Tag Archives: Gawain

The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell (751-855)

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And what was the cause for her transformation
Sir Gawain told the king both this and more.
“I thank God,” said the queen;
“I feared, sir Gawain, that she would have harmed you;
Therefore in my heart I was so grieved.
But the contrary is here seen!”
There was game, revel, and play,
And every man to other would say,
“She is a fair sight.”
Then the king to them all began to tell
How did dame Ragnell help him at his need,
“Or my death would had been certain.”

Then the king told the queen, by the Cross,
How he was set upon in Inglewood
By sir Gromer Somer Joure,
And what else the knight made him swear,
“Or else he would have slain me right there
Without mercy or measure.
This same lady, dame Ragnell,
From my death delivered me right well,
All for the love of Gawain.”
Then Gawain told the king all together
How she had been transformed by her stepmother
Until a knight had helped her again.
Then she told the king fairly and well
How Gawain gave her sovereignty over every matter,
And what choice she gave to him.
“God thank him of his courtesy;
He saved me from such fate and villainy
That was so foul and grim.
Therefore, courteous knight and gracious Gawain,
I shall never anger for certain,
That promise here and now I make.
While I live I shall be obedient;
To God above I shall this swear,
And never with you to argue.”

“Many thanks, lady,” then said Gawain;
“With you I shall be me very much content
And that I trust to find.”
He said, “My love she shall have.
Thereafter she need never more crave,
For she has been to me so kind.”
The Queen said, and the ladies all,
“She is the fairest now in this hall,
I swear by saint John!
My love, lady, you shall have forever
For you have saved my lord Arthur,
As I am a gentlewoman.”

Sir Gawain begot with her Gyngolyn,

Who was a good knight of great strength and ability
Of the Round Table.
At every great feast that lady should be.
Of beauty she bore the flower,
Where she trod on the ground.
Gawain loved that lady, dame Ragnell;
In all his life he loved none other so much,
I tell you without a doubt.
Like a coward he lay by her both day and night.
He would not haunt or joust at all;
On that marvelled Arthur the king.

She pleaded the king for his gentleness,
“To be good lord to sir Gromer, indeed,
Although he has offended you.”
“Yes, lady, that I shall now for your sake,
For I know well he cannot make amends;
For what he did to me.”
Now so as to make for you a short conclusion,
I shall make an end very soon
For this gentle lady.
She lived with sir Gawain only five years;
That grieved Gawain all his life,
I tell you certainly.

In her life she never grieved him;
Therefore never was woman to him more dear.
Thus ends my story.
She was the fairest lady of all England,
When she was living, I understand;
So said Arthur the king.
Thus ended the adventure of king Arthur,
That oft in his days was grieved,
And of the wedding of Gawain.
Gawain was wed oft in his days;
But so well he never loved a woman again,
As I have heard men say.

This adventure happened in Inglewood,
As good king Arthur to hunt he went;
Thus have I heard men tell.
Now God, as thou were in Bethlehem born,
Suffer never our souls to be forlorn
In the burning fire of Hell!

And, Jesus, as thou were born of a virgin,
Help him that this tale did divine out of sorrow,
And that now in all haste,
For he is beset by many jailors
That keep him very surely,
With wills wrong and hard.
Now God, as thou art truly Royal King,
Deliver him out of danger that made this tale
For therein he has been too long.

And with great pity help thy servant,
For body and soul I yield into your hand,
For pains he hath great.

Here ended the wedding of
Sir Gawain and dame Ragnell
Who helped king Arthur.

The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell (630-750)

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“Ah, sir Gawain, since I have wed you,

Show me your courtesy in bed;

Such a  right is mine and cannot be denied.

 

“Indeed, sir Gawain,” said that lady,

“If I were fair you would sing another tune,

But of marriage you have no respect.

Yet for Arthur’s sake kiss me at least;

I pray you do this at my request.

Let’s see you now.”

Sir Gawain said, “I will do more

Than just to kiss you, so help me God!”

He turned to her at last.

He saw her be the fairest creature

That ever he saw, with no compare.

She said, “What is your will?”

 

“By Christ”!” he said; “What are you?”
“Sir, I am your wife, surely.

Why are you so unkind?”

“Oh, lady, I am to blame.

I beg your mercy, my fair madam-

I hadn’t realised.

A lady you are most beautiful to me,

And but today you were the foulest creature

That I ever saw in my eyes.

Happy I am, my lady, to have you thus”-

And he embraced her in his arms and began to kiss her

And was very happy indeed.

 

“Sir,” said she, “thus you shall have me:

Choose one, so God save me,

My beauty will not hold-

Whether you will have me fair on nights

And as foul on days to all men’s sight,

Or else to have me fair on days

And on nights the foulest wife-

Only one you may have.

Choose one or the other.

Choose now, sir knight, which you prefer,

Your honour to preserve.”

 

“Alas!” said Gawain; “The choice is hard.

To choose the best, it is impossible,

Whichever choice I choose:

To have you fair on nights and no more,

That would grieve my heart,

And I would lose my honour.

And if I desire on days to have you fair,

Then on the nights I’d have slim pickings.

However would I choose the best:

I know not at all what I should say,

But do as you will now, my happy lady.

The choice I put in your hand:

 

“Whatever you will is,

Loose me as you desire, for I am bound;

I put the choice in you.

Both my body and my goods, heart and everything,

Is all your own, to keep or sell-

That I swear to God!”

“Many thanks, courteous knight,” said the lady;

“of all earthly knights thou are most blessed,

For now I am honoured.

Thou shall have me fair both day and knight

And ever as I live I will be fair and bright;

Therefore be not grieved.

 

“For I had by transformed by magic,

By my stepmother, God have mercy on her,

And lay under enchantment;

From my true form,

Until the best of England

Had married me in truth,

And also that he should give me sovereignty

Of all his body and goods for certain.

Thus I was transformed;

And you, sir knight, courteous Gawain,

Have given me sovereignty certainly,

And never shall you be sorry for that.

 

“Kiss me, sir knight, now;

I pray thee, be glad and make good cheer,

For all has turned out well.”

Then they had joy beyond imagination,

The way a couple does

When they are alone.

She thanked God and mild Mary

She was rescued of what had befallen her;

So did sir Gawain.

He made mirth in her chamber

And thanked Our Saviour,

I tell you, for certain.

 

With joy and mirth they stayed awake till morn

And then the fair maid began to rise.

“You shall not,” said sir Gawain;

“We will lay and sleep till noon

And then let the king call us to dinner.”

“I agree,” then said the maid.

Thus the time passed until midday.

“Sirs,” said the king, “let us go and discover

If sir Gawain is still alive.

I am truly afraid for sir Gawain,

Afraid that the fiend has him slain;

Now would I find the truth.

 

“Let us go now,” said Arthur the king.

“We will go witness their rising,

How well has he faired.”

They came to the chamber, all uncertain.

“Arise,” said the king to sir Gawain;

“Why do you stay so long in bed?”

“By Mary,” said Gawain, “sir king, surely,

I would be glad, and you should let me be,

For I am quite happy here.

Abide, you shall see the door opened!

I trust you will say I am quite fortune;

I truly do not wish to rise.”

 

Sir Gawain rose, and by the hand he took

His lady fair, and to the door he went,

And opened the door wide.

She stood in her smock by the fire;

Her hair came to her knees as red as gold wire.

“Lo, this is my pleasure!

Lo!” said Gawain unto Arthur-

“Sir, this is my wide, dame Ragnell,

That once saved your life.”

He told then to the king and queen

How suddenly her shape had changed-

“My lord, now by your leave”-

The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell (563-629)

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So it happened after but a day

That that foul bird should be married

To sir Gawain.

The day had come that’d be the day;

Therefore the ladies felt great sorrow.

“Alas!” they said again.

The queen pleaded with dame Ragnell –

“To be married early in the morning,

As privately as you may.”

“No!” she said; “By Heavens’ King,

That I will never do, for nothing,

That you can say.

 

“I will be wedded publicly,

For I have made such a covenant with the king.

Doubt not,

I will not go to church until the time of High Mass

And in the open hall I will dine,

Amidst all the court.”

“I am grieved,” said dame Guinevere;

“For I think it would be more honour

And a pleasure to you.”

“Yes, as for that, lady, God save you.

This day my pleasure I shall have,

I tell you that without a boast.”

 

She was prepared to go to church

And all the nobles were there,

I do not lie,

She was dressed in the richest manner,

More finely than dame Guinevere;

Her clothes were worth three thousand marks

Good red gold at that,

So richly she was dressed.

But for all her appearance, she was still

The ugliest, that ever I have told of –

An uglier sow man has never seen.

 

For to be brief,

When she was wed, they hurried them home;

They all went to meet.

This bird-like lady sat at the high dais;

She was most foul and not courteous,

So said all that were present.

When the servants came before her,

She ate as much as six men;

Amazing everyone.

Her nails were three inches long,

With which she broke her meat hideously;

Therefore she ate alone.

 

She ate three roosters, and also three curlews,
And a great many meat pies she ate up, in truth.
All men therefore had marvelled.
There was no meat that came before her
But she ate it up,
That ugly, old damsel.
Everyone that ever saw her
Prayed the devil would gnaw her bones,
Both knight and squire.
So she ate until the meat was done,
Until they drew clothes and had washed,
As is the custom and manner.

Many men would speak of diverse foods;
I trust you may know enough of what there was,
Both of domestic and wild beasts.
In king Arthour’s court there was no want
For what might be captured by man’s hand,
Either in forest or in field.
There were minstrels from various countries.

[The manuscript is here missing one leaf, containing
about seventy lines; the narrative continues
at the moment of Ragnelle’s and Gawain’s wedding night.]

The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell (444-562)

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In the evening he met there with Sir Gromer,

And he spoke to the king stern words:

“Come now, Sir King, now let’s see

Of thine answer, what it shall be,

For I am ready for thee.”

The King pulled out the two books:

“Sir, there is mine answer, I dare say;

For some will help at need.”

Sir Gromer looked on every one of them:

“No, no, Sir King, you are a dead man;

Therefore now you shall bleed.”

 

“Abide, Sire Gromer,” said King Arthur,

“I have one answer that shall make all certain.”

“Let’s see,” said then Sir Gromer,

“Or else, so God help me, as I say to thee,

Thy death thou shall have as recompense,

I tell thee now for sure.”

“Now,” said the King,  “I see, as I guessed,

In thee there is but little gentleness,

By God may I be aided.

Here is our answer, and that is all

That women desire most of all,

Both free and wed:

 

“I say no more, but above all else

Women desire sovereignty, for that is what they like.

And that is what they most desire,

To  have under their rule the manliest men,

And then they are well. Thus they taught me

To rule thee, Gromer, sire.”

“And she that revealed this to you, Sir Arthur,

I pray to God, I may see her burnt on a fire;

For that was my sister, Dame Ragnell,

That old hag, God give her shame.

Else I would have succeeded;

Now I have wasted all my work.

 

“Go where you will, King Arthur,

For of me you may always be sure.

Alas, that ever I saw this day!

Now, well I know, my enemy thou will be.

And such a predicament I shall never get thee;

My song may be ‘Well-away!’”

“No,” said the King, “that I guarantee:

Some weapon I will have to defend myself with,

That I swear to God!

In such a plight thou shall never find me;

And if thou do, let me be beat and bound,

As is for thy best proof.”

 

“Now have good day,” said Sir Gromer.

“Farewell,” said Sir Arthur; “so may I thrive,

I am glad to have beaten you.”

King Arthur turned his horse into the plain,

And soon he met with Dame Ragnell again,

In the same place and steed.

“Sir King, I am glad you have fared well.

I said how it would be, in every detail;

Now keep what you have promised:

Since I have saved your life, and none other,

Gawain must marry me, Sir Arthur,

Who is a very gentle knight.”

 

“No, Lady; what I have promised you I shall not deny.

If you follow my council, keeping quiet,

Your wish you shall have.”

“No, Sir King, I will not do so;

Either I shall be wed publicly, or I will leave

Or else I would be shamed.

Ride ahead, I will come following,

Unto your court, Sir King Arthur.

Of no man I will be the shame;

Remember how I have saved your life.

Therefore you shall not argue with me,

For if you do, you’ll be to blame.”

 

The King was very ashamed of her,

But she rode forth, though he was grieved;

Until they came to Carlisle.

Into the court she rode by his side;

For she would spare no man’s feelings-

The King did not like that at all.

All the country was full of wonder

From whence she came, that foul creature;

They had never seen so foul a thing.

Straight into the hall she went.

“Arthur, King, have Sir Gawain fetched for me,

Before the knights, all in presence,

 

That I may be secured.

In happiness and woe bind us together

Before all your knights.

This is your promise; let’s see, have done.

Bring forth Sir Gawain, my love, immediately,

For a longer wait I can stand no more.”

Then came forth the knight Sir Gawain:

“Sir, I am ready for what I have promised,

All oaths to fullfill.”

“God-a-mercy!” said Dame Ragnell then;

“For thy sake I wish I were a fair woman,

For thou art so good-willed.”

 

Then Sir Gawain pledged himself to her

In happiness and woe, as he was a true knight;

Then was Dame Ragnell happy.

“Allas!” then said Dame Guinevere;

So said all the ladies in her bower,

And wept for Sir Gawain.

“Allas!” then said both King and knight,

That ever should he wed such a creature,

She was so foul and horrid.

She had two teeth on either side

As a boar’s tusks, I will not hide,

A large handful in length.

 

The one tusk went up and the other down.

A mouth very wide and foully formed,

With many grey hair.

Her lips lay like lumps on her chin;

A neck, forsooth, on her could not be seen-

She was a loathly one!

She would not be wedded in no manner

But unless it was made known in all the land,

Both in town and in borrow.

All the ladies of the land,

She called to come to hand

To make the wedding properly done.

The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell (360-443)

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In the evening he met there with Sir Gromer,

And he spoke to the king stern words:

“Come now, Sir King, now let’s see

Of thine answer, what it shall be,

For I am ready for thee.”

The King pulled out the two books:

“Sir, there is mine answer, I dare say;

For some will help at need.”

Sir Gromer looked on every one of them:

“No, no, Sir King, you are a dead man;

Therefore now you shall bleed.”

 

“Abide, Sire Gromer,” said King Arthur,

“I have one answer that shall make all certain.”

“Let’s see,” said then Sir Gromer,

“Or else, so God help me, as I say to thee,

Thy death thou shall have as recompense,

I tell thee now for sure.”

“Now,” said the King,  “I see, as I guessed,

In thee there is but little gentleness,

By God may I be aided.

Here is our answer, and that is all

That women desire most of all,

Both free and wed:

 

“I say no more, but above all else

Women desire sovereignty, for that is what they like.

And that is what they most desire,

To  have under their rule the manliest men,

And then they are well. Thus they taught me

To rule thee, Gromer, sire.”

“And she that revealed this to you, Sir Arthur,

I pray to God, I may see her burnt on a fire;

For that was my sister, Dame Ragnell,

That old hag, God give her shame.

Else I would have succeeded;

Now I have wasted all my work.

 

“Go where you will, King Arthur,

For of me you may always be sure.

Alas, that ever I saw this day!

Now, well I know, my enemy thou will be.

And such a predicament I shall never get thee;

My song may be ‘Well-away!’”

“No,” said the King, “that I guarantee:

Some weapon I will have to defend myself with,

That I swear to God!

In such a plight thou shall never find me;

And if thou do, let me be beat and bound,

As is for thy best proof.”

 

“Now have good day,” said Sir Gromer.

“Farewell,” said Sir Arthur; “so may I thrive,

I am glad to have beaten you.”

King Arthur turned his horse into the plain,

And soon he met with Dame Ragnell again,

In the same place and steed.

“Sir King, I am glad you have fared well.

I said how it would be, in every detail;

Now keep what you have promised:

Since I have saved your life, and none other,

Gawain must marry me, Sir Arthur,

Who is a very gentle knight.”

 

“No, Lady; what I have promised you I shall not deny.

If you follow my council, keeping quiet,

Your wish you shall have.”

“No, Sir King, I will not do so;

Either I shall be wed publicly, or I will leave

Or else I would be shamed.

Ride ahead, I will come following,

Unto your court, Sir King Arthur.

Of no man I will be the shame;

Remember how I have saved your life.

Therefore you shall not argue with me,

For if you do, you’ll be to blame.”

 

The King was very ashamed of her,

But she rode forth, though he was grieved;

Until they came to Carlisle.

Into the court she rode by his side;

For she would spare no man’s feelings-

The King did not like that at all.

All the country was full of wonder

From whence she came, that foul creature;

They had never seen so foul a thing.

Straight into the hall she went.

“Arthur, King, have Sir Gawain fetched for me,

Before the knights, all in presence,

 

That I may be secured.

In happiness and woe bind us together

Before all your knights.

This is your promise; let’s see, have done.

Bring forth Sir Gawain, my love, immediately,

For a longer wait I can stand no more.”

Then came forth the knight Sir Gawain:

“Sir, I am ready for what I have promised,

All oaths to fullfill.”

“God-a-mercy!” said Dame Ragnell then;

“For thy sake I wish I were a fair woman,

For thou art so good-willed.”

 

Then Sir Gawain pledged himself to her

In happiness and woe, as he was a true knight;

Then was Dame Ragnell happy.

“Allas!” then said Dame Guinevere;

So said all the ladies in her bower,

And wept for Sir Gawain.

“Allas!” then said both King and knight,

That ever should he wed such a creature,

She was so foul and horrid.

She had two teeth on either side

As a boar’s tusks, I will not hide,

A large handful in length.

 

The one tusk went up and the other down.

A mouth very wide and foully formed,

With many grey hair.

Her lips lay like lumps on her chin;

A neck, forsooth, on her could not be seen-

She was a loathly one!

She would not be wedded in no manner

But unless it was made known in all the land,

Both in town and in borrow.

All the ladies of the land,

She called to come to hand

To make the wedding properly done.

In which Lancelot is boring but Galahad is worse

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By this point it should be clear that there is little love lost between Lancelot and Yours Truly. And I am sorry, I really am! I tried to like the guy or at least view him with some sort of academic objectivity, but I can’t. Him and Guinevere, they’re supposed to be this power couple and yet Lancelot seems to have as many ladies fawning over him (with various degrees of reluctance on his part) as Gawain. And Gawain is known as the Ladies’ Knight! Give me a break. Anyway…What was I saying? Oh, yes! For the longest time I thought Lancelot would hold the “least favourite knight” title for me. Then I came across this young lad named Galahad….

 

Galahad’s character suffers from what I like to call the Superman Syndrome (and if that is a real thing I apologise to whoever coined the term). His singular function in the Arthurian tales is to be flawless. He’s the best knight; he’s the other person to pull the sword from the stone (thank you Malory…); he’s the one to find the Grail; yada, yada, yada. And you know what? I could –somewhat begrudgingly- deal with all that if he got some character development on the way. But nooooooo… I’m not kidding! In Malory’s version (which I’m going with since I don’t have access to the other versions of the story right now) he finds the Grail, rules as king on a city nearby (or was it the city he found the Grail in? I always get confused at this point.) and then dies. I think the way it is explained is that he was too pure for this imperfect world. Or it could just be that Sir Bores-a-lot Jr. had no other reason for existence. I’m not exaggerating. From the moment Elaine (not Elaine of Astolat, another Elaine) hears Lancelot is visiting her father and starts plotting to sleep with him, it is with the understanding that the result of the union will be the Chosen One. And we all know how that works out….

 

 

There are versions of the legend were Percival or even Gawain (-sigh- When am I gonna get a movie about him?) find the Grail. Heck! I’m pretty sure Lancelot finds it in one. Do I have a problem with that too? Well, I have problems with the Grail subplot in general, but that is the subject for another post (or more likely a dissertation). But no, I do not mind any of these three gentlemen finding the Grail. Why? Because that is not their only characteristic. They are not carbon cut-outs or lists of tropes on legs. They are three-dimensional characters with all the imperfections and struggles that come with that. And for that reason I can sympathise with them. Because I can see there was a process and a struggle to better themselves in order to be considered “worthy”, whatever that means….In Galahad’s case, not so much.

 

Now, someone might point out the fondness that medieval authors had for allegorical storytelling and archetypical characters. I understand and respect that. Sometimes variations on an already familiar theme are more imaginative than a completely new melody. However, even archetypes develop over time and I’m sorry but I just don’t see that in Galahad’s case.

The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell (246-359)

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She sat on a palfrey that was gaily decorated,

With gold beset and many a precious stone;

There was an unseemly sight;

A creature foul without measure

To ride so gaily, I assure you,

It was neither reasonable nor right.

She rode to Arthur, and thus she said:

“God speed, Sir King, I am very pleased

That I have met with thee;

I advise you to speak with me ere you go,

For I warn thee, thy life is in my hand;

That you shall find, if I don’t defend it.”

 

“Why, what would you, Lady, now with me?”

“Sir, I would fain now speak with thee,

And tell thee good tidings.

For all the answers that though can boast of,

None of them all shall help thee.

That shall you know, by the Rood.

Thou think I know not thy secret,

But I warn thee I know every bit of it.

If I help thee not, thou are but dead.

Grant me, Sir King, but one thing,

And for thy life, I’ll give a guarantee,

Or else thou shall lose thy head.”

 

“What mean you, Lady, tell me quickly,

For thy words I have great contempt;

Of you I have no need.

What is your desire, fair Lady?

Let me know it shortly-

What is your meaning?

And why is my life in your hand?

Tell me, and I shall guarantee to you

All that you ask.”

 

“Forsooth,” said the Lady, “I am no villain.

Thou must grant me a knight to wed;

His name is Sir Gawain.

And such a covenant I will make thee,

Only if through mine answer thy life is saved,

Else let my desire be in vain.

And if mine answer save thy life,

Grant me to be Gawain’s wife.

Advise thee now, Sir King.

For it must be so, or thou are but dead;

Choose now, for thou may soon lose thy head.

Tell me now in haste.”

 

“By Mary,” said the king, “I may not grant thee

A guarantee for Sir Gawain to wed thee;

It lies in him alone.

But so that it be so, I will do my labour

In saving of my life to make it secure;

To Gawain I will make my lament.”

“Well,” said she, “now go home again,

And fair words speak to Sir Gawain,

For thy life I may save.

Though I am foul, yet I am lusty;

Through me thy life he may save,

Or ensure thy death to have.”

 

“Alas!” he said, “now woe is me

That I should make Gawain wed thee,

For he will be loath to say no.

So foul a Lady as you are now one

Never have I seen in my life anywhere I’ve gone;

I know not what I may do.”

“No matter, Sir King, though I be foul;

Choice for a mate has even the owl;

Thou’ll get from me no more;

When thou come again with your answer

Right here in this place I shall meet thee,

Or else I know thou are lost.”

 

“Now farewell,” said the king, “Lady.”

“Yes, Sir,” she said; “there is a bird that men call an owl…

And yet a Lady I am.”

“What is your name, I pray you tell me?”

“Sir King, I am called Dame Ragnell, in truth,

That never yet beguiled a man.”

“Dame Ragnell, now have good day.”

“Sir King, God speed thee on thy way!

Right here I shall meet thee.”

Thus they departed fair and well.

The king very soon came to Carlisle,

And his heart was very heavy.

 

The first man he met was Sir Gawain,

That to the king thus did say,

“Sir, how have you fared?”

“Forsooth,” said the king, “never so ill!

Alas! I am at the point to kill myself,

Of necessity I must be dead.”

“Nay,” said Gawain, “that may not be!

I would rather be dead, may I thrive;

These are ill tidings.”

 

“Gawain, I met today with the foulest Lady

That ever I saw, for certain.

She said to me that my life she would save-

But first she would have thee as a husband.

Wherefore I am sorrowful-

Thus in my heart I make my moan.”

“Is this all?” then said Gawain.

“I shall wed her and wed her again,

Though she were a fiend;

Though she were as foul as Beelzebub,

Her shall I wed, by the Rood,

Or else I would not be your friend.

 

“For you are my honoured king,

And have honoured me many a time;

Therefore I shall not hesitate.

To save your life, lord, it would be my duty,

Or I’d be false and a great coward;

And my service is better than that.”

“Indeed, Gawain, I met her in Inglewood.

She told me her name, by the Rood;

That it was Dame Ragnell.

She told me that unless I had an answer from her,

All my other labour is not even near a solution-

Thus did she tell me.

The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell (149-245)

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“Nay, fear you not, lord, by the flowering Virgin,

I am not that man that would dishonour you,

Neither by evening nor morning.”

“Forsooth I was hunting in Inglewood;

You know that I slew a hart, by the Cross,

All by myself;

There I met with a well-armed knight;

His name he told me was Sir Gromer Somer Joure;

Therefore I make my moan.

 

There that knight much threatened me,

And would have slain me with great anger,

Except that I spoke back well to him;

Weapons with me I had none.

Alas! My honour therefore is now gone.”

“Why?” said Gawain;

“What more to say? I shall not lie,

He would have slain me there without mercy,

And to me was very hateful;

He made me swear that at the end of twelve months,

That I should meet him there in the same way;

To that I pledged my faith.

 

And also I should tell him at the same day

What women desire most, in good faith;

My life else should I lose.

This oath I made onto that knight,

And that I should never tell it to no person;

Of this I might not choose.

And also I should come in no other attire,

But even as I was the same day;

And if I fail in my answer,

I know I shall be slain right there.

Blame me not if I be a woeful man;

All this is my dread and fear.”

 

“Yeah, Sir, make good cheer;

Let make your horse ready

To ride into strange country;

And everywhere you meet either man

Or woman, in faith,

Ask them what they say [as an answer].

And I shall also ride another way

And enquire of every man and woman, and get what I may

Of every man and woman’s answer,

And in a book I shall write them.”

“I grant,” said the king right away,

“It is well advised, good Gawain,

Even by the Holy Cross.”

 

Soon they were both ready,

Gawain and the king, indeed.

The king rode one way, and Gawain another,

And every man they asked, and woman, and other,

What women hold most dear.

Some said they loved to be well dressed,

Some said they loved to be gallantly courted;

Some said they loved a lusty man

That in their arms can embrace and kiss them then;

Some said one; some said another;

And so Gawain got many an answer.

By then he’d gone as far he may

And return by a certain day.

 

Sir Gawain had got so many answers

That had made a great book, it’s true;

He returned to the court.

Then the king came with his book,

And either on the other’s book did look.

“This may not fail,” said Gawain.

“By the God,” said the king, “I’m much afraid;

I intend to search a little more

In Inglewood forest;

I have but a month until my set day;

I may chance upon some good tidings to find –

This seems to me now best.”

 

“Do as you please,” Gawain said then;

“Whatever you do, I consider myself repaid;

It is good to be inquiring;

Doubt you not, lord, you shall well succeed;

Some of your answers shall help at need;

Otherwise it would be bad luck.”

King Arthur rode out on the next day,

Into Inglewood as his way lay,

And then he met with a lady;

She was as an unattractive creature

As any man saw, exceedingly so.

King Arthur marvelled indeed.

 

Her face was red, her nose all snotty,

Her mouth was wide, her teeth all yellow,

With bleary eyes greater than a ball;

Her mouth was huge;

Her teeth hung over her lips;

Her cheeks were broad as a woman’s hips;

A lute she had upon her back.

Her neck was long and great,

Her hair were clustered in a heap;

In the shoulders she was a yard broad;

Hanging paps big enough to be a horse’s load;

And like a barrel she was made;

And to sum up the foulness of this lady,

There is no tongue that may tell, surely:

Of ugliness enough she had.

 

She sat on a palfrey that gaily decorated,

With gold beset and many a precious stone;

There was an unseemly sight;

A creature foul without measure

In which I share some of my favourite arthurian-themed songs

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Let it be known that my music knowledge extends to the refined level of “this sounds nice” vs. “this sucks”. As such, when I talk songs, I usually mean the lyrics as they are what I focus on. What does this mean for my poor tormented readers? Another list of course! I swear, I’m not making this up as I go. I actually listened to these songs parallel to my studies for the past few years and I think that they affected, to an extent at least, my understanding of some characters. (It’s what I call the Mr Darcy rule: the first one you come across will ALWAYS be your golden standard.) As such, here are my ten favourite Arthurian-themed songs:

 

The Lady of Shallot

Sung by Loreena McKennitt, it was the first song of this genre that I heard (movie songs do NOT count, coughSwordinStonecough). Other than the lady’s admittedly gorgeous voice, I was most struck by the lyrics. The song is actually a condensed version of Tennyson’s poem concerning the cursed maid of Astolat, Elaine, and her love for Lancelot. However, instead of focusing on the court and Lancelot (who, for being called loyal to a fault, had way too many sweethearts connected to him), the lyrics draw attention to Elaine and her Rapunzel-esque isolation to a tower. Initially I just liked “The Lady of Shallot” because, well, it sounded pretty (sue me, I was sixteen!). Now, having the story as delivered by Malory, and generally having read a lot more on the subject of Arthurian romance I’m more struck by smaller details, like the pathetic fallacy that permeates the poem, the sense of isolation that the Lady maintains even after her story is made known to Arthur’s court and the unresolved mysteries of the story. Why was Elaine cursed? By whom? Why did she have to weave? Who put her in the tower? Would she have still died if she had just “looked down to Camelot” instead of her gaze being amorous and mostly directed to Lancelot?

 

Lilly Maid

While we’re on the subject of Elaine of Astolat, this song, by Heather Dale, is also about her. This time however, instead of the song just focusing on the Lady, it is Elaine’s words that are heard. Drawing from Malory’s version of the story, here Elaine makes one last address to Lancelot, recounting their relationship before she goes to the lake to die. What has always struck me about this version is that, despite the soft words and sounds employed; there is an undercurrent of resentment that doesn’t exist in Tennyson’s poem. Here Elaine blames Lancelot for her death and with lines like “With trembling hands I held your life inside you/ But still failed to earn your favour for my own” it’s not exactly a mystery why (for further information read the “Fair Maid of Astolat” episode in Malory’s book. And be prepared to dislike Lancelot more and more with each line.)

 

The Captive

This was one of those songs I found after one too many clicks on YouTube. It is sung by Heather Alexander and, although not explicitly Arthurian in nature, would fit right in with the family…The titular captive is a lady forcibly married to a lord, whose main character trait is that he is an abusive jackass. One day, a magician visits the court and, after bedazzling them, manages to free the lady and run away with her. There’s a bit more on the story, but these are the bare bones of it. I loved how each character had a distinctive voice, figuratively and literally. The lack of a chorus also helped promote the sense that this is a short narrative instead of a song. Why do I call it Arthurian? I imagine this would be the sort of thing Merlin would get tangled in when he was young and before he started babysitting the Pendragon royal line…

 

Hawthorn Tree

Speaking of Merlin, here is another song about him, this one by Heather Dale. The focus here is Merlin’s relationship with his apprentice Viviane (who later became the Lady of the Lake. Or earlier was? Timelines are tricky like that….) I’ve always found it interesting that Merlin is aware of his fate, yet still agrees to teach her all he knows, heralding in a sense the beginning of the end for Arthur’s court. In this song, both the nature of their relationship (“love or enchantment”) and Viviane’s reasons for imprisoning Merlin are left to the audience’s imagination. Even Arthur remains in ignorance, being only able to speculate on the former and being informed about the later by an unnamed woodsman. I could go on and on about the symbolism on the song but that would be akin to spoilers so I’ll refrain.

 

The Trial of Lancelot

Again a song by Heather Dale and it’s about Lancelot. Shocker, I know. This one however is a guilty pleasure of mine since, a. it’s the trial that never happened in the Arthurian cycle (you know, when Lancelot actually has to answer for his actions instead of leaving Guinevere to deal with the fallout) and b. it’s one of the only two versions of him that I can actually stomach (the other being the BBC Merlin one). Ironically, this was also the song that began my dislike of Galahad, who up to this point I only had passing knowledge of. My running theory about the guy is that because his shtick is to live like a monk, he has to ruin life for everyone around him (but more on that on a later post).  I also like this song because it sheds light on the friendships between the knights, instead of just grouping them together and assuming that names are enough information.

 

For Guinevere

Like “The Captive” this is a song I surprised myself by adding to the list. Sung by Heather Dale, it is about Lancelot and Guinevere near the end of the Arthurian cycle, when they have fewer and fewer reasons to hide (aka, more and more people die…). Personally, I think their love story is overrated in a Romeo & Juliet kind of way. –shudder- That was one messed-up story… The lyrics are beautiful however, and so is the music and since I first heard it when I started watching Merlin –and was shipping Merlin/Morgana something fierce- I choose to imagine the song is for them. There are no names mentioned anyway, so it could also work for any other forbidden couple you ship. Personally,  I thought it was about Tristan and Isolt before I saw the title.

 

The Prydwen Sails Again

This is a pretty obscure one (by Heather Dale), referring to an early Welsh tale where Arthur and co. invade Ireland in search of a magical cauldron that brings the dead back to life (early version of the Grail story perhaps?). The song is sung by a lady bidding farewell to her knight as he joins Arthur’s band. What has always confused me about it though is that the way the lyrics are phrased it is implied that either this is Arthur’s second attempt or that the lady in question knows in advance what will happen. Seeing that this is the story of a group of semi-mythical knights invading one of the Celtic Underworlds (or Otherworlds, depending how you see it) in order to bring back a zombie-making magical cauldron, I’m more inclined to go with option b. By the way, if there is not a movie with the aforementioned plotline, somebody needs to make one! I would pay good money to see it!

 

Kingsword

While staying on the subject of mystical items, “Kingsword” by Heather Dale is –surprise, surprise”- about Excalibur, its story and the prophesies surrounding it. I actually really like this one, because the language is so full of symbolism and allusions that it could easily fit in nearly all versions of the tale, including the more modern ones. And…that’s all I can really say about it. You have to listen to it to get it.

 

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The original poem is one of my favourites in Middle English tradition. The song by Heather Dale is based on the poem but has different take on things, being more of an Oak King and Holly King type of struggle instead of the ambiguous quest the anonymous poet sends Gawain on, resulting to an even more open-ended conclusion. You can see why I like this one… The song also has a really joyful tune, making it sound like a carol (fitting for a story where the main action takes place during New Year’s Day…).

 

Mordred’s Lullaby

This was the first song by Heather Dale I ever heard (I think…it was part of a YouTube binge…). As it is painfully obvious by the title, the song is sung to an infant Mordred by his mother (Morgana or Morgause depending on the tradition), foretelling his fate and pretty much teaching him to hate his father and all he stands for. And before any of you start wondering what sort of messed up thing you stumbled on, I’d like to point out that this song provides something that most of the older versions of the story tend to leave out: a freaking reason for Mordred to basically cause the end of the (Arthurian) world. I also like the fact that, despite the almost single-minded focus of the lyrics, certain phrases betray uncertainty on his mother’s part as well. On the one hand she wants revenge, on the other she is reluctant to sacrifice her child for that cause.

 

Wow! This post ended up longer than I thought. And if anyone thinks there’s too much Heather Dale and not enough variety, a. I’m writing this with no internet access and can therefore only rely on my memory, b. She’s done a lot of AWESOME Arthurian songs and more people should hear them! (-fangirl moment over-)

The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell (1-148)

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Author’s note: In an attempt to not forget everything Middle English that I know over the summer, I decided to do a translation of one of my favourite romances. Expect inaccuracies but a lot of enthusiasm folks! ^_^

 

Hark and listen to the life of a rich lord,

Who had no peer while he lived,

Neither in chamber nor in hall;

In the time of Arthur this adventure happened,

And of the great deed that he himself did,

That king most courteous and royal.

Out of all kings Arthur beareth the flower,

And of all knighthood he bore away the honour

Wheresoever he went.

In this country existed nought but chivalry,

And knights were beloved by that valiant one,

For cowards were evermore shunned.

 

Now if ye listen awhile to my talk,

I shall tell you of Arthur the king,

How it once befell him,

While he was hunting in Inglewood

With all his knights bold and good;

Now listen to my tale.

The king set from his hunting station

With his bow to slay the wild deer,

And his lords were beside him;

As the king stood, then he was aware

Of a hart great and fair,

And fast forth did he glide.

 

The hart was in a fern thicket,

And heard the hounds, and stood very still;

To all the king said:

“Hold still, everyone,

And I will go myself, if I can,

With the skill of stalking.”

The king in his hand took a bow,

And woodsman-like he stooped low,

To stalk unto that deer;

But every time he came more near,

Into a briar patch leapt forth the deer,

And every time the king came nearer.

 

So king Arthur chased awhile

After the deer, I believe, half a-mile,

And no man with him went;

And at last to the deer he loosed an arrow,

And hit him hard and surely –

Such grace God sent him.

Down the deer tumbled wounded,

And fell into a great fern thicket;

The king followed very fast.

At once the king, both fierce and savage

Was with the deer and killed him,

And made it bite the dust.

 

As the king was with the deer alone,

Straightway there came to him a strange fellow,

Armed well and sure,

A knight very strong and of great might.

And grim words to the king he said:

“Well met, king Arthur!

You have wronged me many a year,

And woefully I shall repay you here;

I hold your life’s days almost done;

You have given my lands indeed

With great injustice onto Sir Gawain.

What say you, king all alone?”

 

“Sir knight, what is your name with honour?”

“Sir king,” he said, “Gromer Somer Joure,

I tell and say no lie.”

“A! Sir Gromer Somer, consider well:

To me slay here, gains you no honour;

Consider that you are a knight;

If you slay me as I am now,

All knights will refuse you everywhere.

This shame will never go away from thee;

Let go of anger and follow reason,

And what is amiss, I shall amend it,

If that is your wish, before I go.”

 

“No,” said Sir Gromer Somer, “by Heaven’s King!

Suchwise you shall not escape, without loss;

I have you now to my advantage;

If I should let you go with only banter,

Another time you would defy me;

Of that I am certain.”

Now said the king, “So God save me,

Spare my life, and what you will wish for,

I shall now grant to you;

It shall shame you to slay me while hunting,

You are armed and I am clothed but in green, by God.”

 

“All this shall not help you, surely,

For I want neither land nor gold,

But unless you grant me at a certain day

Such as I shall set, and in this same attire.”

“Yes,” said the king, “lo! Here my hand.”

“Yea, but wait, king, and hear me awhile;

First you shall swear upon my burnished sword,

To tell me when you come what women

Love best in field and town;

And you shall meet me here without my sending for you,

On the same day in twelve months’ time;

And you shall swear upon my good sword

That none of your knights shall come with

You, by the Cross,

Neither stranger nor friend.

 

And if you bring no answer without fail,

Your head you shall lose for your trouble –

This shall now be your oath.

What say you king? Let’s see; have done.”

“Sir, I grant you this, now let me be gone;

Though to me it is very loathsome,

I ensure you, as I am a true king,

To come here again in twelve months’ end,

And bring you your answer.”

“Now go your way, king Arthur;

Your life is in my hands, of that  I am certain;

Of your sorrow you are not yet aware.

 

Wait, king Arthur, a little whole;

Do not try today to beguile me,

But keep everything secret;

For if I knew, by mild Mary,

You would betray me in the field,

Your life first you should lose.”

“No,” said king Arthur, “that may not be;

Untrue knight you shall never find me;

To die would be preferable to me.

Farewell, Sir Knight and evil met:

I will come, if I’m alive at the day set,

Even if I do not escape.”

 

The king blew his bugle,

T’was heard by every knight and recognised;

Unto him they did hasten;

There they found the king and the deer

With visage sad and spirit heavy,

That had no desire for sport:

“Let us go home now to Carlisle;

This hunting pleases me not well” –

So said king Arthur.

All the lords knew by his countenance

That the king had met with some disturbance.

 

Unto Carlisle then the king came,

But of his grief knew no man;

His heart was very heavy;

In this sadness he did abide,

That many of his knights wondered at that time,

Till at the last Sir Gawain

To the king he said,

“Sir, I wonder very strongly,

What thing you are sorrowful for.”

 

Then answered the king immediately,

“I shall tell you, gentle Sir Gawain.

In the forest as I was this day,

There I met with a knight in his armour,

And certain words to me he said,

And charged me I should not betray him;

His council I must keep therefore,

Or else I am foresworn.”