Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Edited by Jack Lynch

The language — a form of Middle English used in the north of England — is demanding. In an earlier version of this text I glossed words with little pop-ups, but I’ve backed off, both because it was difficult to follow and because I suspect it creates problems for readers with visual impairments.

Now my glosses appear to the right of each line of verse; they’re just rough equivalents, not proper definitions. Anything that would benefit from more than that gets a link to the relevant entry in the great Middle English Dictionary (and I’ll just pray they don’t change all the URLs just to screw with me). This will also allow those who know Middle English better than I do to see what I’ve based my interpretation on.


Þis kyng lay at Camylot vpon Krystmasse
With mony luflych lorde, ledez of þe best, luflych = good-looking; ledez = men
Rekenly of þe Rounde Table alle þo rich breþer, rekenly = nobly
With rych reuel oryȝt & rechles merþes. [40] oryȝt = fitting; rechles = carefree; merþes = pleasures
Þer tournayed tulkes by tymez ful mony, tulkes = men
Justed ful jolilé þise gentyle kniȝtes, justed = jousted; gentyle = noble
Syþen kayred to þe court caroles to make. syþen = then; kayred = rode
For þer þe fest watz ilyche ful fiften dayes, watz = was; ilyche = so
With alle þe mete & þe mirþe þat men couþe avyse; [45] mete = food; couþe avyse = could devise
Such glaum ande gle glorious to here, glaum = happy sounds
Dere dyn vpon day, daunsyng on nyȝtes, dere dyn = dear din (pleasant noises)
Al watz hap vpon heȝe in hallez & chambrez hap = happiness; heȝe = high
With lordez & ladies, as leuest him þoȝt. leuest = dearest; þoȝt = seemed
With all þe wele of þe worlde þay woned þer samen, [50] wele = joy; woned = lived; samen = together
Þe most kyd knyȝtez vnder Krystes seluen, kyd = famous
& þe louelokkest ladies þat euer lif haden, louelokkest = loveliest
& he þe comlokest kyng þat þe court haldes; comlokest = most attractive; haldes = rules
For al watz þis fayre folk in her first age, her first age = their prime
        on sille, [55] on sille = in hall
    Þe hapnest vnder heuen, hapnest = most fortunate
    Kyng hyȝest mon of wylle; wylle = character
    Hit were now gret nye to neuen nye = difficulty; neuen = name
    So hardy a here on hille. here = group of warriors

[During the Christmas revelry at Camelot, a stranger arrives.]


Now wyl I of hor seruise say yow no more,
For vch wyȝe may wel wit no wont þat þer were. vch = each; wyȝe = person; wit = know
An oþer noyse ful newe neȝed biliue, neȝed = came near
Þat þe lude myȝt haf leue liflode to cach;
For vneþe watz þe noyce not a whyle sesed, vneþe = hardly
& þe fyrst cource in þe court kyndely serued, kyndely = properly
Þer hales in at þe halle dor an aghlich mayster, hales = rushes; aghlich = ugly; mayster = knight
On þe most on þe molde on mesure hyghe;
Fro þe swyre to þe swange so sware & so þik, swyre = neck; swange = waist; sware = square
& his lyndes & his lymes so longe & so grete, lyndes = loins; lymes = limbs
Half etayn in erde I hope þat he were, etayn = giant
Bot mon most I algate mynn hym to bene, most = biggest; algate = entirely; mynn = think; bene = be
& þat þe myriest in his muckel þat myȝt ride; myriest = fairest; muckel = size
For of bak & of brest al were his bodi sturne, sturne = fierce
Both his wombe & his wast were worthily smale, wombe = belly; worthily = appropriately
& alle his fetures folȝande, in forme þat he hade, folȝande = following
        ful clene; clene = fair
    For wonder of his hwe men hade, hwe = hue
    Set in his semblaunt sene; semblaunt = appearance; sene = clearly
    He ferde as freke were fade, ferde = behaved; freke = warrior
    & oueral enker-grene. enker-grene = vivid green


Ande al grayþed in grene þis gome & his wedes: grayþed = prepared; wedes = clothes
A strayte cote ful streȝt, þat stek on his sides, strayte = tight
A meré mantile abof, mensked withinne mantile = coat; mensked = decorated
With pelure pured apert, þe pane ful clene pelure pured apert = fur trimmed cleanly; clene = fair
With blyþe blaunner ful bryȝt, & his hod boþe, blyþe = cheerful; blaunner = fur
Þat watz laȝt fro his lokkez & layde on his schulderes; laȝt = caught back; lokkez = hair
Heme wel-haled hose of þat same, Heme = well-fitting
Þat spenet on his sparlyr, & clene spures vnder spenet = clung; sparlyr = calf of his leg
Of bryȝt golde, vpon silk bordes barred ful ryche, barred = striped
& scholes vnder schankes þere þe schalk rides; scholes = shoeless; schankes = legs; schalk = man
& alle his vesture uerayly watz clene verdure, clene verdure = pure green
Boþe þe barres of his belt & oþer blyþe stones,
Þat were richely rayled in his aray clene rayled = arranged
Aboutte hymself & his sadel, vpon silk werkez. silk werkez = embroidery
Þat were to tor for to telle of tryfles þe halue tor = difficult; tryfles = details
Þat were enbrauded abof, wyth bryddes & flyȝes, enbrauded = embroidered; bryddes = birds; flyȝes = butterflies
With gay gaudi of grene, þe golde ay inmyddes. ay = always; inmyddes = in the middle
Þe pendauntes of his payttrure, þe proude cropure, payttrure = trappings for a horse
His molaynes, & alle þe metail anamayld was þenne, molaynes = bits for a horse’s bridles
Þe steropes þat he stod on stayned of þe same,
& his arsounz al after & his aþel skyrtes, arsounz = saddlebows
Þat euer glemered & glent al of grene stones; glent = glinted, sparkled
Þe fole þat he ferkkes on fyn of þat ilke, fole = horse; ferkkes = rides
    A grene hors gret & þikke,
    A stede ful stif to strayne, stif = difficult; strayne = restrain
    In brawden brydel quik brawden = embroidered
To þe gome he watz ful gayn. gome = man; gayn = ready


Wel gay watz þis gome gered in grene,
& þe here of his hed of his hors swete. here = hair
Fayre fannand fax vmbefoldes his schulderes; fannand fax vmbefoldes = waiving hair hangs
A much berd as a busk ouer his brest henges, much = great; busk = bush
Þat wyth his hiȝlich here þat of his hed reches hiȝlich = splendid; of = from
Watz euesed al vmbetorne abof his elbowes, euesed = trimmed
Þat half his armes þer-vnder were halched in þe wyse halched = enclosed
Of a kyngez capados þat closes his swyre; capados = hood or cape; swyre = neck
Þe mane of þat mayn hors much to hit lyke, mayn = great
Wel cresped & cemmed, wyth knottes ful mony cresped = curled; cemmed = combed
Folden in wyth fildore aboute þe fayre grene, Folden in = entwined; fildore = gold thread
Ay a herle of þe here, an oþer of golde; herle = strand
Þe tayl & his toppyng twynnen of a sute, toppyng twynnen of = forelock joined in; sute = match
& bounden boþe wyth a bande of a bryȝt grene,
Dubbed wyth ful dere stonez, as þe dok lasteda, dok lasteda = tail extended
Syþen þrawen wyth a þwong a þwarle knot alofte, þrawen = twisted; þwong = thong; þwarle = tight
Þer mony bellez ful bryȝt of brende golde rungen. þer = where; brende = burnished
Such a fole vpon folde, ne freke þat hym rydes, fole = horse; folde = earth
Watz neuer sene in þat sale wyth syȝt er þat tyme, sale = hall; er = before
        with yȝe.
    He loked as layt so lyȝt, layt = lightning; lyȝt = bright
    So sayd al þat hym syȝe;
    Hit semed as no mon myȝt
    Vnder his dynttez dryȝe. dynttez = blows; dryȝe = heavy


“Nay, frayst I no fyȝt, in fayth I þe telle, frayst = seek
Hit arn aboute on þis bench bot berdlez chylder. hit arn = there are; berdlez chylder = beardless children
If I were hasped in armes on a heȝe stede, hasped = buckled; heȝe = noble
Here is no mon me to mach, for myȝtez so wayke. wayke = weak
Forþy I craue in þis court a Crystemas gomen,
For hit is ȝol & Nwe ȝer, & here ar ȝep mony: ȝol = Yule (Christmas season); ȝep = brave men
If any so hardy in þis hous holdez hymseluen,
Be so bolde in his blod, brayn in hys hede, brayn = mad
Þat dar stifly strike a strok for an oþer, dar = dare; stifly = bravely
I schal gif hym of my gyft þys giserne ryche, giserne = battle axe
Þis ax, þat is heué innogh, to hondele as hym lykes,
& I schal bide þe fyrst bur as bare as I sitte. bur = blow; bare = unarmed
If any freke be so felle to fonde þat I telle, felle = fierce; fonde = try
Lepe lyȝtly me to, & lach þis weppen, lach = take
I quitclayme hit for euer, kepe hit as his auen, auen = own
& I schal stonde hym a strok, stif on þis flet, stonde = endure; stif = fearless; flet = floor
Ellez þou wyl diȝt me þe dom to dele hym an oþer ellez = or else; diȝt = appoint
        barlay, barlay = truce
    & ȝet gif hym respite,
    A twelmonyth & a day;
    Now hyȝe, & let se tite hyȝe = hurry; let se tite = let me see quickly
    Dar any herinne oȝt say.” oȝt = anything

[Sir Gawain agrees to take up the offer.]


Þe grene knyȝt vpon grounde grayþely hym dresses, grayþely = quickly; dresses = arranges
A littel lut with þe hede, þe lere he discouerez, lut = bowed; lere = flresh; discouerez = uncovers
His longe louelych lokkez he layd ouer his croun, lokkez = hair
Let þe naked nec to þe note schewe. note = work
Gauan gripped to his ax, & gederes hit on hyȝt, gederes = lifts
Þe kay fot on þe folde he before sette, kay = left
Let him doun lyȝtly lyȝt on þe naked, lyȝtly = swiftly; lyȝt = go down
Þat þe scharp of þe schalk schyndered þe bones, scharp = sharp (blade); schyndered = shattered
& schrank þurȝ þe schyire grece, & schade hit in twynne, schrank = sank; schyire grece = shining fat; schade = cut; twynne = two
Þat þe bit of þe broun stel bot on þe grounde.
Þe fayre hede fro þe halce hit to þe erþe, halce = neck
Þat fele hit foyned wyth her fete, þere hit forth roled; þat fele = so that many; foyned = spurned
Þe blod brayd fro þe body, þat blykked on þe grene; brayd = spurted; blykked = shone
& nawþer faltered ne fel þe freke neuer þe helder, holder = more
Bot styþly he start forth vpon styf schonkes, styþly = firmly
& runyschly he raȝt out, þere as renkkez stoden, runyschly = fiercely; raȝt = reached
Laȝt to his lufly hed, & lyft hit vp sone;
& syþen boȝez to his blonk, þe brydel he cachchez, boȝez = goes; blonk = horse
Steppez into stelbawe & strydez alofte, stelbawe = stirrup
& his hede by þe here in his honde haldez;
& as sadly þe segge hym in his sadel sette sadly = steadily
As non vnhap had hym ayled, þaȝ hedlez he were as non vnhap = as if no misfortune
        in stedde. stedde = place
    He brayde his bulk aboute, brayde = twisted
    Þat vgly bodi þat bledde;
    Moni on of hym had doute, doute = fear
    Bi þat his resounz were redde.


He ferde as freke were fade
There are several conflicting interpretations of this line. Most offer glosses like this one from Vantuono: “He acted like an elvish knight.”