Tag Archives: Gawain

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.”