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Since we're at the end of Passus I, let's pause a moment and look back at the scene we've just witnessed.
The seriously medieval guide to calling people 'thou' )
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Though Arthur the high king had wonder at heart,
He let no sign be seen, but said aloud
To the comely queen with courteous speech:
"Dear dame, today be never dismayed!
Welcome at Christmas are crafts of this kind,
Playing of interludes, laughter and song
Among the circled carol-dances of knights and ladies.
Nevertheless I may well sit down to the meal,
For I have seen a marvel, I may not gainsay."
He glanced upon Sir Gawain and gently he said:
"Now sir, hang up your axe; it has hewn enough."
And it was hung above the dais against the rich drapes,
Where all men might marvel to look on it,
And having seen it in truth, tell of the wonder.
Then they sat to the board, this bold company together,
The king and the good knight, and keen men served them
Double portions of all dainties, as delicious as could be,
With all manner of meat and of minstrelsy both.
With goodwill they whiled away that day till its end
In that land.
Now think well, Sir Gawain,
The fear you must withstand
To keep this bold bargain
That you have taken in hand.
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The green knight on the ground soon takes his stand,
Bows his head a little, baring his flesh;
His long lovely locks he laid over his head,
Letting the naked neck show for the stroke.
Gawain gripped his axe and heaved it on high,
Setting the left foot on the ground before him,
And let it swing swiftly down on the naked skin,
That the sharp edge of the blade sundered the bones
And sank through the fair flesh, and sheared it in two,
That the bight of the burnished steel bit into the ground.
The fair head from the body hit the earth hard,
That many felt it with their feet where it rolled forth;
The blood sprayed from the body, and sparkled on the green.
And neither faltered nor fell the knight never,
But stoutly he started forward there on stiff shanks
And roughly he reached out there where the ranked knights stood,
Caught hold of his lovely head and lifted it up.
Then he turns to his horse, and grasps the bridle,
Steps into his stirrup and swings up aloft,
Holding his head by the hair in his hand.
And he keeps his seat in his saddle as steady
As if nothing had ailed him, though headless now
He turned his trunk about,
That ugly body that bled;
Many felt fear and doubt
At the wild words he said.

For the head in his hands he holds up high,
That the noblest on the dais might see the face,
And it lifts up its eyelids, and looks all about,
And spoke this much with its mouth, as you may now hear:
"Gawain, look that you be swift to go as you've sworn,
And look for me loyally till you, lord, find me,
As you have pledged in this hall, these knights hearing.
To the green chapel come, I charge thee, to feel
Such a blow as thou hast dealt-- and well deserved--
To be yielded timely on New Year's morn.
The knight of the green chapel, many men know me;
If you ask after me, you shall not fail to find.
Therefore come, or be called recreant for ever."
With a rough jerk he turns the reins,
Rode hard out the hall door, his head in his hand,
That the fire flew off the flint from his horse's hooves.
To what country he went none there could tell,
No more than they knew from whence he came.
What then?
The king and Gawain by and by
At the green man laugh and grin,
Yet they cannot deny
A wonder they have seen.
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"By God," says the green knight, "Sir Gawain, it likes me well
That I shall have what I came here for at thy hands.
And thou hast readily spoken, by reason full true,
Clearly all the covenant I asked of the king--
Save that you shall assure me, sir, by thy troth
That you shall seek me yourself, wheresoever you think
I may be found upon earth, and receive there such payment
As you shall deal me today before this dear company."
"Where should I find you?" says Gawain. "Where is your place?
I know not where you hail from, by Him that made me,
Nor do I know thee, knight, thy court nor thy name.
But teach me truly the way, and tell me how to call thee,
And I shall wake all my wit to win the way there;
And this I swear to you in truth, by my steadfast troth."
"That is enough in this New Year; I need no more,"
Says the man in the green to the gentle Gawain:
"I shall tell thee truly, when I've stood the test
And you have smitten me smoothly, smartly then I'll speak
Of my house and my home and my own name.
Then you may ask the way there, and hold to your word;
And if I speak no speech then, all the better for you,
For you may linger in your land and fare no further--
But now,
Take thy grim axe to thee,
And let's see how thou knocks."
"Gladly, sir, indeed,"
Says Gawain; his axe he strokes.
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"If you will worthily, lord," said Gawain to the king,
"Bid me step from this bench and stand by you there,
That I without rudeness might rise from this table,
And if my liege-lady liked it not ill,
I would come give you counsel before your rich court.
For I think it not seemly, if truth be known,
That such a challenge be borne so high in your hall
That you yourself should be tempted to take it on you
While so many bold knights sit about you at board--
Under heaven, I hope, none higher of will,
Nor better-bodied in battle where banners are raised.
I am the weakest, I know, and feeblest of wit,
And my life is of least value, let truth be told;
I am only praised because you are my uncle,
And my body knows no bounty but your blood.
Since this trial is too trifling to be taken by you,
And I have asked it of you first, then grant it to me;
And if I speak not fittingly, let this rich court not praise
But blame."
All spoke together low,
And all did say the same:
That the king might withdraw
And give Gawain the game.

Then the king commanded the knight to rise,
And he quickly rose up and strode to the floor,
Knelt down before the king to receive the axe;
Which Arthur gives lovingly, lifting up his hands
to bestow God's blessing, and gladly bids him
To be hardy of both his heart and his hands.
"Keep, cousin, your word to strike him one blow,
And if you pay him his due readily, I think
You'll easily abide the stroke he strikes after."
Gawain goes to the knight, giserne in hand,
Who calmly awaits him without sign of fear;
Then speaks to Sir Gawain the knight in the green:
"Let us form well our pact before we pass further.
First I ask thee, sir, how thou art called?
Tell me truly, as I may trust thee."
"In good faith," says the good knight, "Gawain I am,
That give thee this blow, whatever befall after,
And at this time twelvemonth take from thee another,
With what weapon thou wilt, and from no man else
Then answers him that other:
"Gawain, so may I thrive
As I would have none other
But thee this blow to drive!"
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If he'd stunned them at first, stiller were then
All the host in the hall, the high and the low.
The strong man on his steed sat firm in the saddle
And roguishly rolled his red eyes round about
and raised his rough brows, glossy and green,
Stroking his beard, awaiting one who would rise.
When none would meet him with words, he coughed aloud,
And smiling full scornfully, started to speak:
"What! is this Arthur's house?" said the noble knight,
"That all the tales tell of through so many realms?
Where is now your glory and your conquests?
Your grandeur, your grim rage and your great words?
Now is the revelry and renown of the Round Table
Overwhelmed with a word of one man's speech,
All scared into silence without a blow struck!"
With this he laughs so loud that the liege-lord grieved;
The blood shot for shame into his face that shone
So fair;
His wrath rose like the wind,
So too all that were there.
This king, born of brave kind,
Then strode that strong man near,

And said "Knight, by heaven, thy demands are a fool's,
And since you challenge in folly, find a fool's fate.
I know no man that is made meek at thy great words.
Give me now thy giserne, and in God's name
I shall bestow on you that blow, that boon you begged."
Lightly he leaps to him and clasps his hand,
Then fiercely that other lights down on foot;
Now Arthur has the axe. He grips the handle
And sternly turns it about, thinking to strike.
The strong man before him stands in height
Higher than any in the house by the head and more.
Still and silent he stands, and strokes his beard,
And with a dry countenance draws down his coat,
No more moved or dismayed by the coming cut
Than if any boon companion had brought him a drink
Of wine.
Gawain, beside the queen,
To the king does now incline:
"My lord, let truth be seen:
This combat must be mine."
gawainandthegreenknight: (Default)
Then Arthur before the high dais that adventure beheld,
And regally did him reverence, for he never was rude,
And said "Wight, welcome in truth to this place:
The head of this house, Arthur I am called.
Dismount in courtesy and dine with us, I pray,
And whatsoever thy will is we shall know after."
"Nay!" said that lord, "So help me He that sits on high,
To waste any while in these walls was not my errand.
But because the praise of thee, lord, is lifted up so high,
And thy house and thy knights are held for the best,
Strongest under steel gear, steeds to ride,
The greatest and the worthiest of their kind in the world,
Proven in play in the joust's pure lists;
And courtesy is not unknown here, as I have heard carp;
That has tempted me hither, in truth, at this time.
You may see surely by this branch I bear here
That I pass your gates in peace, and seek no peril;
For had I come to find you in fighting wise,
I have a hauberk at home and a helm too,
A shield and a sharp spear shining bright,
And other weapons I know well how to wield;
But because I wish no war, I wear softer weeds.
Now if thou be so bold as all the world tells,
Thou wilt grant me with good will the game that I ask,
By right."
Arthur made answer then,
And said "Sir courteous knight,
If thou crave battle bare,
None here will fail to fight."

"Nay, I tell you in faith I seek no fight!
About on these benches are but beardless children,
And if I were hasped in arms on a high steed,
Here is no man that could match me in might.
Therefore I crave in this court only a Christmas game,
For it is Yule and New Year, and here are many youths:
If any holds himself so hardy in this house,
Has boldness in his blood and brain in his head,
That dares strongly to strike one stroke for one more,
I shall give him as my gift this rich giserne,
This axe that is heavy enough, to handle as he likes,
And I shall bide the first blow as bare as I sit.
If any man has the nerve to do as I've said,
Leap lightly to me and take this weapon:
I quit-claim it forever; keep it as his own.
And I shall stand stock-still on this floor for his stroke,
If thou wilt give me leave to strike him another
In fair play.
He'll bide his blow from me
In a twelvemonth and a day.
Now, high lord, let us see
What any man dares say."
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There were lengthy looks as they beheld that lord,
For each man marvelled what it might mean
That a hero and horse should have such a hue
As green as the grass, and greener it seemed,
Glowing brighter than green enamel on gold.
All that stood there studied him as a hunter stalks,
With all the wonder in the world what he would do.
For many marvels they had seen, but never one such:
A phantom of Faery they thought it, and feared.
Therefore many an armsman was too awed to answer,
All were stunned at his voice's sound, and stood stone-still
In a sudden silence through the spacious hall
As if all were slipped into sleep, so slacked the noise
Not all, I think, for dread,
But some for courtesy,
To let their lord and head
Speak first, right fittingly.
gawainandthegreenknight: (Default)
Now of their service I'll say no more,
For anyone with wits can tell there was no want.
Another noise, a new one, was nearing,
The thing that would give the king leave to eat;
For hardly was the noise not a while ceased,
And the first course in the court courteously served,
When there hauls in at the door a frightful master,
One of the most massive men in the world by measure,
From the neck to the waist so square and so thick,
And his loins and his limbs so long and so great,
Half-ogre on earth I think that he was,
But man for the most part I mind him to be,
And of men the merriest in his strength that might ride,
For though he was broad of back and of breast,
Both his belly and waist were worthily small,
And all his features fitting the form that he had
Full clean.
For wonder of his hue men had,
In his semblance to be seen:
He moved like one gone mad--
And overall, bright green.
Three more stanzas below, including a green horse )
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Treason, truth and Troynovant )
I'm enjoying this! Are you? As we go, feel free to ask questions ("What the hell does this mean?"), criticise ("You got that bit wrong!") or indulge in wild speculation via the comments, if you like.
gawainandthegreenknight: (Default)
The king lay at Camelot upon Christmas
With many loving lords, ladies of the best;
All these rich brothers of the Round Table
With right rich revels and reckless mirth
There tourneyed; true knights full many a time
Jousted full joyfully; these gentle knghts
Then returned to the court to dance and sing carols;
For there the feast was held for full fifteen days,
With all the meat and the mirth that men could devise,
Such gleaming glee, glorious to hear:
Loud singing by day, dancing by night;
All was high and happy in halls and chambers
With lords and ladies as pleased them best;
With all the joy of the world they dwelt there assembled:
The most famous knights under Christ's self
And the loveliest ladies that ever had life
And he the comeliest king that ever held court;
For all these fair folk were in their first age
on earth,
The happiest under heaven,
With their high-willed king;
To name a better host
Today were a hard thing.
More revelry under here )
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After the siege and the assault were ceased at Troy,
The city shattered and burnt to cinders and ash,
The man that the treasons there had wrought
Was tried for his treachery, the truest on earth.
It was the noble Aeneas and his high kindred
That then conquered countries, and became lords
Well-nigh of all the wealth in the Western Isles:
When rich Romulus comes swiftly to Rome,
With great pride he first builds upon that place
And names it his own name, as it's now known;
Ticius to Tuscany, and builds towns;
Langobard in Lombardy lifts up homes;
And far over the French flood Felix Brutus,
On many banks full broad, Britain with joy
He begins;
Where war and wrack and wonder
By turns has passed therein,
And oft both bliss and blunder
Have swiftly shifted since.

And when this Britain was built by this powerful prince,
Bold men were bred therein, that loved battle,
That wrought trouble in many a turning time.
More marvels in this land have more often befallen
Than in any other that I know of, since that time.
But of all that here dwelt as Kings of Britain,
Ever was Arthur the highest, as I have heard tell.
Therefore an adventure on this earth I intend to show,
That some men might hold as a marvel to see,
And an extraordinary adventure of all Arthur's wonders.
If you will listen to this lay but a little while,
I shall tell it now just as I heard it in town
With tongue,
As it is set down ever
In story bold and strong,
With letters locked together
As in this land's been long.


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October 2010

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