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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The poem begins at Christmastime in Camelot, the kingdom of the legendary King Arthur. The poet tells us that the court is in its "springtime," meaning that King Arthur is still a young man. He sits at his famous Round Table, with his wife Guenevere by his side. His best knights are dining with him as well, including his nephew, Sir Gawain. Everyone is laughing and eating and enjoying themselves, when they are interrupted by a strange man.

Of the service itself I need say no more,
For well you will know no title 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 the sweet strains still in the hall,


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 to buttocks so bulky and thick,
And his loins and his legs so long and so great,


Half a giant on earth I hold him to be,
But believe him no less than the largest of men,
And that the seemliest in his stature to see, as he rides,
For in back and in breast though his body was grim,
His waist in its width was worthily small,

(145) And formed with every feature in fair accord  


was he.
Great wonder grew in hall
At his hue most strange to see,
For man and gear and all
Were green as green could be.


And in guise all of green, the gear and the man:
A coat cut close, that clung to his sides,
And a mantle to match, made with a lining
Of furs cut and fitted--the fabric was noble1,

Recall that the upper classes wore special fabrics to denote their status. This lets us know that the strange man is a nobleman.

Embellished all with ermine, and his hood beside,
That was loosed from his locks, and laid on his shoulders.
With trim hose and tight, the same tint of green,
His great calves were girt, and gold spurs under
He bore on silk bands that embellished his heels,


And footgear well-fashioned, for riding most fit.
And all his vesture verily was verdant green;
Both the bosses on his belt and other bright gems
That were richly ranged on his raiment noble
About himself and his saddle, set upon silk,


That to tell half the trifles would tax my wits,
The butterflies and birds embroidered thereon
In green of the gayest, with many a gold thread.
The pendants of the breast-band, the princely crupper,
And the bars of the bit were brightly enameled;


The stout stirrups were green that steadied his feet,
And the bows of the saddle and the side-panels both,
That gleamed all and glinted with green gems about.
The steed he bestrides of that same green


so bright.
A green horse great and thick;
A headstrong steed of might;
In broidered bridle quick,
Mount matched man aright.


Gay was this goodly man in guise all of green,


And the hair of his head to his horse suited;
Fair flowing tresses enfold his shoulders;
A beard big as a bush on his breast hangs,
That with his heavy hair, that from his head falls,
Was evened all about above both his elbows,


That half his arms thereunder were hid in the fashion
Of a king's cap-á-dos2, that covers his throat.
The mane of that mighty horse much to it like,
Well curled and becombed, and cunningly knotted
With filaments of fine gold amid the fair green,

2 A cap-á-dos is an armored cape that covers the wearer from head to back.

Here a strand of the hair, here one of gold;
His tail and his foretop twin in their hue,
And bound both with a band of a bright green
That was decked adown the dock with dazzling stones
And tied tight at the top with a triple knot


Where many bells well burnished rang bright and clear.
Such a mount in his might, nor man on him riding,
None had seen, I dare swear, with sight in that hall



so grand.
As lightning quick and light
He looked to all at hand;
It seemed that no man might
His deadly dints withstand.

The Green Knight catches the court off guard, and no one knows how to react. King Arthur steps up and asks the man why he has interrupted their feast. The young and brash King Arthur declares "If contest bare you crave, / You shall not fail to fight." The Green Knight responds:


"Nay, to fight, in good faith, is far from my thought;
There are about on these benches but beardless children,
Were I here in full arms on a haughty steed,
For measured against mine, their might is puny.
And so I call in this court for a Christmas game,
For 'tis Yule and New Year, and many young bloods about;


The Green Knight claims that he is only there to play a game. He tries to portray himself as harmless and looking for fun.


If any in this house such hardihood claims,
Be so bold in his blood, his brain so wild,
As stoutly to strike one stroke for another,
I shall give him as my gift this gisarme3 noble,
This axe, that is heavy enough, to handle as he likes,

3 a shafted weapon with a curved, double-edged blade and a beak at the back.

And I shall bide the first blow, as bare as I sit.
If there be one so willful my words to assay,
Let him leap hither lightly, lay hold of this weapon;
I quitclaim it forever, keep it as his own,
And I shall stand him a stroke, steady on this floor,

(295) So you grant me the guerdon4 to give him another, 4 reward



sans5 blame.
In a twelvemonth and a day
He shall have of me the same;
Now be it seen straightway
Who dares take up the game."

5 without

If he astonished them at first, stiller were then
All that household in hall, the high and the low;
The stranger on his green steed stirred in the saddle,
And roisterously his red eyes he rolled all about,


Bent his bristling brows, that were bright green,
Wagged his beard as he watched who would arise.
When the court kept its counsel he coughed aloud,
And cleared his throat coolly, the clearer to speak:
"What, is this Arthur's house," said that horseman then,


"Whose fame is so fair in far realms and wide?
Where is now your arrogance and your awesome deeds,
Your valor and your victories and your vaunting words?
Now are the revel and renown of the Round Table
Overwhelmed with a word of one man's speech,

Here the Green Knight is not only challenging King Arthur's character and manhood, but the quality of his court. This is the ultimate insult.

For all cower and quake, and no cut felt!"
With this he laughs so loud that the lord grieved;
The blood for sheer shame shot to his face,




and pride.
With rage his face flushed red,
And so did all beside.
Then the king as bold man bred
Toward the stranger took a stride.

  And said "Sir, now we see you will say but folly,
Which whoso has sought, it suits that he find.

No guest here is aghast of your great words.
Give to me your gisarme, in God's own name,
And the boon you have begged shall straight be granted."
He leaps to him lightly, lays hold of his weapon;
The green fellow on foot fiercely alights.


Now has Arthur his axe, and the haft grips,
And sternly stirs it about, on striking bent.
The stranger before him stood erect,
Higher than any in the house by a head and more;
With stern look as he stood, he stroked his beard,


And with undaunted countenance drew down his coat,
No more moved nor dismayed for his mighty dints
Than any bold man on bench had brought him a drink

Arthur readies his axe and the Green Knight draws back his collar. The Knight appears neither impressed by Arthur's power nor worried about what is about to happen.


of wine.
Gawain by Guenevere
Toward the king doth now incline:
"I beseech, before all here,
That this melee6 may be mine."

Sir Gawain steps forward to take the pressure off of his king.

6 fight

  "Would you grant me the grace," said Gawain to the king,
"To be gone from this bench and stand by you there,

If I without discourtesy might quit this board,
And if my liege lady misliked it not,
I would come to your counsel before your court noble.
For I find it not fit, as in faith it is known,
When such a boon is begged before all these knights.

Gawain refers to his liege lady. When a feudal knight accepts land grants from more than one lord, he must declare one lord his liege lord. A knight must serve his liege lord personally, but may send vassals to serve another lord in his place.

Though you be tempted thereto, to take it on yourself
While so boldmen about upon benches sit,
That no host under heaven is hardier of will,
Nor better brothers-in-arms where battle is joined;
I am the weakest, well I know, and of wit feeblest;

Here Gawain claims that he is the weakest and worth the least. This is in contrast to what the poet has told us about Gawain's knightly qualities. These lines demonstrate his modesty.

And the loss of my life would be least of any;
That I have you for uncle is my only praise;
My body, but for your blood, is barren of worth;
And for that this folly befits not a king,
And 'tis I that have asked it, it ought to be mine,

(360) And if my claim be not comely let all this court judge,  



in sight."
The court assays the claim,
And in counsel all unite
To give Gawain the game
And release the king outright.

The Green Knight reminds Sir Gawain that he must uphold his end of the bargain and come to seek him out in a year's time. Next the Green Knight prepares to have his head chopped off:

The Green Knight upon ground girds him with care:
Bows a bit with his head, and bares his flesh:
His long lovely locks he laid over his crown,


Let the naked nape for the need be shown.
Gawain grips to his axe and gathers it aloft--
The left foot on the floor before him he set--
Brought it down deftly upon the bare neck,
That the shock of the sharp blow shivered the bones


And cut the flesh cleanly and clove it in twain7,
That the blade of bright steel bit into the ground.
The head was hewn off and fell to the floor;
Many found it at their feet, as forth it rolled;
The blood gushed from the body, bright on the green

7 cut it in half, divided into two parts

The head falls to the floor and rolls around, gushing blood.


Yet fell not the fellow, nor faltered a whit8,
But stoutly he starts forth upon stiff shanks,
And as all stood staring he stretched forth his hand,
Laid hold of his head and heaved it aloft,
Then goes to the green steed, grasps the bridle,

8 bit


Steps into the stirrup, bestrides his mount.
And his head by the hair in his hand holds,
And as steady he sits in the stately saddle
As he had met with no mishap, nor missing were

The Green Knight picks up his head and holds it by the hair out in front of him. He does not appear to be hurt at all.


his head.
His bulk about he haled,
That fearsome body that bled;
There were many in the court that quailed
Before all his say was said.

  For the head in his hand he holds right up;  

Toward the first on the dais directs he the face,
And it lifted up its lids, and looked with wide eyes,
And said as much with its mouth as now you may hear:
"Sir Gawain, forget not to go as agreed,
And cease not to seek till me, sir, you find,


As you promised in presence of these proud knights.
To the Green Chapel come, I charge you, to take
Such a dint as you have dealt--you have well deserved
That your neck should have a knock on New Year's morn.
The Knight of the Green Chapel I am well-known to many,

The Green Knight reminds the shocked Gawain of his promise to seek him out in a year's time.

Wherefore you cannot fail to find me at last;
Therefore come, or be counted a recreant knight."

The Green Knight leaves the stunned King Arthur and his court. A year passes. Soon it is Christmastime again and it is time for Gawain to seek out the Green Knight and his Green Chapel. Sir Gawain leaves the safety of Camelot for the danger of the wilderness. He encounters many difficulties. He becomes upset when he realizes that he may spend Christmas in the wild. He prays to God and Mary. As soon as he does, a beautiful castle appears.
Sir Gawain meets the lord of the castle. He is a burly, good-natured man and invites Gawain to stay with him for the Christmas holidays. Soon after he meets the lord of the house, he is introduced to the lady of the house. Sir Gawain is immediately attracted to her. He cannot help but compare her to the withered old lady by her side.
  Gawain agrees to stay with them for a few days. 
(1105) "And Gawain," said the good host, "agree now to this:
Whatever I win in the woods I will give you at eve,
And all you have earned you must offer to me;
Swear now, sweet friend, to swap as I say,
Whether hands, in the end, be empty or better."
The lord of the house takes Gawain aside and tells him that their hospitality has a catch. Gawain must agree to a deal. The host promises to share the animals he kills while hunting. In exchange, Gawain must tell the host what he did during the day.
(1110) "By God," said Sir Gawain, "I grant it forthwith!
If you find the game good, I shall gladly take part."
"Let the bright wine be brought, and our bargain is done,"
Said the lord of that land--the two laughed together.
Then they drank and they dallied and doffed9 all constraint,


9 discarded

(1115) These lords and these ladies, as late as they chose,
And then with gaiety and gallantries and graceful adieux
They talked in low tones, and tarried at parting.
With compliments comely they kiss at the last;
There were brisk lads about with blazing torches
(1120) To see them safe to bed, for soft repose  



long due.
Their covenants, yet awhile,
They repeat, and pledge anew;
That lord could well beguile
Men's hearts, with mirth in view.

  After a fun evening with his hosts, Sir Gawain goes to bed. In the morning, the host goes out hunting, as he said he would. Gawain sleeps in until he is interrupted by the lady of the house.
  So the lord in the linden-wood leads the hunt
And Gawain the good knight in gay bed lies,
(1180) Lingered late alone, till daylight gleamed,
Under coverlet10 costly, curtained about.
And as he slips into slumber, slyly there comes
A little din11 at his door, and the latch lifted,
And he holds up his heavy head out of the clothes;

10 blanket or comforter


(1185) A corner of the curtain he caught back a little
And waited there warily, to see what befell.
Lo! it was the lady, loveliest to behold,
That drew the door behind her deftly and still
And was bound for his bed--abashed was the knight,
(1190) And laid his head low again in likeness of sleep;
And she stepped stealthily, and stole to his bed,
Cast aside the curtain and came within,
And set herself softly on the bedside there,
And lingered at her leisure, to look on his waking.
(1195) The fair knight lay feigning for a long while,
Conning in his conscience what his case might
Mean or amount to--a marvel he thought it.
But yet he said within himself, "More seemly it were
To try her intent by talking a little."
Gawain pretends to be asleep because he does not know how to react to her presence. He is not sure why she is there or what she wants from him.
(1200) So he started and stretched, as startled from sleep,
Lifts wide his lids in likeness of wonder,
And signs himself swiftly, as safer to be,


with art.
Sweetly does she speak
And kindling glances dart,
Blent white and red on cheek
And laughing lips apart.

  "Good morning, Sir Gawain," said that gay lady,
"A slack sleeper you are, to let one slip in!
(1210) Now you are taken in a trice--a truce we must make,
Or I shall bind you in your bed, of that be assured."
Thus laughing lightly that lady jested.
"Good morning, good lady," said Gawain the blithe12,
"Be it with me as you will; I am well content!
Gawain and the lady flirt.

12 cheerful

(1215) For I surrender myself, and sue for your grace,
And that is best, I believe, and behooves me now."
Thus jested in answer that gentle knight.
"But if, lovely lady, you misliked it not,
And were pleased to permit your prisoner to rise,
(1220) I should quit this couch and accoutre me better13,
And be clad in more comfort for converse here."
"Nay, not so, sweet sir," said the smiling lady;
"You shall not rise from your bed; I direct you better:
I shall hem and hold you on either hand,
13 get dressed, put on appropriate clothes
(1225) And keep company awhile with my captive knight.
For as certain as I sit here, Sir Gawain you are,
Whom all the world worships, whereso you ride;
Your honor, your courtesy are highest acclaimed
By lords and by ladies, by all living men;
(1230) And lo! we are alone here, and left to ourselves:
My lord and his liegemen are long departed,
The household asleep, my handmaids too,
The door drawn, and held by a well-driven bolt,
And since I have in this house him whom all love,
(1235) I shall while the time away with mirthful speech  

at will.
My body is here at hand,
Your each wish to fulfill;
Your servant to command
I am, and shall be still."

The lady of the house tries to seduce Sir Gawain.
(1240) "In good faith," said Gawain, "my gain is the greater,
Though I am not he of whom you have heard;
To arrive at such reverence as you recount here
I am one all unworthy and well do I know it.
Gawain modestly and tactfully sidesteps the lady's advances.
(1245) By heaven, I would hold me the happiest of men
If by word or by work I once might aspire
To the prize of your praise--'twere a pure joy!"

The lady eventually wins the debate, and she and Gawain kiss. Gawain does not tell his host, but instead offers a friendly kiss when the host brings home his killings from a day of hunting. In this way he is sharing what he "earned" in the castle. The next day, the lady comes to seduce Gawain again, and they kiss once more.

On the third day, after they kiss, she tries to give him a gift. He does not accept it. Next, she offers him her green and golden girdle made of silk. She tells him that the girdle will protect him from any weapon, and that anyone who wears the girdle could never get hurt. Gawain realizes the girdle could protect him from the Green Knight. He accepts her gift. At the end of the day, he does not present the girdle to his host, but keeps it a secret. The next day, Gawain leaves to find the Green Chapel.

Soon after leaving the castle in the woods, Sir Gawain stumbles upon the Green Chapel. He does not see anyone, so he calls out:

"Who has power in this place, high parley to hold?
For none greets Sir Gawain, or gives him good day;


If any would a word with him, let him walk forth
And speak now or never, to speed his affairs."
"Abide," said one on the bank above over his head.
"And what I promised you once shall straightway be given."
Yet he stayed not his grindstone, nor stinted its noise,

The Green Knight appears with a huge axe, ready for the day he has been waiting for.

But worked awhile at his whetting before he would rest,
And then he comes around a crag, from a cave in the rocks,
Hurtling out of hiding with a hateful weapon,
A Danish axe devised for that day's deed,
With a broad blade and bright, bent in a curve,


Filed to a fine edge--four feet it measured
By the length of the lace that was looped round the haft.
And in form as at first, the fellow all green,
His lordly face and his legs, his locks and his beard,
Save that firm upon two feet forward he strides,


Sets a hand on the axe-head, the haft to the earth;
When he came to the cold stream, and cared not to wade,
He vaults over on his axe, and advances amain
On a broad bank of snow, overbearing and brisk


of mood.
Little did the knight incline
When face to face they stood;
Said the other man, "Friend mine,
It seems your word holds good!"


"God love you, Sir Gawain!" said the Green Knight then,


"And well met this morning, man, at my place!
And you have followed me faithfully and found me betimes14,
And on the business between us we both are agreed:
Twelve months ago today you took what was yours,
And you at this New Year must yield me the same.

14 You found me quickly.

And we have met in these mountains, remote from all eyes:
There is none here to halt us or hinder our sport;
Unclasp your high helm, and have here your wages;
Make no more demur than I did myself
When you hacked off my head with one hard blow."


"No, by God," said Sir Gawain, "that granted me life,
I shall grudge not the guerdon, grim though it prove;
Bestow but one stroke, and I shall stand still,
And you may lay on as you like till the last of my part


be paid."
He proffered, with good grace,
His bare neck to the blade,
And feigned a cheerful face:
He scorned to seem afraid.

Sir Gawain braces himself for the blow of the axe.


Then the grim man in green gathers his strength,
Heaves high the heavy axe to hit him the blow.
With all the force in his frame he fetches it aloft,
With a grimace as grim as he would grind him to bits;
Had the blow he bestowed been as big as he threatened,
A good knight and gallant had gone to his grave.


But Gawain at the great axe glanced up aside.
As down it descended with death-dealing force,
And his shoulders shrank a little from the sharp iron.
Abruptly the brawny man breaks off the stroke,
And then reproved with proud words that prince among knights.

Gawain winces. The Green Knight stops mid-stroke, annoyed by Gawain's cowardice.
(2270) "You are not Gawain the glorious," the green man said,
"That never fell back on field in the face of the foe,
And now you flee for fear, and have felt no harm:
Such news of that knight I never heard yet!
I moved not a muscle when you made to strike,
The Green Knight insults Gawain by saying that he does not deserve his reputation.
(2275) Nor caviled15 at the cut in King Arthur's house;
My head fell to my feet, yet steadfast I stood,
And you, all unharmed, are wholly dismayed--
Wherefore the better man I, by all odds,
15 objected to


must be."
Said Gawain, "Strike once more;
I shall neither flinch nor flee;
But if my head falls to the floor
There is no mending me!"

  The Green Knight takes another swing, but stops before it does damage yet again. This time Gawain does not flinch. By this point, Gawain is angered. He wants the Green Knight to get on with it. The Green Knight hoists up his axe a third time.


He gathered up the grim axe and guided it well:
Let the barb at the blade's end brush the bare throat;
He hammered down hard, yet harmed him no whit
Save a scratch on one side, that severed the skin;
The end of the hooked edge entered the flesh,
And a little blood lightly leapt to earth.


And when the man beheld his own blood bright on the snow,
He sprang a spear's length with feet spread wide,
Seized his high helm, and set it on his head,
Shoved before his shoulders the shield at his back,
Bares his trusty blade, and boldly he speaks--

The Green Knight takes a third and final swing, but only nicks Gawain's skin. A tiny bit of blood falls from his neck onto the ground.

Not since he was a babe born of his mother
Was he once in this world one-half so blithe--
"Have done with your hacking--harry me no more!
I have borne, as behooved, one blow in this place;
If you make another move I shall meet it midway

Gawain is annoyed that the Green Knight has taken so many swings. Gawain claims he has fulfilled his end of the bargain. If the Green Knight swings again, Gawain will fight back.

(2325) And promptly, I promise you, pay back each blow  



with brand.
One stroke acquits me here;
So did our covenant stand
In Arthur's court last year--
Wherefore, sir, hold your hand!"


He lowers the long axe and leans on it there,
Sets his arms on the head, the haft on the earth,
And beholds the bold knight that bides there afoot,
How he faces him fearless, fierce in full arms,


And plies him with proud words--it pleases him well.
Then once again gaily to Gawain he calls,
And in a loud voice and lusty, delivers these words:
"Bold fellow, on this field your anger forbear16!
No man has made demands here in manner uncouth,


16 control, withhold


Nor done, save as duly determined at court.
I owed you a hit and you have it; be happy therewith!
The rest of my rights here I freely resign.
Had I been a bit busier, a buffet, perhaps,
I could have dealt more directly, and done you some harm.


First I flourished with a feint, in frolicsome mood,
And left your hide unhurt--and here I did well
By the fair terms we fixed on the first night;
And fully and faithfully you followed accord:
Gave over all your gains as a good man should.

By referring to the terms fixed on the "first night," the Green Knight reveals he was Gawain's host at the castle. He assigned a swing of the axe for each of the times that Gawain kissed his wife and repaid the host according to the rules.

A second feint, sir, I assigned for the morning
You kissed my comely wife--each kiss you restored.
For both of these there behooved two feigned blows



by right.
True men pay what they owe;
No danger then in sight.
You failed at the third throw,
So take my tap, sir knight.

  The Green Knight goes on to explain that the third swing and the only cut is for Gawain's acceptance of the green and golden girdle, which he did not share with his host. The Green Knight explains that Gawain lacked loyalty to his lord (the host) by not handing over the girdle at the end of the third day. Recall the knights' primary motto was loyalty to lord, God, and lady. Gawain is ashamed of his behavior. Gawain admits that he was a coward, and is embarrassed of his weakness.
  Then the other laughed aloud, and lightly he said,  

"Such harm as I have had, I hold it quite healed.
You are so fully confessed, your failings made known,
And bear the plain penance of the point of my blade,
I hold you polished as a pearl, as pure and as bright
As you had lived free of fault since first you were born.


And I give you, sir, this girdle that is gold-hemmed
And green as my garments, that, Gawain, you may
Be mindful of this meeting when you mingle in throng
With nobles of renown--and known by this token
How it chanced at the Green Chapel, to chivalrous knights.

The Green Knight wants Gawain to keep the girdle as a token of remembrance.  He invites him back to his castle.

And you shall in this New Year come yet again
And we shall finish out our feast in my fair hall,



with cheer."
He urged the knight to stay,
And said, "With my wife so dear
We shall see you friends this day.
Whose enmity touched you near."


  "Indeed," said the doughty knight, and doffed his high helm,
And held it in his hands as he offered his thanks,
"I have lingered long enough--may good be yours,

And he reward you well that all worship bestows!
And commend me to that comely one, your courteous wife,
Both herself and that other, my honoured ladies,
That have trapped their true knight in their trammels so quaint.
But if a dullard should dote, deem it no wonder,


And through the wiles of a woman be wooed into sorrow,
For so was Adam by one17, when the world began,
And Solomon by many more, and Samson the mighty--
Delilah18 was his doom, and David thereafter
Was beguiled by Bathsheba19, and bore much distress;

17 Eve, the original "instrument of evil"
18, 19 Two biblical women that are thought to have caused trouble and tragedy by seducing men

Now these were vexed by their devices--'twere a very joy
Could one but learn to love, and believe them not.
For these were proud princes, most prosperous of old,
Past all lovers lucky, that languished under heaven,


And one and all fell prey
To women that they had used;
If I be led astray,
Methinks I may be excused.

  "But your girdle, God love you! I gladly shall take  

"And be pleased to possess, not for the pure gold,
Nor the bright belt itself, nor beauteous pendants,
Nor for wealth, nor worldly state, nor workmanship fine,
But a sign of excess it shall seem oftentimes
When I ride in renown, and remember with shame


The faults and the frailty of the flesh perverse,
How its tenderness entices the foul taint of sin;
And so when praise and high prowess have pleased my heart,
A look at this love-lace will lower my pride.
But one thing would I learn, if you were not loath,

Gawain says he will keep the girdle not for its beauty or quality, but as a reminder of his failure to uphold the code of chivalry. It will remind him of his shortcomings.

Since you are lord of yonder land where I have long sojourned
With honor in your house--may you have His reward
That upholds all the heavens, highest on throne!
How runs your right name?--and let the rest go."
"That shall I give you gladly," said the Green Knight then;


"Bertilak de Hautdesert, this barony I hold.
Through the might of Morgan le Faye, that lodges at my house,
By subtleties of science and sorcerers' arts,
The mistress of Merlin, she has caught many a man,
For sweet love in secret she shared sometime

Gawain finally learns the Green Knight's name: the Baron Bertilak de Hautdesert.

Bertilak admits that the sorceress Morgan le Faye lives at his castle.

(2450) With that wizard, that knows well each one of your knights



and you.
Morgan the Goddess, she,
So styled by title true;
None holds so high degree
That her arts cannot subdue.


"She guided me in this guise to your glorious hall,
To assay, if such it were, the surfeit of pride
That is rumored of the retinue of the Round Table.
She put this shape upon me to puzzle your wits,

Morgan, an enemy of King Arthur's, is constantly trying to disturb his court. She devised the game for her own amusement.

To afflict the fair queen, and frighten her to death
With awe of that elvish man that eerily spoke
With his head in his hand before the high table.
She was with my wife at home, that old withered lady,
Your own aunt is she, Arthur's half-sister,


The Duchess' daughter of Tintagel, that dear King Uther
Got Arthur on after, that honored is now.
And therefore, good friend, come feast with your aunt;
Make merry in my house; my men hold you dear,
And I wish you as well, sir, with all my heart,


As any man God ever made, for your great good faith."
But the knight said him nay, that he might by no means.
They clasped then and kissed, and commended each other
To the Prince of Paradise, and parted with one


Gawain sets out anew;
Toward the court his course is bent;
And the knight all green in hue,
Wheresoever he wished, he went.

  Gawain returns to Camelot and is welcomed by the king and his court. He turns to his king:

"Behold , sir," said he, and handles the belt,
"This is the blazon of the blemish that I bear on my neck;
This is the sign of sore loss that I have suffered there;
For the cowardice and coveting that I came to there;
This is the badge of false faith that I was found in there,

Gawain tells him about his failure to uphold the code of chivalry and the cut he received as a result.

And I must bear it on my body till I breathe my last.
For one many keep a deed dark, but undo it no white,
For where a fault is made fast, it is fixed evermore."
The king comforts the knight, and the court all together
Agree with gay laughter and gracious intent


That the lords and the ladies belonging to the Table,
Each brother of that band, a baldric should have,
A belt borne oblique, of a bright green,
To be worn with one accord for that worthy's sake
So that was taken as a token by the Table Round,

The Knights of the Roundtable all start wearing green belts diagonally from shoulder to hip, just like Gawain, as a symbol of the weakness in us all.

And he honored that had it, evermore after,
As the best book of knighthood bids it be known.
In the old days of Arthur this happening befell;
The books of Brutus' deeds bear witness thereto
Since Brutus, the bold knight, embarked for this land

(2525) After the siege ceased at Troy and the city fared  



Many such, ere we were born,
Have befallen here, ere this.
May He that was crowned with thorn
Bring all men to His bliss! Amen.


Honi Soit Qui Mal Pense20

20 "Shame be to the man who has evil in his mind." This is the motto of the Order of the Garter. The person who originally recorded this poem associated this order with the one founded by Sir Gawain.