Monday, December 12, 2011


Howard Pyle, Sir Gawain, 1903

Then grimly Sir Gawain gripped his weapon,
And against that great force girded himself.
He rapidly set right his rich sword-chains,
Shoved forward his shield, shunning nothing,
And spurred to the assault, berserk and reckless,
Striking with savage strokes at the foe
So that the blood burst out where he battered past them.
Full of woe as he was, he wavered but little,
But wreaked Arthur’s wrath to his rightful glory.
He speared stalwart knights and steeds in the battle
So that men stood stone-dead in their stirrups.
He severed strong steel, slashed through mail,
Unstoppable by any, being out of his mind,
And fallen in frenzy out of fury of heart;
He fought and felled whoever stood before him!
Such fortune in fight never befell a fated man:
Headlong he hurtled at the whole host,
Dealing dire wounds to the doughtiest dwellers on earth.
In exploit like a lion he lanced them through,
Lords and leaders on that land drawn up.
And still he would not stop in his savage grief,
But with bloody blows battered the enemy
As if he were hankering for his own death,
His wits astray with woe and willfulness
As he went like a wild beast at the warriors nearest.
Whenever he went all wallowed in blood;
Each dread foe smelled danger from the death of one near
     Then he moved toward Sir Mordred among all his
Met him mid-shield and smote him through.
But the shuffler slightly shrank from the sharp sword
And sheared him on the short ribs a hand’s-breadth deep.
The shaft shuddered as it shot into the shining warrior
So that the gore gushed out, gleaming on his legs
And showing on the shinguard which shone with its

MORTE ARTHURE (CA. 1400) LINES 3812-3845 


1.  The poem exists on a single manuscript, Lincoln Cathedral MS 91, which was written by a Yorkshire gentlemen called Robert Thornton, whose seat was at East Newton, a village about twenty miles northeast of York.  It is securely dated in the fourth decade of the fifteenth century, and its linguistic features suggest that though the scribe was a Yorkshireman, the copy he worked from was two removes from the original, which was in the language of the North and Northeast Midlands. 

2From Brian Stone (translation and introductions), King Arthur's Death (Morte Arthure; Le Morte Arthur), London, Penguin, 1988.

H.J. Ford, Sir Mordred, 1902


  1. Gawain is my favorite of all of the Arthurian knights. Great post!

  2. Well, thank you. I plan on revisiting Gawain soon. I also had the pleasure last Saturday of seeing other Howard Pyle illustrations at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, PA. It was a great pleasure to see the Pyles, the N.C. Wyeths and the Maxfield Psrrishes living together in the same galleries. Curtis

  3. Whence the cup by Joseph filled?
    Gawaine's Grail is lost to man.
    Siege Perilous sits empty yet.
    We diletante away our own brief span,
    dead as stone-spun bass.

    Gone from England gone past bridges
    Welsh dale and Cornish ridges.
    That Grail was all that need be sought.
    Tommy's loss be selfsame blood.
    Spirits wisp away to Grampia.

  4. Roddy, Amazing that you remember this. I was so much older then, etc., etc. Actually Jane's theory is that I was born older and am regressing into toddlerhood. It's ok (if a little tedious when she expresses this at the dinner table -- it's just we three). I hope she doesn't publish it generally. Curtis

  5. Did I get it right? I was sorta improvising about Welsh dales, but maybe not.

    It was and is a fine poem. Preposterously fluent given you were -- what? -- fifteen?

    Dead as stone-spun bass is hilarious. The whole thing has wonderfully sophisticated and musical assonance.

  6. Thank you. If it's not 100 % right, then I'm sure you've improved it. It's very interesting to reflect on where you've been, who you are, how you got here, etc. The "how I got here" part is the one that really stumps me. But I still like most of the same things, pretty much more than ever. How about you? And how's Downtown? Curtis