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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