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Featured Poem: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Written by Isobel Lobo, 26th September 2022

This week's Featured Poem is read by Sally and is an extract taken from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, translated by Bernard O'Donoghue.

For September, all our Featured Poems will be extracts taken from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The epic poem tells the tale of Sir Gawain, a knight of King Arthur’s Round Table, as he accepts a bargain from a mysterious stranger who identifies as the ‘Green Knight’. The Green Knight challenges any person in the court to strike him with an axe, and he, in turn, will return the strike in a year.

This text features on this year’s The Reader Bookshelf, which focuses on the theme of Light & Darkness. To find out more about the Bookshelf, a link can be found here.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (extract)

Sir Gawain met the knight

without bowing too low.

The knight said, ‘Good Sir,

you’re a man who keeps his word.

‘Gawain,’ said the Green Knight, ‘God preserve you!

You are welcome to my place here.

You’ve timed your arrival as a true man should,

and you know the terms agreed between us:

a year back you had to take what was yours,

and I was to repay you this New Year’s Day.

Here in this valley we are truly alone.

There’s no one to part us – we can fight as we like.

Take off your helmet and receive what is owed;

make no more protest than I made to you

when you whipped off my head with a single stroke.’

‘No by God,’ said Gawain, ‘who gave me my life,

I will bear you no grudge, whatever the outcome.

But keep to one stroke, while I stand my ground

and make no resistance to your doing as you like in any way.’

He bowed his neck, bent down

and revealed the naked flesh.

He pretended to be fearless,

afraid to show his dread.

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