The Anturs of Arther: Part 1
In the time of Arthur, a tale was untwined
Beside the Tarn Wathelan, as told in the book:
To Carlisle he came, of the conquering kind,
With knights and with nobles who hunt in the brakes
Who harry the herd and on the deer dine,
And drive the stags down the steep woodland bank
Deep into the dells to herd with the hinds.
When hunting was done – the hart by the brook –
Both the king and the queen
Came, and riding between,
Gawain garbed in green,
Led Gaynore down the track.
Gawain led Gaynore down green woodland rides
In a glittering gown that gleamed so gay,
All trimmed with bright ribbons – so the tale reads –
Ribbons of red, and in richest array.
Her hood of grey hue her shadowed head hides,
In purples and silks – stones glint in a spray –
And clad in a cloak the rain hardly heeds,
Set with bright sapphires she rides on her way:
Sapphires and celidonies stitched to her hems.
Her saddle is slick
With jewels and silk
And white as wet milk
As gaily she glides.
So Dame Gaynore the good – how gaily she glides
Down the glade with Gawain, by a mossy green well,
And this man on his mount by the white queen abides,
Burgundy-born, by book and by bell,
And leads her a long way at the lake’s lapping sides.
By a lush laurel, at the foot of the fell.
Arther, earl-flanked, earnestly rides,
And sets them their stations, truly to tell:
Their trysts with the stags: by trees they abide.
Each lord, on demand,
By a trunk takes his stand
With bow and with hound,
Where the branches reach wide.
And under the boughs, they bide brash and bold,
To kill barren does on the hillsides so bare,
And the men are amazed, the herds to behold,
And hearken to hunting-horns, brazen their blare.
They cast off their leashes, on cliffs so cold,
Encourage their hounds to kill and not care,
Culling the does, and in numbers untold,
With hounds fell and feisty whose loping spells fear.
As they sweat, pant and slaver, and paw on the mould
They sniff and they kill
By the woods and the hill.
The deer in the dell
All scatter and scare.
And darkly the deer drift through the dim woods,
And dreading her death, she cowers, the doe.
Like rapids on rivers, and wild, rushing winds,
Like boars that blare from their nostrils, and blow,
The hunters, they hail, and their word wakes the wilds
And rankles the horns that rise up from the Roe.
No rest will they grant, and nature is riled -
Though greyhounds in green groves, gladly they go!
Yes, gladly they go, under groves growing wild.
The king calls the chase
And they follow the trace
At a cantering pace –
They would hunt the whole world!
Yes, they surge in their sport, the seemliest knights,
Seeking their sovereign, deep in the green,
All but Sir Gawain, chivalrous knight,
Who is wooded with Gaynore under the green:
By the laurel they land, the leaves gleaming bright,
By the box and the barberry – soft was their sheen.
In the bright of the light, an eye-splitting sight:
A marvel of mid-day - a sight never seen!
I quiver to contemplate! Glum grew the light –
The day grew as dark
As midnight’s grim mirk.
Even Arthur was irked
In haste to dismount:
On foot they all fled – a coward each man –
They flew to the forest, they flew to the fells,
The rain ran in runnels, they made wretched moans,
Spurred on by snow like a harrowing of hell,
Like flames from a lake, their hope undermined.
Lucifer laughs, and in madness he hails,
Laughing at Gaynore with lungs made of wind,
And madly the mountains knelled with their yells.
Their cheeks and their chestplates tear-wet and wild,
They cried, “We are cowed
And our lady is cursed,”
Their fear spelled aloud:
Each wept like a child.
She stops and she shudders, dame Gaynore the gay,
And says to Sir Gawaine, “What do you think?”
“It is but an eclipse, I heard scholars say” –
Thus he comforts his queen, and tries not to shrink.
She cries, “Sir Cador, Constantine, Clegius and Cay
Are uncourteous knights who cower and blink!
By Cross and by Creed, they have scurried away,
And the gruesomest ghost awaits on the brink!”
“Grieve not!” cried Gawain, “To the ghost I shall say,
You are spirit, not flesh,
I’m not craven nor nesh –
Your woes I’ll unmesh,
And I’ll send you away!”
All bare was its body, and blackened its bone
All shrouded in cloud, and evilly clad.
It yammered and yowled fit to cave in a brain –
No womanly skin or complexion it had.
It stopped and it stood, as still as a stone,
It moaned and it mumbled, and murmured like mad!
To the grisly ghost Sir Gawaine has gone
At a run, like a raider, never afraid,
(“I am rarely a craven” was Gawain’s refrain).
On her skull of grim bone
A toad sat enthroned,
And bleak as a moan
Her eyes glowed with pain.
Agleam like the glade, the ghastly ghost glides
Enclosed in a cloud, in clothing unclear,
Beset with spry serpents that cling to its sides –
My tongue dare not tell of the toads at its ear –
He unscabbards his sword and boldly abides,
His countenance still, unquivered by fear.
The hounds slink in hollows, and chivalry hides,
And the ground is aghast, all grimy and drear –
Even the greyhounds stand gaunt, yet hang near.
The birds in host
All stare at the ghost
And screech like the lost
As the leaf meets the sere.
Anonymous northern Middle English romance (15th century), paraphrased by Giles Watson. Sir Gawain was one of the stock figures of Arthurian Romance – an apparently unassuming, self-critical figure whose true virtues become evident in testing times. His most famous appearance is in the alliterative poem in the Staffordshire dialect known as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – the work of a poet of consummate skill, translated in the past century by both J.R.R. Tolkien and Simon Armitage. The Anturs (Adventures) of Arther is a dim reflection of that poem’s brilliance, but the opening section - in which Gawain, in his role as champion of his king’s wife Gaynore (Guinevere), is confronted by the ghost of his Lady’s mother, in a rather grisly guise – is still rather compelling. Unlike the Gawain poet, who relies wholly on alliteration, the author of this poem has also subjected himself to a tyrannical rhyme-scheme which sometimes feels forced, but which also lends the poem a relentless forward movement, and works particularly well in the passages which exploit black comedy. One line of the manuscript is illegible, so I have offered a reconstruction, marked in italics. The sudden shifts in tense are dramatic devices which were commonly employed in mediaeval narratives, all of which were originally designed for listening audiences.