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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