Excerpt From Sir Gawain and the Green Knight In Plain and Simple English
Since Troy's assault and siege, I trow, were over-past,
To brands and ashes burnt that stately burg at last,
And he, the traitor proved, for treason that he wrought,
Was fitly tried and judged, his fortune elsewhere sought
The truest knight on earth, Aeneas, with his kin,
Who vanquished provinces, and did, as princes, win
Of all the Western Isles, the wealth and worth alway;
Rich Romulus to Rome full swift hath ta'en his way,
First, hath he founded fair that city in his pride
To which he gave his name, it bears it to this tide;
Ticius doth dwellings found, turning to Tuscany,
And Langobard, a race raised up in, Lombardy.
But Felix Brutus sailed full far, o’er the French flood,
And on its banks so broad founded Britain, the good,
Where war nor wonder fail
And ne’er have done, ywis,
Nor shall both bliss and bale
their shifting chances miss.
Since the assault on Troy and its siege were over,
with that great town reduced to ashes and flames,
and the one who had been shown to be a traitor had been properly
tried and judged for his treason, the truest knight on Earth, Aeneas, with his family,
sought out new provinces and as Princes they won over
all of the Western Isles, all their wealth and property;
Rich Romulus went quickly to Rome,
where he founded the great city
to which he gave his name, which it still has today;
Ticius found a place to live in Tuscany,
and Langobard started a race in Lombardy.
But Felix Brutus sailed the farthest, over the channel,
and on its broad shores he founded Britain, the good country, in happiness;
where neither war nor miracles ever end
and never have done, certainly,
and both good and bad fortune
have always swiftly followed each other.
And when that baron bold had Britain made, I trow,
Bold men were bred therein, who loved strife well enow,
And many a war they waged in those good days of yore-
Of marvels stern and strange, in this land many more
Have chanced than otherwhere, since that same time, I ween-
But of all kings who e’er o’er Britain lords have been,
Fairest was Arthur all, and boldest, so men tell;
Therefore I think to shew a venture that befell
In his time, which some men for a sheer wonder hold,
And strange above all tales that be of Arthur told.
If ye will list this lay a little while, in sooth,
I’ll tell ye as I heard it told in town for truth
As it doth stand, to wit,
In story stiff and strong,
In letters fairly writ,
The land hath known it long.
And when that bold baron had established Britain,
bold men were raised there, who were happy to fight,
and they fought many wars in those good old days -
more fearful and amazing things have happened in this land
than happened elsewhere, since its existence, I believe -
but of all the kings who have ruled over Britain,
the fairest was Artthur, and the bravest, so men say;
so I want to tell of an adventure that happened
in his time, which some men think is a miracle,
and is the strangest of the Arthurian stories.
If you will listen to my song for a while I promise
I'll tell it to you as I heard it truthfully told in town -
that is, a powerful story,
well set out,
that the people have known a long time.
At Camelot lay the King, all on a Christmas-tide,
With many a lovely lord, and gallant knight beside,
And of the Table Round did the rich brotherhood
High revel hold aright, and mirthful was their mood:
Oft-times on tourney bent those gallants sought the field,
And gentle knights in joust would shiver spear and shield;
Anon would seek the court for sport and carol gay-
For fifteen days full told the feast was held alway,
With all the meat and mirth that men might well devise,
Right glorious was the glee that rang in riotous wise.
Glad clamour through the day, dancing throughout the night;
Good luck throughout the hall and chambers well bedight,
Had lords and ladies fair, each one as pleased him best,
With all of this world’s weal they dwelt, those gallant guests;
For Christ no braver knights had faced or toil or strife,
No fairer ladies e’er had drawn the breath of life,
And he, the comeliest king that e’er held court, forsooth,
For all this goodly folk were e’en in their first youth,
The happiest under heaven,
A king of stalwart will,
‘T were hard with them to even
Another host on hill!
The King was at Camelot, and it was Christmas time,
with many handsome lords, and also gallant knights,
and the whole brotherhood of the round table
held great celebrations, and they were happy:
many times these brave men had fought in tournaments,
and sweet knights would split their spears and shields jousting;
then they would come back to the court for pleasure and singing–
the feast was always celebrated for a whole fifteen days,
with all the food and jollity that men can invent,
the jolly pleasure that rang through the halls was glorious.
There was a happy noise throughout the day, dancing throughout the night;
the greatest happiness throughout the hall and the rooms
was enjoyed by the fair lords and ladies, each one doing what they liked best,
they had all the world's happiness, those brave guests;
no braver knights had ever faced labour or battle for Christ,
no more beautiful ladies had ever lived,
and he, the most handsome king that ever ruled, truly,
for all these good people were still young, and still
the happiest on earth,
with a good strong king,
nobody can name
another group to match them!
So young the New Year was, methinks it just was born,
Double upon the dais they served the meat that morn;
Into the hall he came, with all his knights, the King,
E’en as the chapel choir to end the mass did sing.
Loud rang the voice of clerk and cantor there aloft,
"Nowell, Nowell!" they sang, and cried the word full oft.
And sithen forth they run for handsel fair and free
Their New Year’s gifts they pray, or give them readily.
And then about the gifts they make debate enow,
And ladies laugh full loud, tho’ they have lost, I trow!
And this I rede ye well, not wroth was he who won!-
And all this mirth they made till meal-time came-anon
The board was set, they washed, and then in order meet
The noblest aye above, each gallant took his seat.
When Gaynore, gayly clad, stepped forth among them all,
Upon the royal dais, high in the midmost hall.
Sendal swept at her side, and eke above her head
A tapestry of Tars, and choice Toulouse outspread,
And all embroidered fair, and set with gems so gay
That might be proved of price, an ye their worth would pay
Right fair she was, the queen,
With eyes of shining grey,
That fairer he had seen
No man might soothly say!
The New Year was so young, it had only just arrived,
and they served a double helping of food on the table that morning;
the King came into the hall with all his knights,
just as the chapel choir were singing to end the mass.
The voice of the clerk and choirmaster rang out loudly from on high,
“Noel, Noel!" they sang, and repeated the word often.
And then they brought out with their lovely generous hands
their New Year's gifts, offering them around.
There was great debate as to who would have which gift,
and the ladies laughed out loud, even when they lost!
And I can tell you, the man who won was not upset!
They kept on with this jollity until soon it was time to eat;
the table was set, they washed, and then in the proper order
everyone took their seats, with the most noble at the head.
Queen Guinevere, beautifully dressed, was seated amongst them,
on the royal platform, the highest place in the hall.
She had rich silk surrounding her, and also above her head
there were tapestries from Tars and rich materials from Toulouse,
all beautifully embroidered, and studded with such wonderful gems,
the best that could be bought;
truly beautiful this Queen was,
with shining grey eyes,
no man could truly say
he had ever seen better!
Arthur, he would not eat till all were served with food,
Glad of his gladness he, somewhat of child-like mood;
A changeful life he loved, he liked it not a whit,
Either o’er-long to lie, or e’en o’er-long to sit,
So chafed his youthful blood, and eke his busy brain.
Also a custom good, to which the King was fain-
Thro’ valour ‘stablished fast-that never would he eat
On such high holiday ere yet adventure meet
Were told unto his ear-or wondrous tale enow,
Or else some marvel great that he might well allow-
Tales of his father’s days, of arms, of emprise high,-
Or e’en some knight besought another’s skill to try,
To join with him in joust, in jeopardy to lay
Life against life, each one, on hap of knightly play.
As Fortune them might aid-in quest of honour fair-
This was his custom good when as in court he were
At each high holiday, among his courtiers there
Fair-faced, and free of fear,
He sitteth o’er them all,
Right keen in that New Year,
And maketh mirth withal.
Arthur would not eat until everyone had been served,
grateful for his happiness, and somewhat boyish in mood;
he loved the active life, he didn't like at all
to lie in too long, or even to sit for too long,
his young blood and busy brain urged him on so much.
There was also a good custom the King insisted on–
it was a point of honour that he would never eat
on such festival days before a story
of some great adventure was told to him,
or some great miracle which he could believe–
tales of his father's days, feats of arms, great endeavours–
or even how some knight tested the skill of another,
facing him in a joust, each one putting
their life in danger for the sake of a gallant game.
So as fortune would permit–looking for sweet honour–
this was his excellent custom when he sat in court
on each high holiday, among his courtiers in the hall,
fair faced and fearless,
he sits above them all,
youthful that New Year,
celebrating with everyone.
Thus in his place he stands, the young and gallant king,
Before the royal board, talking of many a thing.
There good Gawain, gay clad, beside Gaynore doth sit,
Agravain “dure main," beyond her as is fit;
(Both the King’s sister’s sons, and knights of valiant mood-)
High at the table sits Baldwin the Bishop good,
And Ywain, Urien’s son, doth with the Bishop eat-
These on the dais are served, in seemly wise, and meet.
Full many a gallant knight sits at the board below;
See where the first course comes, while loud the trumpets blow!
With many a banner bright that gaily waves thereby,
And royal roll of drums, and pipes that shrill on high.
Wild warblings waken there, and sweet notes rise and fall,
Till many a heart swelled high within that castle hall!
Dainties they bring therewith, and meats both choice and rare-
Such plenty of fresh food, so many dishes bear,
They scarce might find a place to set, the folk before,
The silver vessels all that savoury messes bore,
The guests they help themselves,
Thereto they be not loth,
Each twain had dishes twelve,
Good beer, and red wine both.
So he stood in his place, the brave young king,
at the royal table, talking of many things.
Good Gawain, brightly dressed, sat beside Guinevere,
with Agravain, “the hard hand," the other side as was right;
(both sons of the king's sister, and very brave knights)
in a high place was sitting the good Bishop Baldwin,
and Ywain, son of Urien, ate with the Bishop–
those on the dais were served in the proper order.
Many gallant knights sat at the table below;
then came the first course, with the trumpets loudly blowing!
Many bright banners were waved gaily as it came,
and there was a royal roll of drums and playing of shrill pipes.
The music raced around, sweet notes rising and falling,
until many hearts inside the castle hall were uplifted!
delicacies were brought along, with fine and rare meats–
so much fresh food, so many dishes,
they could hardly find a place to put them down before the diners,
that silverware which carried various different stews, on the cloth;
the guests helped themselves,
and they were very happy to,
there were twelve dishes between each pair,
and good beer and red wine too.
Now of their service good I think no more to say,
For each man well may wot no lack was there that day.
Noise that to them was new methinks now drew anear
Such as each man in hall were ever fain to hear,
For scarce the joyful sounds unto an end were brought,
And scarce had the first course been fitly served at court,
When through the hall door rushed a champion, fierce and fell,
Highest in stature he, of all on earth who dwell!
From neck to waist so square, and eke so thickly set,
His loins and limbs alike, so long they were, and great,
Half giant upon earth, I hold him to have been,
In every way of men the tallest he, I ween-
The merriest in his might that e’er a joust might ride,
Sternly his body framed in back, and breast, and side,
Belly and waist alike were fitly formed, and small,
E’en so his features fair were sharply cut withal,
Men marvelled at his hue,
So was his semblance seen,
He fared as one on feud,
And overall was green!
Now I think I will say no more about the service they had,
everyone can well imagine there was no lack there that day.
Now they heard a noise coming near they hadn't heard before,
something quite new to every man in the hall,
for the happy music had hardly finished,
and the first course had hardly been properly served to the court,
when in through the hall door rushed a fighter, fierce and dangerous,
the tallest man of anyone on earth!
His torso was so square and so thick,
with legs and arms to match, so long and huge,
I believe he must have been half giant,
certainly larger than any other man, I'm sure–
and the jolliest who might ever have ridden in a joust,
with his great back, chest and sides, his
belly and waist were nicely shaped, and small,
and his fair features were chiselled and clean;
men were amazed by his colour,
by what they saw in front of them,
he looked ready for a fight,
and all over he was green!
All green bedight that knight, and green his garments fair
A narrow coat that clung straight to his side he ware,
A mantle plain above, lined on the inner side
With costly fur and fair, set on good cloth and wide,
So sleek, and bright in hue-therewith his hood was gay
Which from his head was doffed, and on his shoulders lay.
Full tightly drawn his hose, all of the self-same green,
Well clasped about his calf-there-under spurs full keen
Of gold on silken lace, all striped in fashion bright,
That dangled beneath his legs-so rode that gallant knight.
His vesture, verily, was green as grass doth grow,
The barring of his belt, the blithe stones set arow,
That decked in richest wise his raiment fine and fair,
Himself, his saddle-bow, in silken broideries rare,
‘T were hard to tell the half, so cunning was the wise
In which ‘t was broidered all with birds, and eke with flies!
Decked was the horse’s neck, and decked the crupper bold,
With gauds so gay of green, the centre set with gold.
And every harness boss was all enamelled green,
The stirrups where he stood were of the self same sheen,
The saddle-bow behind, the girths so long and fair,
They gleamed and glittered all with green stones rich and rare,
The very steed beneath the self same semblance ware,
A green horse great and tall;
A steed full stiff to guide,
In broidered bridle all
He worthily bestrides!
That knight was green all over, and his clothes were also green;
he wore a tight fitting coat that hung straight down his sides,
a plain cloak over it, lined on the inside
with good expensive fur on good wide cloth,
so smooth and brightly coloured–his bright hood
was off his head and lying on his shoulders.
His stockings were close-fitting, of the same green colour,
hugging nicely round his calves; underneath he had sharp spurs
made of gold with silk straps, shining brightly,
that dangled under his legs–that was the style of that gallant knight.
His clothes were truly as green as the growing grass,
the metal bars on his belt and the jewels surrounding them,
generously spread out across his whole costume,
on himself, on his saddle, on silken embroidery,
it would be hard to describe half of it, it was so skilful
the way it was embroidered over with birds and also with butterflies!
The horse's neck was decorated, and so was his crupper,
with ornaments of green studded with gold.
Every piece of the harness was painted green,
and the stirrups he was using were the same colour,
the skirts of his saddle, the girths so long and beautiful,
they gleamed and glittered with rare green jewels,
and the horse itself was exactly the same colour, he rode
a green horse huge and tall;
a difficult horse to ride,
dressed in an embroidered bridle,
a worthy mount for him!
Right gaily was the knight bedecked, all green his weed,
The hair upon his head, the mane of his good steed,
Fair floating locks enfold his shoulders broad and strong,
Great as a bush the beard that on his breast low hung,
And, with his goodly hair that hung down from his head,
A covering round his arms, above his elbows, spread.
Laced were his arms below, e’en in the self-same way
As a king’s cap-a dos, that clasps his neck alway.
The mane of that great steed was well and deftly wrought,
Well crisped and combed the hair, with many a knot in-caught.
Folded with golden thread about the green so fair,
Here lay a twist of gold, and here a coil of hair.
In self-same wise the tail and top-most crest were twined,
A band of brightest green the twain alike did bind,
Which, set with precious stones, hung the tail’s length adown,
Then, twisted in a knot, on high the crest did crown.
There-from hung many a bell, of burnished gold so bright.,
Such foal upon the fell, bestridden by such knight,
Sure ne’er within that hall before of mortal sight
As lightning gleaming bright
So seemed to all his sheen,
They deemed that no man might
Endure his blows so keen.
That knight was dressed so gaily, with his clothes all green,
and the hair on his head, the mane of his good horse,
fair floating locks covering his broad strong shoulders,
his beard hanging down his chest like a great bush,
and the fine hair that hung down from his head
was cut round the level of his elbows, spread
so his arms were hidden beneath it, in the same way
that the King's cloak fits tightly around his neck.
The mane of the great horse was very much the same,
well combed and curled, with ornamental knots tied in.
Golden thread was plaited in with the green,
so that here there was a strand of gold and here a twist of hair.
The tail and the top of his head were plaited in the same way,
and a bright green band held them both in place,
which, set with precious stones, hung down the length of the tail,
and then crowned his head with a twist did not.
Many golden bells hung from this band.
Such a living horse, ridden by such a knight,
had certainly never been seen by any man in that hall before;
he seemed to shine
like bright gleaming lightning,
and everyone thought nobody
could match him in a fight.
Nor helmet on his head, nor hauberk did he wear,
Gorget nor breast-plate good, as knights are wont to bear;
Nor shaft to smite, nor shield that blows might well withstand,
Naught but a holly bough he carried in one hand,
(When all the groves be bare then fullest is its green),
And in his other hand a huge axe, sharp and sheen,
A weapon ill to see, would one its fashion say,
The haft, it measured full an ell-yard long alway,
The blade of good green steel, and all with gold inlaid,
Right sharp and broad the edge, and burnished bright the blade.
‘T was sharpened well to cut, e’en as a razor good,
Right well the steel was set in staff so stiff of wood,
And iron bands to bind throughout the length it bare,
With cunning work of green all wrought, and graven fair.
Twined with a lace that fell in silken loops so soft
E’en at the head, adown the haft ‘t was caught full oft
With hanging tassells fair that silken threads entwine,
And buttons of bright green, all broidered fair and fine.
Thus in the great hall door the knight stood, fair and tall,
Fearless and free his gaze, he gat him down the hall,
Greeting he gave to none, but looked right steadily
Toward the royal seat, and quoth, “Now where is he,
The lord of all this folk? To see him am I fain,
And with himself would speak, might I the boon attain!”-
He looked upon the knights,
And paced him up and down,
Fain would he know aright
Who was of most renown!
He had no helmet on his head, and wore no mail shirt,
neither did he have a breastplate like knights usually do;
he had no spear to attack, or shield for defence,
all he carried was holly branch in one hand,
(they are at their greenest when all the forests are bare)
and in the other hand he carried a huge axe, sharp and shiny,
a terrifying weapon, looking at it one could see
the head was a good yard long,
the blade was made of good green steel, inlaid with gold,
with a sharp broad edge, and a brightly polished blade.
It was sharpened to cut like a good razor,
and the steel was set in a handle of stiff wood
with iron bands to hold it all the way down,
all fashioned in green and beautifully engraved.
It was wrapped round with lace that fell in soft silken loops
from the head all down the handle it was wrapped
with lovely hanging tassles plaited from silken thread,
hanging from bright green studs, beautifully embroidered.
So the knight stood in the great doorway of the hall, fair and tall,
looking around him fearlessly and openly he walked down the hall,
he acknowledged no one, but looked straight ahead
towards the royal throne, and said, “Now where is he,
the ruler of all these people? I want to see him,
and I want to speak to him, so I can ask for a favour!"
He looked at the knights with a frown
and marched up and down,
for he demanded to know
who was the most famous!