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Bardic Arts

Gawain and The Green Knight

Ivone Pons Leyr
May, AS XXXVII (2002)

Arthur King did hold a great feast - All his Knights and comrades were there
Bade none could eat without adventure at least, Himself he stood, refusing a chair

Entered then a giant the room, green his skin and clothing and hair
A giant axe he held in his hand, brandished it full, high in the air

‘Champions bold it’s said sit this hall, now we’ll see what warriors you be.
One from among you I challenge this day, skill with axe and bravery.

A head for a head I seek here at this board, any man among you will do
You will swing first, but if I survive, a year and a day is all left to you’

Quiet then fell on King Arthur’s fair court, champions looked each left and then right
And when it was plain that no other would answer, up stood Arthur’s most loyal knight.

Gawain spoke loudly so all might him hear: ‘Green Knight, I will answer your call
For I am the least of this noble array, Danger then on my head should fall’

Straightaway the giant gave his axe to Gawain, who then raised it over his head
The giant’s head flew from his shoulders away, and all there thought he must be dead

But up stood that body and sought on the ground, when it found its head it did say,
‘I have your word Sir Knight, I will meet you at my keep in a year and a day’

Away it strode and the weeks quickly passed, winter changed its dress to fresh Spring
And danger seemed far and many forgot, but troubled was the heart of Gawain

Gringolet stout he did saddle full soon, and his shining armor he donned
His friends they all wept and said ‘go ye not!’, ‘No,’ Gawain said, ‘I must needs be gone.’

‘Truly I promised that I’d seek that knight, come what may I’ll not that pledge break
My kings honor rests on me doing this deed, Let no one say I a coward’s path take.’

Away then he rode from that fair company, off to seek the keep of that knight
Great were the deeds he met on his path, and fierce the foes which he had to fight

Stranger and colder grew all of the land, forest thicker and thicker the snow
“Mother of God, forget not your servant, soon I’ll die with no place to go”

A glimmer of light he saw through the snow, he thanked God for saving his life
Thither he rode through snowdrifts so deep, the bitter cold cut like a knife

A castle he found in the midst of a lea, Quickly gained he entrance to it
Rooms was he given and fine clothes to wear, a chair for him next where the Lord sits.

‘Welcome, Sir Knight, to my board’ said the man, ‘Eat and drink you merry your fill
And when you are done if I can be of help, if in my power surely I will.’

Gawain’s soul gladdened and he toasted this man, and when hunger’s teeth did not bite
He asked his provide if he knew any way that he might find the fearsome Green Knight.

‘Why seek you trouble?’ the man cried out loud ‘Better live and stay here with me!’
Gawain though stood firm, dismayed was he not ‘Then rest, regain your strength for days 3’.

‘Three are the days that my guest you will be and a challenge here in my hall,
Each day we will hunt, me without, you within, and share with the other what we find all’

The day of the first, out the lord went to hunt, a fat doe he brought soon to bay
Quickly he slew her, dressed her full well, cooked the meat to serve dinner that day

Gawain did find his host’s lady quite fair, and quite keen she was to be his
Deftly he turned her seductions away and held her off with but one small kiss

At dinner that evening they traded their prize, haunch of deer the man gave Gawain
‘I have gained but little’ Gawain said, but he kissed him, the challenge came the next day again

The host he killed a great stag, antlers huge, smoothly Gawain refused his lord’s wife
At dinner they feasted on venison fine, a kiss Gawain gave, the gain from his strife

The third day dawned clear and the host hunted boar while his lady sought Gawain once more
Though still he refused her a token she gave him, a cloth of green which great magic bore

‘Wear this tomorrow against the knight green, it will save you from his axe bright’
She kissed him and left, his heart troubled sorely for tomorrow he must give his head to the knight

The lord called out loudly ‘We feast here on boar! Wondrous glad the bounty I gained!
Share with me now those sweet things that you won! What have you for me, Sir Gawain?’

Gawain fought within himself, what should he do? And gave his host then a kiss
‘The treasure I gained, and share it I shall would there had been more than just this’

Feasted they late then into the night, when dawn came Gawain took his leave
And followed his hosts directions to go, wishing there could be some reprieve

Ahead in the woods a chapel he spied; waited there for him the Green Knight
Gawain offered his head, the green sash his armor; the Green Knight swung but stopped his axe flight.

Twice did he swing and his blow did he check, Gawain shook but still held his ground.
He threw a third stroke, and felt its sharp bite, still his head on his shoulders he found

‘Rise, Sir Gawain, my test for you is through and your neck I give you this day.
For your word it is strong and your courage undaunted and love of life stands but in your way.

‘Honest and generous in all did you prove, except for that one small green cloth charm
Loyal and courteous and brave did you prove, except for seeking a way from harm.

‘In this one thing you are lacking a bit, but unfailing in others you’ve been
Return to your King, a hero among them for wanting to live, I find that no sin.’

Gawain rode back then to Arthur’s fair court and they cheered and called out his name
On his chest he displayed a cloth of bright green, an outward sign of his inward shame.

Before his great King, Gawain went on his knee and he sad recounted his tale
And Arthur then clasped him and drew him in close, ‘My friend, you’ve served my honor well.’

‘Human we all are, and none of us saints, but to chivalry we all do strive
No more could be asked, far more you have done than any hero e’er yet alive’

‘Gawain, my man you are, honor you bring, and I see that your sorrow is keen
To show our great love, we will bear it with you, and all shall wear a badge made of green.’


"Requested by Queen Portia for King Uther after a particularly bad day…" -- Ivone Pons Leyr

Copyright ©2002 Yvonne K. Reynolds


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