Part 4, lines 2309-2530 Notes from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Part 4, lines 2309-2530

The Green Knight swung his axe up, then down toward Gawain's neck. The Green Knight hit him hard, but left only a nick that snipped Gawain's skin. Blood shot from the wound, but as soon as Gawain recognized it he leapt forward and jerked his helmet and shield into place. He felt suddenly happier than he had ever felt, and yelled at the Green Knight to stop, for he had taken the one swing and would accept no more. The Green Knight stood, leaning on his axe and watching, and liked how brave Sir Gawain seemed. He calmed Gawain, telling him he would strike no more, for their bargain was sealed.

"'Perhaps, if my hands were quicker, I could have
Dealt you a better blow, and done harm.
I pretended one stroke, a threat, a joke,
But left you whole; I had the right,
Because of our other agreement, in my castle;
You kept it faithfully, performed like an honest
Man, gave me everything you got.
Except that you kissed my wife: I swung
For that reason - but you gave me back her kisses.
So all you got, for that, was a puff
Of air.
An honest man
Need never fear.
But still, the third day, there
In my castle, you failed - and you felt that here.
'That belt you're wearing: it's mine, my wife
Gave it to you - I know it all, knight,
The kisses you took, and gave, and all
You did, and how she tempted you: everything.
For I planned it all, to test you - and truly,
Not many better man have walked
This earth, been worth as much - like a pearl
To a pea, compared to other knights.
But you failed a little, lost good faith -
Not for a beautiful belt, or in lust,
But for love of your life. I can hardly blame you.'"
Part 4, lines 2343-2368

Topic Tracking: Fear 9

Gawain was so burdened with grief that his heart shuddered. He cursed cowardice and greed, then unfastened the green belt and threw it to the lord. He cursed it to rot. He said that he had now learned the meaning of cowardice through the fear of the axe-blow. He said:

"'I'm false, now, forever afraid
Of bad faith and treachery: may trouble, may sorrow
Come to them!
Oh knight: I humbly confess
My faults: bless me
With the chance to atone.
I'll try to sin less.'"
Part 4, lines 2382-2388

Topic Tracking: Courage 8

The Green Knight laughed, and said that the damage done was gone; he held Gawain cleansed and henceforth pure of heart. He gave the green belt back to Gawain, and said that he did so for him to remember, and for other chivalrous men to know his adventure at the green chapel. Then he invited Gawain back to his castle, saying that he could now befriend his wife for real, and not have her pretend any longer. But Gawain declined courteously, and said he'd lingered long enough. He told the lord to give his regards to his wife, and to tell her that she had tricked him well. He consoled himself by saying that many famous biblical men had been tricked by women: Adam by Eve, Solomon, Samson by Delilah, and David by Bathsheba. Then Gawain said he would gladly accept the Green Knight's belt - not for its beauty, but as a remembrance of his sin. He wanted, he said, to remember just how easily the flesh can be inflicted with sin.

Gawain continued, saying he had but one question: the Green Knight's name. The Green Knight replied that his name was Bercilak de Hautdesert. He had been sent to King Arthur's court by a woman who lives in his castle, Morgana le Fay, a famous witch taught magic by Merlin. Morgana sent him, the Green Knight said, to test the pride and fame of Gawain and the Knights of the Round Table. She had wanted his lopped-off head to addle the knights' brains, and also scare Guenevere, Arthur's wife. Morgana was also Gawain's aunt; the Green Knight begged Gawain to go back with him to see her, for he was well loved in that castle. But Gawain refused again, and bid farewell to the Green Knight, and left on Gringolet, his horse.

Gawain rode home to Camelot, and had many adventures on the trip home. The nick in his neck from the axe-blow healed, but always he wore the gleaming green belt slanted across his tunic, as a token of his sin. He finally arrived at Arthur's court safe and sound. Arthur was delighted he was home; he called to his knights and both he and his queen kissed Gawain and asked of his adventures. He never concealed a thing, but told them of the chapel, the Green Knight, the lord's wife, and of the green belt. He showed them the faint scar on the back of his neck from the axe, and as he told his story, he groaned in shame at his admissions.

"'My lord,' said Gawain, lifting the belt,
'This band and the nick on my neck are one
And the same, the blame and the loss I suffered
For the cowardice, the greed, that came to my soul.
This sign of bad faith is the mark of my sin:
I'll wear it on my waist as long as I live,
For a man may hide an injury to his soul,
But he'll never be rid of it, it's fastened forever.'
The king consoled him, and all that court,
And they laughed and resolved, then and there,
That lords and ladies of Arthur's table
Would each of them wear a slanted belt
Around their waists, woven of green,
To keep company with their well-loved Gawain."
Part 4, lines 2505-2518

Topic Tracking: Chivalry 11

From that day forward the Knights of the Round Table wore green belts, and it was a sign of their glory, as all the romances tell.

"And so in Arthur's time this adventure
Took place, as the book of Brutus bears witness,
After that bold Brutus appeared
In Britain, when the siege and assault had done
For Troy;
And other adventures as well,
Of great and loyal
Knights. Now may the royal
King of the world keep us from Hell!"
Part 4, lines 2522-2530

The poem ends with the following inscription, in Latin (translated beneath):

"HONY SOYT QUI MAL PENCE [shame to him who finds evil here]" Part 4, Inscription

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