Friday, April 5, 2013

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - Part 1

sir gawain paper doll

 Part I


Soon as the siege and assault had ceased at Troy,
the burg broken and burnt to brands and ashes,
the traitor who trammels of treason there wrought
was tried for his treachery, the foulest on earth.
It was Aeneas the noble and his high kin
who then subdued provinces, lords they became,
well-nigh of all the wealth in the Western Isles:
forth rich Romulus to Rome rapidly came,
with great business that burg he builds up first,
and names it with his name, as now it has;
Ticius to Tuscany, and townships begins;
Langobard in Lombardy lifts up homes;
and fared over the French flood Felix Brutus
on many banks all broad Britain he settles
where war and wreck and wonder
betimes have worked within,
and oft both bliss and blunder
have held sway swiftly since.


And when this Britain was built by this baron rich,
bold men were bred therein, of battle beloved,
in many a troubled time turmoil that wrought.
More flames on this fold have fallen here oft
than any other I know of, since that same time.
But of all that here built, of Britain the kings,
ever was Arthur highest, as I have heard tell.
And so of earnest adventure I aim to show,
that astonishes sight as some men do hold it,
an outstanding action of Arthur’s wonders.
If you will list to this lay but a little while,
I’ll tell it straight, as I in town heard it,
with tongue;
          as it was said and spoken
          in story staunch and strong,
          with linked letters loaded,
          as in this land so long.


This king lay at Camelot nigh on Christmas
with many lovely lords, of leaders the best,
reckoning of the Round Table all the rich brethren,
with right ripe revel and reckless mirth.
There tourneyed tykes by times full many,
jousted full jollily these gentle knights,
then carried to court, their carols to make.
For there the feast was alike full fifteen days,
with all the meat and mirth men could devise:
such clamour and glee glorious to hear,
dear din in the daylight, dancing of nights;
all was happiness high in halls and chambers
with lords and ladies, as liked them all best.
With all that’s well in the world were they together,
the knights best known under the Christ Himself,
and the loveliest ladies that ever life honoured,
and he the comeliest king that the court rules.
For all were fair folk and in their first age
          the happiest under heaven,
          king noblest in his will;
          that it were hard to reckon
          so hardy a host on hill.


While New Year was so young it was new come in,
that day double on the dais was the dole served,
for the king was come with knights into the hall,
and chanting in the chapel had chimed to an end.
Loud cry was there cast of clerics and others,
Noel nurtured anew, and named full oft;
and see the rich run forth to render presents,
yelled their gifts on high, yield them to hand,
argued busily about those same gifts.
Ladies laughed out loud, though they had lost,
while he that won was not wrath, that you’ll know.
All this mirth they made at the meal time.
When they had washed well they went to be seated,
the best of the barons above, as it seemed best;
with Guinevere, full gaily, gracing their midst,
dressed on the dais there, adorned all about –
splendid silk by her sides, and sheer above
of true Toulouse, of Tartar tapestries plenty,
that were embroidered, bright with the best gems
that might be price-proved with pennies
any a day.
          the comeliest to descry
          glanced there with eyen grey;
          a seemlier ever to the sight,
          sooth might no man say.


But Arthur would not eat till all were served,
he was so joyous a youth, and somewhat boyish:
he liked his life lively, he loved the less
either to long lie idle or to long sit,
so busied him his young blood and his brain wild.
And also another matter moved him so,
that he had nobly named he would never eat
on such dear days, before he had been advised,
of some adventurous thing, an unknown tale,
of some mighty marvel, that he might believe,
of ancestors, arms, or other adventures;
or else till someone beseeched for some sure knight
to join with him in jousting, in jeopardy to lay,
lay down life for life, allow each to the other,
as fortune might favour them, a fair advantage.
This was the king’s custom when he in court was,
at each fine feast among his many friends
in hall.
          Therefore with fearless face
          he stands straight and tall;
          full lively at that New Year
          much mirth he makes with all.


Thus there stands straight and tall the king himself,
talking at the high table of trifles full courtly.
There good Gawain was graced by Guinevere beside,
and Agravain a la dure main on the other side sits,
both the king’s sister-sons and full sure knights;
Bishop Baldwin above, he begins the table,
and YwainUrien’s son, ate alongside him.
These sat high on the dais and deftly served,
and many another sat sure at the side-tables.
Then the first course came with crack of trumpets,
with many a banner full bright that thereby hung;
new noise of kettledrums and noble pipes,
wild warbles and wide wakened echoes,
that many a heart full high heaved at their notes.
Dainties drawn in therewith of full dear meats,
foods of the freshest, and in such files of dishes
they find no room to place them people before
and to set the silver that holds such servings
on cloth.
          Each his load as he liked himself,
          there ladled and nothing loath;
          Every two had dishes twelve,
          good beer and bright wine both.


Now will I of their service say you no more,
for each man may well know no want was there
another noise full new neared with speed,
that would give the lord leave to take meat.
For scarce was the noise not a while ceased,
and the first course in the court duly served,
there hales in at the hall door a dreadful man,
the most in the world’s mould of measure high,
from the nape to the waist so swart and so thick,
and his loins and his limbs so long and so great
half giant on earth I think now that he was;
but the most of man anyway I mean him to be,
and that the finest in his greatness that might ride,
for of back and breast though his body was strong,
both his belly and waist were worthily small,
and his features all followed his form made
and clean.
          Wonder at his hue men displayed,
          set in his semblance seen;
          he fared as a giant were made,
          and over all deepest green.


And all garbed in green this giant and his gear:
a straight coat full tight that stuck to his sides,
a magnificent mantle above, masked within
with pelts pared pertly, the garment agleam
with blithe ermine full bright, and his hood both,
that was left from his locks and laid on his shoulders;
neat, well-hauled hose of that same green
that clung to his calves and sharp spurs under
of bright gold, on silk stockings rich-barred,
and no shoes under sole where the same rides.
And all his vesture verily was bright verdure,
both the bars of his belt and other bright stones,
that were richly rayed in his bright array
about himself and his saddle, on silk work,
it were tortuous to tell of these trifles the half,
embroidered above with birds and butterflies,
with gay gaudy of green, the gold ever inmost.
The pendants of his harness, the proud crupper,
his bridle and all the metal enamelled was then;
the stirrups he stood on stained with the same,
and his saddle bows after, and saddle skirts,
ever glimmered and glinted all with green stones.
The horse he rode on was also of that hue,
          A green horse great and thick,
          a steed full strong to restrain,
          in broidered bridle quick –
          to the giant he brought gain.


Well garbed was this giant geared in green,
and the hair of his head like his horse’s mane.
Fair fanned-out flax enfolds his shoulders;
A beard big as a bush over his breast hangs,
that with the haul of hair that from his head reaches
was clipped all round about above his elbows,
that half his hands thereunder were hid in the wise
of a king’s broad cape that’s clasped at his neck.
The mane of that mighty horse was much alike,
well crisped and combed, with knots full many
plaited in thread of gold about the fair green,
here a thread of the hair, and there of gold.
The tail and his forelock twinned, of a suit,
and bound both with a band of a bright green,
dressed with precious stones, as its length lasted;
then twined with a thong, a tight knot aloft,
where many bells bright of burnished gold ring.
Such a man on a mount, such a giant that rides,
was never before that time in hall in sight of human
          He looked as lightning bright,
          said all that him descried;
          it seemed that no man might
          his mighty blows survive.


And yet he had no helm nor hauberk, neither,
nor protection, nor no plate pertinent to arms,
nor no shaft, nor no shield, to strike and smite,
but in his one hand he held a holly branch,
that is greatest in green when groves are bare,
and an axe in his other, one huge, monstrous,
a perilous spar to expound in speech, who might.
The head of an ell-rod its large length had,
the spike all of green steel and of gold hewn,
the blade bright burnished with a broad edge
as well shaped to sheer as are sharp razors.
The shaft of a strong staff the stern man gripped,
that was wound with iron to the wand’s end,
and all engraved with green in gracious workings;
a cord lapped it about, that linked at the head,
and so around the handle looped full oft,
with tried tassels thereto attached enough
on buttons of the bright green broidered full rich.
This stranger rides in and the hall enters,
driving to the high dais, danger un-fearing.
Hailed he never a one, but high he overlooked.
The first word that he spoke: ‘Where is,’ he said,
‘the governor of this throng? Gladly I would
see that soul in sight and with himself speak
          On knights he cast his eyes,
          And rolled them up and down.
          He stopped and studied ay
          who was of most renown.


There was a looking at length the man to behold,
for each man marvelled what it might mean
for a rider and his horse to own such a hue
as grew green as the grass and greener it seemed,
than green enamel on gold glowing the brighter.
All studied that steed, and stalked him near,
with all the wonder of the world at what he might do.
for marvels had they seen but such never before;
and so of phantom and fairie the folk there it deemed.
Therefore to answer was many a knight afraid,
and all stunned at his shout and sat stock-still
in a sudden silence through the rich hall;
as all had slipped into sleep so ceased their noise
                    and cry.
          I think it not all in fear,
          but some from courtesy;
          to let him all should revere
          speak to him firstly.


Then Arthur before the high dais that adventure beholds,
and, gracious, him reverenced, a-feared was he never,
and said: ‘Sir, welcome indeed to this place,
the head of this house, I, Arthur am named.
Alight swiftly adown and rest, I thee pray,
and what thy will is we shall wait after.’
‘Nay, so help me,’ quoth the man, ‘He that on high sits:
to wait any while in this way, it was not my errand.
But as the light of thee, lord, is lifted so high,
and thy burg and thy barons the best, men hold,
strongest under steel gear on steeds to ride,
the wisest and worthiest of the world’s kind,
proof to play against in other pure sports,
and here is shown courtesy, as I have heard said,
so then I wandered hither, indeed, at this time.
You may be sure by this branch that I bear here
that I pass by in peace and no plight seek.
For were I found here, fierce, and in fighting wise,
I had a hauberk at home and a helm both,
a shield and a sharp spear, shining bright,
and other weapons to wield, I well will, too;
but as I wish no war, I wear the softer.
But if you be as bold as all bairns tell,
you will grant me goodly the gift that I ask
                    by right.’
          Arthur answered there,
          and said: ‘Sir courteous knight,
          if you crave battle bare,
          here fails you not the fight.’


‘Nay, follow I no fight, in faith I thee tell.
About on these benches are but beardless children;
if I were clasped in armour on a high steed,
here is no man to match me, his might so weak.
From thee I crave in this court a Christmas gift,
for it is Yule and New Year, and here many young men.
If any so hardy in this house holds himself,
is so bold of blood, hot-brained in his head,
that dare staunchly strike a stroke for another,
I shall give him as gift this weapon so rich,
this blade, that is heavy enough to handle as he likes,
and I will bear the first blow, as bare as I sit.
If any friend be so fell as to fare as I say,
Leap lightly to me; latch on to this weapon –
I quit claim for ever, he keeps it, his own.
And I will stand his stroke straight, on this floor,
if you will grant me the gift to give him another,
          and yet give him respite
          a twelvemonth and a day.
          Now hurry, let’s see aright
          dare any herein aught say.’


If he had stunned them at first, stiller were then
all the host in the hall, the high and the low.
The man on his mount he turned in his saddle,
and roundly his red eyes he rolled about,
bent his bristling brows, burning green,
waving his beard about waiting who would rise.
When none would come to his call he coughed full high,
and cleared his throat full richly, ready to speak:
‘What, is this Arthur’s house,’ quoth the horseman then,
‘that all the rumour runs of, through realms so many?
Where now your superiority and your conquests,
your grinding down and your anger, your great words?
Now is the revel and the renown of the Round Table
overthrown with the word of a wanderer’s speech,
for all duck down in dread without dint of a blow!’
With this he laughed so loud that the lord grieved;
the blood shot for shame into his fair face
                    and there,
          he waxed as wrath as wind;
          so did all that there were.
          The king, so keen by kind,
          then stood that strong man near.


And said: ‘Horseman, by heaven you ask as a fool,
and as a folly you fain, to find it me behoves.
I know no guest that’s aghast at your great words.
Give me now your weapon, upon God’s name,
and I shall bear you the boon you’d be having.’
lightly he leaped to him and caught at his hand;
then fiercely the other fellow on foot alighted.
Now has Arthur his axe, and the helm grips,
and strongly stirs it about, to strike with a thought.
The man before him drew himself to full height,
higher than any in the house by a head and more.
With stern face where he stood he stroked his beard,
and with fixed countenance tugged at his coat,
no more moved or dismayed by mighty blows
than if any man to the bench had brought him a drink
                    of wine.
          Gawain, that sat by the queen,
          to the king he did incline:
          ‘I beseech in plain speech
          that this mêlée be mine’


‘Would you, worthiest lord,’ quoth Gawain to the king,
‘bid me bow from this bench and stand by you there,
that I without villainy might void this table,
and if my liege lady liked it not ill,
I would come counsel you before your court rich.
For I think it not seemly, as it is true known,
that such an asking is heaved so high in your hall,
that you yourself are tempted, to take it to yourself,
while so many bold men about you on benches sit,
that under heaven, I hope, are none higher of will,
nor better of body on fields where battle is raised.
I am the weakest, I know, and of wit feeblest.
least worth the loss of my life, who’d learn the truth.
Only inasmuch as you are my uncle, am I praised:
No bounty but your blood in my body I know.
And since this thing is folly and naught to you falls,
and I have asked it of you first, grant it to me;
and if my cry be not comely, let this court be free
of blame.’
          Nobles whispered around,
          and after counselled the same,
          to free the king and crown,
          and give Gawain the game.


Then commanded the king the knight for to rise,
and he readily up-rose and prepared him fair,
knelt down before the king, and caught the weapon;
and he lightly left it him, and lifted up his hand
and gave him God’s blessing, and gladly him bade
that his heart and his hand should hardy be, both.
‘Take care, cousin,’ quoth the king, ‘how you set on,
and if you read him aright, readily I trow,
that you shall abide the blow he shall bring after.’
Gawain goes to the giant, with weapon in hand,
and boldly abides him, never bothered the less.
Then to Sir Gawain says the knight in the green:
‘Re-affirm we our oaths before we go further.
First I entreat you, man, how are you named,
that tell me truly, then, so trust it I may.’
‘In God’s faith,’ quoth the good knight, ‘Gawain am I,
that bear you this buffet, whatever befalls after,
and at this time twelvemonth take from thee another
with what weapon you wilt, and no help from any
          The other replies again:
          ‘Sir Gawain, may I so thrive,
          if I am not wondrous fain
          for you this blow to drive.’


‘By God,’ quoth the green knight, ‘Sir Gawain, I like
That I’ll face first from your fist what I found here.
And you have readily rehearsed, with reason full true,
clearly all the covenant that I the king asked,
save that you shall secure me, say, by your troth,
that you shall seek me yourself, where so you think
I may be found upon field, and fetch you such wages
as you deal me today before this dear company.’
‘Where should I seek,’ quoth Gawain, ‘where is your place?
I know nothing of where you walk, by Him that wrought me,
nor do I know you, knight, your court or your name.
But teach me truly the track, tell me how you are named,
and I shall wind all my wit to win me thither;
and that I swear you in truth, and by my sure honour.’
‘That is enough this New Year, it needs no more,’
quoth the giant in the green to courteous Gawain:
‘if I shall tell you truly, when you have tapped me
and you me smoothly have smitten, I swiftly you teach,
of my house and my home and my own name.
Then may you find how I fare, and hold to your word;
and if I spend no speech, then it speeds you the better,
for you may linger in your land and seek no further –
                    but oh!
          Take now your grim steel to thee,
          and see how you fell oaks.’
          ‘Gladly, sir, indeed,’
          quoth Gawain; his axe he strokes.


The green knight on his ground graciously stands:
with a little lean of the head, flesh he uncovers;
his long lovely locks he laid over his crown,
and let the naked neck to the stroke show.
Gawain gripped his axe and glanced it on high,
his left foot on the field before him he set,
letting it down lightly light on the naked,
that the sharp of the steel sundered the bones,
and sank through the soft flesh, sliced it in two,
that the blade of the bright steel bit in the ground.
The fair head from the frame fell to the earth,
that folk flailed it with their feet, where it forth rolled;
the blood burst from the body, the bright on the green.
Yet nevertheless neither falters nor falls the fellow,
but stoutly he started forth on strong shanks,
and roughly he reached out, where the ranks stood,
latched onto his lovely head, and lifted it so;
and then strode to his steed, the bridle he catches,
steps into stirrup and strides him aloft,
and his head by the hair in his hand holds.
and as steady and staunch him in his saddle sat
as if no mishap had him ailed, though headless now
          He twined his trunk about,
          that ugly body that bled;
          many of him had doubt,
          ere ever his speech was said.


For the head in his hand he holds up even,
towards the dearest on dais addresses the face;
and it lifted its eyelids, and looked full wide,
and made this much with its mouth, as you may now hear;
‘Look, Gawain, be you geared to go as you promised,
and look out loyally till you me, lord, find,
as you swore oath in this hall, these knights hearing.
To the green chapel you go, I charge you, to find
such a dint as you dealt – deserved you have –
to be readily yielded on New Year’s morn.
The knight of the green chapel, men know me as, many;
therefore to find me, if you fain it, you’ll fail never.
Come then, or be called recreant it behoves you.’
With a rough rasping the reins he twists,
hurled out the hall door, his head in his hand,
that the fire of the flint flew from fleet hooves.
to what land he came no man there knew,
no more than they knew where he had come from
                    what then?
          The king and Gawain there
          at that green man laugh and grin;
          yet broadcast it was abroad
          as a marvel among those men.


Though Arthur the high king at heart had wonder,
he let no semblance be seen, but said aloud
to the comely queen, with courteous speech:
‘Dear dame, today dismay you never;
well become us these crafts at Christmas,
larking at interludes, to laugh and to sing
among the courtly carols of lords and ladies.
Nevertheless my meat I may now me address,
for I have seen my marvel, I may not deny.’
He glanced at Sir Gawain and graciously said:
‘Now sir, hang up your axe that has hewn enough.’
And it adorned the dais, hung on display,
where all men might marvel and on it look,
and by true title thereof to tell the wonder.
Then they went to the board these two together,
the king and the godly knight, and keen men them served
of all dainties double, as dearest might fall,
with all manner of meat and minstrelsy both.
Full well they whiled that day till it worked its end
                    on land
          Now think well, Sir Gawain,
          lest by peril unmanned,
          this adventure to sustain,
          you have taken in hand.

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