Part I (vv. 1-490)
1 Once the siege and assault had ceased at Troy,
2 The burg battered and burned to brands and ashes,
3 The trooper that the tricks of treason there wrought
4 Was tried for his treachery, the truest on earth.
5 It was Aeneas the noble and his high-born kin
6 Who then despoiled provinces and patrons became
7 Well nigh of all the wealth of the West Isles.
8 Then rich Romulus to Rome rushes him swiftly,
9 With great splendor that burg he builds at first,
10 And names it his own name, as it now has.
11 Ticius to Tuscany and towns he builds.
12 Longabeard in Lombardy lifts up homes,
13 And far over the French Flood Felix Brutus
14 On many banks full broad Britain he sets
15 To begin.
16 Where war and wrack and wonder
17 Have often flourished therein,
18 And oft both bliss and blunder
19 Have ruled in turn since then.
20 And when this Britain was built by this brave knight
21 Bold men bred therein -- battles they loved --
22 Who in many a turbulent time troubles have wrought.
23 More wonders on this field have befallen here oft
24 Than on any other that I know since that same time.
25 But of all that here built of British kings
26 Ever was Arthur the most elegant, as I have heard tell.
27 Therefore an earthly adventure I intend to show,
28 That a strange sight some men it hold,
29 And an outrageous adventure of Arthur's wonders.
30 If you will listen to this lay but a little while
31 I shall tell it at once, as I in town heard
32 With tongue,
33 As it is set down and struck
34 In story stiff and strong.
35 With true letters interlocked
36 In this land as has been long.
37 This king lay at Camelot upon Christmas
38 With many loyal lords, lads of the best,
39 Renowned of the Round Table all those rich brethren,
40 With rich revel aright and reckless mirth.
41 There tourneyed troopers by times full many,
42 Jousted full jollily these gentle knights,
43 Then came to the court carols to make,
44 For there the feasting was the same for a full fifteen days
45 With all the meals and the mirth that man could devise;
46 Such gladness and glee glorious to hear,
47 Dear din upon day, dancing on nights;
48 All was happiness on high in halls and chambers,
49 With lords and ladies, as most lovely it seemed.
50 With all the wealth of the world they dwelt there together,
51 The best known knights under Christ Himself,
52 And the loveliest ladies that ever life had,
53 And he the comeliest king that the court holds;
54 For all was this fair folk in their first age,
55 And still
56 The most fortunate known to fame,
57 The king highest man of will.
58 It would now be hard to name
59 So hardy a host on hill.
60 While New Year was so young, since it was newly come,
61 That day with double portions were the diners served,
62 For the king was come with knights into the hall,
63 The chanting in the chapel achieved an end.
64 Loud cries were there cast by clerks and others,
65 "Noel" named anew, announced full oft;
66 And then the rich run forth to render presents
67 Yelled "Year's gifts!" on high, yielding them by hand,
68 Debated busily about those gifts;
69 Ladies laughed full loud, though they had lost,
70 And he that won was not wroth, that may you well believe.
71 All this mirth they made until the meal time.
72 When they had washed worthily, they went to sit,
73 The best brave always above, as it best seemed;
74 Queen Guenevere, full gay, graced the middle,
75 Bedecked on the dear dais, adorned all about,
76 Fine silk at her sides, a ceiling above
77 Of rich cloth of Toulouse, and of Tartary many tapestries
78 That were embroidered and bedecked with the best gems
79 That might be proven in price with pennies to buy
80 In our day.
81 The comeliest to see
82 There gleamed with eyes of gray;
83 A fairer that ever could be
84 In sooth might no man say.
85 But Arthur would not eat until all were served,
86 He was so jolly of his joyfulness and somewhat juvenile:
87 He liked his life light; he loved the less
88 Either too long to lie or too long to sit
89 So busied him his young blood and his brain wild.
90 And also another matter moved him as well,
91 That he through nobility had adopted: he would never eat
92 Upon such a dear day ere he was told
93 Of some adventurous thing, an astonishing tale
94 Of some mighty marvel that he might believe
95 Of our elders, of arms, of other adventures,
96 Or some stalwart besought him for some true knight
97 To join with him in jousting, in jeopardy to lay
98 At risk life for life, each one happy if the other
99 Fortune favored, granted him the fairer to have.
100 This was the king's custom whenever he was in court
101 At each fine feast among his fair retinue
102 In hall.
103 Therefore of face so fair
104 He stands strong at his stall.
105 Full youthful in that New Year,
106 Much mirth he makes with all.
107 Thus there stands at his stall the strong king himself,
108 Talking before the high table of trifles full courtly.
109 There good Gawain was seated Guenevere beside,
110 And Agravain of the Hard Hand on that other side sits,
111 Both the king's sister's sons and full sure knights.
112 Bishop Baldwin above begins the table
113 And Ywain, Urien's son, ate with Arthur himself.
114 These were dining on the dais, diligently served,
115 And next were many sure stalwarts at the sideboards.
116 Then the first course came with cracking of trumpets
117 With many banners full bright that thereby hanged;
118 New noise of drums with the noble pipes,
119 Wild warbles and loud wakened echoes,
120 That many hearts heaved full high at their notes.
121 Dainties drummed in therewith of many dear foods,
122 Full plenty of fresh food and on so many fair dishes
123 That it was a pain to find place the people before
124 To set the silver that held the seperate stews
125 On cloth.
126 Each lad as he loved himself
127 There dined, nothing loath
128 Each two had dishes twelve,
129 Good beer and bright wine both.
130 Now will I of their service say you no more,
131 For each warrior may well know no want was there.
132 Another noise full new quickly came nigh
133 That the lord might have leave to lift up his food,
134 For hardly was the noise not a while ceased,
135 And the first course in the court courteously served,
136 There hastens in at the hall door an awesome figure,
137 One of the most on earth in measure of height,
138 From the neck to the waist so square and well-set,
139 And his loins and his limbs so long and so big
140 Half a giant in earth I hold that he was;
141 Yet man must I nonetheless admit him to be
142 And that the merriest in his muchness that might ride,
143 For though of back and of breast his body was stout,
144 Both his belly and his waist were worthily slim,
145 And all his features conforming, in form that he had,
146 Full clean.
147 But great wonder of the hue men had
148 Set in his complexion seen:
149 He fared like a fighter to dread,
150 And over all deep green.
151 And all garbed in green this gallant and his clothes:
152 A straight coat full tight that stuck to his sides,
153 A merry mantle above, embellished within
154 With fur skillfully trimmed, a lining full bright
155 Of bright white ermine and his hood as well,
156 That was lifted from his locks and laid on his shoulders;
157 Neat well-fitting hose of that same green
158 That covered his calves, and shining spurs below
159 Of bright gold, on silken borders embroidered full rich,
160 And with rich shoes below the shanks the chevalier rides,
161 And all his vesture verily was verdant green,
162 Both the bars of his belt and other bright stones,
163 That were richly arranged in his array completely
164 About himself and his saddle, upon silk works
165 That would be too toilsome to tell of trifles the half
166 That were embroidered above, with insects,and birds
167 With gay gems of green, the gold all intermingled,
168 The pendants of his horse trappings, the proud crupper;
169 His mount's bit and all the metal enamelled was then,
170 The stirrups that he stood on colored the same,
171 And his saddle-bow next and its elegant skirts
172 That ever glimmered and glowed all of green stones.
173 The foal he fares on fully of that same hue,
175 A green horse great and thick,
176 A steed full stiff to restrain;
177 In embroidered bridle quick,
178 For the gallant who held the rein.
179 Well gay was this gallant and his gear in green,
180 And the hair of his head matching his horse.
181 Fair fanning locks enfold his shoulders,
182 A beard big as a bush over his breast hangs
183 That with the noble hair that from his head reaches
184 Was clipped all around above his elbows
185 That half his arms thereunder were held in, in the manner
186 Of a king's cape that encloses his neck;
187 The mane of that mighty horse much to it like,
188 Well curled and combed with knots full many,
189 Tied in with gold thread about the fair green,
190 Always one strand of hair, another of gold,
191 His tail and his topknot twisted in braids,
192 And both bound with a band of bright green,
193 Adorned with full dear gems to the top of the tuft,
194 Then bound tightly with a thong, trickily knotted above,
195 Where many bells full bright of burnished gold rang.
196 Such a foal in the field nor fighter that rides him
197 Was never seen in that hall with sight ere that time
198 With eye.
199 He looked like lightning as light,
200 Said all that saw him come nigh;
201 It seemed that no man might
202 Such blows as his defy.
203 Yet he had no helmet nor hauberk neither,
204 Nor no armor nor plate that pertained to arms,
205 Nor no spear nor no shield to shove nor to smite,
206 But in his one hand he had a holly branch,
207 That is greatest in green when groves are bare,
208 And an axe in his other, a huge and monstrous,
209 A spiteful axe to describe in speech, if anyone could.
210 Near four feet in length the large head had,
211 With a spike of green steel and of hammered gold.
212 The bit burnished bright with a broad edge,
213 As well shaped to shear as a sharp razor.
214 By the hilt of the strong shaft that stern one it gripped
215 That was wound with iron to the weapon's end,
216 And all engraved with green in gracious works;
217 By a lace sash, coiled about, that was tied at the head
218 And so down the shaft looped full oft,
219 With fine tassles thereto attached thereby,
220 And buttons of bright green, embroidered full rich.
221 This horseman held his way in and the hall enters,
222 Driving to the high dais -- no danger he feared;
223 Hailed he never any one but high he looked over.
224 The first word that he whipped out: "Where is," he said,
225 "The governor of this gang? Gladly I would
226 See that stalwart in sight and speak with himself
227 And reason."
228 To knights he cast his eyes
229 And rolled them up and down;
230 He stopped and studied to surmise
231 Who wields there most renown.
232 There was looking at length the liegeman to behold,
233 For each man had marvel what it might mean
234 That a horsemen and a horse might have such a hue.
235 As green as the growing grass and greener it seemed
236 Than green enamel on gold glowing brighter.
237 All studied that there stood and stalked him nearer,
238 With all the wonder of the world of what he would do,
239 For many spectacles had they seen but such as this never;
240 Thus from fantasy and fairyland the folk there it deemed.
241 Therefore to answer were afraid many elegant fighters,
242 And all were astounded by his speech, and sat stone-still
243 In a swooning dead stillness through the silent hall,
244 As if all were slipped into sleep so slackened their noises
245 On high --
246 I deem it not all for fear,
247 But some, for courtesy shy,
248 Let him whom all should revere
249 To that warrior give reply.
250 Then Arthur before the high dais that adventure beholds
251 And rightly reverenced him, for feared was he never,
252 And said "Warrior, welcome indeed to this place;
253 The head of this hostel Arthur I am called
254 Light lovely adown and linger I pray thee
255 And whatever thy will is we shall know later,"
256 "Nay, so help me," quoth the horseman, "He that on high sits,
257 To dwell any while in this dwelling was not my errand;
258 But for the laud of thee, lad, is lifted up so high,
259 And thy burg and thy braves best are held,
260 Stoutest under steel gear on steeds to ride,
261 The strongest and the worthiest of this world's kind,
262 With prowess in jousting and other pure sports,
263 And here is famed courtesy, as I have heard claimed,
264 And that has drawn me here, indeed, at this time.
265 You may be sure by this branch that I bear here
266 That I pass here in peace and no peril seek,
267 For had I fared here with a force for fighting ready,
268 I have a mail coat at home and a helmet too,
269 A shield and a sharp spear, shining bright,
270 And other weapons to wield I know well also;
271 But since I want no war, my weeds are softer.
272 But if thou be as bold as all battlers tell,
273 Thou will grant me goodly the game that I ask,
274 By right."
275 Arthur gave answer
276 And said, "Sir courteous knight,
277 If thou crave battle of armor bare,
278 Here failest thou not to fight."
279 "Nay, I seek no fight, in faith I thee tell.
280 Here about on this bench are but beardless children.
281 If I were harnessed in armor on a high steed
282 Here is no man to match me, their mights are so weak.
283 Therefore I crave in this court a Christmas game,
284 For it is Yule and New Year and here are youths many.
285 If any so hardy in this house holds himself,
286 Or is so bold in his blood, brain-mad in his head
287 That dare stiffly strike one stroke for another
288 I shall give him of my gift this great battle-axe,
289 This axe, that is plenty heavy, to handle as he pleases,
290 And I shall abide the first blow as bare as I sit.
291 If any fighter be so fierce to test what I tell
292 Leap lightly to me and latch on to this weapon;
293 I quit-claim it forever; let him keep it as his own,
294 And I shall stand one stroke from him, stout on this floor,
295 If thou will grant me the right to render him another.
296 -- Time out today! --
297 And yet I give him respite,
298 A twelvemonth and a day.
299 Now hurry and let's see aright
300 If any dare anything say."
301 If he astounded them at first, stiller were then
302 All the courtiers in the hall, the high and the low;
303 The rider on his mount moved him in his saddle
304 And roughly his red eyes he rolled about,
305 Bent his bushy brows brightly green,
306 Waved his beard to see whoever would arise.
307 When none would keep him there with talk, he coughed "ahem,"
308 And rose up full lordly and readied himself to speak.
309 "What? Is this Arthur's house?" quoth the horseman then,
310 "That all the renown runs through realms so many?
311 Where is now your vainglory and your victories,
312 Your ferocity and your grimness and your great words?
313 Now is the revel and renown of the Round Table
314 Overthrown by one word of one warrior's speech,
315 For all dither for dread without deed shown!"
316 With this he laughs so loud that the lord grieved.
317 The blood shot for shame in his shining white face
318 So fair;
319 He waxed as wroth as wind,
320 So did all that were there.
321 The king, as keen by kind
322 Then strode that stout man nearer,
323 And said "Horseman, by heaven, thine asking is foolish,
324 And as thou folly have sought, to find it thee behooves.
325 I know no gallant that is aghast of thy great words.
326 Give me now thy great axe, by God's wounds,
327 And I shall bestow the boon that thou hast begged."
328 Lightly leaps he him to and latches it from his hand
329 Then fiercely that other fighter upon foot alights.
330 Now has Arthur his axe, and the hilt grips,
331 And sternly swings it about, and meant to strike with it;
332 The stout man before him stood up straight,
333 Higher than any in the house, by the head and more.
334 With stern stance where he stood he stroked his beard,
335 And with a countenance dry he drew down his coat,
336 No more moved nor dismayed for his mighty blows
337 Than if any battler upon bench had brought him a drink
338 Of wine.
339 Gawain, that sat by the queen,
340 To the king he did incline:
341 "I beseech now with plain speech
342 This melee may be mine."
343 Would ye, worthy lord," quoth Wawain to the king,
344 Bid me bow from this bench and stand by you there,
345 That I without vile manners might vacate this table,
346 And that my liege lady be not ill pleased,
347 I would come to your counsel before your rich court,
348 For I think it not seemly, as it is known sooth
349 That such an asking be heaved up so high in your hall,
350 Though you yourself be tempted to take it to yourself
351 While so many bold about you upon bench sit
352 That under heaven I hold none hardier of will,
353 Nor better bodies on earth where battle is reared.
354 I am the weakest, I know, and of wit feeblest,
355 And my life would be the least loss, to speak the sooth.
356 For only because you are my uncle am I to be praised;
357 No goodness but your blood I in my body know,
358 And since this business is so foolish, it does not befit you,
359 And I have begged it of you first, inflict it on me;
360 And if I speak not courteously, let all this court rich
361 Me blame."
362 Rich nobles gathered round
363 And they all advised the same:
364 To replace the king with crown,
365 And give Gawain the game.
366 Then commanded the king the knight for to rise,
367 And he full readily uprose and arranged himself fairly,
368 Kneeled down before the king and catches that weapon,
369 And Arthur lovingly left it to him and lifted up his hands
370 And gave him God's blessing and gladly him bids
371 That his heart and his hands should hardy ne both.
372 "Take care, kinsman," quoth the king, "that thou cut but once.
373 And if thou deal with him rightly, readily I believe
374 Thou shalt survive the blow he shall bring thereafter."
375 Gawain goes to the gallant with the great axe in hand,
376 And he boldly him abides; he was abashed not at all.
377 Then calls out to Sir Gawain the knight in the green,
378 "Let us affirm our pledge, ere we further pace.
379 First I ask thee, horseman, how you are called;
380 That thou tell me truly, so I can trust."
381 "In good faith," quoth the good knight, "Gawain I am called,
382 Who grants thee this buffet, whatever after befalls,
383 And from this time a twelvemonth I will treat thee to another,
384 With what weapon as thou wish and with no other warrior
386 The other answers again:
387 "Sir Gawain, as I may thrive,
388 I am greatly glad, certain,
389 That thou this blow shalt drive."
390 "By Gog" quoth the green knight, "Sir Gawain, I like it
391 That I shall feel from your fist, the favor I have asked.
392 And thou hast readily rehearsed, by reason full true,
393 Completely all the covenant that I of the king asked,
394 Save that thou shall assure me, stalwart, by thy troth,
395 That thou shall seek me thyself, wherever thou supposest
396 I may be found upon earth, and fetch thee such wages
397 As thou deal to me today before this dear court."
398 "Where should I wend to thee?" quoth Gawain, "where is thy place?
399 I am not aware where thou dwellest, by Him that me wrought,
400 Nor I know not thee, knight, thy court nor thy name.
401 But teach me truly thereto and tell me how thou art called,
402 And I shall work with all my wit to win my way thither,
403 And that I swear thee for sooth and by my sure troth";
404 "That is enough in the New Year; it needs no more,"
405 Quoth the gallant in the green to Gawain the courtier.
406 "If I tell thee truly when I have tapped thee,
407 And thou me smoothly hast smitten, smartly I will teach thee
408 Of my house and my home and my own name.
409 Then may thou be my guest and fulfill our agreements;
410 And if I cannot speak any speech, then succeedest thou the better,
411 For thou may linger in thy land and look no farther.
412 Thou spokest!
413 Take now thy grim tool, in truth,
414 And let's see how thou pokest."
415 "Gladly, sir, for sooth,"
416 Quoth Gawain; his axe he strokes.
417 This green knight upon ground gracefully him readies,
418 A little bow with his head the face he uncovers;
419 His long lovely locks he laid over his crown
420 Let the naked neck show to the nape.
421 Gawain gripped to his axe and gathers it on high,
422 The left foot on the floor he set before,
423 Let it down swiftly alight on the naked skin
424 That the sharp of the chevalier shattered the bones
425 And sheared through the shining flesh and slashed it in two,
426 That the bit of the bright steel bit on the ground.
427 The fair head from the neck hit to the earth,
428 That full many it kicked with their feet, where it forth rolled.
429 The blood poured from the body, bright on the green,
430 And neither faltered nor fell the fighter nonetheless,
431 But stoutly he starts forth upon strong shanks,
432 And roughly he reached out where riders stood,
433 Latched on to his lovely head, and lifted it up soon;
434 And then bounded to his bronc, the bridle he catches,
435 Steps into the stirrups, strides aloft,
436 And his head by the hair holds in his hand ,
437 And as steadily the stalwart sat him in his saddle,
438 As if no mishap had ailed him, though headless now
440 He twisted his trunk about,
441 That ugly body that bled;
442 Many feared the clout,
443 Ere his speech was said,
444 For the head in his hand he holds upright,
445 Toward the dearest on the dais he addresses the face,
446 And it lifted up the eye-lids and looked full widely about
447 And spoke thus much with its mouth, as you may now hear:
448 "Look, Gawain, thou be prepared to go as thou promised,
449 And look loyally till thou, liegeman, find me,
450 As thou hast promised in this hall, in these knights' hearing;
451 To the green chapel choose the way, I charge thee, to fetch
452 Such a dint as thou hast dealt -- thou hast deserved it --
453 To be promptly yielded on New Year's morn.
454 As the Knight of the Green Chapel, men know me many.
455 Thus me for to find, if thou set forth, failest thou never.
456 Therefore come or recreant to be called thee behooves."
457 With a rough roar the reins he turns,
458 Hurried out at the hall door, his head in his hand,
459 That the fire of the flint flew from his foal's hooves.
460 To what country that he came knew none there,
461 No more than they knew from whence he was come.
462 What then?
463 The king and Gawain there,
464 At that green one they laugh and grin,
465 Yet recorded it was with care
466 As a marvel among those men.
467 Though Arthur, the elegant king, at heart had wonder,
468 He let no sign be seen, but said full high
469 To the comely queen with courteous speech,
470 "Dear dame, today dismay you never;
471 Well becomes such craft upon Christmas,
472 Playing of interludes to laugh and to sing,
473 Among these courtly carols of knights and ladies.
474 Nonetheless to my meal I may me well address,
475 For I have seen a strange sight; I can not gainsay it."
476 He glanced at Sir Gawain and goodly he said,
477 "Now sir, hang up thine axe, that has enough hewed";
478 And it was done, above the dais on the tapestry hanging,
479 Where all men for a marvel might look on it
480 And be truly entitled thereof to tell the wonder.
481 Then they bounded to the board, these battlers together,
482 The king and the good knight, and keen men them served
483 With all dainties double, as to the dearest should befall;
484 With all manner of meat and minstrelsy both,
485 With wealth dwelt they that day, until it went to an end
486 In land.
487 Now, think well, Sir Gawain,
488 Lest for fear of what thou began,
489 Thou from this adventure refrain
490 That thou hast taken in hand.