Verse > Anthologies > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of Ballads
Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. (1863–1944).  The Oxford Book of Ballads.  1910.
19. The Marriage of Sir Gawain
[A Fragment]

KINGE Arthur lives in merry Carleile,
  And seemely is to see,
And there he hath with him Queene Genever,
  That bride soe bright of blee.

And there he hath with him Queene Genever,
  That bride soe bright in bower,
And all his barons about him stoode,
  That were both stiffe and stowre.

The king kept a royall Christmasse,
  Of mirth and great honor.        10
Soon after Christmas the King chanced to ride by Tarn Wadling, in the forest of Inglewood, when he was met by a fierce baron armed with a club, who offered him choice between fighting and ransom. For ransom, the King must return on New Year’s Day—


‘And bring me word what thing it is
  That a woman will most desire;
This shalbe thy ransome, Arthur,’ he sayes,
  ‘For I’le have noe other hier.’

King Arthur then held up his hand,
  According thene as was the law;
He tooke his leave of the baron there,
  And homward can he draw.

And when he came to merry Carleile,
  To his chamber he is gone,        20
And ther came to him his cozen Sir Gawaine,
  As he did make his mone.

And there came to him his cozen Sir Gawaine,
  That was a curteous knight;
‘Why sigh you soe sore, unckle Arthur,’ he said,        25
  ‘Or who hath done thee unright?’—

‘O peace, O peace, thou gentle Gawaine,
  That faire may thee beffall!
For if thou knew my sighing soe deepe.
  Thou wo’ld not mervaile att all.        30

‘Ffor when I came to Tearne Wadling,
  A bold barron there I fand,
With a great club upon his backe,
  Standing stiffe and strong.

‘And he asked me wether I wo’ld fight
  Or from him I shold begone,
Or else I must him a ransome pay,
  And soe depart him from.

‘To fight with him I saw noe cause;
  Methought it was not meet;        40
For he was stiffe and strong with-all,
  His strokes were nothing sweete.

‘Therefor this is my ransome, Gawaine,
  I ought to him to pay;
I must come againe, as I am sworne,        45
  Upon the New Yeer’s day;

‘And I must bring him word what thing it is
  [That a woman will most desire].
Arthur, having collected and written down many answers to the baron’s riddle, was true to his promise, thus—


Then king Arthur drest him for to ryde,
  In one soe rich array,        50
Toward the fore-said Tearne Wadling,
  That he might keepe his day.

And as he rode over a more,
  Hee see a lady where shee sate
Betwixt an oke and a greene hollen;        55
  She was cladd in red scarlett.

Then thereas shold have stood her mouth,
  Then there was sett her eye;
The other was in her forhead fast,
  The way that she might see.        60

Her nose was crooked and turn’d outward,
  Her mouth stood foule a-wry;
A worse form’d lady than shee was,
  Never man saw with his eye.

To halch upon him, King Arthur,
  This lady was full faine,
But King Arthur had forgott his lesson,
  What he sho’ld say againe.

‘What knight art thou,’ the lady sayd,
  ‘That will not speak to me?        70
Of me be thou nothing dismay’d,
  Tho I be ugly to see.

‘For I have halched you curteouslye,
  And you will not me againe;
Yett I may happen Sir Knight,’ shee said,        75
  ‘To ease thee of thy paine.’

‘Give thou ease me, lady,’ he said,
  ‘Or helpe me any thing,
Thou shalt have gentle Gawaine, my cozen,
  And marry him with a ring.’        80
The hag thereupon gave him the right answer and he rode forward.


And when he came to the Tearne Wadling,
  The baron there co’ld he finde,
With a great weapon on his backe,
  Standing stiffe and stronge.

And then he tooke King Arthur’s letters in his hands,
  And away he co’ld them fling,
And then he puld out a good browne sword,
  And cryd himselfe a king.

And he sayd, ‘I have thee and thy land, Arthur,
  To doe as it pleaseth me,        90
For this is not thy ransome sure,
  Therfore yeeld thee to me.’

And then bespoke him noble Arthur,
  And bad him hold his hand:
‘And give me leave to speake my mind        95
  In defence of all my land.’

He said, ‘As I came over a more,
  I see a lady where shee sate
Betweene an oke and a green hollen;
  Shee was clad in red scarlett.        100

‘And she says a woman will have her will,
  And this is all her cheef desire:
Doe me right, as thou art a baron of sckill,
  This is thy ransome and all thy hyer.’

He sayes, ‘An early vengeance light on her!
  She walkes on yonder more;
It was my sister that told thee this,
  [As shee heard it of me before.]

‘But heer I’le make mine avow to God
  To doe her an evill turne;        110
For an’ ever I may thate fowle theefe get,
  In a fyer I will her burne.’
The King, having returned home, told his knights that he had in the forest a bride for one of them, and a number rode out in his company to find her.


Sir Lancelott and Sir Steven bold,
  They rode with them that day,
And the formost of the company        115
  There rode the steward Kay.

Soe did Sir Banier and Sir Bore,
  Sir Garrett with them soe gay,
Soe did Sir Tristeram that gentle knight,
  To the forrest fresh and gay.        120

And when he came to the greene forrest,
  Underneath a greene holly tree,
Their sate that lady in red scarlet
  That unseemly was to see.

Sir Kay beheld this lady’s face,
  And looked uppon her swire;
‘Whosoever kisses this lady,’ he sayes,
  ‘Of his kisse he stands in feare.’

Sir Kay beheld the lady againe,
  And looked upon her snout;        130
‘Whosoever kisses this lady,’ he saies,
  ‘Of his kisse he stands in doubt.’

‘Peace, cozen Kay,’ then said Sir Gawaine,
  ‘Amend thee of thy life;
For there is a knight amongst us all        135
  That must marry her to his wife.’

‘What! wedd her to wiffe!’ then said Sir Kay,
  ‘In the divell’s name anon!
Gett me a wiffe where-ere I may,
  For I had rather be slaine!’        140

Then some tooke up their hawkes in hast.
  And some tooke up their hounds,
And some sware they wo’ld not marry her
  For citty nor for towne.

And then be-spake him noble King Arthur,
  And sware there by this day,
For a litle foule sight and misliking
  [They should not say her Nay].
At length Sir Gawain, for Arthur’s sake, consented. The ugly bride was taken home and bedded, when to Gawain’s delight in his arms she turned to a beautiful woman. She then offered him a choice.—


Then shee said, ‘Choose thee, gentle Gawaine,
  Truth as I doe say,        150
Wether thou wilt have me in this liknesse
  In the night or else in the day.’

And then bespake him gentle Gawaine,
  Was one soe mild of moode,
Sayes, ‘Well I know what I wo’ld say,        155
  God grant it may be good!

‘To have thee fowle in the night
  When I with thee sho’ld play—
Yet I had rather, if I might,
  Have thee fowle in the day.’        160

‘What! when lords goe with ther feires,’ shee said,
  ‘Both to the ale and wine,
Alas! then I must hyde my selfe,
  I must not goe withinne.’

And then bespake him gentle Gawaine,
  Said, ‘Lady, that’s but skill;
And because thou art my owne lady,
  Thou shalt have all thy will.’

Then she said, ‘Blesed be thou, gentle Gawain,
  This day that I thee see!        170
For as thou seest me att this time,
  From hencforth I wilbe.

‘My father was an old knight,
  And yett it chancèd soe
That he marryed a younge lady        175
  That brought me to this woe.

‘Shee witched me, being a faire young lady,
  To the greene forrest to dwell,
And there I must walke in woman’s liknesse,
  Most like a feend of hell.        180

‘She witched my brother to a carlish [boore]
Being thus given what a woman most desires (that is, her will) she is released from the spell and becomes beautiful at all times: and Sir Gawain leads his lady in triumph among the knights, to present her to the King and Queen.


‘Come kisse her, brother Kay,’ then said Sir Gawaine,
  ‘And amend thè of thy liffe;
I sweare this is the same lady
  That I marryed to my wiffe.’        185

Sir Kay kissed that lady bright,
  Standing upon his ffeete;
He swore, as he was trew knight,
  The spice was never soe sweete.

‘Well, cozen Gawaine,’ sayes Sir Kay,
  ‘Thy chance is fallen arright,
For thou hast gotten one of the fairest maids
  I ever saw with my sight.’—

‘It is my fortune,’ said Sir Gawaine;
  ‘For my unckle Arthurs sake        195
I am glad as grasse wold be of raine,
  Great joy that I may take.’

Sir Gawaine tooke the lady by the one arme,
  Sir Kay tooke her by the tother,
They led her straight to King Arthur,        200
  As they were brother and brother.

King Arthur welcomed them there all,
  And soe did Lady Genever his queene,
With all the knights of the Round Table,
  Most seemly to be seene.        205

King Arthur beheld that lady faire
  That was soe faire and bright,
He thanked Christ in Trinity
  For Sir Gawaine that gentle knight.

Soe did the knights, both more and lesse,
  Rejoyced all that day
For the good chance that hapened was
  To Sir Gawaine and his lady gay.
GLOSS:  blee] hue, complexion.  stowre] strong: or perhaps we should read ‘stiff in stowre’ = sturdy in fight.  Tarn Wadling] The place—near Hesketh in Cumberland, on the road from Carlisle to Penrith—keeps its name to this day. But the tarn has been drained and its site is now a pasture for sheep.  hollen] holly-tree.  halch upon] salute.  sckill] wit, judgement.  swire] neck.  feires] mates.


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