(c. 12th century)
What do I need to read?
“The Canterbury Tales General Prologue”
“The Miller’s Prologue and Tale”
“The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale”
“The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale”
Who is the author?
Geoffrey Chaucer (1343 – 1400). Called the Father of the English Language as well
as the Morning Star of Song, Geoffrey Chaucer, after six centuries, has retained
his status as one of the three or four greatest English poets. He was first to
commit to lines of universal and enduring appeal a vivid interest in nature, books,
As many-sided as Shakespeare, he did for English narrative what Shakespeare did
for drama. If he lacks the profundity of Shakespeare, he excels in playfulness of
mood and simplicity of expression. Though his language often seems quaint, he was
essentially modern. Familiarity with the language and with the literature of his
contemporaries persuades the most skeptical that he is nearer to the present than
many writers born long after he died.
---Courtesy of Compton’s Learning Company
Chaucer’s father, an influential wine merchant, was able to secure Geoffrey a
position as a page in a household connected to King Edward III. Chaucer’s duties as
a page were humble, but they allowed him the opportunity to view the ruling
aristocracy, thus broadening his knowledge of the various classes of society. While
serving in the English army, Chaucer was captured and held prisoner in France.
After his release, he held a number of government positions.
While in his twenties, Chaucer began writing poetry, and he continued to write
throughout his life. Over the years, his writing showed increasing sophistication
and depth, and it is recognized as presenting penetrating insights into human
character. In The Canterbury Tales, critics say that the author shows an absolute
mastery of the art of storytelling.
The Canterbury Tales are also said to present “a cavalcade of fourteenth-century
English life” because on this pilgrimage to Canterbury the reader gets to meet a
cross-section of the people from Chaucer’s time.
Canterbury, located about fifty miles southeast of London, was a favorite
destination for pilgrims. In fact, Chaucer himself made a pilgrimage there. While
he did not set out on the pilgrimage looking for material to use in his writing, he
was so impressed by the mix of company that he had met at the Tabard Inn that
he was inspired to write what was to become his masterpiece.
Selected Canterbury Tales Terms and Definitions
Allegory - a story that represents abstract ideas or moral qualities. As such, an
allegory has both a literal level and a symbolic level of meaning. Example: Gulliver’s
Allusion - a reference to a person, place, poem, book, or movie outside of the story
that the author expects the reader will recognize.
Fable - a story that presents a moral or practical lesson. Generally, there are
talking animals in fables. Example: Aesop’s Fables.
Hyperbole - exaggeration for emphasis; overstatement. Example: I’ve told you a
million times to…
Irony - a subtle, sometimes humorous perception of inconsistency in which the
significance of a statement or event is changed by its content. For example: the
firehouse burned down.
Litotes – a conscious understatement that achieves the opposite effect of the
statement itself. Example: I like money a little.
Satire – using humor to ridicule. Example: Animal Farm
Structure of The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales is a “frame story”; it includes within it other stories. The
frame in this case is the story of a pilgrimage to Canterbury made by twenty-nine
pilgrims. Within the frame are twenty-four individual stories told by the pilgrims.
The stories told by the pilgrims are familiar tales, but here they are retold in a
brilliant fashion by most impressive storytellers.
The pilgrims themselves are described in the Prologue to the tales. In the
Prologue, we see that the personality of each pilgrim is unique but that the
character traits they exhibit are universal. People from three main segments of
medieval society are brought together through the vehicle of the pilgrimage:
church people, nobility, and common people and/or tradesmen.
The General Prologue
Setting: The story opens at the Tabard Inn in Southwark is a town fourteen miles
from London where pilgrims meet to begin the journey to Canterbury. It has been a
long winter, but spring has arrived so it is time to make a religious pilgrimage.
While the trip has a religious shrine as its destination, the pilgrimage will not be
without its social aspects.
Note: Keep in mind that in Medieval times the Catholic Church, which was for all
practical purposes the only religion in Europe prior to the Reformation, played an
important part in everyone’s life. Daily life could be terribly hard, and sometimes
all that would make it bearable was the thought of a pleasant afterlife with God in
heaven. Consequently, after the king and the nobility, the church was the third
most powerful institution in this society.
As we will see in The Prologue, within the church there is a social hierarchy of
roles and positions. Thus, for example, we will see that the monk obviously comes
from a higher social class than the Pardoner.
The Miller’s Prologue and Tale
Allusions to the Bible
The Noah referred to in the tale is from the Biblical story of Noah and the Ark in
which Noah, informed by God of the coming of a great flood, builds an ark and
thereby saves his family while everyone else perishes.
Concepts Familiar to Chaucer’s Readers
May/December Weddings. This is the marriage of an older, often rich but foolish
man to a very young and pretty wife. In stories, the older man usually winds up a
cuckold and it is thought by readers that he gets what he deserves for being so
foolish as to get married to someone much younger than he.
Cuckold: This word is used both as a noun and a verb. In stories the husband is
cuckolded or is made the cuckold when someone else has a sexual relationship with
The cuckolded husband is the target of much comic ridicule in the stories from the
Middle Ages and centuries afterwards. During this time it was the belief that
older people should marry older, not younger people; thus the May/December
Wedding violates the natural order of things.
The setting for The Miller’s Tale is Oxford, England, at the time the story is being
Genre: A fabliau (pl., "fabliaux"), a French invention that depicts bourgeois
characters in satirical or openly comic plots involving unlikely and complex
deceptions, usually concerning sex and/or money. There are considerably more
fabliaux in French than in English, and Chaucer’s are by far the most sophisticated
in Middle English because they often combine elements of several fabliaux into one
tightly structured plot. Critics are divided on the issue of whether the fabliaux
were intended for noble audiences because the tales made the bourgeois look so
bad, or were intended for the bourgeois, themselves, indicating that they had a
strong appetite for seeing themselves satirized in literature. The middle ground
seems to be that they could work for a mixed audience which might include worldly
nobles (excluding those given to extreme religious devotion, of course!) as well as
broad-minded and self-confident men and women of the city.
• Nicholas, a clerk or student at Oxford who has spent more on his "sound
system" and on parties than he has on his studies—we know the type.
• John, the "townie" carpenter, whose trade has made him wealthy enough to
own a house big enough that he might rent rooms to the clerk, as well as
dressing his young wife in the most outrageously expensive clothing she
• Alison, the carpenter’s "townie" wife, overflowing with energy and taking
life’s challenges as comedy whereas John, older by far, is ready to see
• Absolon, a clerk, possibly also an Oxford graduate, who now serves the
priest in the cathedral but who, like Nicholas, is far more interested in
dressing well and pursuing the ladies of the town.
• Gervase, the smith, a somewhat enigmatic figure who supplies a key tool for
Absolon's revenge--he works at his hot forge in the cool of the night and,
apart from lovers, is apparently the only one awake until the cries of "Out
harrow!" summon the townsfolk in an informal posse.
The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale
Sources: This tale is a satire in the form of a fairy tale. It is a twist on an old folk
tale which shows up in one of the Arthurian romances about Sir Gawain. The tale is
a parody of an “exemplum”, a moral tale that was used by preachers to show people
how they should act.
The Battle of the Sexes To understand Dame Alice, you have to understand, as
the pilgrims did, the place of women in Medieval society. At this period of time,
women were little more than their husband’s property, and they had few legal
rights of their own. To cope in this situation, the only weapon a wife had was the
granting or withholding of sexual favors.
Even here, however, the Church’s teaching on sex, which was that sex was only for
procreation and everything else was lust, could diminish a woman’s chances of
successfully fighting back. In this context, the Battle of the Sexes may not be a
fight to see who will dominate in a marriage so much as the fight of a women to
establish herself as a person with equal rights. As you listen to Dame Alice of Bath
in the prologue and in the tale she tells, keep in mind this socio-historical context.
You will also note that sex and bodily functions were talked about in mixed company
quite openly in this period.
Audio File: Click on the link to listen to the Wife of Bath’s General Prologue read to
you in Middle English.
Genre: The prologue might be called a fictional autobiography, a confession, a
mock sermon or an apologia (L., defense). Persuasive as Chaucer’s Wife’s voice may
be, however, do not mistake it for true autobiography. Chaucer’s immediate source
for many of the opinions and strategies described in the prologue are two
characters from the Roman de la Rose (by Guillaume de Lorris, 1237, and Jean de
Meun, 1275): La Vieille (the Old Woman) and Le Jealoux (the Jealous One). He also
draws upon the vast literature of anti-feminist theologians to characterize the
views of her husbands, especially Jankyn.
Characters: a rapist knight (unnamed), Arthur’s queen (unnamed), and the "loathly
lady" (unnamed) he meets on his quest.
The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale
The Pardoner will offer a sermon as a performance, part of a process-analysis
under the rubric "present company excepted" in which he takes the pilgrims into
his confidence. He claims that although his theme is always "Radix malorum est
Cupiditas" (greed is the root of evils), he nevertheless, ironically, is obsessed with
appropriating money (like the Wife's obsession with authority and the book), and
doesn't care about the remission of sins. He explains how he uses his position to
manipulate "lewed peple". Without his usual audience, the soliloquy is self-
destructive, and maybe self-hypnotic.
Aware of his isolation, the Pardoner's attempts to rejoin society are misguided,
partly due to his insensitivity. He attempts to join here by proving his superiority.
He has to be intellectual to survive, but this may have turned into egomania. He
scorns his usual low-class audience and thinks this more educated group will share
his opinion. So it's a demonstration of his typical con -- how he manages to survive
and manipulate audiences, but it involves his moving back and forth between
The Pardoner’s purpose is to save souls; however, he does everything he can to earn
money. The irony is that the Pardoner is very guilty of the sin of avarice himself.
He uses ways of getting people to repent from avarice as a means for acquiring
more money for the church.
The archetype behind the Pardoner is Faus Semblant (False-Seeming) "a
professional hypocrite who pretends to holiness that he possesses not at all.
Chaucer's Pardoner sermonizes in a confessional of self-destruction. He's
dreadful, vital, and fascinating. For us, he's his own worst enemy.
Genre: The prologue may be a "literary confession" or "Vice's confession," like the
"Wife of Bath's Prologue" in some interpretations but with absolutely no ambiguity
about the speaker's viciousness, despite his cheerful demeanor. The tale, itself, is
a "novelle" or short story of a type often used in sermon exempla. The old man who
directs the young men to their doom is variously interpreted as everything from
Jesus, the Devil, God's mercy, and the Wandering Jew.
Characters: The Pardoner and his victims, in his Prologue's delirious self-
dramatization of his ruthless frauds; three riotous young men, their deceased
buddy, a young "knave" who knows how to tell a story, an old man who cannot die,
and "a privee theef men clepeth Deeth / That in this contree al the peple sleeth"
The tale is an exemplum on avarice. (Exempla are stories that illustrate a theme in
preaching, usually found in collections.) The setting is dramatic this time, taking
place in a tavern to set the innate hypocrisy here. Although avarice is the focus,
the Pardoner includes drunkenness, gluttony, swearing, gambling, and maybe other
sins; his choices probably depend on which sins can be made to sound most exciting.
The Pardoner has a detailed knowledge of low life. He does not euphemize sin: it's
truly nasty here. He seems to have control over the sequencing of the other sins
he incorporates too. But is he talking about gluttony? Or something else?
O wombe! O bely! O stynkyng cod,
Fulfilled of dong and of corrupcioun!
At either ende of thee foul is the soun.
How greet labour and cost is thee to fynde!
Thise cookes, how they stampe, and streyne, and grynde,
And turnen substaunce into accident
To fulfille al thy likerous talent!
Out of the harde bones knokke they
The mary, for they caste noght awey
That may go thurgh the golet softe and swoote.
Of spicerie of leef, and bark, and roote
Shal been his sauce ymaked by delit,
To make hym yet a newer appetit.
(The Pardoner’s Tale – from www.librarius.com, lines 534-546)
There's no formal separation from the tale here, since the Pardoner goes right
into further self-parody? or more of the con? Is he still addressing his usual
church audience? The abrupt shift is disorienting.
The fake relics function as an extension of the Pardoner himself. Is he selling
relics as a misguided way to include himself? Is he drunk? Was this all a game and
he misjudged that the audience was laughing with him all along? Does he despise
this audience too?
Whom is the joke against? Against the Host to ingratiate himself to the others?
Whatever his reasons -- avarice, good-fellowship, humor -- he concludes his sermon
with an offer to sell his pardon to the pilgrims even after all he has told about his
own fraudulence. Ironically he picks the worst possible victim, that rough, manly
man who might be supposed to have a natural antipathy for the unmasculine
The Host misreacts. It's a disaster and a bad call on the Pardoner's part when the
Host is pulled in against his will. The Host offers an angry reaction, not at all joking
now, metaphorically cutting off the Pardoner's tongue. The Pardoner never reacts
and is effectively shut up; we won't hear from him again. The pilgrims laugh --
nervously? They're reacting to what? The Knight levels out the social surface and
the tensions are diffused with a kiss of friendship.
What do I need to know? 1. Explain how The Canterbury Tales is a profile of fourteenth century life.
Use specific examples from the text.
2. Characterize Chaucer’s treatment of women in The Canterbury Tales. Use
specific examples from the text.
3. Choose any two characters from any tales we read and tell how they are
4. How do the tales reflect life in the 1300s?
5. Explain the importance of the character of Harry Bailly.
6. Describe the portrait of the clergy as painted by Chaucer in The Canterbury
Tales. Was it an accurate picture?
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – The Literature
• Author: Unknown
• The Pearl Poet
• The Gawain Poet
• Written in 14th Century
• Sir Gawain – the story’s protagonist.
• A loyal knight to King Arthur, as well as his nephew.
• Gawain goes on his quest to meet the Green Knight in order to uphold his knightly values.
Major Characters – The Green Knight
• Green Knight
• Sir Gawain’s main opposition in the story.
• He is a richly decorated knight, who has green skin and hair.
Major Characters – King Arthur
• King Arthur
• The king of Camelot.
• Uncle of Sir Gawain.
• It is at his celebration feast that the Green Knight challenges the court to a game.
• Bertilak’s Wife
• – During the competition between Gawain and her husband, she tests Gawain’s integrity and honesty
• Morgan le Faye (The old lady)
• Powerful sorceress trained by Merlin. Assists Lady Bertilak in testing Gawain
• King Arthur’s wife and Queen. Seated next to Gawain during the court’s feast.
Settings - Camelot
• The holiday celebrations take place at King Arthur’s castle in Camelot.
• It is here that the Green Knight challenges Gawain to exchanges blows with him.
Settings – Bertilak’s Home
On his quest to meet the Green Knight, Gawain stays here for a short period of time.
Settings – The Green Chapel
The supposed home of the Green Knight.
Gawain is sent here to keep his end of the bargain which he made with the Green Knight at Arthur’s holiday celebration a year prior.
1. Men often act macho to try to impress women. 2. Women are impressed when men act macho. 3. There are many double standards in society regarding men and women. 4. Women should be treated equally to men in all aspects of life. 5. The expectations for the ability of women should be equal to that of men
in every career. 6. Chivalry is dead. 7. If a married man/woman is unhappy he/she should seek companionship
elsewhere. 8. The lives of kings are worth more than the lives of peasants. 9. Most people try to live their lives by proper morals and virtues. 10. It is worth it to die to save one’s honor.
• Gawain’s struggle to decide between his duties as a knight and the worth of his own life
• Gawain accepts the Green Knight’s challenge and cuts off his head.
• The Green Knight survives the blow and Gawain is then required to maintain his half of the challenge.
• Gawain meets the Green Knight at the Green Chapel.
• After taking his first two swings, the Green Knight nicks Gawain on his third swing, only slightly cutting his neck.
• Shame and mortification
• Statement of Sin: Gawain admits cowardice, covetousness, and untruth
• Request for penance
Examples of the Code of Chivalry
• Thou shalt defend the Church.
• Thou shalt respect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them.
• Live to serve King and Country.
• Live to defend Crown and Country and all it holds dear.
• Live one's life so that it is worthy of respect and honor.
• Live for freedom, justice and all that is good.
• Never attack an unarmed foe.
Examples from the Laws of Courtly Love
• Thou shalt avoid avarice like the deadly pestilence and shalt embrace its opposite.
• Thou shalt keep thyself chaste for the sake of her whom thou lovest.
• Boys do not love until they reach the age of maturity.
• When one lover dies, a widowhood of two years is required of the survivor.
• No one should be deprived of love without the very best of reasons.
• No one can love unless he is propelled by the persuasion of love.
-a motif is the recurrence of an object, concept or idea within a piece of literature.
-one of the largest motifs presented in Sir Gawain is the use of color…how is this true?
• In medieval symbology, red signifies humility as the blood of Christ
• Gold signifies perfection. • Gawain’s shield – a tool of protection • Green – symbolizes fertility and
rebirth • Axe – a symbol of execution • Holly bob – associated with death and
ghosts • An analysis of “Sir Gawain and the
Green Knight” indicates that symbols are prevalent in the poem and the Gawain-poet intended to use these symbols as tools of hidden meanings.
• The Pentangle – five-pointed star, a symbol of truth, virtues, and value
• The green girdle – represents cowardice and excessive love of a mortal life.
• The green girdle is also a symbol paralleling the crown of thorns that was worn by Jesus during crucifixion.
• Most of the symbols in this story dwell on the subjects of death, human triumph, defeat, temptation, and honor.
• Immediately upon reading/hearing these lines about the Green Knight who has burst into Arthur’s Christmas festivities, wearing gold spurs, the audience would know that he was a guy not to be messed with.
• 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; (ll. 151-55)
Why the Green Knight?
• In medieval England, the “Green Man” was a pagan representation of nature. The “Green Man” was not Satanic but did symbolize the nature worship that characterized pre- Christian tribal paganism.
• The “Green Man” is not evil but is also not Christian a battle between any of Arthur’s knights and any creature reminiscent of Britain’s pagan past is, by extension, a battle between “good” and “evil” – or between the Christian piety of Arthur’s knights and their tribal, non- Christian predecessors.
Sir Gawain’s Shield
• In the poem, Gawain’s shield is very clearly described as a golden pentangle on a field of red.
• The pentangle, the poem goes on to tell us, represents Gawain’s Five Fifths.
• The pentangle is also called the “endless knot.”
• Gawain was said to possess five qualities – one for each of the pentangle’s points – wherein he far excelled all other knights.
• The first of these “Five Fifths” was his faultlessness in his five senses.
• The next (second) of these “Five Fifths” was his faultlessness in his five fingers.
• The next (third) of these “Five Fifths” was the strength Gawain drew from his devotion to the “Five wounds of Christ.”
1.One through each of his hands or wrists
2.One through each of his feet
3.The final wound in the side of Christ
More on the “Five-Fifths”
• The last of these “Five Fifths” was Gawain’s well-known practice of the “five social graces.”
• The five social graces which Gawain exemplifies above all others are:
4.pure manners (courtesie)
Gawain Faced Five Challenges
1.to voluntarily confront the Green Knight
2.to strike his blow properly
3.to keep his vow to meet the Green Knight in a year and a day.
4.to survive journey to the green chapel
5.to resist the lady’s temptations
Gawain’s Fifth Challenge
• The FIFTH TEST are the temptations and the three gifts; it tests especially the fifth point of the pentangle, the social virtues.
• Gawain fails: his acceptance of the girdle is not a fault; his hiding of it is a potential fault; his actual withholding of it from Bertilak is his fall.
• Had he given it back to the lady, he would have erased his potential fault.
• The real fault, from Gawain's point of view, is that the reality of his own mortality induces him to break the endless knot.
• Thus two effects of original sin are reasserted: cowardice (bodily mortality) and covetousness (willful cupidity).
• His nature as a man is asserting itself against his nature as a knight.
Chastity? Piety? Respect for the King?
• Gawain knows that he is facing certain death – and SOON – when he finally confronts the Green Knight and accepts his half of the bargain.
• Why would he still adhere to courtesie and resist the Lady’s temptation?
Read the literature, take notes, and prepare for the essay exam.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
• Author: Unknown
• The Pearl Poet
• Or The Gawain Poet
• Written in the late 14th Century
A Brief Summary
• Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Middle English: Sir Gawayn and þe Grene Knyȝt) is a late 14th-century Middle English chivalric romance.
• It is one of the best-known Arthurian stories, with its plot combining two types of folk motifs, the beheading game and the exchange of winnings.
• Written in stanzas of alliterative verse, each of which ends in a rhyming bob and wheel, (ABABA – five rhymed lines following a section of unrhymed lines)
• The tale draws on Welsh, Irish and English stories, as well as the French chivalric tradition.
• It is an important example of a chivalric romance, which typically involves a hero who goes on a quest which tests his prowess.
• It remains popular in modern English renderings from J. R. R. Tolkien, and others, as well as through film and stage adaptations.
A Brief Summary Continued
• The tale describes how Sir Gawain, a knight of King Arthur's Round Table, accepts a challenge from a mysterious "Green Knight" who dares any knight to strike him with his axe if he will take a return blow in a year and a day.
• Gawain accepts and beheads him with his blow, at which the Green Knight stands up, picks up his head and reminds Gawain of the appointed time.
• In his struggles to keep his bargain, Gawain demonstrates chivalry and loyalty until his honor is called into question by a test involving Lady Bertilak, the lady of the Green Knight's castle.
• The poem survives in one manuscript, which also includes three religious narrative poems: Pearl, Purity and Patience.
• All are thought to have been written by the same author, dubbed the "Pearl Poet" or "Gawain Poet", since all four are written in a North West Midland dialect of Middle English
Elements of Romantic Literature:
• First, be cautioned—the word “romance” does not mean a love story
• Adventure involving a knight on a quest
• Some fantasy and magic are present
• Both Christian and pagan elements
• Could be dragons and/or monsters
• Mysterious places
• Begins at a noble court
The Romantic Hero typically follows these criteria:
• Strict code of knightly conduct
• Absolute loyalty to his king
• Extremely generous
• Never breaks an oath
• Defends the helpless
Sub-Genre: The Testing Plot
A Testing Plot usually has…
• A strong main character
• Pushed to compromising high ideals
• Character wavers on making a decision because there is not an easy choice to be made • The decision usually looks like choosing between the “wrong thing” to do or
loosing money or social position
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in Middle English • Wel gay watz þis gome gered in grene,And þe here of his hed of his hors swete.
Fayre fannand fax vmbefoldes his schulderes; A much berd as a busk ouer his brest henges, Þat wyth his hi3lich here þat of his hed reches Watz euesed al vmbetorne abof his elbowes, Þat half his armes þer-vnder were halched in þe wyse Of a kyngez capados þat closes his swyre; Þe mane of þat mayn hors much to hit lyke, Wel cresped and cemmed, wyth knottes ful mony Folden in wyth fildore aboute þe fayre grene, Ay a herle of þe here, an oþer of golde; Þe tayl and his toppyng twynnen of a sute, And bounden boþe wyth a bande of a bry3t grene, Dubbed wyth ful dere stonez, as þe dok lasted, Syþen þrawen wyth a þwong a þwarle knot alofte, Þer mony bellez ful bry3t of brende golde rungen. Such a fole vpon folde, ne freke þat hym rydes, Watz neuer sene in þat sale wyth sy3t er þat tyme, with y3e. He loked as layt so ly3t, So sayd al þat hym sy3e; Hit semed as no mon my3t Vnder his dynttez dry3e.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in Middle English
Click on the link to listen to the opening lines of Sir Gawain spoken in Middle English
Arthurian Romance/Courtly Love
• There is no solid evidence for/against the reign of a historic “King Arthur.”
• Some historians suggest Arthur was a Roman military leader who held power anywhere from 3rd to 7th century A.D. (Artorius = “plowman”)
• Arthur is more important for the legends that developed around him and his “Knights of the Round Table”
• Statue of King Arthur from around 1400AD
Arthurian Romance/Courtly Love Continued
• Arthur traditionally credited with uniting all England (i.e. uniting the pagan tribes) and therefore creating the potential for the development of a unique British character after the Norman invasion of England.
• Arthurian legends reach height in/around 12th century A.D.
• Even more importantly, it is around the legendary King Arthur that the chivalric tradition of the middle ages developed.
• Chivalry – from the French word cheval or “horse” – refers to the code of behavior that was expected of knights (all noblemen).
• This tradition was also called courtesie (also French), meaning “the behavior of the court.”
• “Chivalry” comes from the French cheval, or horse (n.b. Norman influence in language).
• Only the wealthiest people in medieval society could keep horses and afford to use them in combat.
• “Chivalry” became associated, therefore, with the qualities of “horsemen”, or knights.
• related words: cavalier (Fr., L.), cavalry (from L. caval), caballero (Sp.)
• In Arthurian tradition, the “Knights of the Round Table”
• Embodied – both individually and en masse, the characteristics of courtesie or “courtly love.”
Characteristics of Courtly Behavior
• Respect the king. Do nothing to bring him dishonor.
• Respect women. Do nothing to bring dishonor to any woman.
• Protect the poor and the weak.
• Honor God as a faithful Christian.
Examples of the Code of Chivalry
• Thou shalt defend the Church.
• Thou shalt respect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them.
• Live to serve King and Country.
• Live to defend Crown and Country and all it holds dear.
• Live one's life so that it is worthy of respect and honor.
• Live for freedom, justice and all that is good.
• Never attack an unarmed foe.
Medieval Alliterative Verse
• Like all other examples of literature we’ve read thus far, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight almost certainly began as an oral history carried from village-to-village by a bard – or singing storyteller.
• Like the Iliad and Beowulf, therefore, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is marked by meter, rhyme, and (as with Beowulf) alliteration.
• All these poetic devices were intended to help in the oral retelling of the story.
Why is it called Alliterative Verse?
• VERSE FORM: the "Gawain stanza"--a varying number of alliterative long lines terminated by a "bob & wheel," five short rhyming lines (ababa).
Alliterative Verse • 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 in sight. A
He looked a lightning flash,B they say: he seemed so bright;A and who would dare to clash B in melee with such might?A
As Epic Poetry
Review: Characteristics of the Epic Hero
1. He is a model of faith, loyalty, or bravery…
2. who makes a long, difficult journey…
3. to do battle on behalf of another…
4. perhaps using his own superhuman talents…
5. against an enemy who may himself have or be guarded by supernatural powers.
As Epic Poetry Continued
Review: Characteristics of the Epic Poem
1. An epic poem is a long, highly-stylized narrative poem…
2. that recounts the exploits of its main character – the epic hero.
3. Because most epic poetry originated as sung or spoken verse, it is rigidly metered and rhymed
Journey or Quest
• In medieval poetry, the epic hero’s journey to battle (like Achilles’ voyage to Troy or Beowulf’s to Dane-land) becomes a quest.
• A quest is “an adventurous expedition in search of something spiritually fulfilling or self-enhancing.”
Conventions of Medieval Romance
Medieval Romances: • Often have unprovoked and violent fighting!
• Are set in a mystical place and time (the Dark Ages)
• Present supernatural elements, and magical powers from the pagan world
• Have a hero who is on a noble adventure or quest
• Have a loose, episode-like structure
• Include elements of courtly love
• Embody ideals of chivalry
• Time frame of a year and a day
The Idea of Courtly Love
• This relationship was modeled on the feudal relationship between a knight and his liege lord.
• The knight serves his courtly lady with the same obedience and loyalty which he owes to his liege lord.
• She is in complete control; he owes her obedience and submission.
• The knight's love for the lady inspires him to do great deeds, in order to be worthy of her love or to win her favor.
The Idea of Courtly Love Continued
• “Courtly love" was not between husband and wife because it was an idealized sort of relationship that could not exist within the context of "real life" medieval marriages.
• In the middle ages, marriages amongst the nobility were typically based on practical and dynastic concerns rather than on love.
• “Courtly love" provided a model of behavior for a class of unmarried young men who might otherwise have threatened social stability.
• Knights were typically younger brothers without land of their own (hence unable to support a wife).
• They became members of the household of the feudal lords whom they served.
More on the Idea of Courtly Love
The lady is typically older, married, and of higher social status than the knight because she was modeled on the wife of the feudal lord, who might naturally become the focus of the young, unmarried knights' desire.
The literary model of courtly love may have been invented to provide young men with a model for appropriate behavior.
It taught bored young knights to control their baser desires and to channel their energy into socially useful behavior (love service rather than wandering around the countryside, stealing or raping women).
Still More on the Idea of Courtly Love
The "symptoms" of love were described as if it were a sickness.
The "lovesick" knight’s typical symptoms: sighing, turning pale, turning red, fever, inability to sleep, eat, or drink.
Review the instructional materials for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: The Literature
AND THE GREEN KNIGHT
A NEW VERSE TRANSLATION
W. W. NORTON & COMPANY, INC. also publishes
THE NORTON ANTHOLOGY OF ENGLISH LITERATURE edited by M. H. Abrams et al.
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and the NORTON CRITICAL EDITIONS
SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT
A NEW VERSE TRANSLATION
by MARIE BORROFF
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COPYRIGHT @ 1967 BY W. W. NORTON & COMPANY, INC.
Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 67·16601
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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Part I Part II Part III Part IV
The Metrical Form
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in its original Middle English form, is recognized as a literary work of the highest quality. Yet it has been known to us for only a hundred years, and it remains largely inaccessible to the nonspecialist because of the difficulty of its language, a language far more remote from the English of the present than that of Geoffrey Chaucer's London.
Gawain first turns up in modern history in a manuscript belong ing to the library of the great an tiquarian of Elizabethan times, Sir Robert Cotton. Cotton, in turn, seems to have obtained the manu script from a library in Yorkshire; this is not surprising, for the Gawain poet must have lived somewhere in the Midlands of England, probably near present-day Stafford. He was a contemporary of Chaucer's, but there is little likelihood that Chaucer ever heard of him or knew his works.
The single manuscript in which Gawain is found contains three other poems generally considered to be the work of the Gawain poet. Two of these, called Patience and Purity, are written in the same alliterative verse-form as Gawain; the third, called Pearl, is in an elaborate rhymed stanza. Patience tells the story of Jonah and the whale, moralized as a lesson in submission to God's will; Purity is a loosely organized series of stories from the Bible and reflections on the virtue ( "cleanness" in the Middle English) which its title denotes. Pearl is a dream-vision in which the narrator, stricken by the loss of the daughter that had been his pearl of great price and willfully rebellious against the faith he intellectually accepts, is led by the Pearl-maiden to a state of comparative reconciliation.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is an Arthurian romance; the plot of the poem, with its elements of the supernatural and of amorous in trigue, reflects both in its main outlines and in the handling of its descriptive details the treatment that the originally Celtic Arthurian legends had recei,·ed at the hands of such medieval French poets as Chretien de Troyes. As a late fourteenth century poem, Gawain is a product of the end of the Middle Ages. The ideal of knightly conduct-of courage, loyalty, and courtesy against which the poem's action is to be viewed was a long-estab lished, though still viable, ideal, which had become subject to super ficial acceptance and even satirical treatment. It may legitimately be compared to the Boy Scout ideal of conduct, similarly viable and
similarly subject to ridicule, in our century. The main story elements of which the plot of Gawain is com
posed derive ultimately from folklore, but the poet himself prob ably encountered them in French or Latin literary versions, and he was surely the first to combine them. The opening action of the poem retells the story of the "Beheading Game" ( traditionally so called ) , in which an unknown challenger proposes that one of a group of warriors volunteer to cut off his head, the stroke to be repa id in kind at some future date; the hero accepts this challenge, and at the crucial moment of reprisal is spared and praised for his courage. Later action incorporates the "Temptation S tory," in which an attractive woman attempts to seduce a man under circumstances in which he is bound to resist her, and the "Exchange of Win nings," in which two men agree to exchange what each has ac quired during a set period of time. In the plot of Gawain these three stories are intricately linke d : the hero, having contracted to accept a presumably mortal return stroke from the Green Knight's ax, sets out to meet him, as instructed, at the Green Chapel on New Year's Day. lie is unable to find out where the Green Chapel is; instead, he comes upon a magnificent castle where he is sumptuously enter tained, and later induced by his host to enter on an agreemen t to exchange winnings at the end of each of three successive days. The host's beautiful wife visits his bedchamber on each of the three mornings and makes amorous overtures toward him; he finally ac cepts from her, and conceals, a green girdle said to have the power of making its wearer invulnerable. All these plots are resolved at once in the last part of the poem as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight meet once more. \Vhen the poem ends, the most honored knight in the world, famed alike as a courageous warrior and a courteous lover, is proved fallible. His faulty act includes cowardice, since it was brought about by fear of death; covetousness, since it involved the desire to possess a valuable object; and treachery, since it resulted in a breach of faith with the host whose liegeman Gawain had sworn himself to be. To these shortcomings the poet amusingly adds a breach of courtesy as he makes this world-famed lover of women lapse momentarily into the sort of antifeminist tirade that was familiar to the medieval audience.
The Gawain poet, a master of juxtapositions, has constructed from these separable story clements a whole far greater than the sum of its parts. The castle in which Sir Gawain is entertained is vividly real; its architecture is in the latest continental style, its court is elegant and gay; its comfortable accommodations and sumptuous fare arc as welcome as those of a modern luxury hotel. Yet it is also the mysterious castle that has appeared out of nowhere, shining and shimmering like a mirage, in direct response to Gawain's prayer to
the Virgin on Christmas Eve, and it is a way-station on the road to certain death. This shadow hangs over the Christmas festivities, into whose blithe spirit the knight enters as fully as courtesy obliges him to do, and over the high comedy of the bedchamber scenes, in which he must not only refuse the lady's advances, but must manage to do so without insulting her. There is a profound psychological truth in the fact that he passes all these tests successfully and at the same time fails the most important one of all: the most dangerous temp tation is that which presents itself unexpectedly, as a side issue, while we are busy resisting another. Gawain accepts the belt because he recognizes in it a marvelously appropriate device for evading imminent danger, "a jewel for his jeopardy." At the same time, his act may well seem a way of granting the importunate lady a final fa,·or while evading her amorous invitation. Its full meaning as a cowardly, and hence covetous, grasping at life is revealed to him only later, and with stunning force.
To all this the poet has added three magnificently depicted hunt ing scenes in which the host, on the three successive days of Gawain's temptation, pursues the deer, the boar, and the fox. It is obvious that these episodes arc thematic parallels with the bed chamber scenes, where Gawain is on the defensive and the lady figures as an entrapping huntress, and the relation between the final hunt of the fox and Gawain's ill-fated ruse in concealing the belt is equally apparent. These values arc, as it were, inherent in the very presence of the three hunts in the poem, but the poet has also, by his handling of them, added to the dramatic effect of the successive episodes of the narrative. Each hunt is divided in two, enclosing the bedchamber scene of that day like the two halves of a pod. As each one opens, it presents a picture of vigorous, unhampered, and joy ous activity, with the host as the central figure dominating the ac tion. From each of these openings we move suddenly to the bed surrounded by curtains, where noise is hushed and space is confined. :\'othing could more enhance our sympathetic identification with the hero, whose scope of action is as hedged about morally and socially as it is physically. Each encounter between knight and lady is followed by the conclusion of the corresponding hunt, scenes of carnage and ceremonial butchery which come with all the logic of a violent dream after dutiful constraints.
The "meaning" of the hunting scenes, finally, must be judged in terms of our experience of them, an experience in which perhaps the most salient quality is that of sheer deligh t : the joy inherent in physical sport at its best, when a demanding physical activity is carried on with skill, in fine weather, among loyal companions. This joy, though innocent, is of the body, bringing into play that aspect of man in which he is one with all animals. The narrator's keen
sense of this joy is a part of his love of the physical world, a love manifest also in his knowledge of and delight in "all trades, their gear and tackle and trim," and in that sympathy with animals which leads him to adopt sympathetically the point of view of the hunted creatures and to imagine the suffering inflicted by wind and sleet upon the wild things of the forest. Insofar as we arc made to share this attitude we are placed on the side of mortality itself, and can thus, with the Green Knight, forgive Gawain for his single act of cowardice : what he did was done not out of sensual lust but for love of life-"the less, then, to blame." In the context of this affectionate sympathy, Gawain's own violent anger at the revelation of his fault must itself be viewed with amusement, as part of his human fallibility. Yet the underlying moral is serious; the pride implicit in accepting one's own reputation has been humbled; the lesson Gawain has been taught applies a fortiori to the court of which he is the most honored representative and, by further extension, to all men.
The style of the poem is as traditional as the story elements mak ing up its plot, to a degree that creates disconcerting problems for the translator. \Vhercas the contemporary reader looks to the con temporary poet for verbal originality and innovation, the medieval audience was accustomed to a poetry made up of traditional for mulas, a diction and phraseology whose effectiveness resided in time honored familiarity rather than the capacity to startle. And whereas +he contemporary poet tends to avoid the overt expression of emo tions and moral judgments, the stylistic tradition represented by Sir Gawain and the Green Knight calls for the frequent use of such explicitly qualitative adjectives as noble, worthy, lovely, courteous, and-perhaps most frequent of ali-good. These adjectives may be used frequently and freely because, within the traditional world por trayed in this poetic style, knights are inevitably noble and worthy, ladies lovely, servants courteous, and indeed everything, aside from monsters and villainous churls, ideally good.
The formulaic style of Gawain cannot be discussed apart from the alliterative verse-form in which it is composed, a form which has fallen into disuse since the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, although the language today lends itself equally well to its require ments. The alliterative tradition in Middle English is descended, with gradual modification reflecting changes in the language i tself, from the alliterative tradition in Old English poetry, and this in turn is a Germanic heritage, going back to a very early body of heroic legends recited in verse while the people of the Germanic nation was still a single cultural entity in northwest Europe. The presence of a large stock of alliterating formulas in modern English, expressions like "good as gold," "the lay of the land," "the worse for wear," "to look to one's laurels," is surely connected 'in some way
with this lost poetic inheritance.
As its name implies, the alliterating line is based on combinations of words (basically three in each line, but see the Appendix, pp. 55 ff. ) beginning with the same letter. Since the traditional style in which alliterative poetry was composed was originally developed for the recounting of heroic legends, its word-stock includes numerous synonyms expressing such meanings, important for this subject mat ter, as "hero," "steed," "sword," "chieftain," and "battle," as well as qualitative adjectives having such meanings as "bold," "strong," and "resolute." As the alliterative style came to be used to treat the subject matter of the Romances, new groups of words were added, nouns for reference to ladies and adjectives meaning "beautiful," "gracious," "courteous," "gay." There were also numerous verbs to denote such important actions as riding, looking, and speaking. Since each word in a given group began with a different letter, the stock vocabulary, as well as the traditional phrases, constituted an important technical resource in the hands ofihe accomplished poet. \Ve can view the Gawain poet, for example, as solving the problem of combining two nonallitcrating nouns by using an alliterating adjective, as when he speaks of "a shield and a sharp spear" ( 269), or "the girdle of green silk" ( 203 5).
The style of alliterative poetry is in its origins a style in which the narrator, as he tells a known story, distributes praise and blame to their appropriate recipien ts. In the oldest heroic poetry, the func tions of narrator and historian are combined, and both narrator and historian confirm the virtues and preserve in the memory of the people the valorous feats of "our mm." Ethical values are unques tioned and the tone is solemn . But Gawain is a poem composed late in the tradition of the chivalric romance, and it is a poem of the highest moral, as well as social, sophistication, in which both courage and courtesy arc subject to test. The narrator's traditional role has not altered outwardly; he applies in the time-honored way the time-honored words of praise. lie is thus literally the spokesman for the reputation of the knights of King Arthur's court, the repu tation which has drawn the Green Knight to Camelot. But arc their virtues literary or real? Though the narrator's manner :is dignified and reassuring, the story he has to tell is not, and behind his un failing poli teness we feel that he is richly conscious of the degree of humiliation inflicted upon the assembled court by its obstreperous visitor, of Gawain's exquisite physical and social unease as he chats with the lovely lady sitting on the side of his bed. Again, is Gawain a storybook lover or is he capable of dealing adequately with the real thing? The lady continually and disconcertingly suggests that he is the former. In the mouth of the narrator of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the stock words and phrases become implements
in the production of an effect that is difficult to describe, though easy to feel; they may take on a hollow sound or a ttract insidiously inappropriate meanings, as when the adjective stiff, which had in Middle English the poetic meaning "resolute" as well as its most usual modern meaning, is applied to the young King Arthur as he boyishly insists on waiting until he has seen a marvel before he joins the feast. (I have tried to produce something of the same effect by using the equally ambiguous word stout.)
It has seemed to me that a modern verse-translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight must fulfill certain requirements deriving from the na ture of the original style. First, it must so far as possible preserve the formulaic character of the language. This not infre quently involves repetition of wording within the poem itself; for example, the poet uses the same phrase in describing the original entrance and exit of the Green Knight, and the translator ought to do the same; the poem opens and closes with much the same word ing; there are verbal reminiscences of the original beheading scene in the episode at the Green Chapel, and so on. B ut beyond this, the style of the translation must, if possible, have something of the ex pectedness of the language of the fairy tale, with its "handsome princes" and "beautiful princesses," its opening "once upon a time" and its closing "they lived happily ever after"-though any sugges tion of whimsy or quaintness in so adult and sophisticated a literary work would be, to say the least, out of place. In trying to meet this condition I have incorporated into the translation as many as pos sible of the form ulas still current in the language. The reader will recognize such phrases as "tried and true," "winsome ways," "hot on his heels," and others; these have, I think, served my turn well, though many such phrases were too restricted in use to the realm of colloquial speech to be suitable in tone.
Second, the diction of the translation m ust, so far as possible, re flect that of the original poem. The traditional style as it appears in late Middle English embraces a wide range of kinds of words, from strictly poetic terms comparable in status to wherefore or in sooth today to words used primarily in the ordinary speech of the time, many of which have not descended into the modern language. But the style does not juxtapose discordant elements of diction for humorous effect, as the poetry of Ogden Nash, for example, does today. The level varies, but with subtle shifts of tone from solem nity to realistic vigor. I began the translation with the general notion that since the poet used words which were poetic in his time I could do the same, but I realized after a time that I was using such words where the original was colloquial, and that in any case the connotations of poetic diction for us have crucially altered. I finally used literary words only where it seemed to me that their effect was
unobtrusive, and I similarly made usc of distinctively colloquial words where I felt that the resultant effect was similar to that of the original. My translation thus includes both the archaic lo! and the colloquial swap (which is in the original ) , and I have tried to imitate the poet in modulating from one level to the other, avoiding, at one extreme, a pseudo-medieval quaintness, and, at the other, an all too homely familiarity.
Finally, a modern translation of Sir Gawain must, so far as pos sible, reproduce both the metrical variety of the original and its cumulative momen tum or "swing." This aspect of the poem is dis cussed in some detail in the Appendix on meter, pp. 55 ff.
Like all translators of poetry, I ha,·c been faced with the basic difficulty of reproducing the sense of the poem in lines which satisfy the requirements of metrical form and, beyond this, arc effective as rhythmic combinations of words. Like all translators of poetry, I have constantly had to compromise, sometimes forced away from literal rendition by the exigencies of the meter, sometimes foregoing an attractive phrase or cadence for the sake of a more faithful rendi tion, sometimes, I hope, finding myself able to have it both ways. I have tried to follow the poet as much in what he does not say as in what he does say, refraining from explicitness where he leads the reader, tantalizingly, to surmise. And I have done my best during the entire process of translation to attend carefully and respectfully to the exact sense of the poem at every turn, though I have inevi tably had at times to decide what was essential in a given line-what must be literally reproduced at all costs-and to content myself with sub stitutes, hopefully of equivalent value, for the rest. \Vhere I have been forced to deviate from the original, I have sometimes made the pleasurable discovery that in changing one line I have echoed an other elsewhere in the poem.
I believe that I have in the end produced a translation more like the original than the others I have seen, though the success of the translation as a modern poem is for its readers to judge. I t must inevitably fall short of the great achievement of the Gawain poet, but, like the page in the Christmas carol, I have continually found wa rmth and strength in treading in his footsteps.
New Haven, Connecticut December, 1966
My first and abiding debt is to the late Professor Helge Kokeritz, and to Professors John C. Pope and E . Talbot Donaldson, who taught me Old and l\1iddle English and the history of the English language and thus made this undertaking possible. That all three were teaching in the Graduate School of Yale University when I studied there was my great good fortune.
Professors Pope and Donaldson have made valuable criticisms, suggestions, and corrections and have given me even m ore valuable moral support. I am indebted to Mrs. Susan S. Addiss for her expert typing of the manuscript, and to Mrs. Addiss and Miss Anne M . Case for help with proofreading.
AND THE GREEN KNIGHT
A NEW VERSE TRANSLATION
Since the siege and the assault was ceased at Troy,I The walls breached and burnt down to brands and ashes, The knight that had knotted the nets of deceit \Vas impeached for his perfidy, proven most true, It was high-born Aeneas and his haughty race That since prevailed over provinces, and proudly reigned Over well-nigh all the wealth of the West Isles. Great Romulus to Rome repairs in haste; With boast and with bravery builds he that city And names it with his own name, that it now bears. Ticius to Tuscany, and towers raises, Langobard in Lombardy lays out homes, And far over the French Sea, Felix Brutus On many broad hills and high Britain he sets,
most fair. Where war and wrack and wonder By shifts have sojourned there, And bliss bv turns with blunder In that land's lot had share.
And since this Britain was built by this baron great, Bold boys bred there, in broils delighting, That did in their day many a deed most dire. More marvels have happened in this merry land Than in any other I know, since that olden time, But of those that here built, of British kings, King Arthur was counted most courteous of all, \Vherefore an adventure I aim to unfold, That a marvel of might some men think it, And one unmatched among Arthur's wonders. If you will listen to my lay but a little while, As I heard it in hall, I shall hasten to tell
anew. As it was fashioned featly In tale of derring-do, And linked in measures meetly By letters tried and true.
I. The poet begins his story, as he later ends it, by placing the reign of King Arthur in a broad historical perspective which includes the fall of Troy. In ac cordance with medieval notions of his tory (though not all of his details can be found in the early chronicles), he visualizes Aeneas, son of the king of Troy, and his descendants, as founding a series of western kingdoms to which each gives his name. This westward movement ends with the crossing of the
"French Sea" or British Channel, by Brutus, great-grandson of Aeneas, leg endary founder of the kingdom of Britain. This Brutus, whom the poet calls felix or fortunate, is not to be confused with the Marcus Brutus of Roman history. The deceitful knight of lines 3-4 is evidently Antenor, who in Virgil's Aeneid is a trusted counselor, but who appears as a traitor in later versions of the Troy story.
2 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
This king lay at Camelot at Christmastide; Many good knights and gay his guests were there, Arrayed of the Round Table rightful brothers, \Vith feasting and fellowship and carefree mirth. There true men contended in tournaments many, Joined there in jousting these gentle knights, Then came to the court for carol-dancing, For the feast was in force full fifteen days, \Vith all the meat and the mirth that men could devise, Such gaiety and glee, glorious to hear, Brave din by day, dancing by night. High were their hearts in halls and chambers, These lords and these ladies, for life was sweet. In peerless pleasures passed they their days, The most noble knights known under Christ, And the loveliest ladies that lived on earth ever, And he the comeliest king, that that court holds, For all this fair folk in their first age
were still. Happiest of mortal kind, King noblest famed of will; You would now go far to find So hardy a host on hill.
\Vhile the New Year was new, but yesternight come, This fair folk at feast two-fold was served, \Vhen the king and his company were come in together, The chanting in chapel achieved and ended. Clerics and all the court acclaimed the glad season, Cried Noel anew, good news to men; Then gallants gather gaily, hand-gifts to make, Called them out clearly, claimed them by hand, Bickered long and busily about those gifts. Ladies laughed aloud, though losers they were, And he that won was not angered, as well you will know. All this mirth they made until meat was served; When they had washed them worthily, they went to their seats, The best seated above, as best it beseemed, Guenevcre the goodly queen gay in the midst On a dais well-decked and duly arrayed With costly silk curtains, a canopy over, Of Toulouse and Turkestan tapestries rich, All broidered and bordered with the best gems Ever brought into Britain, with bright pennies
to pay. Fair queen, without a flaw, She glanced with eyes of grey. A seemlier that once he saw, In truth, no man could say.
But Arthur would not eat till all were served;
So light was his lordly heart, and a li ttle boyish; His life he liked lively-the less he cared To be lying for long, or long to sit, So busy his young blood, his brain so wild. And also a point of pride pricked him in heart, For he nobly had willed, he would never cat On so high
· a holiday, till he had heard first
Of some fair feat or fray some far-borne talc, Of some marvel of might, that he might trust, By champions of chivalry achieved in arms, Or some suppliant came seeking some single knight To join with him in jousting, in jeopardy each To lay life for life, and leave it to fortune To afford him on field fair hap or other. Such is the king's custom, when his court he holds At each far-famed feast amid his fair host
so dear. The stout king stands in state Till a wonder shall appear; He leads, with heart elate, High mirth in the New Year.
So he stands there in state, the stout young king, Talking before the high table of trifles fair. There Gawain the good knight by Gucnevcre sits, \Vith Agravain a Ia dure main on her other side, Both knights of renown, and nephews of the king. Bishop Baldwin above begins the table, And Yvain, son of Urien, ate with him there. These few with the fair queen were fittingly served; At the side-tables sat many stalwart knights.
Then the first course comes, with clamor of trumpets That were bravely bedecked with banncrcts bright, \Vith noise of new drums and the noble pipes. Wild were the warbles that wakened that day In strains that stirred many strong men's hearts. There dainties were dealt out, dishes rare, Choice fare to choose, on chargers so many That scarce was there space to set before the people The service of silver, with sundry meats,
on cloth. Each fair guest freely there Partakes, and nothing loth; Twelve dishes before each pair; Good beer and bright wine both .
Of the service itself I need sav no more, For well you will know no tittle was wanting. Another noise and a new was well-nigh at hand, That the lord might have leave his life to nourish; For scarce were th e sweet strains still in the hall,
l o S
1 1 0
1 1 5
1 2 5
4 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
And the first course come to that company fair, There hurtles in at the hall-door an unknown rider, One the greatest on ground in growth of his frame : From broad neck t o buttocks so bulkv and thick, And his loins and his legs so long and so great, …
Translated by JRR Tolkien
Table of Contents
Part 1 ……………….. 3
Part 2 ………………. 14
Part 3 ………………. 28
Part 4 …….………… 48
Appendix ………..... 61
Genesis 3 …….. 61
Judges 16 ……. 62
2 Samuel 11 … 64
1 Kings 11 …… 65
References ………. 66
1. When the siege and the assault had ceased at Troy,
and the fortress fell in flame to firebrands and ashes,
the traitor who the contrivance of treason there fashioned
was tried for his treachery, the most true upon earth –
it was Æneas the noble and his renowned kindred 5
who then laid under them lands, and lords became
of well-nigh all the wealth in the Western Isles.
When royal Romulus to Rome his road had taken,
in great pomp and pride. He peopled it first,
and named it with his own name that yet now it bears; 10
Tirius went to Tuscany and towns founded,
Langaberde in Lombardy uplifted halls,
and far over the French flood Felix Brutus
on many a broad bank and brae Britain established
full fair 15
where strange things, strife and sadness,
at whiles in the land did fare,
and each other grief and gladness
oft fast have followed there.
2. And when fair Britain was founded by this famous lord, 20
bold men were bred there who in battle rejoiced,
and many a time that betide they troubles aroused.
In this domain more marvels have by men been seen
than in any other that I know of since that olden time;
but of all that here abode in Britain as kings 25
ever was Arthur most honored, as I have heard men tell.
Wherefore a marvel among men I mean to recall,
a sight strange to see some men have held it,
one of the wildest adventures of the wonders of Arthur.
If you will listen to this lay but a little while now, 30
I will tell it at once as in town I have heard
as it is fixed and fettered
in story brave and bold,
thus linked and truly lettered, 35
as was loved in this land of old.
3. This king lay at Camelot at Christmas-tide
with many a lovely lord, lieges most noble,
indeed of the Table Round all those tried brethren,
amid merriment unmatched and mirth without care. 40
There tourneyed many a time the trusty knights,
and jousted full joyously these gentle lords; then to the court they came at carols to play.
For there the feast was unfailing full fifteen days,
with all meats and all mirth that men could devise, 45
such gladness and gaiety as was glorious to hear,
din of voices by day, and dancing by night;
all happiness at the highest in halls and in bowers
had the lords and the ladies, such as they loved most dearly.
With all the bliss of this world they abode together, 50
the knights most renowned after the name of Christ,
and the ladies most lovely that ever life enjoyed,
and he, king most courteous, who that court possessed.
For all that folk so fair did in their first estate
Under heaven the first in fame,
their king most high in pride;
it would now be hard to name
a troop in war so tried.
4. While New Year was yet young that yester-eve had arrived, 60
that day double dainties on the dais were served,
when the king was there come with his courtiers to the hall,
and the chanting of the choir in the chapel had ended.
With loud clamor and cries both clerks and laymen
Noel announced anew, and named it full often; 65
then nobles ran anon with New Year gifts,
Handsels, handsels they shouted, and handed them out,
Competed for those presents in playful debate;
ladies laughed loudly, though they lost the game,
and he that won was not woeful, as may well be believed. 70
All this merriment they made, till their meat was served;
then they washed, and mannerly went to their seats,
ever the highest for the worthiest, as was held to be best.
Queen Guinevere the gay was with grace in the midst
of the adorned dais set. Dearly was it arrayed: 75
finest sandal 1 at her sides, a ceiling above her
of true tissue of Tolouse, and tapestries of Tharsia
that were embroidered and bound with the brightest gems
one might prove and appraise to purchase for coin
any day. 80
That loveliest lady there
on them glanced with eyes of grey;
that he found ever one more fair
in sooth might no man say.
1 sandal: silk
5. But Arthur would not eat until all were served; 85
his youth made him so merry with the moods of a boy,
he liked lighthearted life, so loved he the less
either long to be lying or long to be seated:
so worked on him his young blood and wayward brain.
And another rule moreover was his reason besides 90
that in pride he had appointed: it pleased him not to eat
upon festival so fair, ere he first were apprised
of some strange story or stirring adventure,
or some moving marvel that he might believe in
of noble men, knighthood, or new adventures; 95
or a challenger should come a champion seeking
to join with him in jousting, in jeopardy to set
his life against life, each allowing the other
the favor of fortune, were she fairer to him.
This was the king’s custom, wherever his court was holden, 100
at each famous feast among his fair company
So his face doth proud appear,
and he stands up stout and tall,
all young in the New Year; 105
much mirth he makes with all.
6. Thus there stands up straight the stern king himself,
talking before the high table of trifles courtly.
There good Gawain was set at Guinevere’s side,
with Agravain a la Dure Main on the other side seated, 110
both their lord’s sister-sons, loyal-hearted knights.
Bishop Baldwin had the honor of the board’s service,
and Iwain Urien’s son ate beside him.
These dined on the dais and daintily fared,
and many a loyal lord below at the long tables. 115
Then forth came the first course with fanfare of trumpets,
on which many bright banners bravely were hanging;
noise of drums then anew and the noble pipes,
warbling wild and keen, wakened their music,
so that many hearts rose high hearing their playing. 120
Then forth was brought a feast, fare of the noblest,
multitude of fresh meats on so many dishes
that free places were few in front of the people
to set the silver things full of soups on cloth
so white. 125
Each lord of his liking there
without lack took with delight:
twelve plates to every pair,
good beer and wine all bright.
7. Now of their service I will say nothing more, 130
for you are all well aware that no want would there be.
Another noise that was new drew near on a sudden,
so that their lord might have leave at last to take food.
For hardly had the music but a moment ended,
and the first course in the court as was custom been served, 135
when there passed through the portals a perilous horseman,
the mightiest on middle-earth in measure of height,
from his gorge to his girdle so great and so square,
and his loins and his limbs so long and so huge,
that half a troll upon earth I trow 2 that he was, 140
but the largest man alive at least I declare him;
and yet the seemliest for his size that could sit on a horse,
for though in back and in breast his body was grim,
both his paunch and his waist were properly slight,
and all his features followed his fashion so gay 145
for at the hue men gaped aghast
in his face and form that showed;
as a fay-man fell he passed,
and green all over glowed. 150
8. All of green were they made, both garments and man:
a coat tight and close that clung to his sides;
a rich robe above it all arrayed within
with fur finely trimmed, showing fair fringes
of handsome ermine gay, as his hood was also, 155
that was lifted from his locks and laid on his shoulders;
and trim hose tight-drawn of tincture alike
that clung to his calves; and clear spurs below
of bright gold on silk broideries banded most richly,
though unshod were his shanks, for shoeless he rode. 160
And verily all this vesture was of verdure clear,
both the bars on his belt, and bright stones besides
that were richly arranged in his array so fair,
set on himself and on his saddle upon silk fabrics:
it would be too hard to rehearse one half of the trifles 165
that were embroidered upon them, what with birds and with flies
in a gay glory of green, and ever gold in the midst.
The pendants of his poitrel, 3 his proud crupper,
his molains, 4 and all the metal to say more, were enameled,
even the stirrups that he stood in were stained of the same; 170
2 trow: believe
3 poitrel: horsey breastplate
4 molains: bridle and bit
and his saddlebows in suit, and their sumptuous skirts,
which ever glimmered and glinted all with green jewels;
even the horse that upheld him in hue was the same,
a green horse great and thick, 175
a stallion stiff to quell,
in broidered bridle quick:
he matched his master well.
9. Very gay was this great man guised all in green,
and the hair of his head with his horse’s accorded: 180
fair flapping locks enfolding his shoulders,
a big beard like a bush over his breast hanging
that with the handsome hair from his head falling
was sharp shorn to an edge just short of his elbows,
so that half his arms under it were hid, as it were 185
in a king’s capadoce 5 that encloses his neck.
The name of that mighty horse was of much the same sort,
well curled and all combed, with many curious knots
woven in with gold wire about the wondrous green,
ever a strand of the hair and a string of the gold; 190
the tail and the top-lock were twined all to match
and both bound with a band of a brilliant green:
with dear jewels bedight to the dock’s ending,
and twisted then on top was a tight-knotted knot
on which many burnished bells of bright gold jingled. 195
Such a mount on middle-earth, or man to ride him,
was never beheld in that hall with eyes ere that time;
his glance was as lightning bright,
so did all that saw him swear; 200
no man would have the might,
they thought, his elbows to bear.
10. And yet he had not a helm, nor a hauberk either,
not a pisane, 6 not a plate that was proper to arms;
not a shield, not a shaft, for shock or for blow, 205
but in his one hand he held a holly-bundle,
that is greatest in greenery when groves are leafless,
and an axe in the other, ugly and monstrous,
a ruthless weapon aright for one in rhyme to describe:
the head was as large and as long as an ellwand, 7 210
a branch of green steel and of beaten gold;
5 capadoce: head piece
6 pisane: upper breastplate
7 ellwand: unit of measurement equal to 5/8 yd
the bit, burnished bright and broad at the edge,
as well shaped for shearing as sharp razors;
the stem was a stout staff, by which sternly he gripped it,
all bound with iron about to the base of the handle, 215
and engraven in green in graceful patterns,
lapped round with a lanyard that was lashed to the head
and down the length of the haft was looped many times;
and tassels of price were tied there in plenty
to bosses of the bright green, braided most richly. 220
Such was he that now hastened in, the hall entering,
pressing forward to the dais - no peril he feared.
To none gave he greeting, gazing above them,
and the first word that he winged: ‘Now where is’, he said,
‘the governor of this gathering? For gladly I would 225
on the same set my sight, and with himself now talk
On the courtiers he cast his eye,
and rolled it up and down;
he stopped, and stared to espy 230
who there had most renown.
11. Then they looked for a long while, on that lord gazing;
for every man marveled what it could mean indeed
that horseman and horse such a hue should come by
as to grow green as the grass, and greener it seemed, 235
than green enamel on gold glowing far brighter.
All stared that stood there and stole up nearer,
watching him and wondering what in the world he would do.
For many marvels they had seen, but to match this nothing;
wherefore a phantom and fay-magic folk there thought it, 240
and so to answer little eager was any of those knights,
and astounded at his stern voice stone-still they sat there
in a swooning silence through that solemn chamber,
as if all had dropped into a dream, so died their voices
Not only, I deem, for dread;
but of some ‘twas their courtly way
to allow their lord and head
to the guest his word to say.
12. Then Arthur before the high dais beheld this wonder, 250
and freely with fair words, for fearless was he ever,
saluted him, saying: ‘Lord, to this lodging thou’rt welcome!
The head of this household Arthur my name is.
Alight, as thou lovest me, and linger, pray thee;
and what may thy wish be in a while we shall learn.’ 255
‘Nay, so help me,’ quoth the horseman, ‘He that on high is throned,
to pass any time in this place was no part of my errand.
But since thy praises, prince, so proud are uplifted,
and thy castle and courtiers are accounted the best,
the stoutest in steel-gear that on steeds may ride, 260
most eager and honorable of the earth’s people,
valiant to vie with in other virtuous sports,
and here is knighthood renowned, as is noised in my ears:
‘tis that has fetched me hither, by my faith, at this time.
You may believe by this branch that I am bearing here 265
that I pass as one in peace, no peril seeking.
For had I set forth to fight in fashion of war,
I have a hauberk at home, and a helm also,
A shield, and a sharp spear shining brightly,
and other weapons to wield too, as well I believe; 270
but since I crave for no combat, my clothes are softer.
Yet if thou be so bold, as abroad is published,
thou wilt grant of thy goodness the game that I ask for
Then Arthur answered there, 275
and said: ‘Sir, noble knight,
if battle thou seek thus bare,
thou’lt fail not here to fight.’
13. ‘Nay, I wish for no warfare, on my word I tell thee!
Here about on these benches are but beardless children. 280
Were I hasped in armor on a high charger,
there is no man here to match me – their might is so feeble.
And so I crave in this court only a Christmas pastime,
since it is Yule and New Year, and you are young here and merry.
If any so hardy in this house here holds that he is, 285
if so bold be his blood or his brain be so wild,
that he stoutly dare strike one stroke for another,
then I will give him as my gift this guisarme 8 costly,
this axe - ‘tis heavy enough - to handle as he pleases;
and I will abide the first brunt, here bare as I sit. 290
If any fellow be so fierce as my faith to test,
hither let him haste to me and lay hold of this weapon –
I hand it over for ever, he can have it as his own –
and I will stand a stroke from him, stock-still on this floor,
provided thou’lt lay down this law: that I may deliver him another.
And yet a respite I’ll allow,
till a year and a day go by.
Come quick, and let’s see now
if any here dare reply!’ 300
8 guisarme: weapon
14. If he astounded them at first, yet stiller were then
and all the household in the hall, both high men and low.
The man on his mount moved in his saddle,
and rudely his red eyes he rolled then about,
bent his bristling brows all brilliantly green, 305
and swept round his beard to see who would rise.
When none in converse would accost him, he coughed then loudly,
stretched himself haughtily and straightway exclaimed:
‘What! Is this Arthur’s house,’ said he thereupon,
‘the rumor of which runs through realms unnumbered? 310
Where now is your haughtiness, and your high conquests,
your fierceness and fell mood, and your fine boasting?
Now are the revels and the royalty of the Round Table
overwhelmed by a word by one man spoken,
for all blench now abashed ere a blow is offered!’ 315
With that he laughed so loud that their lord was angered,
the blood shot for shame into his shining cheeks
as wroth as wind he grew,
so all did in that place. 320
Then near to the stout man drew
the king of fearless race,
15. And said: ‘Marry! Good man, ‘tis madness thou askest,
and since folly thou hast sought, thou deservedst to find it.
I know no lord that is alarmed by thy loud words here. 325
Give me now thy guisarme, in God’s name, sir,
and I will bring thee the blessing thou hast begged to receive.’
Quick then he came to him and caught it from his hand.
Then the lordly man loftily alighted on foot.
Now Arthur holds his axe, and the haft grasping 330
sternly he stirs it about, his stroke considering.
The stout man before him there stood his full height,
higher than any in that house by a head and yet more.
With stern face as he stood he stroked at his beard,
and with expression impassive he pulled down his coat, 335
no more disturbed or distressed at the strength of his blows
than if someone as he sat had served him a drink
From beside the queen Gawain
to the king did then incline: 340
‘I implore with prayer plain
that this match should now be mine.’
16. ‘Would you, my worthy lord,’ said Gawain to the king,
‘bid me abandon this bench and stand by you there,
so that I without discourtesy might be excused from the table, 345
and my liege lady were not loth to permit me,
I would come to your counsel before your courtiers fair.
For I find it unfitting, as in fact it is held,
when a challenge in your chamber makes choice so exalted,
though you yourself be desirous to accept it in person, 350
while many bold men about you on bench are seated:
on earth there are, I hold, none more honest of purpose,
no figures fairer on field where fighting is waged.
I am the weakest, I am aware, and in wit feeblest,
and the least loss, if I live not, if one would learn the truth. 355
Only because you are my uncle is honor given me:
save your blood in my body I boast of no virtue;
and since this affair is so foolish that it nowise befits you,
and I have requested it first, accord it then to me!
If my claim is uncalled-for without cavil shall judge 360
To consult the knights draw near,
and this plan they all support;
the king with crown to clear,
and give Gawain the sport. 365
17. The king then commanded that he quickly should rise,
and he readily uprose and directly approached,
kneeling humbly before his highness, and laying hand on the weapon;
and he lovingly relinquished it, and lifting his hand
gave him God’s blessing, and graciously enjoined him 370
that his hand and his heart should be hardy alike.
‘Take care, cousin,’ quoth the king, ‘one cut to address,
and if thou learnest him his lesson, I believe very well
that thou wilt bear any blow that he gives back later.’
Gawain goes to the great man with guisarme in hand, 375
and he boldly abides there - he blenched not at all.
Then next said to Gawain the knight all in green:
‘Let’s tell again our agreement, ere we go any further.
I’d know first, sir knight, thy name; I entreat thee
to tell it me truly, that I may trust in thy word.’ 380
‘In good faith,’ quoth the good knight, ‘I Gawain am called
who bring thee this buffet, let be what may follow;
and at this time a twelvemonth in thy turn have another
with whatever weapon thou wilt, and in the world with none else
but me.’ 385
The other man answered again:
‘I am passing pleased,’ said he,
‘upon my life, Sir Gawain,
that this stroke should be struck by thee.’
18. ‘Begad,’ 9 said the green knight, ‘Sir Gawain, I am pleased
to find from thy fist the favor I asked for!
And thou hast promptly repeated and plainly hast stated
without abatement the bargain I begged of the king here;
save that thou must assure me, sir, on thy honor
that thou’lt seek me thyself, search where thou thinkest 395
I may be found near or far, and fetch thee such payment
as thou deliverest me today before these lordly people.’
‘Where should I light on thee,’ quoth Gawain, ‘where look for thy place?
I have never learned where thou livest, by the Lord that made me,
and I know thee not, knight, thy name nor thy court. 400
But teach me the true way, and tell me what men call thee,
and I will apply all my purpose the path to discover;
and that I swear thee for certain and solemnly promise.’
‘That is enough in New Year, there is need of no more!’
said the great man in green to Gawain the courtly. 405
‘If I tell thee the truth of it, when I have taken the knock,
and thou handily hast hit me, if in haste I announce then
my house and my home and mine own title,
then thou canst call and enquire and keep the agreement;
and if I waste not a word, thou’lt win better fortune, 410
for thou mayst linger in thy land and look no further –
To thy grim tool now take heed, sir!
Let us try thy knocks today!’
‘Gladly,’ said he, ‘indeed, sir!’ 415
and his axe he stroked in play.
19. The Green Knight on the ground now gets himself ready,
leaning a little with the head he lays bare the flesh,
and his locks long and lovely he lifts over his crown,
letting the naked neck as was needed appear. 420
His left foot on the floor before him placing,
Gawain gripped on his axe, gathered and raised it,
from aloft let it swiftly land where ‘twas naked,
so that the sharp of his blade shivered the bones,
and sank clean through the clear fat and clove it asunder, 425
and the blade of the bright steel then bit into the ground.
The fair head to the floor fell from the shoulders,
and folk fended it with their feet as forth it went rolling;
the blood burst from the body, bright on the greenness,
and yet neither faltered nor fell the fierce man at all, 430
but stoutly he strode forth, still strong on his shanks,
and roughly he reached out among the rows that stood there,
caught up his comely head and quickly upraised it,
9 Begad: gasp!
and then hastened to his horse, laid hold of the bridle,
stepped into stirrup-iron, and strode up aloft, 435
his head by the hair in his hand holding;
and he settled himself then in the saddle as firmly
as if unharmed by mishap, though in the hall he might wear
His trunk he twisted round, 440
that gruesome body that bled,
and many fear then found,
as soon as his speech was sped.
20. For the head in his hand he held it up straight,
towards the fairest at the table he twisted the face, 445
and it lifted up its eyelids and looked at them broadly,
and made such words with its mouth as may be recounted.
‘See thou get ready, Gawain, to go as thou vowedst,
and as faithfully seek till thou find me, good sir,
as thou hast promised in this place in the presence of these knights.
To the Green Chapel go thou, and get thee, I charge thee,
such a dint as thou hast dealt - indeed thou hast earned
a nimble knock in return on New Year’s morning!
The Knight of the Green Chapel I am known to many,
so if to find me thou endeavor, thou’lt fail not to do so. 455
Therefore come! Or to be called a craven thou deservest.’
With a rude roar and rush his reins he turned then,
and hastened out through the hall-door with his head in his hand,
and fire of the flint flew from the feet of his charger.
To what country he came in that court no man knew, 460
no more than they had learned from what land he had journeyed.
the king and Sir Gawain
at the Green Man laugh and smile;
yet to men had appeared, ‘twas plain, 465
a marvel beyond denial.
21. Though Arthur the high king in his heart marveled,
he let no sign of it be seen, but said then aloud
to the queen so comely with courteous words:
‘Dear Lady, today be not downcast at all! 470
Such cunning play well becomes the Christmas tide,
interludes, and the like, and laughter and singing,
amid these noble dances of knights and of dames.
Nonetheless to my food I may fairly betake me,
for a marvel I have met, and I may not deny it.’ 475
He glanced at Sir Gawain and with good point he said:
‘Come, hang up thine axe, sir! It has hewn now enough.’
And over the table they hung it on the tapestry behind,
where all men might remark it, a marvel to see,
and by its true token might tell of that adventure. 480
Then to a table they turned, those two lords together,
the king and his good kinsman, and courtly men served them
with all dainties double, the dearest there might be,
with all manner of meats and with minstrelsy too.
With delight that day they led, till to the land came the 485
Sir Gawain, now take heed
lest fear make thee refrain
from daring the dangerous deed
that thou in hand hast ta’en! 490
22. With this earnest of high deeds thus Arthur began
the young year, for brave vows he yearned to hear made.
Though such words were wanting when they went to table,
now of fell work to full grasp filled were their hands.
Gawain was gay as he began those games in the hall, 495
but if the end be unhappy, hold it no wonder!
For though men be merry of mood when they have mightily drunk,
a year slips by swiftly, never the same returning;
the outset to the ending is equal but seldom.
And so this Yule passed over and the year after, 500
and severally the seasons ensued in their turn:
after Christmas there came the crabbed Lenten
that with fish tries the flesh and with food more meager;
but then the weather in the world makes war on the winter,
cold creeps into the earth, clouds are uplifted, 505
shining rain is shed in showers that all warm
fall on the fair turf, flowers there open,
of grounds and of groves green is the raiment,
birds are busy a-building and bravely are singing
for the sweetness of the soft summer that will soon be on 510
and blossoms burgeon and blow
in hedgerows bright and gay;
then glorious musics go
through the woods in proud array. 515
23. After the season of summer with its soft breezes,
when Zephyr goes sighing through seeds and herbs,
right glad is the grass that grows in the open,
when the damp dewdrops are dripping from the leaves
to greet a gay glance of the glistening sun. 520
But when Harvest hurries in, and hardens it quickly,
warns it before winter to wax to ripeness.
He drives with his drought the dust, till it rises
from the face of the land and flies up aloft;
wild wind in the welkin makes war on the sun, 525
the leaves loosed from the linden alight on the ground,
and all grey is the grass that green was before:
all things ripen and rot that rose up at first,
and so the year runs away in yesterdays many,
and here winter wends again, as by the way of the world 530
until the Michaelmas moon
has winter’s boding brought;
Sir Gawain then full soon
of his grievous journey thought. 535
24. And yet till All Hallows with Arthur he lingered,
who furnished on that festival a feast for the knight
with much royal revelry of the Round Table.
The knights of renown and noble ladies
all for the love of that lord had longing at heart, 540
but nevertheless the more lightly of laughter they spoke:
many were joyless who jested for his gentle sake.
For after their meal mournfully he reminded his uncle
that his departure was near, and plainly he said:
‘Now liege-lord of my life, for leave I beg you. 545
You know the quest and the compact; I care not further
to trouble you with tale of it, save a trifling point:
I must set forth to my fate without fail in the morning,
as God will me guide, the Green Man to seek.’
Those most accounted in the castle came then together, 550
Iwain and Erric and others not a few,
Sir Doddinel le Savage, the Duke of the Clarence,
Lancelot, and Lionel, and Lucan the Good,
Sir Bors and Sir Bedivere that were both men of might,
and many others of mark with Mador de la Porte. 555
All this company of the court …