Now nears the New Year and the night passes,
the day drives away dark, as the Deity bids.
But wild weather awoke in the world outside,
clouds cast cold keenly down to the earth,
with wind enough from the north, to flail the flesh.
The snow sleeted down sharp, and nipped the wild;
the whistling wind wailed from the heights
and drove each dale full of drifts full great.
The knight listened full well, as he lay in his bed.
Though he closes his lids, full little he sleeps;
with each cock that crew he well knew his tryst.
Deftly he dressed himself, ere the day sprang,
for there was a lighted lamp gleamed in his chamber.
He called to his servant who promptly replied,
and bade him bring coat of mail and saddle his mount;
the man rises up and fetches him his clothes,
and attires Sir Gawain in splendid style.
First he clad him in clothes to ward off the cold,
and then in his harness, that burnished was kept,
both his belly-armour and plate, polished full bright,
the rings of his rich mail-coat rubbed free of rust;
and all was as fresh as at first, and he to give thanks
He had put on each piece
and in bright armour clad ;
fairest from here to
his steed to be brought he bade.
While he wound himself in the most splendid weeds –
his coat-armour with its badge of clear deeds,
set out upon velvet, with virtuous stones
embellished and bound about it, embroidered seams,
and fair lined within with fine furs –
yet he forgot not the lace, the lady’s gift;
that Gawain did not fail of, for his own good.
when he had bound the blade on his smooth haunches,
then he wound the love-token twice him about,
swiftly swathed it about his waist sweetly that knight.
The girdle of green silk that gallant well suited,
upon that royal red cloth that rich was to show.
But it was not for its richness he wore this girdle,
nor for pride in the pendants, though polished they were,
and though the glittering gold gleamed at the ends,
but to save himself when it behoved him to suffer,
to abide baneful stroke without battling with blade
With that the knight all sound,
goes swift to risk his life;
all the men of renown
he thanks, prepares for strife.
Then was Gringolet readied, that was huge and great,
and had been stabled snugly and in secure wise;
he was eager to gallop, that proud horse then.
The knight went to him and gazed at his coat,
and said soberly to himself, and swore by the truth:
‘Here are many, in this motte, that of honour think.
The man who maintains it, joy may he have!
The fair lady through life may love her befall!
Thus if they for charity cherish a guest,
and hold honour in their hand, the Lord them reward
who upholds the heavens on high, and also you all!
And if I should live for any while upon earth,
I would grant you some reward readily, if I might.’
Then steps he into the stirrup and strides aloft.
His man showed him his shield; on shoulder he slung it,
gives spur to Gringolet with his gilded heels,
and he starts forth on the stones – pausing no longer
His servant to horse got then,
who bore his spear and lance.
‘This castle to Christ I commend:
May he grant it good chance!’
The drawbridge was let down, and the broad gates
unbarred and flung open upon both sides.
The knight blessed himself swiftly, and passed the boards;
praised the porter kneeling before the prince,
who gives him God and good-day, that Gawain He save;
and goes on his way with his one man,
who shall teach him the path to that perilous place
where the grievous blow he shall receive.
They brushed by banks where boughs were bare,
they climbed by cliffs where clung the cold.
the heavens were up high, but ugly there-under
mist moved on the moors, melted on mountains,
each hill had a hat, a mist-mantle huge.
Brooks boiled and broke their banks about,
sheer shattering on shores where they down-flowed.
Well wild was the way where they by woods rode,
till it was soon time that the sun in that season
They were on a hill full high,
the white snow lay beside;
the man that rode him by
bade his master abide.
‘For I have brought you hither, sir, at this time,
and now you are not far from that noted place
that you have sought and spurred so specially after.
But I must say, forsooth, that since I know you,
and you are a lord full of life whom I well love,
if you would hark to my wit, you might do better.
The place that you pace to full perilous is held;
there lives a man in that waste, the worst upon earth,
for he is strong and stern and loves to strike,
and more man he is than any upon middle-earth,
and his body bigger than the best four
that are in Arthur’s house, Hector, or others.
He makes it so to chance at the Green Chapel,
that none passes by that place so proud in arms
that he but does him to death by dint of his hand;
for he is a mighty man, and shows no mercy,
for be it churl or chaplain that rides by the chapel,
monk or priest of the Mass, or any man else,
he is as quick to kill him, as to live himself.
Therefore I say, as true as you sit in the saddle,
come there, and you will be killed, if he has his way,
trust me truly in that, though you had twenty lives
He has lived here of yore,
and battled to great extent.
Against his blows full sore,
you may not yourself defend.’
‘Therefore, good Sir Gawain, let him alone,
and go by some other way, for God’s own sake!
Course some other country where Christ might you speed.
And I shall hie me home again, and undertake
that I shall swear by God and all his good saints –
so help me God and the Holy things, and oaths enough –
that I shall loyally keep your secret, and loose no tale
that ever you fled from any man that I know of.’
‘Grant merci,’ quoth Gawain, and galled he said:
‘It is worthy of you, man, to wish for my good,
and loyally keep my secret I know that you would.
But, keep it ever so quiet, if I passed here,
and fled away in fear, in the form that you tell of,
I were a cowardly knight, I might not be excused.
For I will go to the chapel, whatever chance may befall,
and talk with that same fellow in whatever way I wish,
whether it’s weal or woe, as fate may to me
Though he be a stern fellow
to manage, armed with a stave,
full well does the Lord know
His servants how to save.’
‘Marry!’ quoth the other man, ‘now you spell it out
that you will take all your own trouble on yourself,
if you will lose your life, I’ll not you delay.
Have your helm here on your head, your spear in your hand,
and ride down this same track by yon rock side,
till you’re brought to the bottom of the wild valley,
then look a little on the level, to your left hand,
and you shall see in that vale that selfsame chapel
and the burly giant on guard that it keeps.
Now farewell, in God’s name, Gawain the noble!
For all the gold in the ground I’d not go with you,
nor bear fellowship through this forest one foot further.’
With that the man in the wood tugs at his bridle,
hits his horse with his heels as hard as he might,
leaps away over the land, and leaves the knight there
‘By God’s self,’ quoth Gawain,
‘I will neither weep nor groan;
to God’s will I bend again
and I am sworn as His own.’
So he gives spur to Gringolet and picks up the path,
pushing on through, by a bank, at the side of a wood,
rode down the rough slope right to the dale.
And then he gazed all about, and wild it seemed,
and saw no sign of shelter anywhere near,
but high banks and steep upon either side,
and rough rugged crags with gnarled stones;
so the sky seemed to be grazed by their barbs.
Then he halted and reined in his horse awhile,
and scanned all about this chapel to find.
He saw no such thing either side, and thought it quite strange,
save a little mound, as it were, off in a field,
a bald barrow by a bank beside the burn,
by a force of the flood that flowed down there;
the burn bubbled therein as if it were boiling.
The knight urges on his mount and comes to the mound,
alights there lightly, and ties to a lime-tree
the reins of his horse round a rough branch.
Then he goes to the barrow, and about it he walked,
debating with himself what it might be.
It had a hole at each end and on either side,
and was overgrown with grass in great knots;
and all was hollow within, naught but an old cave,
or a crevice of an old crag – he could not distinguish
‘Who knows, Lord,’ quoth the gentle knight
‘whether this be the Green Chapel?
Here might about
the Devil his Matins tell!’
‘Now indeed,’ quoth Gawain, ‘desolation is here;
this oratory is ugly, with weeds overgrown;
well is it seemly for the man clad in green
to deal his devotion here in the devil’s wise.
Now I feel it’s the Fiend, in my five senses,
who set me this meeting to strike at me here.
This is a chapel of mischance – bad luck it betide!
It is the most cursed church that ever I came to.’
With high helm on his head, his lance in his hand,
he roamed up to the roof of that rough dwelling.
Then he heard from that high hill, from a hard rock
beyond the brook, on the bank, a wondrous brave noise.
What! It clanged through the cliff as if it would cleave it,
as if on a grindstone one ground a great scythe.
What! It whirred and whetted, as water in a mill.
What! It rushed and rang, revolting to hear.
Then ‘By God,’ quoth Gawain, ‘this here I believe
is arranged to reverence me, to greet rank
‘Let God’s will work! “Alas” –
will help me not a mote.
My life though it be lost
I dread no wondrous note.’
Then the knight called out loud on high;
‘Who stands in this stead, my tryst to uphold?
For now is good Gawain grounded right here.
If any man wills aught, wind hither fast,
either now or never his needs to further.’
‘Abide,’ quoth one on the bank above his head,
‘and you shall have all in haste I promised you once.’
Yet he then turned to his tumult swiftly a while,
and at whetting he worked, ere he would alight.
And then he thrust by a crag and came out by a hole,
whirling out of the rocks with a fell weapon,
a Danish axe new honed, for dealing the blow,
with a biting blade bow-bent to the haft,
ground on a grindstone, four feet broad –
no less, by that love-lace gleaming full bright.
And the giant in green was garbed as at first,
both the looks and the legs, the locks and the beard,
save that firm on his feet he finds his ground,
sets the haft to the stones and stalks beside it.
When he came to the water, he would not wade,
he hopped over on his axe and boldly he strides,
blazing with wrath, on a bit of field broad about
Sir Gawain the man did greet,
he bowed to him, nothing low;
the other said: ‘Now, Sir Sweet,
men may trust your word, I owe.’
‘Gawain,’ quoth the green man, ‘God may you guard!
Indeed you are welcome, knight, to my place,
and you have timed your travel as true man should.
And you know the covenant pledged between us:
at this time twelvemonth gone you took what befell,
that I should at this New Year promptly requite.
And we are in this valley verily alone;
here are no ranks to sever us, serve as you will.
Heft your helm off your head, and have here your pay.
Ask no more debate than I did of you then
when you whipped off my head at a single blow.’
‘Nay, by God,’ quoth Gawain, ‘who lent me a soul,
I shall bear you no grudge for the grief that befalls.
Strike but the one stroke, and I shall stand still
and offer no hindrance, come work as you like,
He leant down his neck, and bowed,
and showed the white flesh all bare,
as if he were no way cowed;
for to shrink he would not dare.
Then the man in green readies him swiftly,
girds up his grim blade, to smite Gawain;
with all the strength in his body he bears it aloft,
manages it mightily as if he would mar him.
Had he driven it down as direly as he aimed,
one had been dead of the deed who was dauntless ever.
But Gawain glanced at the grim blade sideways,
as it came gliding down on him to destroy him,
and his shoulders shrank a little from the sharp edge.
The other man with a shrug the slice withholds,
and then reproves the prince with many proud words:
‘You are not Gawain,’ quoth the man, ‘held so great,
that was never afraid of the host by hill or by vale,
for now you flinch for fear ere you feel harm.
Such cowardice of that knight have I never heard.
I neither flinched nor fled, friend, when you let fly,
nor cast forth any quibble in King Arthur’s house.
My head flew off, at my feet, yet fled I never;
yet you, ere any harm haps, are fearful at heart.
And I ought to be branded the better man, I say,
Quoth Gawain: ‘I flinched once,
Yet so will I no more;
Though if my head fall on the stones,
I cannot it restore.’
‘Be brisk, man, by your faith, and bring me to the point.
Deal me my destiny and do it out of hand,
for I shall stand your stroke, and start no more
till your axe has hit me – have here my troth.’
‘Have at you, then,’ quoth the other, and heaves it aloft
and glares as angrily as if he were mad.
He menaces him mightily, but touches him not,
swiftly withholding his hand ere it might hurt.
Gawain gravely it bides and moves not a muscle,
but stands still as a stone or the stump of a tree
that is riven in rocky ground with roots a hundred.
Then merrily again he spoke, the man in green:
‘So now you have your heart whole, it me behoves.
Hold you safe now the knighthood Arthur gave you,
and keep your neck from this cut, if ever it may!’
Gawain full fiercely with anger then said:
‘Why, thrash on, you wild man, threaten no longer;
it seems your heart is warring with your own self.’
‘Forsooth,’ quoth the other, ‘so fiercely you speak,
I’ll not a moment longer delay your errand
Then he takes up his stance to strike
pouts lips and puckers his brow;
Nothing there for him to like
who hopes for no rescue now.
Up the weapon lifts lightly, is let down fair,
and the blade’s border beside the bare neck.
Though heaved heavily it hurt him not more,
but nicked him on the one side, and severed the skin.
The sharp edge sank in the flesh through the fair fat,
so that bright blood over his shoulders shot to the earth.
And when the knight saw his blood blotting the snow,
he spurted up, feet first, more than a spear-length,
seized swiftly his helm and on his head cast it,
shrugged with his shoulders his fine shield under,
broke out his bright sword, and bravely he spoke –
never since he was a babe born of his mother
had he ever in this world a heart half so blithe –
‘Back man, with your blade, and brandish no more!
I have received a stroke in this place without strife,
and if you offer another I’ll readily requite you
and yield it you swiftly again – of that be you sure –
But one stroke to me here falls;
the covenant stated so,
arranged in Arthur’s halls,
so lay your weapon, now, low!’
The other then turned away and on his axe rested,
set the haft to the earth and leant on the head,
and looked at the lord who held to his ground,
how doughty, and dread-less, enduring he stands
armed, without awe; in his heart he him liked.
Then he spoke merrily in a mighty voice,
and with a ringing roar to the knight he said:
‘Bold man be not so fierce in this field.
No man here has mistreated you, been unmannerly,
nor behaved but by covenant at King’s court made.
I hit with a stroke, and you have it, and are well paid;
I release you from the rest of all other rights.
If I had been livelier, a buffet perchance
I could have worked more wilfully, to bring you anger.
First I menaced you merrily with a single feint,
and rent you with no riving cut, rightly offered
for the pledge that we made on the very first night;
for you truthfully kept troth and dealt with me true,
all the gain you gave me, as good men should.
The next blow for the morn, man, I proffered;
you kissed my fair wife, the kisses were mine.
For both these days I brought you but two bare feints,
Truth for the truth restore,
then man need dread no wraith.
On the third you failed for sure,
and so took that blow, in faith.’
‘For it is mine that you wear, that same woven girdle;
my own wife gave it you, I know it well forsooth.
Now, know I well your kisses and conduct too,
and the wooing of my wife; I wrought it myself.
I sent her to test you, and truly I think you
the most faultless man that was ever afoot.
As a pearl beside whitened pea is more precious,
so is Gawain, in good faith, beside other good knights.
But here sir you lacked a little, wanting in loyalty;
but that was for no wily work, nor wooing neither,
but for love of your life – so I blame you the less.’
The other strong man in study stood a great while,
so aggrieved that for grief he grimaced within.
All the blood of his breast burnt in his face,
that he shrank for shame at all the man said.
The first words the knight could frame on that field:
‘Curse upon cowardice and covetousness both!
In you are villainy and vice that virtue distress.’
Then he caught at the knot and pulled it loose,
and fair flung the belt at the man himself:
‘Lo! There’s the falseness, foul may it fall!
For fear of your knock cowardice me taught
to accord with covetousness, forsake my kind,
the largesse and loyalty that belongs to knights.
Now am I faulted and false, and ever a-feared;
from both treachery and untruth come sorrow
I confess to you knight, here, still,
my fault in this affair;
let me understand your will,
and henceforth I shall beware.’
Then laughed that other lord and lightly said:
‘I hold it happily made whole, the harm that I had;
You are confessed so clean, cleared of your faults,
and have done penance plain at the point of my blade,
I hold you absolved of that sin, as pure and as clean,
as though you were never at fault since first you were born.
And I give you, sir, the girdle that is gold-hemmed.
As it is green as my gown, Sir Gawain, you may
think upon this same trial when you throng forth
among princes of price, and this the pure token
of the test at the Green Chapel to chivalrous knights.
And you shall this New Year come back to my castle,
and we shall revel away the remnant of this rich feast
Thus urged him hard the lord,
and said: ‘With my wife, I ween,
we shall bring you in accord,
who was your enemy keen.’
‘Nay, forsooth,’ quoth the knight, and seized his helm
doffed it deliberately, and dealt his thanks:
‘I have sojourned enough. May luck you betide,
and may He yield you reward that rewards all men!
And commend me to the courteous, your comely wife,
both the one and the other, my honoured ladies,
that thus their knight with a trick have cunningly beguiled.
But it is no wonder for a fool to run mad
and through wiles of woman be won to sorrow.
For so was Adam on earth with one beguiled,
and Solomon with many such, Samson too –
Delilah dealt him his doom – and David thereafter
was blinded by Bathsheba, and suffered much ill.
Since these were wounded with wiles, it were wise
to love them well and believe them not, if a lord could.
For these were the finest formerly, favoured by fate
excellently of all those under heaven’s rule
And all these were beguiled
with women that they used.
If I am now beguiled
I think I should be excused.’
‘For your girdle,’ quoth Gawain, ‘God reward you!
That I will wear with good will, not for the white gold,
nor the stuff, the silk, nor the slender pendants,
its worth, nor richness, nor for the fine working;
but as a sign of my sin I shall see it often
when I ride in renown, remorseful, remembering
the fault and the frailty of perverse flesh,
how it tends to entice to the tarnish of sin.
And thus when pride shall stir me in prowess of arms,
one look at this love-lace shall lower my heart.
But one thing I would you pray, displease you never:
Since you are lord of yonder land where I lingered
Say you by your knighthood – may He reward you
that upholds the heavens and on high sits –
how you tell your true name, and then no more?’
‘That shall I tell you truly,’ quoth the other then,
‘Bertilak de Hautdesert I am in this land,
through might of Morgan la Faye, that dwells in my house,
and is mistress of magic, by crafts well learned
the mysteries of Merlin, many has she taken,
for she has dealt in depths full dearly sometime
with that excellent sage, and that know all your knights
Morgan the Goddess
therefore is now her name;
none has such high haughtiness
that she cannot make full tame.’
‘She sent me in this same wise to your wide hall
for to assay its pride, test if all that were truth
that runs on the great renown of the Round Table.
She worked all this wonder your wits to ravel,
to grieve Guinevere and to bring her to die
aghast at that same ghoul with his ghostly speech
with his head in his hand before the high table.
That is she that is at home, the ancient lady;
she is even your aunt, Arthur’s half-sister,
daughter of Tintagel’s Duchess that dear Uther after
had Arthur upon, who now is your king.
Therefore, sir, I entreat you, come to your aunt,
make merry in my house. My men do love you,
and I wish you as well, man, by my faith,
as any man under God, for your great truth.’
Yet Gawain denied him, nay, he would in no way.
They clasped and kissed, commending each other
to the Prince of Paradise, parted in the cold where
Gawain on steed I ween
to the King goes fast as he could,
and the man in the emerald green
whithersoever he would.
Wild ways in the world Gawain now rides,
on Gringolet, he whom grace had gifted with life.
Often he harboured in houses, and often outside,
had adventures much in the vales, often vanquisher,
that I do not at this time intend to recall.
The hurt was all whole that he had in his neck,
and the bright belt he bore all thereabout,
obliquely, as a baldric, bound at his side,
tied under his left arm, the lace, with a knot,
as token he was tainted with guilt of his fault.
And so he comes to the court, all safe and sound.
Delight dawned in that dwelling when the great knew
that good Gawain was come; and thought it gain.
The King kisses the knight, and the queen also,
and then many staunch knights sought to salute him,
to know how he had fared; and faithfully he tells
confessing all the cost of the cares he had suffered –
what chanced at the chapel, the cast of its lord,
the love of the lady, the lace at the last.
The nick in the neck he naked them showed,
that he had for his lie, from the lord’s hands,
He was pained he must tell,
he groaned for grief at the same;
blood ran to his face pell-mell,
when he showed the mark, for shame.
‘Lo, Lord!’ quoth the knight, and handled the lace,
‘This is the belt of blame I bear at my neck,
this is the hurt and the harm that I have learned
through the cowardice and covetousness I caught there.
This is the token of the untruth I am taken in,
and I must needs it wear while I may last.
For none may hide harm done, and go unscathed,
for where it is once attached depart will it never.’
The King comforts the knight, and all the court also,
laughing loudly thereat, and lovingly agreeing,
those lords and ladies that belonged to the Table,
that each born to the brotherhood, a baldric should have,
a belt, oblique him about, of a bright green,
and that for the sake of the knight, the same hue.
For it was accorded to the renown of the Round Table,
and he that had it was honoured, evermore after,
as is borne out by the best book of romance.
Thus in Arthur’s day this adventure was tried,
the books of Brutus thereof bear witness.
Since Brutus, the bold baron, first bent hither,
after the siege and assault had ceased at
many an adventure born
befallen such, ere this.
Now who bears the crown of thorn,
May He bring us to his bliss! AMEN.
HONY SOYT QUI MAL PENCE