from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
(modern English translation)
Part I
[While King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, the knights of the Round Table and all the other noblemen and noble ladies are
celebrating New Year in Camelot’s banqueting hall, all of a sudden a strange horseman breaks in. He is a giant;
moreover, both he and his horse are all green, as are all their clothes and coverings. Though he seems to be a knight,
the newcomer wears no armour, and holds a huge axe in one hand and a green holly bob in the other, Instead of
dismounting, he haughtily and discourteously rides his horse up to the high table where the king and queen and the
foremost knights are seated. He addresses them and addresses them in a very arrogant manner, asking to speak to
the “captain of this crowd”. Arthur makes himself known and courteously invites the stranger to join him and his
guests and enjoy the banquet with them. He refuses, stating that he has a mission to accomplish: he wants to test
whether the inflated pride and the enormous renown of the Round Table are actually justified, or, as he supposes,
grossly exaggerated with regard to reality. The test consists in one of them – the best and most representative –
accepting his challenge, beheading him with his own axe and solemnly promising to submit to the same treatment on
his part after one year and one day. When Arthur lifts up the axe preparing to hit the Green Knight – who has in the
meantime got off his horse –Gawain steps down from the table and asks to be given that task, since the king’s life is
too precious to be jeopardized in this way. The axe is so sharp that Gawain’s blow cuts off the stranger’s head, which
rolls on the floor, while he, as if nothing serious had happened, calmly picks it up and holds it in his hand, reminding
Gawain of his promise and telling him that the meeting will be at the Green Chapel, a mysterious place which he will
have to find when the time comes. Then he gets back on his horse and rides out of the hall, still holding his head in
his hand. After a short interval of general wonder and puzzlement, all go back to their feast and celebration and
nobody seems to think about the surprising event any longer.]
from Part II
[Almost one year elapses and at the beginning of the following month of November Gawain feels
he must get ready to depart, because he may have to spend a considerable tine trying to find the
Green Chapel, and he is determined to be there on the appointed day. There is a lengthy
description of all the details of his and his horse’s preparation. After bringing him the rest of his
equipment, his attendants show him his shield.]
Then they showed him the shield that shone all red,
With the pentangle painted there in pure gold hues
He brandishes it by the baldric1, casts it about his neck,
That suited the wearer seemly and fair2.
And why the pentangle applies3 to that prince noble,
I intend to tell, though I tarry more than I should4.
It is a sign Solomon settled on some while back5,
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.
So well it accords with this knight and his bright arms,
For always faithful in five ways, and five times so,
Gawain was for good known, and, as purified gold,
Void of every villainy, with virtues adorned
In sight.
And thus the pentangle new
He bore on shield and coat,
As to his word most true
And in speech most courteous knight.
First he was found faultless in his five senses,
Nor found ever to fail in his five fingers,
And all his trust was fixed upon the five wounds
That Christ got on the cross, as the creed tells.
And wheresoever this man in mêlée took part,
His first thought was that, over all other things,
All his force in fight he found in the five joys 6
The holy Queen of Heaven had in her child.
For this cause the knight fittingly had
On the inner part of his shield her image painted,
Hues: colour. Brandishes: takes. Baldric: It. “bandoliera”.
That … fair: [the shield with the pentangle] that was so elegantly appropriate for him who wore it.
Applies: adapts.
Though … should: even if that may take me more time than I should spend [in digressions].
Settled … back: invented some time ago.
The Annunciation, Nativity, Resurrection, Ascension and Assumption.
So that when he beheld her his boldness never failed7.
The fifth of the five fives that the knight followed
Were generous liberality and brotherly love,
And purity of mind and courtesy, both absolutely stainless,
And compassion most precious8 – these pure five
Were more firmly founded in him than in any other man.
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
Of lore.
Now geared was Gawain gay,
Lifted his lance right there,
And gave them all good day –
As he thought, for evermore.
[The following morning he takes leave of everybody and departs. He experiences great hardships and discomforts
during his travel through forests and mountains, forced as he is to fight against fearsome beasts and wild men and to
sleep in his amour in rain and snow. One day he realizes it is Christmas Eve and starts praying God and the Virgin
Mary to give him the possibility of finding a place where to hear Mass and celebrate the Nativity. All of a sudden, as if
by miracle, he sees a castle in the middle of the wood. When he asks for hospitality there, he is received with extreme
courtesy and treated as the guest of honour by the lord of the castle, Bertilak, and his beautiful wife. They have with
them many other guests for the Christmas and New Year festivities, and Bertilak entreats Gawain to join them. Among
the people in the castle there is an aged lady who constantly accompanies the lord’s young wife and seems to be
enormously respected, or even feared, by all, even though she is old and rather ugly. Her identity is not revealed.
Gawain accepts to spend three days there, enjoying himself with the others amid feasts and entertainments, but on
the 28th he declares that he must leave the following morning, because, as he explains to Bertilak, he now only has
three days left to find the Green Chapel. His interlocutor, however, tells him that the Chapel is just a couple of miles
away from the castle where they are, so that Gawain can stay with him for three more days and get some additional
rest before confronting the Green Knight. He proposes that in the meantime they play a game. Each day he will go
hunting with his courtiers and attendants, whereas Gawain will sleep, relax and have a good time in the castle. In the
evenings, when he gets back home, he will swap gifts with Gawain—he will give him whatever he has caught in his
hunting in exchange for whatever the knight has obtained during the day. He asks Gawain to promise solemnly that he
will be loyal to this pact, and the protagonist promises.]
from Part III
[The following morning Bertilak and his men rise early and depart. A detailed description of the hunt is provided, after
which the narrator goes back to the castle, and to the chamber where Gawain is still asleep.]
So the lord in the linden-wood leads the hunt,
While Gawain the good knight gaily in bed lies,
Lingers till the daylight gleams on the walls,
Under coverlet costly, curtained about.
And as in slumber he lay, softly he heard
A little sound at his door, and it slid open;
And he heaves up his head out of the clothes,
A corner of the curtain he caught up a little,
And watches warily to make out what it might be.
It was the lady, the loveliest to behold,
That drew the door after her, silent and still,
And bent her way to the bed; and the knight ashamed,
Laid his head down again lightly and feigned to sleep.
And she stepped silently and stole to his bed,
Caught up the curtain and crept within,
And sat very softly on the bedside
And lingered there long, to look when he wakened.
The knight lay feigning for a long while,
Meditating in his mind what this case might
He beheld … failed: when he looked at her he never lost courage.
In the middle English original these five virtues are: • fraunchyse, “liberality”, • felaghschyp, “brotherhood”, i.e.
“solidarity with one’s peers and friends (here the Round Table knights and the chivalric world in general)”, • clanness,
“purity, in terms of chastity but also of thinking no evil”, • cortaysie, “courtesy, i.e. the art of knowing and using the
best manners and behavior in any circumstance”; • pité, “compassion for one’s inferiors and for those in distress, and
willingness to intervene in their help”.
Mean or amount to, marvelling in his thought.
But yet he said to himself: ‘More seemly it were
To understand, by speaking a little, what she wishes.’
Then he wakened and stretched and to her he turned,
And lifted his eyelids pretending he was startled,
And signed himself with his hand, as if praying, to be
Sweetly does she speak
And kindling glances dart
Blent white and red on cheek,
Full graciously did she greet,
And laughing lips apart.
‘Good morning, Sir Gawain,’ said that sweet lady,
‘You sleep imprudently, to let one slip in!
Now are you taken in a trice; lest a truce we make,
I shall bind you in your bed, be assured of that!’
All laughing the lady made her light jests.
‘Good morning, good lady,’ said Gawain the blithe9,
‘I shall do what you wish, and I am well content,
For I surrender myself and sue for grace;
And that is the best, to my mind, since I am forced to obey.’
And thus he jested again with much merry laughter.
‘But would you, lovely lady, only grant me leave
And release your prisoner and pray him to rise,
I would get up and wear something more appropriate,
So as to have more comfort in speaking with you.’
‘Nay, in truth, good sir,’ said that sweet lady,
‘You shall not rise from your bed. I direct you better:
I shall wrap you up here on this other side,
And then chat with my knight whom I have caught;
For I know well, indeed, Sir Gawain you are,
That all the world worships, wherever you ride.
Your honour, your courtesy, is nobly praised
Among lords, among ladies, among all the living.
Now you are here, and we are all alone by ourselves;
My lord and his men are long departed,
Other guests are in bed, and the servants too,
The door is drawn and shut with a strong bolt.
And since I have in this house him who all like,
I shall spend my time well with pleasant speeches,
while it lasts.
My body is here at hand,
Your pleasure to fulfil;
Your servant to command
I am, and shall be still.’
‘In good faith,’ said Gawain, ‘my gain is the greater,
Though I am not he of whom you are speaking;
To reach to such reverence as you rehearse here,
I am all ways unworthy10, I know that well.
By God, I’d be glad though if you thought it fit
In speech or service that I might set myself
To the pleasing of your worth11 – it would be a pure joy.’
‘In good faith, Sir Gawain,’ said the sweet lady,
‘The worth and the prowess that pleases all others,
If I slighted or thought light of it, that would be little grace;
But there are ladies enough that would far rather
Have you, dear man, to hold, as I have you here,
To dally dearly in your delightful words,
Comfort themselves and ease their cares,
Than make much of the treasure and gold they have.
But as I love that same Lord that the heavens rules,
Blithe: merry, happy.
To reach … unworthy: I am absolutely unworthy of receiving the reverence that you tell me about.
If you thought … worth: if you considered it suitable for me to attempt to please you with conversation or with
I have wholly in my hand what all desire
Through grace.’
She made him thus sweet cheer,
That lady fair of face;
The knight with speeches clear
Answered her every case.
‘Madam,’ said the merry man, ‘Mary give you grace,
For I have found, in good faith, your friendship is noble.
The fame of fair deeds runs far and wide,
But the deference I receive is undeserved in my case.
It is due to your courtesy and kindness of heart.’
‘By the Virgin Mary,’ said the lady, ‘that is not so;
For if I were worth all the women in this world alive,
And all the wealth and the worship were in my hand,
And I should hunt everywhere to get myself a husband,
With the qualities that I know of you, knight, here,
Of beauty and courtesy and cheerfulness,
As I heard in the past and have now found true,
Nobody else that you on earth would I choose.’
‘Indeed, lady,’ said the knight, ‘you have done much better;
But I am proud of the value you place on me,
And solemnly your servant, my sovereign I hold you,
And your knight I become, and Christ reward you!’
Thus they mulled12 many matters till mid-morn passed,
And always the lady acted as if she loved him;
Yet the knight held to his guard, and acted properly.
For however attractive she was, he at that point had
No desire to woo her, knowing what his future duty
Must be.
He must bear the blinding blow,
For such is fate’s decree;
The lady asks leave to go;
He grants it full and free.
Then she gave him good day, with a laughing glance,
And stunned him as she stood there, with cutting words:
‘May the Giver of all good words these glad hours repay!
But that you should be Gawain, I refuse to think.’
‘How so?’ asked the knight, with some anxiety,
Fearing he had failed in forms of politeness
But the lady blessed him and spoke as follows:
‘One gracious as Gawain is rightly held to be,
So perfect in manners and refined in his conduct,
Could not easily have stayed so long with a lady,
Without demanding a kiss out of courtesy,
With some touch or trick of phrase at some tale’s end.’
Then said Gawain: ‘Indeed, let it be as you like;
I shall kiss at your command, as befits a knight,
And further, lest I displease you, so plead no more.’
She comes nearer at that, and catches him in her arms,
Leans lovingly down, and the knight kisses.
They graciously commend to Christ one another;
And she goes out at the door with not a word more;
And he readies himself to rise and makes haste,
Calls to his chamberlain, chooses his clothes,
Going forth, when he is ready, gladly to Mass.
And then he went to the noble meal that awaited,
And made merry all day till the moon rose,
In view.
Was never knight thus set
Between such ladies two,
The old and the coquette;
Fair pastimes they pursue.
Examined, considered, talked about.
[Meanwhile Bertilak kills a large number of deer: in the evening he returns to the castle.]
Then the lord commanded all to gather in the hall,
And the ladies to descend with their maids.
Before all those people, he sent some men
To fetch his venison and bring it before him;
And all gaily in courtesy Gawain he called,
And counts the number of the beasts he killed,
Shows him the fine flesh cut from the ribs.
‘How does this sport please you? Have I won praise?
Have I won thanks, thoroughly served by my craft?’
‘Yes, indeed,’ said the other, ‘your spoils are the fairest
Of all I have seen in seven years in the season of winter.’
‘And I give all this to you, Gawain,’ said the host then,
‘For according to our covenant you may call it your own.’
‘That is so,’ said the knight, ‘I say to you the same:
What I have worthily won this house within,
Shall with as good a will be worthily yours.’
And he clasps the lord’s strong neck with his arms,
And kisses him in as comely a way as he can:
‘Take you there my prize, I received no more;
I would grant it all even if it were greater.’
‘That is good,’ said the lord, ‘many thanks for this.
This gift might be even better, if you would tell me
Where you won this prize by your own wits.’
‘That was not part of our pact,’ said he, ‘ask me no more;
For you have taken what was due, and nothing else to you
I owe.’
They laughed and made blithe13
With words worth praise, and so
To supper then, side by side,
With dainties in plenty go.
[The evening is spent pleasantly. The following morning Bertilak goes hunting again. This time he wants to kill a very
dangerous wild boar, whom he pursues for most of the day,]
While our courteous knight lay in his bed,
Gawain gladly at home, in bedclothes rich
Of hue.
The lady did not forget,
To come to greet him too;
And early she him beset14
To make him change his mood.
She came to the curtain and peeped at the knight.
Sir Gawain welcomed her courteously first,
And she answered him again with gentle words,
Sat softly by his side, and sweetly laughed,
And with a loving look she began with these words:
‘Sir, if you are Gawain, it’s a wonder, I think,
Why one so well disposed always to good,
Knows not how to manage his manners in company,
And if one tries to teach him, casts the lesson from his mind.
You have swiftly forgotten what just yesterday I taught
With the plainest words I was able to employ .’
‘What is that?’ said the knight, ‘Indeed I know not.
If you are telling the truth, I am much to blame.’
‘But I taught you about kissing.’ said the fair dame,
‘Where you find favour, quick make your claim;
As is appropriate for any courteous knight.’
‘Dismiss,’ said that brave man, ‘my dear, that thought,
For that I dare not do, for fear of being denied;
If I were spurned, I’d have been wrong to have requested.’
‘By my faith,’ said the lady, ‘you cannot be spurned;
You are strong enough to constrain by strength, if you like,
Merry, cheerful.
Assailed, attacked.
If any were so villainous as to deny you.’
‘Yes, by God,’ said Gawain, ‘true is your speech,
But threats do never thrive in the land where I live,
Nor any gift that is given without a good will.
I am at your command, to kiss when you like;
You may take when you will, and leave when you wish”.
With this
The lady lightly bends
and graciously gives him a kiss;
The two converse as friends
of love, its grief and bliss.
‘I would know of you, knight,’ that lady then said,
‘If you are not angered by this, what is the reason
That so young and lively a one as you at this time,
So courteous, so knightly, as widely you’re known—
And in the whole of chivalry the things most to be praised
Are the laws of loyal love, with the lore of arms;
For in telling those tales of the truest of knights,
All the title and text of their works is based
On how they hazard their lives for loyal love,
Endure for its sake dreadful trials,
and afterwards, with valour avenged and freed of their cares,
Bring bliss to the lady’s bower by their own bounties.
And you, the knight, the noblest child of your age,
Your high fame and honour told everywhere,
Why I have sat by your side here already twice,
Yet heard I never your mouth let fall even a word
That had to do with love, not one little word!.
And you, that are so courteous and wise iin your vows,
Ought to show your winsome ways, and woo a young thing,
And teach some tokens of true love’s craft.
What! Are you ignorant, you whom all praise,
Or else do you deem me too dull to listen to such words?
For shame!
I come here alone and sit
To learn love’s games to play;
Do teach me of your wit,
While my husband is away.’
‘In good faith,’ said Gawain, ‘may God reward you!
Great is the gladness, and pleasure to me,
That one as worthy as you should visit me,
Take the trouble and time to talk with your knight
And be pleased with my company – it comforts my heart.
But to take on myself the task of expounding true love,
And touch on the themes of the texts and tales of arms
To you who, I know well, wield more skill
In that art, by half, than a hundred of such
As I am or ever shall be, on this earth where I live—
That would be absolute folly, my dear, by my troth.
I want to fulfil your wishes as well as I can,
As I feel is my duty, and evermore I will
Be your loyal servant, so save me God!’
Thus that lady shaped her questions and tempted him oft,
To entice him to sin, whatever her intentions were;
But he defended himself so fairly that no fault appeared,
No evil on either hand, nor did they know anything else
But bliss.
They laughed and joked for long;
At last again she did him kiss,
With farewell on her tongue,
And went her way with this.
Then the knight rose from bed and prepared for Mass,
And then the dinner was done and duly served.
The knight with the ladies dallied all day,
[. . .]
[while Bertilak finally kills the boar and returns to the castle with it.]
The lord cried loud, and he laughed merrily
When he saw Sir Gawain; and with joy he spoke.
The good ladies were summoned, the household gathered.
He shows him the boar’s sides, and tells the tale
Of its largeness and length, its malignity also,
Of the war on the wild swine in the woods where he fled.
Therefore the other knight very nobly commended his deeds,
And praised the great merit that he had acquired;
For such brawn from a beast, the brave knight said,
Nor such flanks on a swine he’d not seen before.
Then they handled the huge head, the knight expressed admiration,
And showed horror at it, to heighten his praise.
‘Now Gawain,’ said the good host, ‘this game is your own,
By a firm and fast promise, as in faith you know.’
‘That is true,’ said the knight, ‘and as surely true
Is that all I got I shall give you again, by my troth.’
He clasped the lord at the neck and gently kissed him,
And after that of the same he again served him there.15
‘Now are we even quit,’ said the knight, ‘this eventide,
Of all the covenants made here, since I came hither,
By law.’
The lord said: ‘By Saint Giles,
You are the best that I know;
You’ll be rich in a while,
If your trade continues so.’
[Another evening of banqueting and merriment follows. The third morning resembles the previous ones. Bertilak goes
hunting; this time he is after a particularly crafty old fox,]
While the honoured knight at home happily slept
Within the comely curtains, on that cold morn.
But the lady, as if for love she could get no sleep,
Nor could avoid pursuing the purpose pitched in her heart,
Rose up swiftly, and went to his chamber
In an elegant mantle that fell to the earth,
All furred finely with the costliest pelts;
Without coif on her head, but the noblest gems
Were scattered about her hair-net by twenties in clusters;
Her fair face and her throat appeared all naked,
Her breast almost bare, and her back the same.
She came in by the chamber door and closed it after her,
Threw open a window and to the knight called,
And severely thus scolded him with her artful words,
With cheer:
‘Ah! Man, how can you sleep?
This morning is so clear.’
He was in slumber deep,
And yet he could her hear.
In heavy depths of dreaming that noble knight murmured,
As one that was troubled with thronging thoughts,
Of that day when destiny would deal him his fate
At the Green Chapel, where he must meet his man,
Bound there to bear his buffet without any resistance.
But when he had fully recovered his wits,
He left off his dreaming and answered in haste.
The lovely lady with laughter so sweet,
Bent over his fair face and fully him kissed.
He welcomed her worthily with noble cheer;
He saw her so glorious and gaily attired,
So faultless of feature and of such fine complexion,
That bright flooding joy warmed all his heart.
He kissed him a second time.
With sweet smiling softly they slip into mirth,
Nor was fair language lacking, to further delight
They spoke in words full good,
Much pleasure was therein;
In great peril he’d have stood,
Kept not Mary her knight from sin.
For that peerless princess pressed him so closely,
Urged him so near the edge, he felt it behoved him
Either to bow to her love, or distastefully refuse her.
He cared for his courtesy, afraid of being churlish,
And more for the mischief if he should commit sin
And prove a traitor to the lord of that dwelling.
‘God shield us!’ said the knight, ‘that must not befall!’
With loving laughter a little he put aside
All the special pleading that sprang from her mouth.
Said the beauty to the brave: ‘Blame you deserve,
If you love not that lively lady that you lie next,
Who above all of the world is wounded in heart,
Unless you have a leman, a lover, that you like better,
And are firm of faith to that fair one, fastened so hard
That you refuse to loosen it – as I now believe.
If that is so, tell me truly, I pray you;
By all the lovers alive, hide not the truth
With guile.’
The knight said: ‘By Saint John,’
And gentle was his smile,
‘In faith I love no one,
Nor none will love the while.’
‘These words,’ said the lady, ‘are the worst words of all;
But I am answered forsooth, so that it grieves me.
Kiss me now gently, and I shall go hence;
I can only mourn from now on, a maid that loves too much.’
Sighing she stooped down, and sweetly him kissed,
And then she severs from him, and says as she stands:
‘Now, dear, at this our parting do me a pleasure:
Give me something, a gift, if only your glove,
So that I may think of you, man, my mourning to lessen.’
‘Now indeed,’ said the knight, ‘I wish I had here
The dearest thing, for your sake, which I own in the world,
For you have deserved, in truth, and more than deserved,
A richer reward than I might ever be able to give you;
But a love-token, lady, would profit you little.
It is not to your honour to have at this time
A glove given by Gawain giving as a gift;
Also, I am here on an errand in lands unknown,
And have no servants with sacks of precious things.
I regret this, my lady, for your sake, at this time;
But each man must do as he must, take it not ill
Nor pine.’
‘Nay, knight of high honours,’
Said that lovesome lady fine,
‘Though I shall have naught of yours,
Yet shall you have of mine.’
She proffered him a rich ring of red wrought gold,
With a sparkling stone glittering on top,
Which blazed brilliant beams like the bright sun;
Know you well that its worth was full huge.
But the knight refused it and he readily said:
‘I’ll take no gifts, before God, my dear, at this time;
I have none to give you, nor any will I take.’
She offered it him eagerly, yet he her gift spurned,
And swore swiftly his oath that he would not accept it;
And she, grieved he refused her, spoke to him thus:
‘Since you reject my ring and you think it is too rich,
Because you do not want to be so indebted with me,
I shall give you my girdle: that gives you less profit.’
She loosened lightly a belt that lay round her sides,
Looped over her kirtle beneath her bright mantle.
It was woven of green silk and with gold trimmed,
At the edges decorated with fine embroidery;
And that she offered the knight, and merrily begged
That he would take it even though it was unworthy.
But he said he did not want near him in any wise
Either gold or treasure, before God sent him grace
To complete the task he had chosen to perform.
‘And therefore, I pray you, be not displeased,
And let your gift go, for I swear I can never it to
You grant.
To you I am deeply grateful,
Your kindness is so pleasant,
And in good or bad weather
I’ll always be your servant.’
‘Now do you spurn this silk,’ said the lady,
‘Because it is so simple? And so it may seem.
Lo! It is slight indeed, and so is less worthy.
But whoever knew the worth woven therein
He would hold it in higher praise, perchance;
For whatever man wears this green lace,
While he has it closely fastened about him,
There is no man under heaven who might wound him,
For he may not be slain by any art upon earth.’
Then the knight thought, and it came to his heart,
It was a jewel for the jeopardy awaiting him,
When he gained the Green Chapel, his fate to find;
If he might slip past un-slain, the scheme would be fine.
Then he indulged her request, and let her speak.
And she pressed the belt on him urging it eagerly;
And he yielded, and gladly she gave it to him,
Praying him, for her sake, never to reveal he had it,
But to conceal it from the noble lord. The knight agrees
That no one shall know of it, indeed, but they two,
Right now. 1865
He thanked her as he might,
With all his heart and mind.
By then the gallant knight,
She had kissed three times.
Then took she her leave and left him there,
For more of that man she might not get.
When she is gone, Sir Gawain attires himself,
Rises and dresses himself in noble array,
Lays aside the love-lace the lady gave him,
Hides it handily where he might find it.
Then swiftly to the chapel took he his way,
Privately approached a priest, and there prayed him
That he would enlighten his life and teach him better
How his soul might be saved when he left this world.
Then he gave full confession, recounting his misdeeds,
The major and minor, and praying for mercy,
And called on the priest for absolution;
And he absolved him surely and left him as pure
As if Doomsday might take place on the morrow.
And then he made himself merry among the fair ladies,
With comely carols and all manner of joy,
More than ever before that day, till the dark night,
In bliss.
Each one had courtesy there
Of him, and said: ‘He is
The merriest he was ever
Since he came hither, ere this.’
[Bertilak kills the fox and returns.]
[. . .]
The lord alights at last at his much-loved home,
Finds fire upon hearth, the knight there beside,
Sir Gawain the good who glad was in heart –
For among the ladies he was joyfully beloved.
He wore a gown of blue that reached to the ground.
His surcoat suited him well, all soft with fur,
And his hood of the same hue hung from his shoulder,
Trimmed all with ermine were both all about.
He met with the lord in the midst of the floor,
And all with joy did him greet, and gladly he said:
‘I shall fulfil the first our contract now,
That we settled so speedily sparing no drink.’
Then he clasped the lord and kissed him thrice,
As strongly and steadily as he well could.
‘By Christ,’ said the other, ‘you’ve found much luck
In transacting this trade, if the terms were good.’
‘You need not care about terms,’ quick said the other,
‘As I’ve promptly paid over the profit I took.’
‘Marry,’ said the other, ‘my own falls behind,
For I have hunted all this day, and nothing have I got
But this foul fox fur – the fiend take such goods! –
And that’s a poor price to pay for such precious things
As you so have given me here, three such kisses
So good.’
‘Enough,’ said Sir Gawain,
‘I thank you, by the Rood.’16
And how the fox was slain
The lord told as they stood.
[The evening is even more cheerful and pleasant than the previous ones.]
from Part IV
[The following morning Gawain rises at dawn and leaves the castle with the man who is to take him to the Green
Chapel. After riding for a few hours, when they are on the top of a mountain overlooking a narrow valley covered with
vegetation, the man declares that he will now go back to the castle, being too scared to approach the Green Knight,
who is the terror of the whole region. He tries to tempt Gawain into following his example, assuring him that in such
case he will keep the secret, and nobody will be able to accuse him of cowardice. Gawain refuses and rides into the
valley alone. There, according to what his companion has declared to him, he will easily and immediately find the
Green Chapel; but once in the middle of the valley he sees no traces of any religious buildings around him: only a
strange mound covered with vegetation – an even more surprising fact given the season – and, as he realizes, hollow
inside. He understands this is the place he was looking for, but sees no traces of living beings around it. There is,
however, a loud noise, as of metal grinding against stone, coming from behind a rocky part of the slope on one side of
the valley. After a while the noise stops and the Green Knight appears from behind the rocks. He walks down the
slope holding the enormous axe he was sharpening. When he reaches the place where Gawain is waiting for him, after
complimenting him on his having been true to his word, he asks him to prepare himself for the blow he is to receive.
Gawain takes off his helmet, bends and exposes his neck, but on seeing the axe ready to come down on his head he
involuntarily and almost imperceptibly moves as if shrinking back. His opponent arrests the downward movement of
the axe and accuses him of showing fear, which a perfect knight like him should avoid at all costs. He denies being
afraid and prepares again, declaring that this time he will not move. He in fact does not, but the Green Knight now
only makes a feint, then laughs and ironically congratulates him on his firmness. Gawain gets impatient and exhorts
the strange being to go ahead and do what he is supposed to do without wasting any more time. A third blow is dealt,
and this time the axe is stopped at the very moment when it has reached Gawain’s neck, so that the sharp blade
touches his skin and scratches it slightly, and a few little drops od blood fall on the snow. The protagonist says he now
considers his debt paid and is not going to stand another blow. The Green Knight agrees and explains that the three
simulated strikes were in exchange for the last three evenings at the castle; on the first two occasions Gawain had
honestly given back to his host all that he had received, and twice, for that reason, the axe had not touched him, while
the tiny wound inflicted the third time was meant to punish his final “untruth” in hiding the green belt. For the Green
Knight is none other than Bertilak, the lord of the castle, as he now reveals, and his extraordinary appearance is due
to the magic of Morgan le Faye, the old lady to whom all showed great reverence; it was she who contrived the whole
plan together with him and his wife in order to put the Round Table to shame. Shame is precisely what Gawain feels
now, on realizing that not only has he failed to be as “true” as he believed and wanted to be, but others know about
his failure. Bertilak makes light of this fault, caused as it was not by ignoble motivations such as avarice or lust, but
by Gawain’s understandable desire to protect his life; he asks him to go back to the castle and spend some more time
with him, his wife and Morgan, now that everything has been made clear. The Round Table knight however turns
down the invitation, takes his leave and begins his journey back to Camelot. He has decided to constantly wear the
green belt as a baldric, so as to be permanently reminded by that “token of untruth” that he, too, despite his being the
best and most perfect of knights, is after all a human being, and as such subject to shortcomings and weaknesses.]
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 many adventures in the vales, often vanquisher,
That I do not at this time intend to recall.
The hurt was all whole17 that he had in his neck,
And the bright belt he bore on his body,
Obliquely, as a baldric, bound at his side,
Tied under his left arm, the lace, with a knot,
As token that he’d been 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 was wonderful.
The King kisses the knight, and the queen also,
And then many staunch knights came 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 conduct 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,
In blame.
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!’ said 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 was taken in,
And I must needs it wear while I live.
For none may hide harm done, and go unscathed,
For where harm is once attached depart will it never.’
The King comforts the knight, and so does all the court,
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,
For the sake of the knight, the same hue as his,
All in accord to the renown of the Round Table,
And he that had it was honoured, evermore after,
As is declared by the best book of romance.
Thus in Arthur’s day this adventure took place,
The books of Brutus thereof bear witness.
Since Brutus, the bold baron, came to this land,
After the siege and assault had ceased at Troy.
There is
Before we were born
Many an adventure such as this.
Now who bears the crown of thorn,
May He bring us to His bliss! AMEN.