Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Man and the Natural World Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
So many wonders befell him in the hills,
It would be tedious to recount the least part of them.
Sometimes he fights dragons, and wolves as well,
Sometimes with wild men who dwelt among the crags;
Both with bulls and with bears, and at other times boars,
And ogres who chased him across the high fells.
(718 - 723)
The Middle English word this passage uses to describe the beasts with which Gawain meets, "mervayl," (translated here as ‘wonders’) is one often used to describe supernatural happenings. And indeed, some of the animals Gawain meets with, like dragons and ogres, might be considered part of the supernatural world. But intermixed with them are real animals like bears and wolves, suggesting that in the world of the poem, nature is just as alien and marvelous to the civilized world of King Arthur’s court as apparitions from the land of fairy.
[…] Fighting troubled him less than the rigorous winter,
When cold clear water fell from the clouds
And froze before it could reach the faded earth.
Half dead with the cold Gawain slept in hir armour
More nights than enough among the bare rocks,
Where splashing from the hilltops the freezing stream runs,
And hung over his head in hard icicles.
Thus in danger, hardship and continual pain
The knight rides across the land until Christmas Eve
(726 - 735)
The fact that the cold winter weather troubles Gawain even more than the fierce beasts with which he battles emphasizes the precariousness of a man’s position when forced to endure the elements without the protection of walls and a fire. Gawain’s suffering in the open wilderness helps us to appreciate the contrast represented by the civilized and fire-lit halls of Arthur and the Bertilak.
By the time the first glimmers of daylight appeared
He and his knights were mounted on horse.
Then experienced huntsmen coupled the hounds,
Unlocked the kennel door and ordered them out,
Loudly blowing three long notes on their horns.
Horns bayed at the sound and made a fierce noise;
And those who went straying were whipped and turned back.
(1137 - 1144)
The medieval hunt was an event that depended upon the cooperation of animals to bring down other animals. Here, the huntsmen "uncouple," or loose, their hounds, inciting them to pick up the scent of the prey with their horn-blasts. Mounted, the huntsmen depend upon their horses to follow the hounds. This scene, then, emphasizes the close relationship between the hunters and their animals as they ride out in pursuit of their prey.