Sir Gawain

Canto The Fourth

1912 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

by Rev.. Ernest J. B. Kirtlan, B.A. (London), B.D. (St. Andrews)



Canto the Fourth


CANTO THE FOURTH - Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

NOW drew near the New Year as the night waned and the darkness passed away as God doth bid. But wild weather of the world came out of the wakening day, and clouds cast down cold upon the earth, and there was enough of the north in the weather to vex the naked. And snow fell sharply and covered the wilds. The whistling wind rushed down from the heights, and there were great drifts in the dales. And as the knight

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lay in his bed he listened to the storm, and though he locked his eyelids, full little he slept, and he heard the crowing of each cock in turn. Ere the day dawned he dressed himself by the light of a lamp that gleamed in his chamber. He called to his servant, and quickly he answered him, and he bade him bring in his cuirass and his saddle, and he rose up forthwith and fetched the riding apparel, and prepared Sir Gawain for his journey in great wise. First he clad him in his clothes, that he might ward off the cold, and then in his other harness that had been faithfully guarded. His coats of mail and his armour-plate all shone with burnishing, and the rings of his rich coat of mail were cleansed of all rust, and were all fresh as at first, and he was fain to thank

him there.
Of the armour every piece
He had wiped clean and fair,
As no warrior's in Greece.
He asked for his steed so rare.

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Divider art by Frederic Lawrence


Letter A Sir Gawain

AND while he was then being decked out in these rich weeds, his coat with the badge of noble deeds, adorned as it was with stones of virtue up on velvet and bound with embroidered seams and fair furred within with costly furs, yet forgot he not the lace girdle, the lady's gift for his protection. When he had belted his sword upon his smooth haunches he wound the love-token round and round about him, and he quickly folded the gay girdle of green silk about his loins over the rich and royal red cloth. But he wore not this rich girdle for its great price, nor for pride of polished pendants, or because gold glittered and gleamed upon it, but to save himself when it behoved

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him to suffer and to bide bale without debate and to beware of the sword

or blow.
And then the bold knight down
From that fair castle doth go,
All that household of renown
He thanketh them, I trow.

Divider art by Frederic Lawrence


Letter T Sir Gawain

THEN his fine and huge horse Gringolet was made ready. He had been well cared for, and was proud and eager for galloping. Sir Gawain went up to him and looked in his face. Then he solemnly addressed the company, and swore, 'Here in deed is a well-mannered and courteous household, and may the lord who main-

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tains them have great joy. And may love betide the dear lady of the house all her life. And when they cherish their guests and do honour to them, may the High Lord that wields heaven on high bless them and you all; and if I live long enough I will grant you some meed for your services.' Then stepped he into the stirrups and mounted his horse, and his servant handed him his shield, which he received on his shoulder, and then goading Gringolet with his golden spurs, he stood there no longer, but struck sparks from the stones, and the horse

did prance.
His man on horse was then
That bore his spear and lance,
'This castle to Christ I ken
Oweth its good chance.'

Divider art by Frederic Lawrence

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Letter T

THEN the bridge was let down, and the broad gates were flung open, both halves of them. The knight crossed him self as he passed the thresh old, and praised the porter, and knelt before the prince of that castle and bade him good day, and went on his way with his one servant who was to show him the path to that sorrowful place where he was doomed to receive the rueful blow. They took their way by hills where the boughs of the trees were bare, and they climbed up by cliffs where the frost was clinging. The clouds did not fling down the snow, but gloomy was it beneath. The moor was muggy with mist, and the snow melted on the mountains, and each hill had a cap or mantle of fog, and brooks boiled among the rocks, dashing white on the shores as they rushed downwards, and lone-

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some was the way as they went by the woodlands until the time came for the sun to rise
that tide.

They rode o'er a hill full high,
The white snow lay beside;
The man who rode him by
Bade his master abide.

Divider art by Frederic Lawrence


‘FOR hither,’ said the man, ‘I have brought thee at this time, and now thou art not far from that famous place about which thou hast so specially asked so many questions. But soothly I will tell thee, since I know thee and thou art one among ten thousand, and I love thee well, that wouldst thou take my counsel it would be better for thee; for the place towards which thou dost press forward is held to be full

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perilous, for there dwells in that waste one of the worst upon earth. And he is strong and stern, and loves to deal great blows, and greater is he than any man in the world, and his body bigger than the best four knights that are in the house of King Arthur, Hector, or any others. And such chance he achieves at the Green Chapel that none passes that place, though he be proud in his armour, but that he deals them a death-blow by a stroke of his hand. For pitiless is he, and shows no mercy. For whosoever rides past the chapel he thinks it as good to kill him as to remain alive himself, be he churl or chaplain, monk or mass-priest. There fore I say to thee, forsooth, as thou dost sit in the saddle, if thou comest there, thou shalt be killed, believe thou that, forsooth, though thou hadst twenty lives

to spend.
He has dwelt here of yore;
Do not thither wend,
Against his dintings sore
Thou mayest not thee defend.’

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Letter F Sir Gawain

‘FOR thy welfare, Sir Gawain, let him alone, and gang some other gait, for God’s dear sake. Go where Christ may speed thee, and I will hie me home again; and further I promise thee on my oath, by God and all His good saints, as help me, God and Our Lady and others, that I will keep thy secret and say not a word that ever thou didst turn back from thy quest.’ ‘Grammercy,’ quoth Gawain, ‘well may it be with thee for that thou de sirest my good, and wouldst loyally keep a secret, as I believe thou wouldst verily, but didst thou keep it never so truly, were I to turn away for fear as thou dost bid me, a coward knight I should show myself and without excuse. Nay, but I will to the chapel, come what come may, and deal with

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that fellow as I list, and as Weird doth like, be it for weal

Or woe.
Though he be fierce to yield,
And deal a deadly blow,
My God can full well shield
His servant from the foe.'

Divider art by Frederic Lawrence


‘MARRY,’ quoth that other, 'now thou hast said that thou wilt thrust thyself into such danger, and it listeth thee to lose thy life, I will not hinder thee. Set then thy helmet on thy head, and thy spear in thy hand, and ride down the path by the side of yonder rock till thou shalt come to the bottom of the rugged valley; then take a look round

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on thy left hand and thou shalt see in the valley the very chapel that thou seekest and the burly fellow that keepeth it. Now fare thee well, and God bless thee, Gawain the noble. For all the gold in the world I would not wend with thee nor bear thee com pany through this valley a single inch farther.’ Then the man turned his horse round in the wood, put his spurs to sides as hard as he could, and galloped over the land, leaving the knight

‘By God's self,’ quoth Gawain,
I will neither weep nor groan;
To do His will I am full fain,
He will deliver me full soon.’

Divider art by Frederic Lawrence

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Letter T

THEN spurred he Gringolet, and betook himself along the path by the side of a wood, and rode over a rough hill into the valley. And he lingered there some time, and a wild place he thought it, for he saw no resting-place, but only high hills on both sides, and rough, rugged rocks and huge boulders, and the hill shadows seemed desolating to him. Then he drew up his horse, and it seemed wondrous strange to him that he saw not the Green Chapel on any side. At length a little way off he caught sight of a round hillock by the side of a brook, and there was a ford across the brook, and the water therein bubbled as though it were boiling. The knight caught up the reins and came to the hill, alighted, and tied up the reins to the rugged branch of a tree. Then he went to the hill and walked

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round about it, debating within him self what place it might be. It had a hole at the end and on either side, and it was overgrown with tufts of grass and was all round and hollow within. He thought it nought but an old cave or a crevice. Within and about it there seemed to be

a spell.
‘Ah lord,’ quoth the gentle knight,
Is this the green chapel?
Here truly at midnight
Might the devil his matins tell.’

Divider art by Frederic Lawrence


Letter N Sir Gawain

‘NOW,’ said Sir Gawain, 'this is a desert place, I trow. This oratory is loath some, overgrown as it is with weeds, and well it befitteth that fellow clad in green, for his devotion to the devil.

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Now in my five wits I ween it is the very devil himself who has made this tryst with me, that he may destroy me. This is a chapel of ill-luck, and the most accursed kirk that I have ever seen, and may ill luck befall it.’ With his helmet high on his head and lance in hand, he wandered up to that rocky dwelling. Then came there from a rock in that high hill beyond the brook a wondrous strange noise, and it clattered among the cliffs as though it would cleave them asunder, as though one were grinding a scythe upon a grindstone, and it made a whirring sound like water in a mill, and rushed and sang out and was terrible to hear. ‘By God Himself,’ said Gawain, ‘that is the noise of armour which is being made ready for that fellow wherewith he may come forth to meet me

by rote.
Let God work me woe.
It helpeth me not a mote,
My life though I forgo,
No noise shall make me dote.’

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Letter N Sir Gawain

THEN in a loud voice the knight 'gan call, ‘Who dwells in this place and would hold parley with me? For now is good Sir Gawain in the right way at last, and if any man would have aught with him let him come hither quickly; now or never is his chance’ ‘Tarry a moment,’ quoth a voice on the hill above his head, ‘and thou shalt receive all that I promised thee in right good time.’ Thereupon he rushed forward at a great speed till he arrived near a crag and came whirling out of a hole in a corner of it with a fell weapon in his hand; and it was a new Danish axe with which to give the blow, with a huge piece of steel bent at the handle, and it was four feet long and filed at the grind

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stone, and it gleamed full brightly. It was the Green Knight, dressed as at their first meeting, the same in face and legs, looks, and beard, save that he went on foot. When he reached the water he would not wade therein, but hopped over on his axe and strode boldly for ward over

the snow.
Sir Gawain the knight 'gan meet,
To him he bowed not low;
The other said, ‘Now, my sweet,
The tryst thou keepest, I trow?’

Divider art by Frederic Lawrence


Letter G Sir Gawain

‘GAWAIN,’ quoth the Green Knight, ‘may God protect thee. I wis thou art welcome to my place, and thou hast kept thy promise as befitteth a true man. Thou knowest the covenant

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between us made—how a twelvemonth ago thou didst take that which befell thee and I was to be quits with thee on this New Year’s Day. We are alone verily in this valley; there are no knights here to separate us. Doff thy helmet and take thy pay, and make no more ado than I did when thou didst whip off my head at one blow.’ ‘Nay, by the most high God,’ said Gawain, ‘so I have spirit I grudge thee not thy will for any mischief that may befall me; but I stand here for thy stroke, and do not deny thee thy will

Down he bent his head,
And showed his neck all bare.
There was no sign of dread,
Or that he would not dare.

Divider art by Frederic Lawrence

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Letter T Sir Gawain

THEN the Green Knight gat himself ready quickly, and gathered up his grim weapon with which to smite Sir Gawain, and with all the strength of his body he raised it aloft and made a feint of destroying him and drove it downwards as though he were right angry with him, so that the doughty knight would have been killed by that blow. But Gawain started aside a little from the axe as it came gliding downwards to destroy him on that hillside, and shrank a little from that sharp iron with his shoulders. And the other withheld somewhat the shining weapon, and then reproved the princely knight with many a proud word. ‘Thou art not Gawain,’ said he, ‘that is holden to be so brave that never winced a hair by hill or valley, for now thou dost flee for fear, ere thou art hurt at all. Never heard I of such cowardice of that knight, neither

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did I shrink or flee when thou didst strike me, nor did I cavil at all in King Arthur’s house. My head flew down to my foot, yet fled I not, and thou, ere any harm befell thee, waxest timid in heart. The better man of the two it behoves me to be called
Quoth Gawain, ‘I shrank once,
But so will I no more,
Yet though my head fell on the stones
I cannot it restore.’
‘BUT hasten thou, and let us come to the point. Deal me my destiny, and do it out of hand, for I will stand thee a stroke, and start aside no more till thine axe hath smitten me: have here my troth.’ ‘Have at thee then,’ quoth that other, and he heaved the axe aloft
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and looked so angry that he might have been a madman. He struck at him mightily, but withheld his hand sud promptly abided it and shrank in no limb of his body, but stood still as a stone or a tree stock that is rooted in the rocky ground with a hundred roots. Then merrily 'gan he speak, the man in green, 'So now thou hast thy heart whole and while it behoves me to smite. Hold high thy hood that Arthur gave thee, and keep thy neck to thy body lest it get in the way again.’ Gawain then answered him full fiercely, and with heart sorrow, ‘Strike then, thou bold man; thou dost threaten too long. I hope that thy heart may wax timid.’ ‘Forsooth,’ quoth that other, ‘so fiercely thou dost speak, I will no longer hinder thee of thine errand
right now.’
Then took he a stride to strike,
And wrinkled lips and brow,
No marvel it did him mislike,
Who hoped for no rescue now.
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HE raised lightly his axe and let it fall with the barb on his bare neck; and though he hotly hammered he did not hurt him much, but cut his skin a little. The sharp sword pierced through the flesh, so that the bright blood spurted over his shoulders to the ground; and when he saw the blood on the snow he started forward more than a spear length, hastily seized his helmet and put it on his head, and adjusted his shield; then brandishing forth a glittering sword, he spake fierce words, and never since his mother bare him was he half so merry. ‘Cease now from thy strokes. Offer me no more. I have taken a blow in this place without striving; if thou givest me any more I
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will readily return them, be ye of that well assured,
my foe.
But one stroke shall on me fall,
The covenant was right so
Made by us in Arthur’s hall,
And therefore, knight, now ho!’
THE man held back and rested upon his axe, set the shaft on the ground, and leaned on the point, looked at Sir Gawain, and saw how bravely he stood there, doughty and dreadless and fully armed, and in his heart he was well pleased. Then spake he merrily and loudly, with a rushing sound, and said, ‘Bold man, on this hill be not thou so angry, for no
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Man has done thee wrong, unmannerly nor in any wise, except as was agreed in the court of King Arthur. I promised thee a stroke—thou hast it; hold thyself well payed. I hereby release thee of the remnant and of all other rights. Had I so liked, I could have dealt thee a worse blow; but first I menaced thee in playful wise, and cut thee not at all, though with right I proffered it to thee for the covenant made between us the first night when thou faithfully didst keep thy troth and gavest me all thy gain as a true man should. The second blow I gave thee for the morning when thou didst kiss my beautiful wife, and gavest me the kisses, and for the two kisses I gave thee here but two blows without scathe
or tear.
A true man keeps his sooth,
And no scathe need he fear;
Thou didst flinch at the third, in truth,
So that stroke I gave thee here.
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FOR in truth thou art wearing my weed in that same woven girdle which my wife gave to thee, as I wot well. And I know all about thy kisses and thy virtues also, and it was I myself who brought about the wooing of my wife. I sent her to assail thee, and I found thee to be the most faultless man on earth; as pearl is of more price than white pease, so is Gawain, in good faith, than all other gay knights. But, good sir, in this thou wast lacking a little in loyalty, not in any amorous working or wooing; but that thou didst love thy life the less I blame thee.’ Then Sir Gawain stood thoughtful for a long time, and he trembled with rage, and all the blood
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of his body rushed to his face, and he shrank for shame all the time the Green Knight was talking. And the first words he uttered were, ‘A curse on both cowardice and covetousness! In them are both villany and vice, that destroy virtue.’ Then he caught hold of the girdle and violently flung it at the knight. ‘Lo, there is the false thing, and may evil befall it. For fear of thy stroke cowardice seized me, and for covetousness I was false to my nature, which is loyal and true as befitteth a knight. Now I am faulty and false and fearful. May sorrow betide Treachery and Untruth
and Care.
I know thee knight here still.
All faulty is my fare,
Let me but thwart thy will,
And after I will be ware.’
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THEN the other laughed and said, ‘I reck nought of the harm thou hast made such lean confession of thy misdeeds, and hast done such penance at the point of my sword that I hold thee free from thy fault and as innocent as if thou hadst never for feited innocence since thou wast born. And here I give to thee again the girdle, at is gold hemmed and green as my gown. And thou shalt think on this chiding when thou goest forth among princes of price, and this shall be at the Green Chapel, to chivalrous knights. Thou shalt come in this New Year and turn again to my dwelling, and we will spend
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the remnant of this noble feast in revellings as shall
be seen.’
Thus invited Sir Gawain the lord,
And quoth he ‘My lady, I ween,
She shall thee well accord,
Though she was thine enemy keen.’
‘NAY, forsooth,’ quoth Gawain, and he seized his helmet, gracefully doffed it, and thanked the Green Knight. ‘Sadly have I sojourned, and may joy betide thee from Him who hath all men in His keeping. Commend me to that courteous one thy noble lady, and to the ancient dame, my honoured
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ladies who have so cunningly beguiled me. It is no wonder if a fool go mad in loving, and through the wiles of a woman be brought to sorrow, for so was Adam beguiled by one woman and Solomon by many; and to Samson, Delilah deaIt him his weird, and David was beguiled by Barsabe, through whom he suffered great loss. AlI these were troubled by the wiles of women. Great joy it would be to love them well, and believe them not, if a man could do it. For of those who under heaven
have mused,
All of them were beguiled
By women that they used;
Though I be now be-wiled
I think I am excused.’
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‘BUT for thy, girdle;’ quoth Gawain, ‘God reward thee for it, and I will wield it with good will, not for the gold, nor the samite, nor the silk, nor for its pendants, nor for weal nor worship, nor for its fair workings, but as a sign of my surfeit oft shall I look upon it; and when I ride in renown I shall feel remorse for the fault and cowardice of the crabbed flesh, all how easy it is to be smirched by filth, and thus, when pride shall prick me through prowess of arms, the sight of this lovely lace shall moderate the beating of my heart. But one thing I pray thee, and may it not displease thee, since thou art lord of that land where I have sojourned with thee in worship—and may the Lord
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reward thee that sitteth on high and upholds the heavens—tell me thy name, and no more do I ask thee.’ ‘That shall I tell thee truly,’ quoth that other. ‘Bernlak de Haudesert I am called in this land; and through might of Morgan le Fay, who lodges in my house, and the cunning of the clergy, I am well learned in crafts. She was the mistress of Merlin, and many has she taken captive by her wiles. For she has made love for a long time to that famous clerk that knows all your knights
at home.
Morgan the goddess
Therefore is her name;
There is no haughtiness
She cannot make full tame.’
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'IT was she who brought me in this wise to your joyous hall, to assay the pride thereof if it were truly spoken of, and to put to the test the great renown of the Round Table. She it was who made me do this marvel to put you all out of your wits, in order to vex and pain Guinevere and to cause her death, together with all that ghostly game and the knight with his head in his hand before the high table. It was the work of Morgan, who is that ancient dame thou didst see in my house. And she is thine aunt, and half-sister to Arthur, the daughter of the Duchess of Tintagel, who after wards married Uther and gave birth to Arthur, who now is king. Therefore I implore thee, come and see thy aunt. Make merry in my house, for my servants all love thee, and I wish thee
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well, by my faith, as any man under heaven because of thy great truth.' But Sir Gawain denied with a nay, and said he would not in any wise. Then they embraced and kissed and com mended each other to the King of Para dise, and they parted right there
on the wold.
Gawain mounts horses, I ween,
To the king’s town hastes him, bold.
The knight, in weeds of green,
Went o'er the moorland cold.
GAWAIN rode over wild ways of the world. Sometimes he found rest in houses, and sometimes in the open air, and had many adventures in the valleys, and oft he overcame, and I will not try to tell it all. The hurt was healed that he had in his
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neck, and he still carried the glittering belt at his side; under his left arm was the lace, tied with a knot, in token that he was taken in a fault. Thus he came to court, a knight all unhurt. There was joy in that hall when the great ones knew that Sir Gawain was come back, and great gain they thought it. The king kissed the knight, and the queen also, and many a faithful knight sought to embrace him, and they asked him of his faring, and he told them all the wonders thereof and all the labours he had endured, the chance of the chapel, the doings of the Green Knight, the love-making of the lady, and of the lace last of all. Then he showed them the cut in his neck which for his disloyalty he received at the hand of the Green Knight
for blame.
He moaned as he did it tell,
The blood to his face then came,
As he groaned for grief as well,
When he showed it to them for shame.
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‘LO, my lord,’ quoth the knight as he handled the lace, ‘this is the bond and sign of my shame, this is the loss and the hurt that I have suffered through cowardice and covetousness. It is the token of untruth, and I must needs wear it while life shall last, for none may hide it, for when it is once fixed upon any one never will it pass from him.’ The king comforted the knight, as did all the court; and they laughed loudly, and it was agreed that all the lords and ladies of the Round Table, each member of the brother hood, should have a lace belt, a band of bright green, and wear it for the sake of Sir Gawain as long as they lived. And this was the renown of the Round Table, and he that had it was held in great honour for evermore, as I have
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seen it written in the best book of Romance. Thus in King Arthur’s day did this adventure betide. The Brutus books bear witness to it, since the bold Knight Brutus came hither first after the siege and the assault ceased at Troy, as
I wis.
Many adventures herebefore
Have befallen such ere this.
Now He that thorn-crown for us bore
Bring us to His bliss. Amen.


Printed by Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbury.

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