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Sir Gawain ar Green Knight, one of four notable poems written in the Northwest Midland dialect in the late 14th century. The 2,530 lines of this poem are arranged in stanzas of unequal length, each of which contains a number 0f long alliterative lines followed by five short lines rhyming alternately (Ababa), the first having one stress and the remaining four having each three.
Green Knight – A Strange Person
The story opens with the appearance at Arthur’s court of the strange and menacing Green Knight, who asks for a volunteer from among the Knights of the Round Table to strike him a blow with the heavy axe he would provide, on the understanding that a year and a day later the knight would come and receive a similar blow from him.
The knights are amazed and silent, and Arthur himself is driven to volunteer, but Gawain, a model of courtesy, nobility, and courage, steps in and gives the blow.
He strikes off the Green Knight’s head, but the knight simply picks his head up and rides off, telling Gawain to keep his bargain and appear at the Green Chapel a year and a day later to suffer a similar blow.
A Year Later
A year passes, and we see the earth changing from winter to spring, then to summer, then to autumn, with angry winds and leaves falling from the tree, and finally to winter again.
In the New Year, Gawain sets out to look for the Green Chapel. On the way, he seeks shelter at a castle and is handsomely entertained there by the lord and lady.
Each morning the lord goes off to hunt and his hunting is described in lively detail; Gawain stays in the castle and is tempted by the lady who wants him to make love to her.
He has a difficult time retaining his perfect courtesy and at the same time repulsing her advances, but he goes no further than allowing her to kiss him.
Gawain and the Lord had promised to exchange with each other whatever they gain during the day, and in accordance with this bargain, the Lord gives Gawain the animals he has killed in the hunt and Gawain gives the lord the kisses.
But on the last day, the lady presses Gawain to accept a memento of her, and he accepts a green girdle which she says will give him invulnerability, which he will require in his encounter with the Green Knight.
Gawain Finds Green Knight
He says nothing of this girdle to the lord. Then Gawain leaves to find the Green Chapel, which turns out to be a grassy mound nearby. He meets the Green Knight, who strikes him with his huge axe, but deflects the blow as Gawain flinches.
He taunts Gawain for flinching, and Gawain replies that he will not flinch again. He strikes a second time, Gawain remaining steady, but again he turns away the blow. The third time the axe lands, but only wounds again slightly on one side of the neck.
Gawain now says that he has fulfilled his bargain and demands a chance at a fair fight, but the Green Knight good-naturedly laughs at his ferocity and reveals himself as the lord of the castle; the slight wound on Gawain’s neck is for the girdle which he took from his lady in order to preserve his life.
Gawain, humiliated, admits his weakness and reproaches himself bitterly, but the Green Knight absolves him and tells him to keep the girdle.
On his return to Arthur’s court, Gawain tells the whole story, not as a heroic exploit but as an example of moral failure, and Arthur comforts him and all the knights agree to wear a green belt for Gawain’s sake.