Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Part 1, lines 1-249
The poem begins with a summary, recapping the most noble of mythical events that have passed throughout the ages of man, bringing civilization into existence and to the point where the story is about to be told. The story is placed into the context of these great, heroic, and history-defining events. The poet mentions the high points of Greek legend, including the siege of Troy, the exile of Aeneas for concealing Achilles' killer, Romulus' building of Rome, and the founding of lands by Tirrus and the Lombards. Finally, he describes how Brutus sailed from France to England to found new towns that grew rich and gave rise to knights who often battled and sometimes brought pain to their people. The poet goes on to say that of all the glory England has known, King Arthur is the most glorious, and has inspired the strangest tales. The poet says that he is about to relate the strangest of those tales, if only the reader would like to sit and listen.
It was Christmas at Arthur's court in Camelot, and all of the gracious lords and worthy, noble knights had gathered for a fifteen day Christmas celebration, complete with jousting tourneys, singing, dancing, and feasting. Everyone was rejoicing, for Arthur's feasts were the best in the world, and all of the most famous warriors of Christ, the loveliest ladies, and Arthur, the noblest of kings, were on hand to witness it.
It was close to the new year, so after the guests heard mass they ran and shouted "Noël!" and passed out presents until dinner time, when they washed and sat down to a double-feast. The guests were arranged in order; those considered the most noble were seated near Arthur, who sat near his queen, Guenevere. The table was fringed with silk - silk hung over their heads, and velvet carpets and embroidered rugs hung behind them.
Arthur was a young, restless king and acted boisterously; he refused to eat until the others were served. He had vowed never to sit down to a holiday banquet until he had heard some grand tale of adventure, or something fantastic had happened, or one of his knights had vowed to ride into combat and give his life. It was a custom Arthur kept now, and he waited to eat, and stood talking and laughing in front of the table, until he might be satisfied in his need for adventure. Seated next to Guenevere was Sir Gawain on one side, and Agravaine on the other. Bishop Bowdune sat to the King's right, and Ywain along with him. The lesser knights sat around them in rows. At the sound of trumpets, the feast began, and there was an overflowing abundance of venison and other platters, as well as beer and wine.
Just as the trumpets and drums stopped and the first platters were laid out, a ghastly Green Knight sprang through the door on an enormous green stallion. He was so huge that he seemed to be a giant or an ogre, the biggest creature in the world, but also fit and good looking, with a thin waist, a flat belly, and an elegant and graceful face. Everything on him was green - his hands, his face, his armor, and his shirt. He had long, flowing green hair and a long, brambly beard, wore a tight tunic, and had a mantle that was sewn with the finest white ermine fur. His striped, tight stockings were green, and he was barefoot, save the golden spurs on his heels. His clothes were carefully woven with silk designs of butterflies in green and gold. The saddle, armor, and bit of his horse were green as well, and each of the green strands of the horse's mane, forelock, and tail was braided with a gold thread and a string of golden bells. The knight wore no armor, but carried a sprig of holly in one hand, and an enormous axe in the other - four feet wide and hammered of green and golden steel.
The knight came into the hall, unafraid, and, greeting no one, said that he wished to know who the lord of the company was. The knights in the hall simply stared in bewilderment at the strange sight of the green man.
"And those who were standing watched, and walked
Carefully near him, not knowing what he'd do -
They'd all seen wonders, but nothing like this.
And some said he was witchcraft, a phantom,
And were afraid to answer him, then gasped at his voice
And trembled, sitting motionless in that noble
Hall, silent as stones, as corpses;
All speech was swept away as if sleep
From the sky - but some
Their tongues in courtesy, to do honor
To Arthur, whose words should come first." Part 1, lines 237-249