from SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT lines 1178-1306
Anon. tr. Bernard O'Donoghue (from Middle English)
Þus laykez þis lorde by lynde-wodez euez,
And Gawayn þe god mon in gay bed lygez,
Lurkkez quyl þe daylyght lemed on þe wowes,
Vnder couertour ful clere, cortyned aboute;
And as in slomeryng he slode, sleghly he herde
A littel dyn at his dor, and dernly vpon;
And he heuez vp his hed out of þe cloþes,
A corner of þe cortyn he caght vp a lyttel,
And waytez warly þiderwarde quat hit be myght.
Hit watz þe ladi, loflyest to beholde,
Þat drogh þe dor after hir ful dernly and stylle,
And boghed towarde þe bed; and þe burne schamed,
And layde hym doun lystyly, and let as he slepte;
And ho stepped stilly and stel to his bedde,
Kest vp þe cortyn and creped withinne,
And set hir ful softly on þe bed-syde,
And lenged þere selly longe to loke quen he wakened.
Þe lede lay lurked a ful longe quyle,
Compast in his concience to quat þat cace myght
Meue oþer amount - to meruayle hym poght,
Bot ghet he sayde in hymself, 'More semly hit were
To aspye wyth my spelle in space quat ho wolde.'
Þen he wakenede, and wroth, and to hir warde torned,
And vnlouked his yghe-lyddez, and let as hym wondered,
And sayned hym, as bi his saghe þe sauer to worthe,
..................with hande.
.............Wyth chynne and cheke ful swete,
.............Boþe quit and red in blande,
.............Ful lufly con ho lete
.............Wyth lyppez smal laghande.

'God moroun, Sir Gawayn,' sayde þat gay lady,
Ghe ar a sleper vnslyghe, þat mon may slyde hider;
Now ar ghe tan as-tyt! Bot true vus may schape,
I schal bynde yow in your bedde, þat be ghe trayst':
'Al laghande þe lady lanced þo bourdez.
'Goud moroun, gay,' quoþ Gawayn þe blyþe,
'Me schal worþe at your wille, and þat me wel lykez,
For I ghelde me ghederly, and gheghe after grace,
And þat is þe best, be my dome, for me byhouez nede':
And þus he bourded aghayn with mony a blyþe laghter.
'Bot wolde ghe, lady louely, þen leue me grante,
And deprece your prysoun, and pray hym to ryse,
I wolde boghe of þis bed, and busk me better;
I schulde keuer þe more comfort to karp yow wyth.'
'Nay for soþe, beau sir,' sayd þat swete,
'Ghe schal not rise of your bedde, I rych yow better,
I schal happe yow here þat oþer half als,
And syþen karp wyth my knyght þat I kaght haue;
For I wene wel, iwysse, Sir Wowen ghe are,
þat alle þe worlde worchipez quere - so ghe ride;
Your honour, your hendelayk is hendely praysed
With lordez, wyth ladyes, with alle þat lyf bere.
And now ghe ar here, iwysse, and we bot oure one;
My lorde and his ledez ar on lenþe faren,
Oþer burnez in her bedde, and my burdez als,
Þe dor drawen and dit with a derf haspe;
And syþen I haue in þis hous hym þat al lykez,
I schal ware my whyle wel, quyl hit lastez,
..................with tale.
.............Ghe ar welcum to my cors,
.............Yowre awen won to wale,
.............Me behouez of fyne force
.............Your seruaunt be, and schale.'

'In god fayth,' quoþ Gawayn, 'gayn hit me þynkkez,
Þagh I be not now he þat ghe of speken;
To reche to such reuerence as ghe reherce here
I am wyghe vnworþy, I wot wel myseluen.
Bi God, I were glad, and yow god þoght,
At saghe oþer at seruyce þat I sette myght
To þe plesaunce of your prys - hit were a pure ioye.'
'In god fayth, Sir Gawayn,' quoþ þe gay lady,
'Þe prys and þe prowes þat plesez al oþer,
If I hit lakked oþer set at lyght, hit were littel daynté;
0233 Bot hit ar ladyes innoghe þat leuer wer nowþe
Haf þe, hende, in hor holde, as I þe habbe here,
To daly with derely your daynté wordez,
Keuer hem comfort and colen her carez,
Þen much of þe garysoun oþer golde þat þay hauen.
Bot I louue þat ilk lorde þat þe lyfte haldez,
I haf hit holly in my honde þat al desyres,
..................purghe grace.'
.............Scho made hym so gret chere,
.............Þat watz so fayr of face,
.............Þe knyght with speches skere
.............Answared to vche a cace.

'Madame,' quoþ þe myry mon, `Mary yow ghelde,
For I haf founden, in god fayth, yowre fraunchis nobele,
And oþer ful much of oþer folk fongen bi hor dedez,
Bot þe daynté þat þay delen, for my disert nys euen,
Hit is þe worchyp of yourself, þat noght bot wel connez.'
'Bi Mary', quoþ þe menskful, 'me þynk hit an oþer;
For were I worth al þe wone of wymmen alyue,
And al þe wele of þe worlde were in my honde,
And I schulde chepen and chose to cheue me a lorde,
For þe costes þat I haf knowen vpon þe, knyght, here,
Of bewté and debonerté and blyþe semblaunt,
And þat I haf er herkkened and halde hit here trwee,
Þer schulde no freke vpon folde bifore yow be chosen.'
'Iwysse, worþy,' quoþ þe wyghe, 'ghe haf waled wel better,
Bot I am proude of þe prys þat ghe put on me,
And, soberly your seruaunt, my souerayn I holde yow,
And yowre knyght I becom, and Kryst yow forghelde.'
Þus þay meled of muchquat til mydmorn paste,
And ay þe lady let lyk as hym loued mych;
Þe freke ferde with defence, and feted ful fayre
'Þagh I were burde bryghtest', þe burde in mynde hade.
Þe lasse luf in his lode for lur þat he soght
..................boute hone,
.............Þe dunte þat schulde hym deue,
.............And nedez hit most be done.
.............Þe lady þenn spek of leue,
.............He granted hir ful sone.

Þenne ho gef hym god day, and wyth a glent laghed,
And as ho stod, ho stonyed hym wyth ful stor wordez:
'Now he þat spedez vche spech þis disport ghelde yow!
Bot þat ghe be Gawan, hit gotz in mynde.'
'Querfore?' quoþ þe freke, and freschly he askez,
Ferde lest he bade fayled in fourme of his castes;
Bot þe burde hym blessed, and 'Bi þis skyl' sayde:
'So god as Gawayn gaynly is halden,
And cortaysye is closed so clene in hymseluen,
Couth not lyghtly haf lenged so long wyth a lady,
Bot he had craued a cosse, bi his courtaysye,
Bi sum towch of summe tryfle at sum talez ende.'
Þen quoþ Wowen: 'Iwysse, worþe as yow lykez;
I schal kysse at your comaundement, as a knyght fallez,
And fire, lest he displese yow, so plede hit no more.'
Ho comes nerre with þat, and cachez hym in armez,
Loutez luflych adoun and þe leude kyssez.


While the lord was busy by the borders of the wood
the bold Gawain kept to his soft bed.
He lay there till daylight shone on the walls,
beneath his bright bedspread, screened all around.
As he dozed there in peace, he warily heard
a little noise at the door as it stealthily opened.
He raised his head up out of the clothes
and slightly lifted the edge of the curtain,
peeping out cautiously to see what it was.
It was the lady, most lovely to look at,
who shut the door after her, in secret and privately,
and stole towards the bed. The hero, embarrassed,
lay hurriedly back down, pretending to sleep.
She stepped forward silently and stole to his bedside,
lifted the curtain and crept inside,
sitting down softly on the edge of the bed.
And there she stayed, to see if he'd wake up.
The hero lay low some considerable time,
pondering inwardly what all this might mean
or amount to. It seemed pretty strange,
but still he said to himself, 'It would be more fitting
to ask her openly what she is after.'
So he awoke, and stretched and, turning towards her,
opened his eyes, pretending to be surprised.
Then, as if to be safer by prayer, he blessed himself
..................with his hand.
.............With her pretty chin, and cheeks
.............of mingled red and white,
.............she spoke most sweetly
.............with her small, laughing lips.

'Good morning, Sir Gawain,' said the lovely lady,
'you're a careless sleeper, to let someone creep
up on you like this. You're caught. Unless there's a truce,
I'll besiege you in bed, you can be sure.'
Laughing away she made jokes like that.
'Good morning, fair lady,' said Gawain, all good humour.
'I am at your service, and delighted to be so;
I surrender at once and sue for mercy:
the best policy since I have no option.'
And so he joked in return, with cheerful laughter.
'But if, lovely lady, you'd grant me this -
to release your prisoner, and ask him to stand,
I'd get out of this bed and dress myself better;
I would talk to you then in the greatest comfort.'
'No indeed, handsome sir,' the fair lady said,
you are not getting up. I've a better plan for you.
I'll besiege you on the other flank too
and then negotiate with my knight that I've caught;
because I know well that you are Sir Gawain
that the whole world worships wherever you go.
Your honour and accomplishment are highly praised
by lords and by ladies and by everyone living.
And here you are now, and just us two.
My husband and his men are gone far afield;
everyone else is in bed; my ladies are too.
The door is shut, securely locked.
Since I have in my house everyone's favourite,
I will spend my time well, as long as it lasts, talk.
.............You are welcome to my body exercise your power.
.............I am obliged, and willing, bend to your greater strength.'

'Well,' said Gawain, 'this is a privilege,
but I am far from what you describe.
I am unworthy to rise to such honour
as you suggest here; I know myself well.
If such was your wish, by God I'd be pleased
if I might be of service in word or in deed
to serve your good will it would be pure joy.'
'Now truly, Sir Gawain,' said the beautiful lady,
'if I should undervalue the prowess and standing
that please everyone else, it would be no credit.
There are plenty of women who would much rather have
you, noble sir, as I have you here,
interchanging fine words with you,
to bring them comfort and soothe their cares,
than most of the treasure or goods that they have.
But I praise the lord that rules the high heavens
that I've here in my hands what everyone wants the sheerest good fortune.'
.............She, of such beauty,
.............was so flattering to him,
.............and the knight with proper speech
.............replied to all she said.

'Madame,' said Gawain, 'may Our Lady reward you,
for your kindness to me is generous indeed.
But people often form judgments on rumour,
and I do not deserve the acclaim that they give.
It is to your credit that you think only goodness.'
'By Mary,' the lady said, 'I don't believe that;
for if I were as worthy as any woman living,
and all the wealth of the world were at my disposal,
and I bargained for ever to find a good partner,
from your behaviour that I have seen here -
your good looks and grace and kindly demeanour
(which I'd heard of before and now find to be true) -
no man on earth would be chosen before you.'
'Noble lady,' he said, 'you're certainly matched better.
But still I am honoured by your good opinion
and, as your humble servant, I hold you my ruler
and declare myself your knight. May Christ reward you!'
So they talked on till past the mid-morning,
with the lady acting as if she loved him.
The knight held his ground and behaved very well,
considering her beauty and what she'd in mind.
There was less love in him because of the hardship
..................he'd shortly to face,
.............the blow that will strike him, it must come about.
.............So when she spoke of leaving,
.............he readily agreed.

Then she bade him good day and glanced at him, laughing.
But as she stood up, her fierce words appalled him.
'May whoever rewards talking repay you for this;
but that you are Gawain can not be believed.'
'Why?' said the knight in eager enquiry,
afraid he'd come short in some detail of manners.
The lady blessed him and said, 'For this reason:
someone who is reputed as accomplished as Gawain,
with manners developed so perfectly in him,
could hardly have sat so long with a lady
without begging a kiss in the name of courtesy,
by some hint or other at the end of conversing.'
Then Gawain said, 'Please, let us do what you wish:
I will kiss at your command, as a knight's duty is,
and do more rather than offend you, so don't ask again.'
She came near and took him within her arms,
bending down sweetly, and kissed her hero.

Transl. copyright © Bernard O'Donoghue 2006. to be published in Penguin Classics, August 2006.
Published in Modern Poetry in Translation III.5