I’ll go no further with you. On your head
Shall be your own mad blood when you are dead.
Yonder your two roads fork; pause there, I pray,
And ponder well before you choose your way.
One takes the hills, one winds along the wave;
To Camelot this,—the other to your grave!
Choose the high road, Sir Gawayne; shun the danger!
Say you were misdirected by a stranger;—
I swear by all that’s sacred, I’ll not tell
One syllable to a soul:—and so farewell!”
He galloped off without another word,
And vanished where the road turned. Gawayne heard,
Long after he had disappeared, the sound
Of iron hoof-beats on the frozen ground,
Till all died into silence, save those drear
And hollow voices from the Murmuring Mere.
But Gawayne chose the lower road, and passed
Along the desolate shore. The die was cast.
The western skies, as the red sun sank low,
Cast purple shades across the drifted snow,
And Gawayne knew that the dread hour was come
For the fulfillment of his martyrdom.
And now, from just beyond a jutting hill,
Came hideous sounds, as of a giant mill
That hisses, roars, and sputters, clicks and clacks;—
It was the Green Knight sharpening his axe!
And Gawayne, coming past the corner, found him,
With ghastly mouldering skulls and bones strewn round him,
In joyous fury urging the keen steel
Against the surface of his grinding wheel.
The place was a wild hollow, circled round
With barren hills, and on the bottom ground
Stood the Green Chapel, moss-grown, solitary;—
In sooth, it seemed the devil’s mortuary!
The Green Knight’s back was turned, and he stirred not
Till Gawayne hailed him sharply; then he shot
One glance—as when, o’erhead, a living wire
Startles the night with flashes of green fire;—
Then hurried forward, bland as bland could be,
And greeted Gawayne with green courtesy.
“Dear sir, I ask a thousand pardons; pray
Forgive me. You are punctual to the day;
That’s good! Of course I knew you would not fail.
How do you do? You look a trifle pale;
I trust, with all my heart, you are not ill?
Just the cold air? It does blow rather chill!
What can I do to cheer you? Let me see;—
Suppose I brew a cup of hot green tea?
You’ld rather not? You’re pressed for time? Of course,
I understand; then just get off your horse,
And I’ll do all I can to expedite
Our little business for you. There, that’s right;
And now your helmet? Thanks; and if you please
Perhaps you’ll kindly kneel down on your knees,
As I did when I came to Camelot; So!
Are you all ready? Will you bide the blow?”
And Gawayne said “I will,” in such soft notes
As happy bridegrooms utter, when their throats
Are paralyzed with blest anticipation;—
(What Gawayne looked for was decapitation!)
And then the Green Knight swung his axe in air