Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Man and the Natural World Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Line). We used James Winny's 2004 translation.
The horse that he rides [is] entirely of that colour,
A green horse huge and strong,
A proud steed to restrain,
Spirited under bridle,
But obedient to the man.
(173 - 178)
In medieval romances, a man’s ability to control his horse is a symbol of his masculinity and his own self-control. The greater the horse he controls, the greater the man. So, the fact that the Green Knight’s horse is huge, strong, and spirited but obedient to him tells us that his character is very strong, masculine, and in control of himself, too.
It would be hard to describe even half the fine work
That was embroidered upon his [clothing and saddle-gear], the butterflies and birds,
With lovely beadwork of green, always centered upon gold.
(165 - 167)
The fact that the Green Knight is entirely green and that butterflies and birds are embroidered on his clothing suggests that we are meant to connect him to the natural world. He might represent nature and animal instincts, in contrast to the more civilized world of King Arthur’s court.
But then the weather on earth battles with winter,
The cold shrinks downwards, clouds rise higher,
And shed sparkling rain in warming showers,
Falling on smiling plains where flowers unfold.
Both open fields and woodlands put on green dress;
Birds hasten to build, and rapturously sing
For joy of gentle summer that follows next
on the slopes.
(505 - 511)
This section, and the lines that follow it, detail the way that the seasons naturally give way to one another. We know that after a year passes and the winter arrives again, Gawain must travel to the Green Chapel to meet his fate. So, the feeling we are left with here is one of man’s powerlessness to stop the turning of the earth and, by extension, his fate.