“The Eve of Departure” Poem

The Eve of Departure

(FITT ii, between lines 565-566)

 

Gawain was well prepared, a knight to defend his good king’s name.

That night in his chambers, apart from the fray, he let the green knight’s game

rattle his mind with thoughts and perplexities

of what would come in the morning. Having readied his head and

stilled his heart, he was determined what he needed

was a moment alone. Ventured he to the church,

where to Mary he prayed—that sweet Mother who bore the hope of the world.

To her he offered his supplications with a heart most assiduous.

Never was there such a pious, saintly knight—

full of earnest, and with a heart full of chivalry. He was prepared for the worst,

but his stout heart held out against the weight straining to crush it.

As gallantly as he could, he relayed his fears

to Our Lady with humility and strength, reverently asking for

a tranquil conclusion.

Oh Gawain, despair not!

Let not these emotions prove an obtrusion

lest they boast “we quickly caught

and killed his knightly resolution!”

 

In enters Arthur, astute and aghast at the sight

of his fair cousin on bended knee, offering his heartiest supplication

to the fair Blessed Mother. Arthur approaches, silently he

speaks “Sir Gawain, you are not well. Pray, come

and be merry before you must away. Merriment easily beds the anxious.

Put away your frowns and come cherish the night. Or, if you feel compelled,

tell me the thing which has you so agitated. An ear to listen am I,

and you may tell me that which has settled as a burden

bearing upon your gallant breast. Confide, my knight, my cousin, my friend.”

Gawain is wary—he wants not to offend, but to harbor

his thoughts would oppose his king’s wish. The knight breathed deep,

daring to admit, yet dangerously divulged his pure heart’s contents:

“My lord, I am weary of fear and dread, the thought of

that green daemon’s axe upon my neck moves me to shudder.

But to serve you, my king, and the upholding of my honor shall drive

me to this fate: if fate be kind to me, then may God do with me what He will.

His servant I am: both His and yours.” They fell on each other and heartily kissed,

both as brothers embracing beautifully. Arthur speaks

with a heart of gratitude:

“God reward you, Gawain,

your heart is one the devil shan’t preclude.

Upon your honor is not one stain,

and nothing shall inhibit your valorous attitude.”

 

In a cave far removed, in a hill abhorred by God

lurked the knight bathed in green. He knew the hour,

and of Sir Gawain’s doom—the thought of that spot upon

Arthur’s fair court brought a hideous hilarity upon his viridescent hue.

Long had he laughed at, made light of and leered at the court

of the boy king, at Arthur himself. This chivalry of the court,

which everyone praised long, was about to be tested, teased,

and skeptically tonged. This emerald fellow laughed aloud,

turning each event with pleasure in his head: the traps he had laid and the

nets he had set for the sir called Gawain and

his stout heart of bravery. Surely it would crumble,

his stout heart would quake, and his chivalric reputation

would not stand his convoluted tasks. The green one maliciously hoped—

nay, believed—that Gawain’s fate was set

and his honor’s life at an end. He would not withstand the blow,

for his life he loved dearly and would never allow

to be cut so from him. Not only the knight would he end,

but Arthur’s unblemished court as well, and once fallen,

it would never rise after so drastic a demise. The hulk of a man

delighted in his scheme.

His plans for poor Gawain

were far from just a dream.

The brute was quite sure he could not contain

The excitement within which flowed like a stream.

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