And Gawayne rubbed his arms, his chest he beat,
Then grasped the battle-axe and braced his feet,
And swung the ponderous weapon high in air,
And brought it down like lightning, fair and square
Upon the stranger’s neck. The axe flashed through,
Cutting the Green Knight cleanly right in two,
And split the hard stone floor like kindling wood.
The head dropped off; out gushed the thick, hot blood
Like—I can’t find the simile I want,
But let us say a flood of creme de menthe!
And then the warriors standing round about
Sent up from fifty throats a mighty shout,
As when o’er blood-sprent fields the long cheers roll
Cacophonous, for him who kicks a goal.
“O Gawayne! Well done, Gawayne!”
they all cried;
But straight the tumult and the shouting died,
And deadly pallor overspread each face,
For the knight’s body stood up in its place
And stepping nimbly forward seized the head
That lay still on the hearth-stone, seeming dead;
Then vaulted lightly, with a careless air,
Back to the saddle of his grass-green mare.
He held the head up, and behold! it spoke.
“My best congratulations on that stroke,
Sir Gawayne; it was delicately done!
Our merry little jest is well begun,
But look you fail me not this day next year!
At the Green Chapel by the Murmuring Mere
I will await you when the sun sinks low,
And pay you back full measure, blow for blow!”
He wheeled about, the doors flew wide once more,
The mare’s hoofs struck green sparkles from the floor,
And with a whirring flash of emerald light
Both horse and rider vanished in the night.
Then all the lords and ladies rubbed their eyes
And slowly roused themselves from dumb surprise.
The great hall echoed once more with the clatter
Of laughing men’s and frightened women’s chatter;
But Gawayne, with the axe in hand, stood still,
Heedless of what was passing, with no will
For life or death, for all that made life dear
Was fled like summer when the leaves fall sere.
And Arthur spoke, misreading Gawayne’s thought:
“Heaven send we have not all too dearly bought
Our evening’s pastime, Gawayne. You have done
As fits a fearless knight, and nobly won
Our thanks in equal measure with our praise.
Be both remembered in the after days!”
So spoke the king, and, to confirm his word,
From far away in the deep night was heard
Once more the fairy horn-call, clear and shrill;
It died upon the wind, and all was still.
The hour was late. King Arthur, rising, said
Good-night to all his court, and went to bed.
In Canto I. I followed the old rule
We learned from Horace when we went to school,
And took a headlong plunge in medias res,
As Maro did, and blind Maeonides;
And now, still following the ancient mode,
I come to the time-honored “episode,”
Retrace my way some twenty years or more,
And tell you what I should have told before.
It seems an awkward method, but it’s art;—
Besides, it brings us back to Elfinhart.