She held a plain green girdle in her hand,
In outward seeming just a narrow band
Of silk, with silver clasps; but in those days
The strangest things were wrought in simplest ways,
As Gawayne knew full well; and he could see
That all the lady said was verity.
He took the girdle, held it, fingered it,
Then clasped it round his waist to try the fit,
Irresolutely dallying with temptation,
Till conscience grew too weak for inclination;
For at the last he threw one wandering glance
Out at the casement, and the merry dance
Of sparkling sunbeams on the fields of snow
Wrought havoc in his wavering heart; and so,
Repeating to himself one word: “Life, life!”
He took the token from the baron’s wife.
That evening, when the baron and our knight
Met to exchange their gifts at candle-light,
The baron, looking graver than before,
Said: “Sir, my luck has left me; not a boar
Did we get wind of, all this blessed day.
I come with empty hands, only to pray
Your pardon. What good fortune do you bring?”
And Gawayne answered firmly: “Not a thing!”
By noon the next day, Gawayne and his host
Rode side by side along the perilous coast
Of the gray Mere, from whose unquiet sleep
Reverberating murmurs of the deep
Startled the still December’s listening air.
The baron, shuddering, pointed seaward. “There,”
He said, “year in, year out, these voices haunt
That fearful water; heaven knows what they want!
Men tell me—and I have no doubt it’s true—
They are knights-errant whom the Green Knight slew!
Woe unto him, the over-bold, who dares
Adventure near that uncouth monster’s snares!”
Quoth Gawayne: “How have you escaped the net?”
The baron answered: “I? We never met!
When I’m about, he seems to shun the place,
And where he is, I never show my face;
But if we did meet, ’t would be safe to say
Not more than one of us would get away!”
And then the baron told tales by the score
About the Green Knight’s quenchless thirst for gore,
And kept repeating that no magic charm
Was proof against the prowess of his arm;
At his first blow each vain defense must fall,
For he was arch-magician over all.
And as from tale to tale the baron ran,
Sir Gawayne, had he been another man,
Would certainly have felt his heart’s blood curdle,
Despite his secret wearing of the girdle;
But when the baron finally suggested
Abandoning the venture, and protested
That the whole monstrous business was absurd,
Sir Gawayne simply said: “I gave my word.”
And when the baron saw he would not bend,
He seemed to lose all patience. “Well,