Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

I’ve got to post an ex­cerpt from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, since I like it so much. I can’t find an on­line ex­cerpt of J.R.R. Tolkien’s trans­la­tion [my fa­vorite, duh] so this in­fe­ri­or ver­sion must do. Middle English ver­sion here. Groovy paint­ing here.

The green knight got ready, feet firm on the ground;
leaned his head a lit­tle to let the cheek show,
and raised the rich ri­ot of his hair
so the nape of his neck was naked and ex­posed.
Gawain held the ax high over­head,
his left foot set be­fore him on the floor,
swung swift­ly at the soft flesh
so the bit of the blade broke through the bones,
crashed through the clear fat and cut it in two,
and the bright­ly bur­nished edge bit in­to the earth.
The hand­some head fell, hit the ground,
and rolled for­ward; they fend­ed it off with their feet.
The red blood burst bright from the green body,
yet the fel­low nei­ther fal­tered nor fell
but stepped strong­ly out on stur­dy thighs,
reached rough­ly right through their legs,
grabbed his grace­ful head and lift­ed it from the ground,
ran to his horse, caught hold of the reins,
stepped in the stir­rup, strode in­to the sad­dle,
the head dan­gling by the hair from his hand,
and seat­ed him­self as firm­ly in the sad­dle
as if he were un­hurt, though he sat on his horse with­out
a head.
He swiveled his bulk about;
the ug­ly stump still bled.
They gaped in fear and doubt
be­cause of the words he said.

For he held the head up even­ly in his hand,
turned the face to­ward the top of the high ta­ble,
and the eye­lids lift­ed and looked on them all
while the mouth moved, mak­ing the­se words:
“Gawain, get ready to go as you have promised,
Seek me out, sir; search till you find me
as sworn here in this hall where all the­se knights heard.
I charge you, come as you chose to the Green Chapel to get
as good as you gave — you’ve got it com­ing
and will be paid prompt­ly when an­oth­er year has passed.
Many men know me as the Knight of the Green Chapel,
so search faith­ful­ly and you’ll not fail to find me.
Come, or be called a faith­less cow­ard!”
He roared like a rag­ing bull, turned the reins,
and drove for the door, still dan­gling the head,
while fire flashed from the horse’s feet as if its hooves were flints.
Where he went no one knew,
nor could they name the coun­try he came from nor his kin.
What then?
The king and Gawain grinned
and laughed at the Green Knight when
they knew full well it had been
a por­tent to their men.

(trans­la­tion by Paul Deane)

4 thoughts on “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

  1. Could you rant a lit­tle about the sub­tle dif­fer­ences that the role of hero has trans­formed from this time of his­to­ry com­pared to that of Beowulf. Any tak­ers?

    shoot me an email

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