An Arthurian Miscellany at sacred-texts.com
THE MARRIAGE OF SIR GAWAINE
BISHOP THOMAS PERCY'S RELIQUES OF ANCIENT ENGLISH POETRY
PART THE FIRST
King Arthur lives in merry Carleile,
And seemely is to see;
And there with him queene Guenever,
That bride soe bright of blee.
And there with him queene Guenever,
That bride so bright in bowre:
And all his barons about him stoode,
That were both stiffe and stowre.
The king a royale Christmasse kept,
With mirth and princelye cheare;
To him repaired many a knighte,
That came both farre and neare.
And when they were to dinner sette,
And cups went freely round;
Before them came a faire damsèlle,
And knelt upon the ground.
A boone, a boone, O kinge Arthùre,
I beg a boone of thee;
Avenge me of a carlish knighte,
Who hath shent my love and me.
At Tearne-Wadling his castle stands,
Near to that lake so fair,
And proudlye rise the battlements,
And streamers deck the air.
Noe gentle knighte, nor ladye gay,
May pass that castle-walle:
But from that foule discurteous knighte,
Mishappe will them befalle.
Hee's twyce the size of common men,
Wi' thewes, and sinewes stronge,
And on his backe he bears a clubbe,
That is both thicke and longe.
This grimme baròne 'twas our harde happe,
But yester morne to see;
When to his bowre he bare my love,
And sore misused mee.
And when I told him, king Arthùre
As lyttle shold him spare;
Goe tell, sayd hee, that cuckold kinge,
To meete mee if he dare.
Upp then sterted king Arthùre,
And sware by hille and dale,
He ne'er wolde quitt that grimme baròne,
Till he had made him quail.
Goe fetch my sword Excalibar:
Goe saddle mee my steede;
Nowe, by my faye, that grimme baròne
Shall rue this ruthfulle deede.
And when he came to Tearne Wadlinge
Benethe the castle walle:
"Come forth; come forth; thou proude baròne,
Or yielde thyself my thralle."
On magicke grounde that castle stoode,
And fenc'd with many a spelle:
Noe valiant knighte could tread thereon,
But straite his courage felle.
Forth then rush'd that carlish knight,
King Arthur felte the charme:
His sturdy sinewes lost their strengthe,
Downe sunke his feeble arme.
Nowe yield thee, yield thee, kinge Arthùre,
Now yield thee, unto mee:
Or fighte with mee, or lose thy lande,
Noe better termes maye bee,
Unless thou sweare upon the rood,
And promise on thy faye,
Here to returne to Tearne-Wadling,
Upon the new-yeare's daye;
And bringe me worde what thing it is
All women moste desyre;
This is thy ransome, Arthur, he sayes,
Ile have noe other hyre.
King Arthur then helde up his hande,
And sware upon his faye,
Then tooke his leave of the grimme barone
And faste hee rode awaye.
And he rode east, and he rode west,
And did of all inquyre,
What thing it is all women crave,
And what they most desyre.
Some told him riches, pompe, or state;
Some rayment fine and brighte;
Some told him mirthe; some flatterye;
And some a jollye knighte.
In letters all king Arthur wrote,
And seal'd them with his ringe:
But still his minde was helde in doubte,
Each tolde a different thinge.
As ruthfulle he rode over a more,
He saw a ladye sette
Betweene an oke, and a greene holléye,
All clad in red scarlette.
Her nose was crookt and turnd outwàrde,
Her chin stoode all awrye;
And where as sholde have been her mouthe,
Lo! there was set her eye:
Her haires, like serpents, clung aboute
Her cheekes of deadlye hewe:
A worse-form'd ladye than she was,
No man mote ever viewe.
To hail the king in seemelye sorte
This ladye was fulle faine;
But king Arthùre all sore amaz'd,
No aunswere made againe.
What wight art thou, the ladye sayd,
That wilt not speake to mee;
Sir, I may chance to ease thy paine,
Though I be foule to see.
If thou wilt ease my paine, he sayd,
And helpe me in my neede;
Ask what thou wilt, thou grimme ladyè
And it shall bee thy meede.
O sweare mee this upon the roode,
And promise on thy faye;
And here the secrette I will telle,
That shall thy ransome paye.
King Arthur promis'd on his faye,
And sware upon the roode;
The secrette then the ladye told,
As lightlye well shee cou'de.
Now this shall be my paye, sir king,
And this my guerdon bee,
That some yong fair and courtlye knight,
Thou bringe to marrye mee.
Fast then pricked king Arthùre
Ore hille, and dale, and downe:
And soone he founde the barone's bowre:
And soone the grimme baroùne.
He bare his clubbe upon his backe,
Hee stoode bothe stiffe and stronge;
And, when he had the letters reade,
Awaye the lettres flunge.
Nowe yielde thee, Arthur, and thy lands,
All forfeit unto mee;
For this is not thy paye, sir king,
Nor may thy ransome bee.
Yet hold thy hand, thou proud baròne,
I praye thee hold thy hand;
And give mee leave to speake once more
In reskewe of my land.
This morne, as I came over a more,
I saw a ladye sette
Betwene an oke, and a greene hollèye,
All clad in red scarlètte.
Shee sayes, all women will have their wille,
This is their chief desyre;
Now yield, as thou art a barone true,
That I have payd mine hyre.
An earlye vengeaunce light on her!
The carlish baron swore:
Shee was my sister tolde thee this,
And shee's a mishapen whore.
But here I will make mine avowe,
To do her as ill a turne:
For an ever I may that foule theefe gette,
In a fyre I will her burne.
PART THE SECONDE
Homewarde pricked king Arthùre,
And a wearye man was hee;
And soon he mette queene Guenever,
That bride so bright of blee.
What newes! what newes! thou noble king,
Howe, Arthur, hast thou sped?
Where hast thou hung the carlish knighte?
And where bestow'd his head?
The carlish knight is safe for mee,
And free fro mortal harme:
On magicke grounde his castle stands,
And fenc'd with many a charme.
To bowe to him I was full faine,
And yielde mee to his hand:
And but for a lothly ladye, there
I sholde have lost my land.
And nowe this fills my hearte with woe,
And sorrowe of my life;
I swore a yonge and courtlye knight,
Sholde marry her to his wife.
Then bespake him sir Gawàine,
That was ever a gentle knighte:
That lothly ladye I will wed;
Therefore be merrye and lighte.
Nowe naye, nowe naye, good sir Gawàine;
My sister's sonne yee bee;
This lothlye ladye's all too grimme,
And all too foule for yee.
Her nose is crookt and turn'd outwàrde;
Her chin stands all awrye;
A worse form'd ladye than shee is
Was never seen with eye.
What though her chin stand all awrye,
And shee be foule to see:
I'll marry her, unkle, for thy sake,
And I'll thy ransome bee.
Nowe thankes, nowe thankes, good sir Gawàine;
And a blessing thee betyde!
To-morrow wee'll have knights and squires,
And wee'll goe fetch thy bride.
And wee'll have hawkes and wee'll have houndes,
To cover our intent;
And wee'll away to the greene forèst,
As wee a hunting went.
Sir Lancelot, sir Stephen bolde,
They rode with them that daye;
And foremoste of the companye
There rode the stewarde Kaye:
Soe did sir Banier and sir Bore,
And eke sir Garratte keene;
Sir Tristram too, that gentle knight,
To the forest freshe and greene.
And when they came to the greene forrèst,
Beneathe a faire holley tree
There sate that ladye in red scarlètte
That unseemelye was to see.
Sir Kay beheld that lady's face,
And looked upon her sweere;
Whoever kisses that ladye, he sayes,
Of his kisse he stands in feare.
Sir Kay beheld that ladye againe,
And looked upon her snout;
Whoever kisses that ladye, he sayes,
Of his kisse he stands in doubt.
Peace, brother Kay, sayde sir Gawàine,
And amend thee of thy life:
For there is a knight amongst us all,
Must marry her to his wife.
What marry this foule queane, quoth Kay,
I' the devil's name anone;
Gett mee a wife wherever I maye,
In sooth shee shall be none.
Then some tooke up their hawkes in haste,
And some took up their houndes;
And sayd they wolde not marry her,
For cities, nor for townes.
Then bespake him king Arthùre,
And sware there by this daye;
For a little foule sighte and mislikìnge,
Yee shall not say her naye.
Peace, lordinges, peace; sir Gawaine sayd;
Nor make debate and strife;
This lothlye ladye I will take,
And marry her to my wife.
Nowe thankes, nowe thankes, good sir Gawaine,
And a blessinge be thy meede!
For as I am thine owne ladyè,
Thou never shalt rue this deede.
Then up they took that lothly dame,
And home anone they bringe:
And there sir Gawaine he her wed,
And married her with a ringe.
And when they were in wed-bed laid,
And all were done awaye:
"Come turne to mee, mine owne wed-lord
Come turne to mee I praye."
Sir Gawaine scant could lift his head,
For sorrowe and for care;
When, lo! instead of that lothelye dame,
Hee sawe a young ladye faire.
Sweet blushes stayn'd her rud-red cheeke,
Her eyen were blacke as sloe:
The ripening cherrye swellde her lippe,
And all her necke was snowe.
Sir Gawaine kiss'd that lady faire,
Lying upon the sheete:
And swore, as he was a true knighte,
The spice was never soe sweete.
Sir Gawaine kiss'd that lady brighte,
Lying there by his side:
"The fairest flower is not soe faire:
Thou never can'st bee my bride."
I am thy bride, mine owne deare lorde,
The same whiche thou didst knowe,
That was soe lothlye, and was wont
Upon the wild more to goe.
Nowe, gentle Gawaine, chuse, quoth shee,
And make thy choice with care;
Whether by night, or else by daye,
Shall I be foule or faire?
"To have thee foule still in the night,
When I with thee should playe!
I had rather farre, my lady deare,
To have thee foule by daye."
What when gaye ladyes goe with their lordes
To drinke the ale and wine;
Alas! then I must hide myself,
I must not goe with mine?
"My faire ladyè, sir Gawaine sayd,
I yield me to thy skille;
Because thou art mine owne ladyè
Thou shalt have all thy wille."
Nowe blessed be thou, sweete Gawàine,
And the daye that I thee see;
For as thou seest mee at this time,
Soe shall I ever bee.
My father was an aged knighte,
And yet it chanced soe,
He tooke to wife a false ladyè,
Whiche broughte me to this woe.
She witch'd mee, being a faire yonge maide,
In the greene forèst to dwelle;
And there to abide in lothlye shape,
Most like a fiend of helle.
Midst mores and mosses; woods, and wilds;
To lead a lonesome life:
Till some yong faire and courtlye knighte
Wolde marrye me to his wife:
Nor fully to gaine mine owne trewe shape,
Such was her devilish skille;
Until he wolde yielde to be rul'd by mee,
And let mee have all my wille.
She witchd my brother to a carlish boore,
And made him stiffe and stronge;
And built him a bowre on magicke grounde,
To live by rapine and wronge.
But now the spelle is broken throughe,
And wronge is turnde to righte;
Henceforth I shall bee a faire ladyè,
And hee be a gentle knighte.
Next: The Christmas of Sir Galahad, by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps