This king lay at Camelot one Christmastide With many mighty lords, manly liegemen Members rightly reckoned of the RoundTable, In splendid celebration, seemly and carefree. There tussling in tournaments time and again Jousted in jollity these gentle knights, Then in court Carnival sang catches and danced; For fifteen days the feasting there was full in like measure[.]
For barely had the blaze of trump abated one minute And the first course in the court been courteously served, When there heaved in at the hall door an awesome fellow Who in height outstripped all earthly men. From throat to thigh he was thickset and square… Men gaped at the hue of him Ingrained in garb and mien, A fellow fiercely grim, And all a glittering green.
If any in this household is so hardy in spirit, Or such mettlesome mind and so madly rash As to strike a strong blow in return for another, I shall offer to him this fine axe freely…. And I shall bide the first blow, as bare as I sit here. . . . So long as I shall have leave to launch a return blow Unchecked. Yet he shall have a year And a day’s reprieve, I direct.
The fair head fell from the neck, struck the floor, And people spurned it as it rolled around. Blood spurted from the body, bright against the green. Yet the fellow did not fall, nor falter one whit. But stoutly sprang forward on legs still sturdy, Roughly reached out among the ranks of nobles, Seized his splendid head and straightaway lifted it.
[I]t lifted its eyelids and looked, glaringly, And menacingly said with its mouth as you may now here: ‘Be prepared to perform what you promised, Gawain; Seek faithfully till you find me, my fine fellow, According to your oath in this hall in these knights’ hearing. Go to the Green Chapel without gainsaying to get Such a stroke as you have struck.’