Sižen že sege and že assaut wat3 sesed at Troye,
Že bor3 brittened and brent to brondeygh and aske3,
Že tulk žat že trammes of tresoun žer wro3t
Wat3 tried for his tricherie, že trewest on erže:
Hit wat3 Ennias že ažel, and his highe kynde,
Žat sižen depreced prouinces, and patrounes bicome
Welne3e of al že wele in že west iles.
Fro riche Romulus to Rome ricchis hym swyže,
Wiž gret bobbaunce žat bur3e he biges vpon fyrst,
And neuenes hit his aune nome, as hit now hat;
Tirius to Tuskan and teldes bigynnes,
Langaberde in Lumbardie lyftes vp homes,
And fer ouer že French flod Felix Brutus
On mony bonkkes ful brode Bretayn he sette3
Where werre and wrake and wonder
Bi syže3 hatz wont žerinne,
And oft bože blysse and blunder
Ful skete hat3 skyfted synne.
Ande quen žis Bretayn wat3 bigged bi žis burn rych,
Bolde bredden žerinne, baret žat lofden,
In mony turned tyme tene žat wro3ten.
Mo ferlyes on žis folde han fallen here oft
Žen in any ožer žat I wot, syn žat ilk tyme.
Bot of alle žat here bult, of Bretaygne kynges,
Ay wat3 Aržur že hendest, as I haf herde telle
Forži an aunter in erde I attle to schawe,
Žat a selly in si3t summe men hit holden,
And an outtrage awenture of Aržure3 wonderez.
If 3e wyl lysten žis laye bot on littel quile,
I schal telle hit as-tit, as I in toun herde,
As hit is stad and stoken
In stori stif and stronge,
Wiž lel letteres loken,
In londe so hat3 ben longe.
Žis kyng lay at Camylot vpon Krystmasse
Wiž mony luflych lorde, lede3 of že best,
Rekenly of že Rounde Table alle žo rich brežer,
Wiž rych reuel ory3t and rechles meržes.
Žer tournayed tulkes by tyme3 ful mony,
Justed ful jolile žise gentyle kni3tes,
Syžen kayred to že court caroles to make.
For žer že fest wat3 ilyche ful fiften dayes,
Wiž alle že mete and že mirže žat men couže avyse;
Such glaum ande gle glorious to here,
Dere dyn vpon day, daunsyng on ny3tes,
Al wat3 hap vpon he3e in hallez and chambrez
Wiž lorde3 and ladies, as leuest him žo3t.
Wiž all že wele of že worlde žay woned žer samen,
Že most kyd kny3te3 vnder Krystes seluen,
And že louelokkest ladies žat euer lif haden,
And he že comlokest kyng žat že court haldes;
For al wat3 žis fayre folk in her first age,
Že hapnest vnder heuen,
Kyng hy3est mon of wylle;
Hit were now gret nye to neuen
So hardy a here on hille.
Wyle Nw Ygher wat3 so 3ep žat hit watz nwe cummen,
Žat day doubble on že dece wat3 že douž serued.
Fro že kyng wat3 cummen wiž kny3tes into že halle,
Že chauntre of že chapel cheued to an ende,
Loude crye wat3 žer kest of clerkez and ožer,
Nowel nayted onewe, neuened ful ofte;
And syžen riche forž runnen to reche hondeselle,
Yghe3ed ygheres-yghiftes on hiygh, yghelde hem bi
Debated busyly aboute žo giftes; [hond,
Ladies la3ed ful loude, žoygh žay lost haden,
And he žat wan wat3 not wrože, žat may 3e wel trawe.
Alle žis mirže žay maden to že mete tyme;
When žay had waschen woržyly žay wenten to sete,
Že best burne ay abof, as hit best semed,
Whene Guenore, ful gay, grayžed in že myddes,
Dressed on že dere des, dubbed al aboute,
Smal sendal bisides, a selure hir ouer
Of tryed tolouse, and tars tapites innoghe,
Žat were enbrawded and beten wyž že best gemmes
Žat my3t be preued of prys wyž penyes to bye,
Že comlokest to discrye
Žer glent wiž y3en gray,
A semloker žat euer he sy3e
Sož mo3t no mon say.
Bot Aržure wolde not ete til al were serued,
He wat3 so joly of his joyfnes, and sumquat childgered:
His lif liked hym ly3t, he louied že lasse
Aužer to longe lye or to longe sitte,
So bisied him his 3onge blod and his brayn wylde.
And also an ožer maner meued him eke
Žat he žur3 nobelay had nomen, he wolde neuer ete
Vpon such a dere day er hym deuised were
Of sum auenturus žyng an vncouže tale,
Of sum mayn meruayle, žat he my3t trawe,
Of alderes, of armes, of ožer auenturus,
Ožer sum segg hym biso3t of sum siker knyyght
To joyne wyž hym in iustyng, in joparde to lay,
Lede, lif for lyf, leue vchon ožer,
As fortune wolde fulsun hom, že fayrer to haue.
Žis wat3 že kynges countenaunce where he in court
At vch farand fest among his fre meny [were,
Žerfore of face so fere
He sti3tle3 stif in stalle,
Ful 3ep in žat Nw Yghere
Much mirže he mas wižalle.
Žus žer stondes in stale že stif kyng hisseluen,
Talkkande bifore že hy3e table of trifles ful hende.
Žere gode Gawan wat3 grayžed Gwenore bisyde,
And Agrauayn a la dure mayn on žat ožer syde sittes,
Bože že kynges sistersunes and ful siker kni3tes;
Bischop Bawdewyn abof bigine3 že table,
And Ywan, Vryn son, ette wiž hymseluen.
Žise were di3t on že des and derworžly serued,
And sižen mony siker segge at že sidborde3.
Žen že first cors come wiž crakkyng of trumpes,
Wyž mony baner ful bry3t žat žerbi henged;
Nwe nakryn noyse wiž že noble pipes,
Wylde werbles and wy3t wakned lote,
Žat mony hert ful hi3e hef at her towches.
Dayntes dryuen žerwyž of ful dere metes,
Foysoun of že fresche, and on so fele disches
Žat pine to fynde že place že peple biforne
For to sette že sylueren žat sere sewes halden
Iche lede as he loued hymselue
Žer laght wižouten lože;
Ay two had disches twelue,
Good ber and bry3t wyn bože.
Now wyl I of hor seruise say yow no more,
For vch wy3e may wel wit no wont žat žer were.
An ožer noyse ful newe ne3ed biliue,
Žat že lude my3t haf leue liflode to cach;
For vneže wat3 že noyce not a whyle sesed,
And že fyrst cource in že court kyndely serued,
Žer hales in at že halle dor an aghlich mayster,
On že most on že molde on mesure h3e;
Fro že swyre to že swange so sware and so žik,
And his lyndes and his lymes so longe and so grete
Half etayn in erde I hope žat he were,
Bot mon most I algate mynn hym to bene,
And žat že myriest in his muckel žat my3t ride;
For of bak and of brest al were his bodi sturne,
Bož his wombe and his wast were woržily smale,
And alle his fetures fol3ande, in forme žat he hade,
For wonder of his hwe men hade,
Set in his semblaunt sene;
He ferde as freke were fade,
And oueral enker-grene.
Ande al grayžed in grene žis gome and his wedes:
A strayte cote ful stre3t, žat stek on his sides,
A mere mantile abof, mensked wižinne
Wiž pelure pured apert, že pane ful clene
Wiž blyže blaunner ful bry3t, and his hod bože,
Žat wat3 la3t fro his lokkez and layde on his
Heme wel-haled hose of žat same,[ schulderes;
Žat spenet on his sparlyr, and clene spures vnder
Of bry3t golde, vpon silk bordes barred ful ryche,
And scholes vnder schankes žere že schalk rides;
And alle his vesture uerayly wat3 clene verdure,
Bože že barres of his belt and ožer blyže stones,
Žat were richely rayled in his aray clene
Aboutte hymself and his sadel, vpon silk werke3.
Žat were to tor for to telle of tryfles že halue
Žat were enbrauded abof, wyž bryddes and fly3es,
Wiž gay gaudi of grene, že golde ay inmyddes.
Že pendauntes of his payttrure, že proude cropure,
His molaynes, and alle že metail anamayld was ženne,
Že steropes žat he stod on stayned of že same,
And his arsoun3 al after and his ažel skyrtes,
Žat euer glemered and glent al of grene stones;
Že fole žat he ferkkes on fyn of žat ilke,
A grene hors gret and žikke,
A stede ful stif to strayne,
In brawden brydel quik--
To že gome he wat3 ful gayn.
Wel gay wat3 žis gome gered in grene,
And že here of his hed of his hors swete.
Fayre fannand fax vmbefoldes his schulderes;
A much berd as a busk ouer his brest henges,
Žat wyž his hi3lich here žat of his hed reches
Wat3 euesed al vmbetorne abof his elbowes,
Žat half his armes žer-vnder were halched in že wyse
Of a kynge3 capados žat closes his swyre;
Že mane of žat mayn hors much to hit lyke,
Wel cresped and cemmed, wyž knottes ful mony
Folden in wyž fildore aboute že fayre grene,
Ay a herle of že here, an ožer of golde;
Že tayl and his toppyng twynnen of a sute,
And bounden bože wyž a bande of a bry3t grene,
Dubbed wyž ful dere stone3, as že dok lasted,
Syžen žrawen wyž a žwong a žwarle knot alofte,
Žer mony belle3 ful bry3t of brende golde rungen.
Such a fole vpon folde, ne freke žat hym rydes,
Wat3 neuer sene in žat sale wyž sy3t er žat tyme,
He loked as layt so ly3t,
So sayd al žat hym sy3e;
Hit semed as no mon my3t
Vnder his dyntte3 dry3e.
Whežer hade he no helme ne hawbergh naužer,
Ne no pysan ne no plate žat pented to armes,
Ne no schafte ne no schelde to schwue ne to smyte,
Bot in his on honde he hade a holyn bobbe,
Žat is grattest in grene when greue3 ar bare,
And an ax in his ožer, a hoge and vnmete,
A spetos sparže to expoun in spelle, quoso my3t.
Že lenkže of an eln3erde že large hede hade,
Že grayn al of grene stele and of golde hewen,
Že bit burnyst bry3t, wiž a brod egge
As wel schapen to schere as scharp rasores,
Že stele of a stif staf že sturne hit bi grypte,
Žat wat3 wounden wyž yrn to že wandez ende,
And al bigrauen wiž grene in gracios werkes;
A lace lapped aboute, žat louked at že hede,
And so after že halme halched ful ofte,
Wyž tryed tassele3 žerto tacched innoghe
On botoun3 of že bry3t grene brayden ful ryche.
Žis hažel helde3 hym in and že halle entres,
Driuande to že he3e dece, dut he no wože,
Haylsed he neuer one, bot he3e he ouer loked.
Že fyrst word žat he warp, "Wher is," he sayd,
"Že gouernour of žis gyng? Gladly I wolde
Se žat segg in sy3t, and wiž hymself speke
To kny3te3 he kest his yyghe,
And reled hym vp and doun;
He stemmed, and con studie
Quo walt žer most renoun.
Žer wat3 lokyng on lenže že lude to beholde,
For vch mon had meruayle quat hit mene my3t
Žat a hažel and a horse my3t such a hwe lach,
As growe grene as že gres and grener hit semed,
Žen grene aumayl on golde glowande bry3ter.
Al studied žat žer stod, and stalked hym nerre
Wyž al že wonder of že worlde what he worch schulde.
For fele sellye3 had žay sen, bot such neuer are;
Forži for fantoum and fayry3e že folk žere hit demed.
Žerfore to answare wat3 ar3e mony ažel freke,
And al stouned at his steuen and stonstil seten
In a swoghe sylence žur3 že sale riche;
As al were slypped vpon slepe so slaked hor lote3
I deme hit not al for doute,
Bot sum for cortaysye--
Bot let hym žat al schulde loute
Cast vnto žat wy3e.
Ženn Aržour bifore že hi3 dece žat auenture byholde3,
And rekenly hym reuerenced, for rad was he neuer,
And sayde, "Wy3e, welcum iwys to žis place,
Že hede of žis ostel Aržour I hat;
Li3t luflych adoun and lenge, I že praye,
And quat-so žy wylle is we schal wyt after." [syttes,
"Nay, as help me," quož že hažel, "he žat on hy3e
To wone any quyle in žis won, hit wat3 not myn ernde;
Bot for že los of že, lede, is lyft vp so hy3e,
And žy bur3 and žy burnes best ar holden,
Stifest vnder stel-gere on stedes to ryde,
Že wy3test and že woržyest of že worldes kynde,
Preue for to play wyž in ožer pure layke3,
And here is kydde cortaysye, as I haf herd carp,
And žat hat3 wayned me hider, iwyis, at žis tyme.
Yghe may be seker bi žis braunch žat I bere here
Žat I passe as in pes, and no ply3t seche;
For had I founded in fere in fe3tyng wyse,
I haue a hauberghe at home and a helme bože,
A schelde and a scharp spere, schinande bry3t,
Ande ožer weppenes to welde, I wene wel, als;
Bot for I wolde no were, my wede3 ar softer.
Bot if žou be so bold as alle burne3 tellen,
Žou wyl grant me godly že gomen žat I ask
Aržour con onsware,
And sayd, "Sir cortays kny3t,
If žou craue batayl bare,
Here fayle3 žou not to fy3t."
"Nay, frayst I no fy3t, in fayž I že telle,
Hit arn aboute on žis bench bot berdle3 chylder.
If I were hasped in armes on a he3e stede,
Here is no mon me to mach, for my3te3 so wayke.
Foržy I craue in žis court a Crystemas gomen,
For hit is Yghol and Nwe Ygher, and here ar 3ep mony:
If any so hardy in žis hous holde3 hymseluen,
Be so bolde in his blod, brayn in hys hede,
Žat dar stifly strike a strok for an ožer,
I schal gif hym of my gyft žys giserne ryche,
Žis ax, žat is heue innogh, to hondele as hym lykes,
And I schal bide že fyrst bur as bare as I sitte.
If any freke be so felle to fonde žat I telle,
Lepe ly3tly me to, and lach žis weppen,
I quit-clayme hit for euer, kepe hit as his auen,
And I schal stonde hym a strok, stif on žis flet,
Elle3 žou wyl di3t me že dom to dele hym an ožer
And 3et gif hym respite,
A twelmonyž and a day;
Now hy3e, and let se tite
Dar any herinne o3t say."
If he hem stowned vpon fyrst, stiller were žanne
Alle že heredmen in halle, že hy3 and že loyghe.
Že renk on his rounce hym ruched in his sadel,
And runischly his rede y3en he reled aboute,
Bende his bresed bro3e3, blycande grene,
Wayued his berde for to wayte quo-so wolde ryse.
When non wolde kepe hym wiž carp he co3ed ful hyygh
Ande rimed hym ful richly, and ry3t hym to speke:
"What, is žis Aržures hous," quož že hažel ženne,
"Žat al že rous rennes of žur3 ryalmes so mony?
Where is now your sourquydrye and your conquestes,
Your gryndellayk and your greme, and your grete worde
Now is že reuel and že renoun of že Rounde Table
Ouerwalt wyž a worde of on wy3es speche,
For al dares for drede wižoute dynt schewed!"
Wyž žis he la3es so loude žat že lorde greued;
Že blod schot for scham into his schyre face
He wex as wrož as wynde,
So did alle žat žer were.
Že kyng as kene bi kynde
Žen stod žat stif mon nere,
Ande sayde, "Hažel, by heuen, žyn askyng is nys,
And as žou foly hat3 frayst, fynde že behoues.
I know no gome žat is gast of žy grete wordes;
Gif me now žy geserne, vpon Gode3 halue,
And I schal bayžen žy bone žat žou boden habbes."
Ly3tly lepe3 he hym to, and layght at his honde.
Žen feersly žat ožer freke vpon fote ly3tis.
Now hat3 Aržure his axe, and že halme grypez,
And sturnely sture3 hit aboute, žat stryke wyž hit žo3t.
Že stif mon hym bifore stod vpon hy3t,
Herre žen ani in že hous by že hede and more.
Wyž sturne schere žer he stod he stroked his berde,
And wyž a countenaunce dry3e he droygh doun his
No more mate ne dismayd for hys mayn dinte3 [cote,
Žen any burne vpon bench hade bro3t hym to drynk
Gawan, žat sate bi že quene,
To že kyng he can enclyne:
"I beseche now wiž sa3e3 sene
Žis melly mot be myne.
"Wolde 3e, woržilych lorde," quož Wawan to že kyng,
"Bid me bo3e fro žis benche, and stonde by yow žere,
Žat I wyžoute vylanye my3t voyde žis table,
And žat my legge lady lyked not ille,
I wolde com to your counseyl bifore your cort ryche.
For me žink hit not semly, as hit is sož knawen,
Žer such an askyng is heuened so hy3e in your sale,
Ža3 yghe yghourself be talenttyf, to take hit to yourseluen,
Whil mony so bolde yow aboute vpon bench sytten,
Žat vnder heuen I hope non ha3erer of wylle,
Ne better bodyes on bent žer baret is rered.
I am že wakkest, I wot, and of wyt feblest,
And lest lur of my lyf, quo laytes že sože--
Bot for as much as 3e ar myn em I am only to prayse,
No bounte bot your blod I in my bodé knowe;
And syžen žis note is so nys žat no3t hit yow falles,
And I haue frayned hit at yow fyrst, folde3 hit to me;
And if I carp not comlyly, let alle žis cort rych
Ryche togeder con roun,
And syžen žay redden alle same
To ryd že kyng wyž croun,
And gif Gawan že game.
Žen comaunded že kyng že kny3t for to ryse;
And he ful radly vpros, and ruchched hym fayre,
Kneled doun bifore že kyng, and cache3 žat weppen;
And he luflyly hit hym laft, and lyfte vp his honde,
And gef hym Godde3 blessyng, and gladly hym biddes
Žat his hert and his honde schulde hardi be bože.
"Kepe že cosyn," quož že kyng, "žat žou on kyrf sette,
And if žou rede3 hym ryyght, redly I trowe
Žat žou schal byden že bur žat he schal bede after."
Gawan got3 to že gome wiž giserne in honde,
And he baldly hym byde3, he bayst neuer že helder.
Žen carppe3 to Sir Gawan že kny3t in že grene,
"Refourme we oure forwardes, er we fyrre passe.
Fyrst I eže že, hažel, how žat žou hattes
Žat žou me telle truly, as I tryst may."
"In god fayž," quož že goode kny3t, "Gawan I hatte,
Žat bede že žis buffet, quat-so bifalle3 after,
And at žis tyme twelmonyž take at že an ožer
Wyž what weppen so žou wylt, and wyž no wy3 elle3
Žat ožer onsware3 agayn,
"Sir Gawan, so mot I žryue
As I am ferly fayn
Žis dint žat žou schal dryue.
"Bigog," quož že grene kny3t, "Sir Gawan, me lykes
Žat I schal fange at žy fust žat I haf frayst here.
And žou hat3 redily rehersed, bi resoun ful trwe,
Clanly al že couenaunt žat I že kynge asked,
Saf žat žou schal siker me, segge, bi ži trawže,
Žat žou schal seche me žiself, where-so žou hopes
I may be funde vpon folde, and foch že such wages
As žou deles me to-day bifore žis douže ryche."
"Where schulde I wale že," quož Gauan, "where is žy place?
I wot neuer where žou wonyes, bi hym žat me wro3t,
Ne I know not že, kny3t, by cort ne ži name.
Bot teche me truly žerto, and telle me how žou hattes,
And I schal ware alle my wyt to wynne me žeder,
And žat I swere že for sože, and by my seker trawež."
"Žat is innogh in Nwe Ygher, hit nedes no more,"
Quož že gome in že grene to Gawan že hende;
"Yghif I že telle trwly, quen I že tape haue
And žou me smožely hat3 smyten, smartly I že teche
Of my hous and my home and myn owen nome,
Žen may žou frayst my fare and forwarde3 holde;
And if I spende no speche, ženne spede3 žou že better,
For žou may leng in žy londe and layt no fyrre--
Ta now žy grymme tole to že,
And let se how žou cnoke3."
"Gladly, sir, for sože,"
Quož Gawan; his ax he strokes.
Že grene kny3t vpon grounde grayžely hym dresses,
A littel lut wiž že hede, že lere he discouere3,
His longe louelych lokke3 he layd ouer his croun,
Let že naked nec to že note schewe.
Gauan gripped to his ax, and gederes hit on hy3t,
Že kay fot on že folde he before sette,
Let him doun ly3tly lyyght on že naked,
Žat že scharp of že schalk schyndered že bones,
And schrank žur3 že schyire grece, and schade hit in
Žat že bit of že broun stel bot on že grounde. [twynne,
Že fayre hede fro že halce hit to že erže,
Žat fele hit foyned wyž her fete, žere hit forž roled;
Že blod brayd fro že body, žat blykked on že grene;
And nawžer faltered ne fel že freke neuer že helder,
Bot styžly he start forž vpon styf schonkes,
And runyschly he ra3t out, žere as renkke3 stoden,
La3t to his lufly hed, and lyft hit vp sone;
And syžen bo3e3 to his blonk, že brydel he cachchez,
Steppe3 into stelbawe and strydez alofte,
And his hede by že here in his honde halde3;
And as sadly že segge hym in his sadel sette
As non vnhap had hym ayled, ža3 hedle3 he were
He brayde his bulk aboute,
Žat vgly bodi žat bledde;
Moni on of hym had doute,
Bi žat his resoun3 were redde.
For že hede in his honde he halde3 vp euen,
Toward že derrest on že dece he dresse3 že face,
And hit lyfte vp že y3e-lydde3 and loked ful brode,
And meled žus much wiž his muže, as 3e may now
"Loke, Gawan, žou be grayže to go as žou hette3,[here:
And layte as lelly til žou me, lude, fynde,
As žou hat3 hette in žis halle, herande žise kny3tes;
To že grene chapel žou chose, I charge že, to fotte
Such a dunt as žou hat3 dalt--disserued žou habbez
To be 3ederly ygholden on Nw Ygheres morn.
Že kny3t of že grene chapel men knowen me mony;
Forži me for to fynde if žou frayste3, faylez žou neuer.
Žerfore com, ožer recreaunt be calde že behoues."
Wiž a runisch rout že rayne3 he tornez,
Halled out at že hal dor, his hed in his hande,
Žat že fyr of že flynt fla3e fro fole houes.
To quat kyž he becom knwe non žere,
Neuer more žen žay wyste from quežen he wat3
What ženne? [wonnen.
Že kyng and Gawen žare
At žat grene žay la3e and grenne,
Yghet breued wat3 hit ful bare
A meruayl among žo menne.
Ža3 Aržer že hende kyng at hert hade wonder,
He let no semblaunt be sene, bot sayde ful hy3e
To že comlych quene wyž cortays speche,
"Dere dame, to-day demay yow neuer;
Wel bycommes such craft vpon Cristmasse,
Laykyng of enterlude3, to la3e and to syng,
Among žise kynde caroles of kny3te3 and ladyez.
Neuer že lece to my mete I may me wel dres,
For I haf sen a selly, I may not forsake."
He glent vpon Sir Gawen, and gaynly he sayde,
"Now, sir, heng vp žyn ax, žat hat3 innogh hewen"
And hit wat3 don abof že dece on doser to henge,
Žer alle men for meruayl my3t on hit loke,
And bi trwe tytel žerof to telle že wonder.
Ženne žay bo3ed to a borde žise burnes togeder,
Že kyng and že gode kny3t, and kene men hem serued
Of alle dayntye3 double, as derrest my3t falle;
Wyž alle maner of mete and mynstralcie bože,
Wyž wele walt žday, til woržed an ende
Now ženk wel, Sir Gawan,
For wože žat žou ne wonde
Žis auenture for to frayn
Žat žou hat3 tan on honde
Sir Gawayne and že Grene Knyght,
ed. by J. R. R. Tolkien and E. V. Gordon,
2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966.
When Troy had been seized by siege and assault
and its blazing battlements blackened to ash,
the man who had made treason triumph
had trial enough for the truest traitor!
But noble Aeneas fled, whose illustrious line
became princes, plundered provinces and held
nearly all the wealth of the western isles.
For Romulus raised Rome swiftly
to opulence, planting in pride a city
that he named for himself, the name it now bears.
In Tuscany Tirius founded towns;
in Lombardy Langoberde settled the land;
and far past the French coast
Brutus made Britain a broad land where many tales
where wonders, wars, misfortune
and troubled times have been,
where bliss and blind confusion
have both occasioned sin.
And when this brave prince had built up Britain,
bold men bred there who burned for war,
who stirred up trouble through the turning years.
This land has witnessed more works of wonder
since then onward than any other realm.
Of all the kings crowned in England
Arthur earned most honor, as old tales tell.
I've one of the world's marvels in mind:
an astonishing sight, as some would say,
an extraordinary adventure of Arthur's time.
Lend me your ears but a little while
and I'll spin the words as I've heard them sped
a story pinned in patterns
steadfast, steady, strong:
aligned in linking letters
as folk have loved so long.
One Christmas in Camelot King Arthur sat
at ease with his lords and loyal liegemen
arranged as brothers round the Round Table.
Their reckless jokes rang about that rich hall
till they turned from the table to the tournament field
and jousted like gentlemen with lances and laughs,
then trooped to court in a carolling crowd.
For the feast lasted a full fifteen days
of meals and merriment (as much as could fit.)
Such gay glee must gladden the ear --
by day what a din, and dancing by night!
The halls and chambers were heaped with happy
lords and ladies as high as you like!
There they were gathered with all the world's goodness:
knights as kind as Christ himself,
ladies as lovely as ever have lived,
and the noblest king our nation has known.
They were yet in the pride, in the prime of their youth,
as full of heaven's blessing
as the king had strength of will.
And mighty men surpassing
all were gathered on that hill.
While the year was as young as New Years can be
the dais was prepared for a double feast.
The king and his company came in together
when mass had been chanted; and the chapel emptied
as clergy and commons alike cried out,
"Noel! Noel!" again and again.
And the lords ran around loaded with parcels,
palms extended to pass out presents,
or crowded together comparing gifts.
The ladies laughed when they lost at a game
(that the winner was willing, you may well believe!)
Round they milled in a merry mob till the meal was
ready, washed themselves well, and walked to their places (the best for the best on seats raised above.)
Then Guinevere moved gaily among them,
took her place on the dais, which was dearly adorned
with sides of fine silk and a canopied ceiling of sheer
stuff: and behind her shimmering tapestries embroider-
ed bedecked with bright gems [from far Tarsus,
that the jewelers would pay a pretty price for
but the finest gem in the field of sight
looked back: her eyes were grey.
That a lovelier's lived to delight
the gaze - is a lie, I'd say!
But Arthur would not eat till all were served.
He bubbled to the brim with boyish spirits:
liked his life light, and loathed the thought
of lazing for long or sitting still longer.
So his young blood boiled and his brain ran wild,
and in many ways moved him still more
as a point of honor never to eat
on a high holiday till he should have heard
a strange story of stirring adventures,
of mighty marvels to make the mind wonder,
of princes, prowess, or perilous deeds.
Or someone might come, seeking a knight
to join him in jousting, enjoying the risk
of laying their lives on the line like men
leaving to fortune the choice of her favor.
This was the king's custom at court,
the practice he followed at pleasant feasts held
in his hall;
therefore with bold face
he stood there straight and tall.
As New Years proceeded apace
he meant to have mirth with them all.
So he stood there stock-still, a king standing tall,
talking of courtly trifles before the high table.
By Guinevere sat Gawain the Good,
and Agravaine of the Heavy Hand on the other side:
knights of great worth, and nephews to the king.
Baldwin, the bishop, was above, by the head,
with Ywain, Urien's son, sitting across.
These sat at the dais and were served with due honor;
and many mighty men were seated on either side.
Then the first course came with a clamor of trumpets
whose banners billowed bright to the eye,
while kettledrums rolled and the cry of the pipes
wakened a wild, warbling music
whose touch made the heart tremble and skip.
Delicious dishes were rushed in, fine delicacies
fresh and plentiful, piled so high on so many platters
they had problems finding places to set down
their silver bowls of steaming soup: no spot
Each lord dug in with pleasure,
and grabbed at what lay near:
twelve platters piled past measure,
bright wine, and foaming beer.
I need say no more how they served the food,
for what fool would fancy their feast was a famine?
But a new noise announced itself quickly enough
to grant the high lord leave to have dinner.
The music had finished but a moment before,
the first course just served, and set before the court,
when a horrible horseman hurtled through the doors,
his body as brawny as any can be,
so bull-necked, big-thighed, bulky and square,
so long-legged, large-limbed, looming so tall
I can hardly tell if he were half troll,
or merely as large as living man can be --
a handsome one too; as hearty a hulk as ever rode
His back and chest were broad as a barrel, [horse.
but he slimmed at the waist, with a slender stomach,
and his face was well formed, with features sharp
and clean --
Men sat there gaping, gasping
at his strange, unearthly sheen,
as if a ghost were passing,
for every inch was green.
He was got up in green from head to heel:
a tunic worn tight, tucked to his ribs;
and a rich cloak cast over it, covered inside
with a fine fur lining, fitted and sewn
with ermine trim that stood out in contrast
from his hair where his hood lay folded flat;
and handsome hose of the same green hue
which clung to his calves, with clustered spurs
of bright gold; beneath them striped embroidered silk
above his bare shanks, for he rode shoeless.
His clothes were all kindled with a clear light like eme-
ralds: His belt buckles sparkled, and bright stones were
set in rich rows arranged up and down
himself and his saddle. Worked in the silk
were too many trifles to tell the half of:
embroidered birds, butterflies, and other things
in a gaudy glory of green and inlaid gold.
And the bit and bridle, the breastplate on the horse,
and all its tackle were trimmed with green enamel,
even the saddlestraps, the stirrups on which he stood,
and the bows of his saddle with its billowing skirts
which glimmered and glinted with green jewels.
The stallion that bore him was the best of its breed
it was plain,
a green horse great and strong,
that sidled, danced and strained,
but the bridle-braid led it along,
turning as it was trained.
He was a fine fellow fitted in green --
And the hair on his head and his horse's matched.
It fanned out freely enfolding his shoulders,
and his beard hung below as big as a bush,
all mixed with the marvelous mane on his head,
which was cut off in curls cascading to his elbows,
wrapping round the rest of him
like a king's cape clasped to his neck.
And the mane of his mount was much the same,
but curled up and combed in crisp knots,
in braids of bright gold thread and brilliant green
criss-crossed hair by hair.
And the tossing tail was twin to the mane,
for both were bound with bright green ribbons,
strung to the end with long strands of precious stones,
and turned back tight in a twisted knot
bright with tinkling bells of burnished gold.
No such horse on hoof had been seen in that hall,
nor horseman half so strange as their eyes now held
He looked a lightning flash,
they say: he seemed so bright;
and who would dare to clash
in melee with such might?
Yet he had on no hauberk, nor a helmet for his head,
neither neck-guard nor breastplate to break heavy
blows, neither shaft nor shield for the shock of combat.
But he held in one hand a sprig of holly
that bursts out greenest when branches are bare;
and his other hand hefted a huge and awful ax,
a broad battleax with a bit to tell (take it who can)
with a large head four feet long:
the green steel down the grain etched with gold,
its broad edge burnished and bright,
shaped razor-sharp to sheer through steel,
and held high on a heavy staff
which was bound at the base with iron bands
gracefully engraved in bright green patterns.
A strap was strung through the steel head, running
loop after loop down the length of the handle,
which was tied with tassels in abundance, attaching
by rich braids onto bright green buttons.
This rider reined in as he rode through the doors
direct to the high dais without a word,
giving no greeting, gazing down on them all.
His first word came when he stopped. "Where," he said,
"is the master of these men? I've a mind to see
his face and would fancy a chat with the fellow who
wears the crown."
To each lord he turned
and glancing up and down
he fixed each face to learn
which knight held most renown.
They stared at the stranger, stunned, a very long time.
For each man wondered what it might mean
that man and mount both shone a shade
as green as the grass, and greener even than green
enamel glows when gold makes it brighter. All eyes
were on him, and some edged closer, wondering what in
the world he would do. They had seen enough strange
sights to know how seldom they are real; therefore they
feared him for a phantom, a sending from the Unseen
Realm. So of all those noble knights, none dared
answer but sat there stupefied by the strength of his
voice. A silence fell filling that rich hall as if they'd all
fainted or suddenly slept: their voices just vanished
at their height.
Some, I suppose, were not floored,
but chose to be polite,
letting their leader and lord
be first to speak to that knight.
Arthur stood watching adventure advance and
answered quickly as honor bid, neither awed nor afraid,
saying, "Wanderer, know you are welcome here.
I am the leader of this host; Arthur my name,
dismount, if you may; make merry as you wish,
and we may learn in a little while what you would like."
"So help me God who sits on high," he said, "No."
"It is not my purpose to pass any time in this place.
But I have been told that your reputation towers to heaven: that your court and castle are accounted the finest, your knights and their steeds as the sturdiest in steel, the best, the boldest, the bravest on earth,
and as fitting foes in any fine sport.
True knighthood is known here, or so the tale runs,
which is why I have come calling today.
You may be sure by this branch that I bear
that I come in peace, with no plans for battle.
For had I come in force, in warlike fashioj
I have a hauberk at home, and a helmet too,
a shield and a sharp spear, shining bright,
and other weapons I know well how to wield.
Yet as war is not my wish I am wearing soft silk,
but, if you are as bold as men believe you to be,
you will be glad to grant me the game that is mine
Then Arthur said, "I swear,"
"most courteous, noble knight,
if you'd like to battle bare,
you'll not fail to find a fight."
"Never fear," he said, "I'm not fishing for a fight
with the beardless children on the benches all about.
If I were strapped on steel on a sturdy horse
no man here has might to match me. No, I have come
to this court for a bit of Christmas fun fitting for
Yuletide and New Years with such a fine crowd.
Who here in this house thinks he has what it takes,
has bold blood and a brash head,
and dares to stand his ground, giving stroke for stroke?
Here! I shall give him this gilded blade as my gift;
this heavy ax shall be his, to handle as he likes.
and I shall stand here bare of armor, and brave the first
blow. If anyone's tough enough to try out my game,
let him come here quickly and claim his weapon!
I give up all rights; he will get it for keeps.
I'll stand like a tree trunk -- he can strike at me once,
if you'll grant me the right to give as good as I get
But later is soon enough,
a full year and a day.
Get up, if you think you're rough,
let's see what you dare to say!"
If at first he had stunned them, now they sat stone-still:
the whole hall, both high and low.
The mounted man moved in his saddle,
glared a red glance grimly about,
arched his bushy brows, all brilliant and green,
his beard waving as he waited for one man to rise,
to call or came forward. He coughed loudly,
stretched slowly, and straightened to speak.
"Hah! They call this King Arthur's house,
a living legend in land after land?
Where have your pride and your power gone,
your bragging boasts, your big words?
The glories and triumphs of the Round Table
have toppled at the touch of one man's words!
What? Fainting with fear, when no fight is offered?"
He let out a laugh so loud that Arthur winced
with shame; the blood shot to his flushed face
with rage and raised a storm
until their hearts all burned.
All king in face and form,
he reached that rider, turned,
and said, "Look here, by heaven! Have you lost your
mind? If you want to be mad, I will make you welcome!
Nobody I know is bowled over by your big words,
so help me God! Hand me that ax --
I will grant you the gift you beg me to give!"
He leaped lightly up and lifted it from his hand.
Then the man dismounted, moving proudly,
while Arthur held the ax, both hands on the haft,
hefted it sternly, considered his stroke.
That burly man bulked big and tall,
a head higher than anyone in the house.
He stood there hard-faced, stroking his beard,
impassively watching as he pulled off his coat,
no more moved or dismayed by his mighty swings
than anybody would be if somebody brought him a
bottle of wine.
Gawain, sitting by the queen,
could tell the king his mind:
"Lord, hear well what I mean,
and let this match be mine."
"Grant leave, good lord," said Gawain to the king,
"to stir from my seat and stand by your side;
that I might rise without rudeness from this table
without fear of offending your fair queen,
and come before your court as a counselor should.
It is plainly improper, as people know well,
to point this proposal at the prince himself.
Though you may be eager to act for yourself,
there are so many bold knights on the benches all about, none more masterful in mind maybe than move
move under heaven, nor many built better for the field of
battle. Of all your men of war I am the weakest and
east wise, and my life little enough to lose, if you look
at it clearly. My only honor is that you are my uncle;
my only boast is that my body carries your blood.
Since this whole matter is such a mockery, it is not meant for you;
and I am first on the field: let this folly be mine.
If my claim is uncalled-for let the court judge; I will bear
They huddled hushed around
and all advised the same:
respect the royal crown,
and give Gawain the game.
Then the king commanded him to rise and come for- ward, and he stood quickly, walked with stately steps
to kneel before the king and claim his weapon.
Arthur handed it over and held up his hand
to give him God's blessing. With a glad smile
he charged him to be hardy in heart.
"Cousin, careful," he said, "cut him but once.
and if you teach him truly, I trust you will find
you can bear the blow that he brings you later."
Gawain went to the warrior, weapon in hand,
not the least bit bashful, as bold as can be.
Then the Green Knight said to Gawain,
"We should go over our agreement before we begin.
First, knight, I would know your name,
told truly as one I can trust."
"My name is Gawain," he said, "I give it in good faith,
as I will give you a blow and bear what comes after.
At this time in twelve months I will take a blow back
from what weapon you wish, but from no other knight
The other answering spoke,
"Sir Gawain: good. I derive
great pleasure from the stroke
your hardy hands will drive."
"Gad!" the Green Knight said. "Sir Gawain, I am glad
that your fist will fetch me the fun I hoped to find.
You have quickly retold in trustworthy words
a correct account of the contract I asked of the king,
save one stipulation that I must state: let it stand as your oath
that you will seek me yourself, and search anywhere
you feel I may be found to fetch back the same wages
I am paid today before this proud court." "Where should
I look?" Gawain asked, "Where do you live?" "By Him
that made me, your house is not known to me, neither
do I know you, knight, nor your court nor your name.
But teach me truly, tell me where to find you and I shall
work my wits out to win my way there. I give my plain
promise; I pledge you my word." "That is enough for a
New Year's pledge; you need say no more," So the
green man answered gracious Gawain "If I'm telling the
truth, why, when I've taken your tap, and you've lopped
me lovingly, you'll learn at once of my house and my
home and how I am named.Then you can try my
hospitality and be true to our compact. Or I'll have no
words to waste, which would be well for you:
you'd relax in this land, and not look for me further.
Take up the grim tool you need,
and show me how you chop."
"Gladly, sir," he said, "Indeed,"
and gave the ax a strop.
The green knight got ready, feet firm on the ground;
leaned his head a little to let the cheek show,
and raised the rich riot of his hair
so the nape of his neck was naked and exposed.
Gawain held the ax high overhead,
his left foot set before him on the floor,
swung swiftly at the soft flesh
so the bit of the blade broke through the bones,
crashed through the clear fat and cut it in two,
and the brightly burnished edge bit into the earth.
The handsome head fell, hit the ground,
and rolled forward; they fended it off with their feet.
The red blood burst bright from the green body,
yet the fellow neither faltered nor fell
but stepped strongly out on sturdy thighs,
reached roughly right through their legs,
grabbed his graceful head and lifted it from the ground,
ran to his horse, caught hold of the reins,
stepped in the stirrup, strode into the saddle,
the head dangling by the hair from his hand,
and seated himself as firmly in the saddle
as if he were unhurt, though he sat on his horse without
He swiveled his bulk about;
the ugly stump still bled.
They gaped in fear and doubt
because of the words he said.
For he held the head up evenly in his hand,
turned the face toward the top of the high table,
and the eyelids lifted and looked on them all
while the mouth moved, making these words:
"Gawain, get ready to go as you have promised,
Seek me out, sir; search till you find me as sworn here
in this hall where all these knights heard. I charge you,
come as you chose to the Green Chapel to get as good
as you gave -- you've got it coming and will be paid
promptly when another year has passed.
Many men know me as the Knight of the Green Chapel,
so search faithfully and you'll not fail to find me.
Come, or be called a faithless coward!"
He roared like a raging bull, turned the reins,
and drove for the door, still dangling the head,
while fire flashed from the horse's feet as if its hooves were flints. Where he went no one knew, nor could they
name the country he came from nor his kin.
The king and Gawain grinned
and laughed at the Green Knight when
the y knew full well it had been
a portent to their men.
Though High King Arthur's heart was heavy with wonder
he let no sign of it be seen, but said aloud
with a king's courtesy to his lovely queen:
"Beloved lady, never let this dismay you.
It is good to get such games at Christmas,
light interludes, laughter and song,
or the whole court singing carols in chorus.
But truly, I can turn now to my table and feast;
as my word is good, I have witnessed a wonder."
He turned to Sir Gawain and tactfully said,
"Hang up your ax; it has cut all it can."
It was attached to a tapestry above the high table
for all men to marvel on who might see it there,
as a true token of a tale of wonder. Then they sat in
their seats to resume their feast, Gawain and the king
together, while good men served them the rarest,
dearest delicacies in double portions, with whole
batteries of the best foods, and the singing of bards.
The day finished, and their feast was filled with joy
Sir Gawain, have a care
to keep your courage for the test,
and do the deed you've dared.
You've begun: now brave the rest.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Translation by Paul Deane;
Copyright © Paul Deane, 1999