Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
JESSIE L. WESTON (1898)
Full early, ere daylight, the folk rose up; the guests who would depart called their grooms, and they made them ready, and saddled the steeds, tightened up the girths, and trussed up their mails. The knights, all arrayed for riding, leapt up lightly, and took their bridles, and each rode his way as pleased him best.
The lord of the land was not the last. Ready for the chase, with many of his men, he ate a sop heavily when he had heard Mass, and then with blast of the bugle fared forth to the field. He and his nobles were to horse ere daylight glimmered upon the earth.
Then the huntsmen coupled their hounds, unclosed the kennel door, and called them out. They blew three blasts gaily on the bugles, the hounds bayed fiercely, and they that would go a-hunting checked and chastised them. A hundred hunters there were of the best, so I have heard tell. Then the trackers gat them to the trysting-place and uncoupled the hounds, and forest rang again with their pleasurable blasts.
At the first sound of the hunt the game quaked for fear, and fled, trembling, along the vale. They betook them to the heights, but the liers in wait turned them back with loud cries; the harts they let pass them, and the stags with their spreading antlers, for the lord had forbidden that they should be slain, but the hinds and the does they turned back, and drove down into the valleys. Then might you see much shooting of arrows. As the deer fled under the boughs a broad whistling shaft smote and wounded each sorely, so that, wounded and bleeding, they fell dying on the banks. The hounds followed swiftly on their tracks, and hunters, blowing the horn, sped after them with ringing shouts as if the cliffs burst asunder. What game escaped those that shot was run down at the outer ring. Thus were they driven on the hills, and harassed at the waters, so well did the men know their work, and the greyhounds were so great and swift that they ran them down as fast as the hunters could slay them. Thus the lord passed the day in mirth and joyfulness, even to nightfall.
So the lord roamed the woods, and Gawain, that good night, lay ever a-bed, curtained about, under the costly coverlet, while the daylight gleamed on the walls. And as he lay half slumbering, he heard a little sound at the door, and he raised his head, and caught back a corner of the curtain, and waited to see what it might be. It was the lovely lady, the lord's wife; she shut the door softly behind her, and turned towards the bed; and Gawain was shamed, laid him down softly and made as if he slept. And she came lightly to the bedside, within the curtain, and sat herself down beside him, to wait till he wakened. The knight lay there awhile, and marveled within himself what her coming might betoken; and he said to himself, "'Twere more seemly if I asked her what has brought her here." Then he made feint to waken, and turned towards her, and opened his eyes as one astonished, and crossed himself; and she looked on him laughing, with her cheeks red and white, lovely to behold, and small smiling lips.
"Good morrow, Sir Gawain," said that fair lady; "you are but a careless sleeper, since one can enter thus. Now are you taken unawares, and lest you escape me I shall bind you in your bed; of that be you assured!" Laughing, she spoke these words.
"Good morrow, fair lady," said Gawain blithely. "I will do your will, as it likes me well. For I yield me readily, and pray your grace, and that is best, by my faith, since I needs must do so." Thus he jested again, laughing. "But an you would, fair lady, grant me this grace that you pray your prisoner to rise. I would get me from bed, and array me better, then could I talk with you in more comfort."
"Nay, forsooth, fair sir," said the lady, "you shall not rise, I will advise you better. I shall keep you here, since you can do no other, and talk with my knight whom I have captured. For I know well that you are Sir Gawain, whom all the world worships, wheresoever you may ride. Your honor and your courtesy are praised by lords and ladies, by all who live. Now you are here and we are alone, my lord and his men are afield; the serving men in their beds, and my maidens also, and the door shut upon us. And since in this hour I have him that all men love, I shall use my time well with speech, while it lasts. You are welcome to my company, for it benefits me in sooth to be your servant."
"In good faith," said Gawain, "I think me that I am not him of whom you speak, for unworthy am I of such service as you here proffer. In sooth, I were glad if I might set myself by word or service to your pleasure; a pure joy would it be to me!"
"In good faith, Sir Gawain," said the pleasurable lady, "the praise and the prowess that pleases all ladies I lack them not, nor hold them light; yet are there ladies enough who would ever now have the knight in their hold, as I have you here, to dally with your courteous words, to bring them comfort and to ease their cares, than much of the treasure and the gold that are theirs. And now, through the grace of Him who upholds the heavens, I have wholly in my power that which they all desire!"
Thus the lady, fair to look upon, made him great cheer, and Sir Gawain, with modest words, answered her again: "Madam," he said, "may Mary requite you, for in good faith I have found in you a noble frankness. Much courtesy have other folk shown me, but the honor they have done me is naught to the worship of yourself, who knows but good."
"By Mary," said the lady, "I think otherwise; for were I worth all the women alive, and had I the wealth of the world in my hand, and might choose me a lord to my liking, then, for all that I have seen in you, Sir Knight, of beauty and courtesy and blithe semblance, and for all that I have hearkened and hold for true, there should be no knight on earth to be chosen before you!"
"Well I know," said Sir Gawain, "that you have chosen a better; but I am proud that you should so prize me, and as your servant do I hold you my sovereign, and your knight am I, and may Christ reward you."
So they talked of many matters till mid-morn was past, and ever the lady made as yet she loved him, and the knight turned her speech aside. For yet she were the brightest of maidens, yet had he forborne to show her love for the danger that awaited him, and the blow that must be given without delay.
Then the lady prayed her leave from him, and he granted it readily. And she gave [the text reads "have"] him good-day, with laughing glance, but he must needs marvel at her words:
"Now He that speeds fair speech reward you this disport; but that you be Gawain my mind misdoubts me greatly."
"Wherefore?" said the knight quickly, fearing lest he had lacked in some courtesy.
And the lady spoke: "So true a knight as Gawain is holden, and one so perfect in courtesy, would never have tarried so long with a lady but he would of his courtesy have craved a kiss at parting."
Then said Gawain, "I know I will do even as it may please you, and kiss at your commandment, as a true knight should who forbears to ask for fear of displeasure."
At that she came near and bent down and kissed the knight, and each commended the other to Christ, and she went forth from the chamber softly.
Then Sir Gawain arose and called his chamberlain and chose his garments, and when he was ready he gat him forth to Mass, and then went to meat, and made merry all day till the rising of the moon, and never had a knight fairer lodging than had he with those two noble ladies, the elder and the younger.
And even the lord of the land chased the hinds through holt and heath till eventide, and then with much blowing of bugles and baying of hounds they bore the game homeward; and by the time daylight was done all the folk had returned to that fair castle. And when the lord and Sir Gawain met together, then were they both well pleased. The lord commanded them all to assemble in the great hall, and the ladies to descend with their maidens, and there, before them all, he bade the men fetch in the spoil of the day's hunting, and he called unto Gawain, and counted the tale of the beasts, and showed them unto him, and said, "What think you of this game, Sir Knight? Have I deserved of you thanks for my woodcraft?"
"Yea, I know," said the other, "here is the fairest spoil I have seen this seven Year in the winter season."
"And all this do I give you, Gawain," said the host, "for by accord of covenant you may claim it as your own."
"That is sooth," said the other, "I grant you that same; and I have fairly won this within walls, and with as good will do I yield it to you." With that he clasped his hands round the lord's neck and kissed him as courteously as he might. "Take you here my spoils, no more have I won; you should have it freely, yet it were greater than this."
"'Tis good," said the host, "gramercy thereof. Yet were I fain to know where you won this same favor, and if it were by your own wit?"
"Nay," answered Gawain, "that was not in the bond. Ask me no more: you have taken what was yours by right, be content with that."
They laughed and jested together, and sat them down to supper, where they were served with many dainties; and after supper they sat by the hearth, and wine was served out to them; and oft in their jesting they promised to observe on the morrow the same covenant that they had made before, and whatever chance might betide to exchange their spoil, be it much or little, when they met at night. Thus they renewed their bargain before the whole court, and then the night-drink was served, and each courteously took leave of the other and gat him to bed.
By the time the cock had crowed thrice the lord of the castle had left his bed; Mass was sung and meat fitly served. The folk were forth to the wood ere the day broke, with hound and horn they rode over the plain, and uncoupled their dogs among the thorns. Soon they struck on the scent, and the hunt cheered on the hounds who were first to seize it, urging them with shouts. The others hastened to the cry, forty at once, and there rose such a clamor from the pack that the rocks rang again. The huntsmen spurred them on with shouting and blasts of the horn; and the hounds drew together to a thicket betwixt the water and a high crag in the cliff beneath the hillside. There where the rough rock fell ruggedly they, the huntsmen, fared to the finding, and cast about round the hill and the thicket behind them. The knights know well what beast was within, and would drive him forth with the bloodhounds. And as they beat the bushes, suddenly over the beaters there rushed forth a wondrous great and fierce boar, long since had he left the herd to roam by himself. Grunting, he cast many to the ground, and fled forth at his best speed, with more mischief. The men hallooed loudly and cried, "Hay! Hay!" and blew the horns to urge on the hounds, and rode swiftly after the boar. Many a time did he turn to bay and tare the hounds, and they yelped, and howled shrilly. Then the men made ready their arrows and shot at him, but the points were turned on his thick hide, and the barbs would not bite upon him, for the shafts shivered in pieces, and the head but leapt again wherever it hit.
But when the boar felt the stroke of the arrows he waxed mad with rage, and turned on the hunters and tare many, so that, frightened, they fled before him. But the lord on a swift steed pursued him, blowing his bugle; as a gallant knight he rode through the woodland chasing the boar till the sun grew low.
So did the hunters this day, while Sir Gawain lay in his bed lapped in rich gear; and the lady forgot not to salute him, for early was she at his side, to cheer his mood.
She came to the bedside and looked on the knight, and Gawain gave her fit greeting, and she greeted him again with ready words, and sat her by his side and laughed, and with a sweet look she spoke to him:
"Sir, if you be Gawain, I think it a wonder that you be so stern and cold, and care not for the courtesies of friendship, but if one teach you to know them you cast the lesson out of your mind. You have soon forgotten what I taught you yesterday, by all the truest tokens that I knew!"
"What is that?" said the knight. "I believe I know not. If it be sooth that you say, then is the blame mine own."
"But I taught you of kissing, " said the fair lady. "Wherever a fair countenance is shown him, it benefits a courteous knight quickly to claim a kiss."
"Nay, my dear," said Sir Gawain, "cease that speech; that durst I not do lest I were denied, for if I were forbidden I know I were wrong did I further entreat."
"I' faith," said the lady merrily, "you may not be forbid, you are strong enough to constrain by strength an you will, were any so discourteous as to give you denial."
"Yea, by Heaven," said Gawain, "you speak well; but threats profit little in the land where I dwell, and so with a gift that is given not of good will! I am at your commandment to kiss when you like, to take or to leave as you list."
Then the lady bent her down and kissed him courteously.
And as they spoke together she said, "I would learn somewhat from you, an you would not be wroth, for young you bare and fair, and so courteous and knightly as you are known to be, the head of all chivalry, and versed in all wisdom of love and war--'tis ever told of true knights how they adventured their lives for their true love, and endured hardships for her favors, and avenged her with valor, and eased her sorrows, and brought joy to her bower; and you are the fairest knight of your time, and your fame and your honor are everywhere, yet I have sat by you here twice, and never a word have I heard of love! You who are so courteous and skilled in such love ought surely to teach one so young and unskilled some little craft of true love! Why are you so unlearned who art otherwise so famous? Or is it that you deemed me unworthy to hearken to your teaching? For shame, Sir Knight! I come here alone and sit at your side to learn of you some skill; teach me of your wit, while my lord is from home."
"In good faith," said Gawain, "great is my joy and my profit that so fair a lady as you are should deign to come here, and trouble you with so poor a man, and make sport with your knight with kindly countenance, it pleases me much. But that I, in my turn, should take it upon me to tell of love and such like matters to you who know more by half, or a hundred fold, of such craft than I do, or ever shall in all my lifetime, by my troth 'twere folly indeed! I will work your will to the best of my might as I am bounden, and evermore will I be your servant, so help me Christ!"
Then often with guile she questioned that knight that she might win him to woo her, but he defended himself so fairly that none might in any wise blame him, and naught but bliss and harmless jesting was there between them. They laughed and talked together till at last she kissed him, and craved her leave of him, and went her way.
Click to continue Part 3.
Answer the focus questions while reading. Pause the audio as needed.