the source
13. A baldric of bright green, for sake of Sir Gawain.
The later version connects this lace with that worn by the knights of
the Bath; but this latter was white, not green.. The knights
wore it on the left shoulder till they had done some gallant deed, or till
some noble lady took it off for them.
for Powers of Literature
(with Lesson numbers):
Odysseus' voyage 1
Mission to Achilles
Death of Patroklos
Burial of Hektor
Return of Odysseus
City of Dreams
the Homeric king
Socrates gets busted
Socrates on trial
Socrates in jail
Socrates in heaven
Paul does Christ
gospel without text
The Knight of the Cart
Sire Lance's genes
18. Virgil, Aeneid
Aeneas & Dido