This gift of adventure has Arthur thus on the first
of the young year, for he yearned exploits to hear.
Though words were wanting when they went to sit,
now are they stoked with stern work, fullness to hand.
Gawain was glad to begin those games in hall,
yet if the end be heavy, have you no wonder;
though men be merry in mind when they have strong ale,
a year turns full turn, and yields never a like;
the form of its finish foretold full seldom.
For this Yuletide passed by, and the year after,
and each season slips by pursuing another:
after Christmas comes crabbed Lenten time,
that forces on flesh fish and food more simple.
But then the weather of the world with winter it fights,
cold shrinks down, clouds are uplifted,
shining sheds the rain in showers full warm,
falls upon fair flats, flowers there showing.
Both ground and groves green is their dress,
birds begin to build and brightly sing they
the solace of the soft summer ensuing after
and blossoms bloom to blow
by hedges rich and rank,
while noble notes do flow
in woodland free and frank.
After, in season of summer with the soft winds,
when Zephyrus sighs himself on seeds and herbs;
well-away is the wort that waxes out there,
when the dunking dew drops from the leaves,
biding a blissful blush of the bright sun.
But then hies Harvest and hardens it soon,
warns it before the winter to wax full ripe;
then drives with drought the dust for to rise,
from the face of the field to fly full high;
wild wind from the welkin wrestles the sun,
the leaves lance then from linden, light on the ground,
and all grey is the grass, that green was ere;
then all ripens and rots, that rose up at first.
And thus wears the year into yesterdays many,
and winter walks again, as the world’s way is,
till Michaelmas moon
threatens a wintry age.
Then thinks Gawain full soon,
of his wearisome voyage.
Yet till All-Hallows with Arthur he lingers,
and he made a feast on that day for the knight’s sake,
with much revel and rich of the Round Table.
Knights full courteous and comely ladies,
all for love of that lad in longing they were;
but nevertheless they named nothing but mirth,
many joyless for that gentle soul jokes made there.
For, after meat, with mourning he makes to his uncle,
and speaks his departure, and openly says:
‘Now, liege lord of my life, I ask you leave.
You know the cost in this case, care I no more
to tell you the trial thereof, naught but a trifle;
but I am bound to bear it, be gone, and tomorrow,
to seek the giant in the green, as God will me guide.’
Then the best of the burg were brought together,
Ywain and Eric and others full many,
Sir Dodinal le Sauvage, the Duke of Clarence,
Lancelot and Lionel and Lucan the Good,
Sir Bors and Sir Bedivere, big men both,
and many other men, with Mador de la Porte.
All this courtly company came the king near,
for to counsel the knight, with care in their hearts.
There was much dark dolefulness deep in the hall,
that so worthy as Gawain should wend on that errand,
to endure a dreadful dint, and no more with sword
The knight made yet good cheer,
and said: ‘Why should I falter?
Such destinies foul or fair
what can men do but suffer?’
He dwelt there all that day, and dressed on the morn,
asks early for his arms, and all were they brought.
First a crimson carpet, cast over the floor,
and much was the gilded gear that gleamed thereon.
The strong man steps there, and handles the steel,
dressed in a doublet of silk of
and then a well-crafted cape, clasped at the top,
that with a white ermine was trimmed within.
Then set they the plate shoes on his strong feet,
his legs lapped in steel with lovely greaves,
with knee-pieces pinned thereto, polished full clean,
about his knees fastened with knots of gold;
then the cuisses, that cunningly enclosed
his thick-thewed thighs, attached with thongs;
and then the hauberk linked with bright steel rings
over rich wear, wrapped round the warrior;
and well-burnished bracelets over both arms,
elbow-pieces good and gay, and gloves of plate,
and all the goodly gear that should bring him gain
with rich coat armour,
his gold spurs set with pride,
girt with a blade full sure
with silk sword-belt at his side.
When he was hasped in armour, his harness was rich;
the least laces or loops gleamed with gold.
So harnessed as he was he hears the Mass,
offered and honoured at the high altar,
then he comes to the king and his companions,
takes his courteous leave of lords and ladies;
and they him kiss and convey, commend him to Christ.
By then Gringolet was game, girt with a saddle
that gleamed full gaily with many gold fringes,
everywhere nailed full new, for that noted day;
the bridle barred about, with bright gold bound;
the apparel of the breast-guard and proud skirts,
crupper, caparison, in accord with the saddle-bows;
and all was arrayed with rich red gold nails,
that all glittered and glinted as gleam of the sun.
Then hefts he the helm, and hastily it kisses,
that was strongly stapled and stuffed within.
It was high on his head, clasped behind,
with a light covering over the face-guard,
embroidered and bound with the best gems
on broad silken border, and birds on the seams,
such as parrots painted preening between,
turtle-doves, true-love knots, so thick entailed
as many burdened with it had been seven winters
The circlet of greater price
that embellished his crown,
of diamonds all devised
that were both bright and brown.
Then they showed him the shield that was of shining gules,
with the pentangle painted there in pure gold hues.
He brandishes it by the baldric, casts it about his neck,
that suited the wearer seemly and fair.
And why the pentangle applies to that prince noble,
I intend to tell, though I tarry more than I should.
It is a sign Solomon settled on some while back,
in token of truth, by the title that it has,
for it is a figure that has five points,
and each line overlaps and locks with another,
and everywhere it is endless, and English call it
over all the land, as I here, the Endless Knot.
For so it accords with this knight and his bright arms,
forever faithful in five ways, and five times so,
Gawain was for good known, and, as purified gold,
void of every villainy, with virtues adorned
And thus the pentangle new
he bore on shield and coat,
as title of trust most true
and gentlest knight of note.
First he was found faultless in his five senses,
and then failed never the knight in his five fingers,
and all his trust in the field was in the five wounds
that Christ caught on the cross, as the creed tells.
And wheresoever this man in mêlée was stood,
his first thought was that, over all other things,
all his force in fight he found in the five joys
that holy Heaven’s Queen had of her child;
for this cause the knight fittingly had
on the inner half of his shield her image painted,
that when he beheld her his boldness never failed.
The fifth five that I find the knight used
was Free-handedness and Friendship above all things;
his Continence and Courtesy corrupted were never,
and Piety, that surpasses all points – these pure five
were firmer founded in his form than another.
Now all these five-folds, forsooth, were fused in this knight,
and each one joined to another that none end had,
and fixed upon five points that failed never,
never confused on one side, nor sundered neither,
without end at any angle anywhere, I find,
wherever its guise begins or glides to an end.
Therefore on his shining shield shaped was the knot
royally with red gold upon red gules,
thus is the pure pentangle called by the people
Now geared was Gawain gay,
lifted his lance right there,
and gave them all good day –
as he thought, for evermore.
He struck the steed with the spurs, and sprang on his way
so strongly the stone-fire sparked out thereafter.
All that saw the seemly sight sighed in their hearts,
and said softly the same thing all to each other,
in care of that comely knight: ‘By Christ, ‘tis pity,
that you, lord, shall be lost, who art of life noble!
To find his fellow in field, in faith, is not easy.
Warily to have wrought would wiser have been,
to have dealt yon dear man a dukedom of worth.
A loyal leader of this land’s lances in him well seems,
and so had better have been than brought to naught,
beheaded by an elvish man, out of arrogant pride.
Who knew any king ever such counsel to take
as knights in altercations in Christmas games?’
Well was the water warm much wept from eyen,
when that seemly sire spurred from the court
He made no delay,
but swiftly went his way;
Many a wild path he strayed,
so the books do say.
Now rides this knight through the realm of Logres,
Sir Gawain, in God’s name, yet no game it thought.
Oft friendless alone he lay long a-nights,
where he found no fare that he liked before him.
He had no friend but his steed by furze and down,
and no one but God to speak with on the way,
till that he neared full nigh to northern
All the Isle of Anglesey on the left hand he held,
and fared over the fords by the forelands,
over at Holyhead, till he reached the bank
in the wilderness of Wirral – few thereabouts
that either God or other with good heart loved.
And ever he asked as he fared, of fellows he met,
if they had heard any word of a knight in green,
on any ground thereabout, of the green chapel;
and all met him with nay, that never in their lives
saw they ever a sign of such a one, hued
The knight took pathways strange
by many a bank un-green;
his cheerfulness would change,
ere might that chapel be seen.
Many cliffs he over-clambered in countries strange,
far flying from his friends forsaken he rides.
at every twist of the water where the way passed
he found a foe before him, or freakish it were,
and so foul and fell he was beholden to fight.
So many marvels by mountain there the man finds,
it would be tortuous to tell a tenth of the tale.
Sometimes with dragons he wars, and wolves also,
sometimes with wild woodsmen haunting the crags,
with bulls and bears both, and boar other times,
and giants that chased after him on the high fells.
had he not been doughty, enduring, and Duty served,
doubtless he had been dropped and left for dead,
for war worried him not so much but winter was worse,
when the cold clear water from the clouds shed,
and froze ere it fall might to the fallow earth.
Near slain by the sleet he slept in his steel
more nights than enough in the naked rocks,
where clattering from the crest the cold burn runs,
and hung high over his head in hard icicles.
Thus in peril and pain, and plights full hard
covers the country this knight till Christmas Eve
The knight that eventide
to Mary made his moan,
to show him where to ride,
and guide him to some home.
By a mount in the morn merrily he rides
into a forest full deep, wonderfully wide,
high hills on either hand, and woodlands under
of hoar oaks full huge a hundred together.
The hazel and the hawthorn were tangled and twined,
with rough ragged moss ravelled everywhere,
with many birds un-blithe upon bare twigs,
that piteously they piped for pinch of the cold.
The gallant on Gringolet glides them under
through many a marsh and mire, a man alone,
full of care lest to his cost he never should
see the service of that Sire, that on that self night,
of a bright maid was born, our burden to quell.
And therefore sighing he said; ‘I beseech thee, Lord,
and Mary, that is mildest mother so dear,
of some harbour where highly I might hear Mass,
and thy Matins tomorrow, meekly I ask,
and thereto promptly I pray my Pater and Ave
He rode as he prayed,
And cried for his misdeeds;
He crossed himself always,
And said: ‘Christ’s Cross me speed!’
Now he had signed himself times but three,
when he was aware in the wood of a wall in a moat,
above a level, on high land locked under boughs
of many broad set boles about by the ditches:
a castle the comeliest that ever knight owned,
perched on a plain, a park all about,
with a pointed palisade, planted full thick,
encircling many trees in more than two miles.
The hold on the one side the knight assessed,
as it shimmered and shone through the shining oaks.
Then humbly has off with his helm, highly he thanks
Jesus and Saint Julian, that gentle are both,
that courtesy had him shown, and his cry hearkened.
‘Now hospitality,’ he said, ‘I beseech you grant!’
Then goads he on Gringolet, with his gilded heels,
and he by chance there has chosen the chief way,
that brought the man bravely to the bridge’s end
The drawbridge was upraised,
the gates were firm and fast,
the walls were well arrayed –
it trembled at no wind’s blast.
The knight stuck to his steed, that hugged the bank,
of the deep double ditch driven round the place.
The wall washed in the water wonderfully deep,
and then a full huge height it haled up aloft,
of hard hewn stone to the entablature,
embedded under the battlements in best style;
and there were turrets full tall towering between,
with many lovely loopholes clean interlocked:
a better barbican that knight never beheld.
And innermost he beheld a hall full high,
towers trim between, crenellated full thick,
fair finials that fused, and fancifully long,
with carven copes, cunningly worked.
Chalk white chimneys he descried enough,
on tower rooftops that gleamed full white.
So many painted pinnacles powdered there
among castle crenellations, clustered so thick,
that pared out of paper purely it seemed.
the fair knight on the horse it fine enough thought,
if he might contrive to come the cloister within,
to harbour in that hostel while Holy Day lasted,
He called and soon there came
a porter pure pleasant.
From the wall his errand he craved,
and hailed the knight errant.
‘Good sir,’ quoth Gawain, ‘will you do my errand
to the high lord of this house, harbour to crave?’
‘Yes, by Saint Peter,’ quoth the porter, ‘for I believe
That you’ll be welcome to dwell as long as you like.’
Then the welcomer on the wall went down swiftly,
and folk freely him with, to welcome the knight.
They let down the great drawbridge and dignified
knelt down on their knees upon the cold earth
to welcome this knight as they thought the worthiest way.
They yielded him the broad gate, opened wide,
and he them raised rightly and rode over the bridge.
Several then seized his saddle, while he alighted,
and then strong men enough stabled his steed.
Knights and their squires came down then
for to bring this bold man blithely to hall,
When he lifted his helmet, they hastened forward
to heft it from his hand, the guest to serve;
his blade and his blazon both they took.
then hailed he full handily the host each one,
and many proud men pressed close, that prince to honour.
All clasped in his noble armour to hall they him brought,
where a fair fire on a hearth fiercely flamed.
Then the lord of that land left his chamber
for to meet with manners the man on the floor.
He said: ‘You are welcome to dwell as you like.
What is here, is all your own, to have at your will
and wield you.
‘Graunt merci,’ quoth Gawain,
‘May Christ reward it you.’
As friends that meet again
Each clasped the other true.
Gawain gazed on the gallant that goodly him greet,
and thought him a brave baron that the burg owned,
a huge man in truth, and mature in his years;
broad, bright was his beard and all beaver-hued,
stern, striding strongly on stalwart shanks,
face fell as the fire, and free of his speech;
and well he seemed to suit, as the knight thought,
the leading a lordship, along of lords full good.
The chief him led to a chamber, expressly commands
a lord be delivered to him, him humbly to serve;
and there were brave for his bidding a band of men,
that brought him to a bright bower, the bedding was noble,
of curtains of clear silk with clean gold hems,
and coverlets full curious with comely panels,
of bright ermine above embroidered sides,
curtains running on cords, red gold rings,
tapestries tied to the wall, of
, Toulouse Turkestan,
and underfoot, on the floor, that followed suit.
There he was disrobed, with speeches of mirth,
the burden of his mail and his bright clothes.
Rich robes full readily retainers brought him,
to check and to change and choose of the best.
Soon as he held one, and hastened therein,
that sat on him seemly, with spreading skirts,
verdant in his visage Spring verily seemed
to well nigh everyone, in all its hues,
glowing and lovely, all his limbs under,
that a comelier knight never Christ made,
However he came here,
it seemed that he ought
to be prince without peer
on fields where fell men fought.
A chair before the chimney, where charcoal burned,
graciously set for Gawain, was gracefully adorned,
coverings on quilted cushions, cunningly crafted both.
And then a mighty mantle was on that man cast
of a brown silk, embroidered full rich,
and fair furred within with pelts of the best –
the finest ermine on earth – his hood of the same.
And he sat on that settle seemly and rich,
and chafed himself closely, and then his cheer mended.
Straightway a table on trestles was set up full fair,
clad with a clean cloth that clear white showed,
the salt-cellars, napkins and silvered spoons.
The knight washed at his will, and went to his meat.
Servants him served seemly enough
with several soups, seasoned of the best,
double bowlfuls, as fitting, and all kinds of fish,
some baked in bread, some browned on the coals,
some seethed, some in stews savoured with spices,
and sauces ever so subtle that the knight liked.
While he called it a feast full freely and oft
most politely, at which all spurred him on politely
‘This penance now you take,
after it shall amend.’
That man much mirth did make,
for the wine to his head did tend.
Then they sparred and parried in precious style
with private points put to the prince himself,
so he conceded courteously of that court he came,
where noble Arthur is headman himself alone,
that is the right royal king of the Round Table;
and that it is Gawain himself that in that house sits,
come there at Christmas, as chance has him driven.
When the lord learned what prince that he there had,
loud laughed he thereat, so delightful he thought it,
and all the men in that manse made it a joy
to appear in his presence promptly that time,
who all prize and prowess and purest ways
appends to his person, and praised is ever;
above all men upon earth his honour is most.
Each man full softly said to his neighbour:
‘Now shall we see show of seemliest manners
and the faultless phrases of noble speaking.
What superior speech is, unasked we shall learn,
since we have found this fine master of breeding.
God has given us of his goodly grace forsooth,
that such a guest as Gawain grants us to have,
when barons blithe at His birth shall sit
The meaning of manners here
this knight now shall us bring.
I hope whoever may hear
Shall learn of love-making.’
When the dinner was done and the diners risen,
it was nigh on the night that the time was near.
Chaplains to the chapel took their course,
ringing all men, richly, as they rightly should,
to the holy evensong of that high eventide.
The lord goes thereto and the lady as well;
into a comely enclosure quietly she enters.
Gawain gaily goes forth and thither goes soon;
the lord grasps him by the gown and leads him to sit,
acknowledges him with grace, calls him by name,
and said he was the most welcome man in the world;
and he thanked him thoroughly, they clasped each other,
and sat with sober seeming the service through.
Then liked the lady to look on the knight;
and came from the close with many fine women.
She was the fairest in feature, in flesh and complexion,
and in compass and colour and ways, of all others,
and fairer than Guinevere, as the knight thought.
He strode through the chancel to squire the dame.
Another lady her led by the left hand,
who was older than her, and aged it seemed,
and highly honoured with her men about her.
Not alike though to look on those ladies were,
for if the one was fresh, the other was withered:
rich red in this one distinguished her,
rough wrinkled cheeks on that other, in rolls.
Kerchiefs on this one, with many clear pearls,
her breast and her bright throat bare displayed
shone sweeter than snow that’s shed on the hills;
that other swathed with a wimple wound at the throat,
clothed to her swarthy chin with chalk-white veils,
her forehead folded in silk, enveloped everywhere,
ringed and trellised with trefoils about,
that naught was bare of the lady but the black brows,
the two eyen and nose, the naked lips,
and those were sorry to see, and somewhat bleary –
a great lady on earth a man might her call,
Her body was short and thick,
her buttocks big and broad;
Much sweeter a sweet to lick
the one at her side for sure.
When Gawain gazed on that gracious-looking girl,
with leave asked of the lord he went to meet them.
The elder he hails, bowing to her full low;
the lovely-looking he laps a little in his arms,
he kisses her courteously and nobly he speaks.
They crave his acquaintance, and he quickly asks
to be their sworn servant, if they themselves wished.
They take him between them, and talking they lead him
to a chamber, to the chimney, and firstly they ask for
spices, which men unstintingly hastened to bring,
and the winning wine with them, every time.
The lord laughing aloft leaps full oft,
minding that mirth be made and many a time,
nobly lifted his hood, and on a spear hung it,
and wished him to win the worth and honour thereof
who most mirth might move at that Christmastide.
‘And I shall swear, by my faith, to strive with the best
before I lose the hood, with the help of my friends.’
Thus with laughing words the lord makes all merry,
for to gladden Sir Gawain with games in the hall
Till, when it was time,
the lord demanded light.
Gawain his way did find
To bed as best he might.
On the morn, when each man minds that time
the dear Lord for our destiny to die was born,
joy waxes in each house in the world for His sake.
So did it there on that day with dainties many:
both when major and minor meals were eaten
deft men on the dais served of the best.
The old ancient wife highest she sits;
the lord, so I believe, politely beside her.
Gawain and the sweet lady together they sat
in the midst, as the masses came together;
and then throughout the hall, as seemed right,
each man in his degree was graciously served.
There was meat, there was mirth, there was much joy,
that it would be a trouble for me to tell all,
and however perchance I pined to make my point.
But yet I know Gawain and the sweet lady
such comfort of their company caught together
through their dear dalliance of courtly words,
with clean courteous chat, closed from filth,
their play surpassed every princely game with which it
Kettledrums and trumpets,
much piping there of airs;
Each man minded his,
and those two minded theirs.
Much mirth was there driven that day and another,
and a third as thickly thronged came in thereafter;
The joy of
Day was gentle to hear, St John’s
and was the last of the larking, the lords thought.
There were guests set to go on the grey morn,
so they stayed wonderfully waking and wine drank,
dancing the day in with noble carols.
At the last, when it was time, they took their leave,
each one to wend on his way into strange parts.
Gawain gave them good day, the good man grasps him,
and leads him to his own chamber, the chimney beside,
and there he grips him tight, heartily thanks him
for the fine favour that he had shown him,
so to honour his house on that Christmastide,
and embellish his burg with his bright cheer.
‘Indeed, sir, while I live, I am the better
for Gawain being my guest at God’s own feast.’
‘Graunt merci, sir,’ quoth Gawain, ‘in good faith it’s yours,
all the honour is your own – the High King requite you!
And I am here, at your will, to work your behest,
as I am beholden to do, in high things and low,
The lord was at great pains
To keep longer the knight;
To him answers Gawain
That by no means he might.
Then the lord aimed full fair at him, asking
what daring deed had him driven at that dear time
so keenly from the king’s court to stray all alone,
before the holy holiday was haled out of town.
‘Forsooth, sir,’ quoth the knight, ‘you say but the truth,
a high errand and a hasty had me from those halls,
for I am summoned myself to seek for a place,
with no thought in the world where to go find it.
I would not dare fail find it by New Year’s morning
for all the land in Logres, so me our Lord help!
So, sir, this request I make of you here,
that you tell me true if ever you tale heard
of the green chapel, on what ground it stands,
and of the knight that keeps it, the colour of green.
There was established by statute a pact us between
both to meet at that mark, if I should live;
and of that same New Year but little is wanting,
and I would look on that lord, if God would let me,
more gladly, by God’s Son, than any goods gain.
So, indeed, by your leave, it behoves me to go.
Now to work this business I’ve barely three days,
and it’s fitter I fall dead than fail of my errand.’
Then, laughing, quoth the lord: ‘Now stay, it behoves you,
for I’ll teach you the trysting place ere the term’s end.
The green chapel upon ground grieve for no more;
but you shall be in your bed, sir, at your ease,
while day unfolds, and go forth on the first of the year,
and come to that mark at mid-morn, to act as you wish
Dwell until New Year’s Day,
and rise and ride on then.
You shall be shown the way;
it is not two miles hence.’
Then was Gawain full glad, and gleefully he laughed:
‘Now I thank you thoroughly beyond all things;
now achieved is my goal, I shall at your will
dwell here, and do what else you deem fit.’
Then the lord seized him and set him beside,
and the ladies had fetched, to please him the better.
There was seemly solace by themselves still.
The lord lofted for love notes so merry,
as one that wanted his wits, nor knew what he did.
Then he cried to the knight, calling aloud:
‘You have deemed to do the deed that I bid.
Will you hold to this promise here and now?’
‘Yes, sire, indeed,’ said the knight and true,
‘While I bide in your burg, I’m at your behest.’
‘As you have travelled,’ quoth the lord, ‘from afar,
and since then waked with me, you are not well served
neither of sustenance nor of sleep, surely I know.
You shall linger in your room and lie there at ease
tomorrow till Mass, and then to meat wend
when you will, with my wife, that with you shall sit
and comfort you with company, till I come to court:
And I shall early rise;
a-hunting will I wend.’
Gawain thinks it wise,
as is fitting to him bends.
‘And further,’ quoth the lord, ‘a bargain we’ll make:
whatsoever I win in the wood is worthily yours;
and whatever here you achieve, exchange me for it.
Sweet sir, swap we so – swear it in truth –
whether, lord, that way lies worse or better.’
‘By God,’ quoth Gawain the good, ‘I grant it you,
and that you lust for to play, like it methinks.’
‘Who’ll bring us a beverage, this bargain to make?’
so said the lord of that land. They laughed each one,
they drank and dallied and dealt in trifles,
these lords and ladies, as long as they liked;
and then with Frankish faring, full of fair words,
they stopped and stood and softly spoke,
kissing full comely and taking their leave.
By many lively servants with flaming torches,
each brave man was brought to his bed at last
To bed yet ere they sped,
repeating the contract oft;
the old lord of that spread
could keep a game aloft.