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However, a victory in the first game will lead to a victory in the second. Elements of both games appear in other stories; however, the linkage of outcomes is unique to Gawain. Times, dates, seasons, and cycles within Gawain are often noted by scholars because of their symbolic nature. Furthermore, the Green Knight tells Gawain to meet him at the Green Chapel in "a year and a day"—a period of time seen often in medieval literature. Such a theme is strengthened by the image of Troy , a powerful nation once thought to be invincible which, according to the Aeneid , fell to the Greeks due to pride and ignorance.

The Trojan connection shows itself in the presence of two virtually identical descriptions of Troy's destruction. The poem's first line reads: "Since the siege and the assault were ceased at Troy" and the final stanzaic line before the bob and wheel is "After the siege and the assault were ceased at Troy".

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The entire 'Gawain' poem follows one individual experiencing highly emotional situations. He participates in the beheading contest, watches as a man he has beheaded walks away unscathed, prepares for a journey where he will then also receive a blow that will behead him, is tempted by the sexual advances of Sir Bertilak's wife, decides what to do with the moral conundrum that is the girdle, suffering humiliation, and returning to court to retell his entire adventure.

Humans experience an emotional contagion, which was defined by psychologists Elaine Hatfield, John Cacioppo, and Richard Rapson as 'the tendency to automatically mimic and synchronize expressions, vocalizations, postures, and movements with those of another person, and, consequently, to converge emotionally. Given the varied and even contradictory interpretations of the colour green, its precise meaning in the poem remains ambiguous. In English folklore and literature, green was traditionally used to symbolise nature and its associated attributes: fertility and rebirth.

Stories of the medieval period also used it to allude to love and the base desires of man. It can also represent decay and toxicity. Scholars have puzzled over the Green Knight's symbolism since the discovery of the poem. British medievalist C. Lewis said the character was "as vivid and concrete as any image in literature" and J. Tolkien said he was the "most difficult character" to interpret in Sir Gawain.

His major role in Arthurian literature is that of a judge and tester of knights, thus he is at once terrifying, friendly, and mysterious. However, there is a possibility, as Alice Buchanan has argued, that the colour green is erroneously attributed to the Green Knight due to the poet's mistranslation or misunderstanding of the Irish word glas , which could either mean grey or green. In the Death of Curoi one of the Irish stories from Bricriu's Feast , Curoi stands in for Bertilak, and is often called "the man of the grey mantle".

Though the words usually used for grey in the Death of Curoi are lachtna or odar , roughly meaning milk-coloured and shadowy respectively, in later works featuring a green knight, the word glas is used and may have been the basis of misunderstanding. The girdle's symbolic meaning, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight , has been construed in a variety of ways.

Interpretations range from sexual to spiritual. Those who argue for the sexual inference view the girdle as a "trophy". When Lord Bertilak comes home from his hunting trip, Gawain does not reveal the girdle to his host, instead he hides it. This introduces the spiritual interpretation, that Gawain's acceptance of the girdle is a sign of his faltering faith in God, at least in the face of death. In Sir Gawain , the easier choice is the girdle, which promises what Gawain most desires. Faith in God, alternatively, requires one's acceptance that what one most desires does not always coincide with what God has planned.

It is arguably best to view the girdle not as an either—or situation, but as a complex, multi-faceted symbol that acts to test Gawain in more ways than one. While Gawain is able to resist Bertilak's wife's sexual advances, he is unable to resist the powers of the girdle. Gawain is operating under the laws of chivalry which, evidently, have rules that can contradict each other. In the story of Sir Gawain , Gawain finds himself torn between doing what a damsel asks accepting the girdle and keeping his promise returning anything given to him while his host is away.

The poem contains the first recorded use of the word pentangle in English. What is more, the poet uses a total of 46 lines in order to describe the meaning of the pentangle; no other symbol in the poem receives as much attention or is described in such detail. From lines to , the five points of the pentangle relate directly to Gawain in five ways: five senses, his five fingers, his faith found in the five wounds of Christ , the five joys of Mary whose face was on the inside of the shield and finally friendship, fraternity, purity, politeness and pity traits that Gawain possessed around others.

In line , it is described as "a sign by Solomon". Solomon , the third king of Israel , in the 10th century BC, was said to have the mark of the pentagram on his ring, which he received from the archangel Michael. The pentagram seal on this ring was said to give Solomon power over demons. Along these lines, some academics link the Gawain pentangle to magical traditions.

However, concrete evidence tying the magical pentagram to Gawain's pentangle is scarce. Gawain's pentangle also symbolises the "phenomenon of physically endless objects signifying a temporally endless quality. In medieval number theory, the number five is considered a "circular number", since it "reproduces itself in its last digit when raised to its powers". Gawain's refusal of the Lady Bertilak's ring has major implications for the remainder of the story.

While the modern student may tend to pay more attention to the girdle as the eminent object offered by the lady, readers in the time of Gawain would have noticed the significance of the offer of the ring as they believed that rings, and especially the embedded gems, had talismanic properties similarly done by the Gawain-poet in Pearl. The poet highlights number symbolism to add symmetry and meaning to the poem.

For example, three kisses are exchanged between Gawain and Bertilak's wife; Gawain is tempted by her on three separate days; Bertilak goes hunting three times, and the Green Knight swings at Gawain three times with his axe. The number two also appears repeatedly, as in the two beheading scenes, two confession scenes, and two castles. The fifth five is Gawain himself, who embodies the five moral virtues of the code of chivalry : " friendship , generosity , chastity , courtesy , and piety ". The number five is also found in the structure of the poem itself. These divisions, however, have since been disputed; scholars have begun to believe that they are the work of the copyist and not of the poet.

The surviving manuscript features a series of capital letters added after the fact by another scribe, and some scholars argue that these additions were an attempt to restore the original divisions. These letters divide the manuscript into nine parts. The second and second-to-last parts are only one stanza long, and the middle five parts are eleven stanzas long. The number eleven is associated with transgression in other medieval literature being one more than ten, a number associated with the Ten Commandments.

Thus, this set of five elevens 55 stanzas creates the perfect mix of transgression and incorruption, suggesting that Gawain is faultless in his faults. At the story's climax, Gawain is wounded superficially in the neck by the Green Knight's axe. During the medieval period, the body and the soul were believed to be so intimately connected that wounds were considered an outward sign of inward sin.

The neck, specifically, was believed to correlate with the part of the soul related to will , connecting the reasoning part the head and the courageous part the heart. Gawain's sin resulted from using his will to separate reasoning from courage. By accepting the girdle from the lady, he employs reason to do something less than courageous—evade death in a dishonest way.

Gawain's wound is thus an outward sign of an internal wound. The Green Knight's series of tests shows Gawain the weakness that has been in him all along: the desire to use his will pridefully for personal gain, rather than submitting his will in humility to God. The Green Knight, by engaging with the greatest knight of Camelot, also reveals the moral weakness of pride in all of Camelot, and therefore all of humanity.

However, the wounds of Christ, believed to offer healing to wounded souls and bodies, are mentioned throughout the poem in the hope that this sin of prideful "stiffneckedness" will be healed among fallen mortals.

Many critics argue that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight should be viewed, above all, as a romance. Medieval romances typically recount the marvellous adventures of a chivalrous, heroic knight , often of super-human ability, who abides by chivalry's strict codes of honour and demeanour, embarks upon a quest and defeats monsters, thereby winning the favour of a lady. Thus, medieval romances focus not on love and sentiment as the term "romance" implies today , but on adventure.

The reader becomes attached to this human view in the midst of the poem's romanticism, relating to Gawain's humanity while respecting his knightly qualities. Gawain "shows us what moral conduct is. We shall probably not equal his behaviour, but we admire him for pointing out the way.

In viewing the poem as a medieval romance, many scholars see it as intertwining chivalric and courtly love laws under the English Order of the Garter. The group's motto, 'honi soit qui mal y pense', or "Shamed be he who finds evil here," is written at the end of the poem. Some critics describe Gawain's peers wearing girdles of their own as evidence of the origin of the Order of the Garter.

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However, in the parallel poem The Greene Knight , the lace is white, not green, and is considered the origin of the collar worn by the knights of the Bath, not the Order of the Garter. Still, the connection made by the copyist to the Order is not extraordinary. The poem is in many ways deeply Christian, with frequent references to the fall of Adam and Eve and to Jesus Christ. Scholars have debated the depth of the Christian elements within the poem by looking at it in the context of the age in which it was written, coming up with varying views as to what represents a Christian element of the poem and what does not.

For example, some critics compare Sir Gawain to the other three poems of the Gawain manuscript. Each has a heavily Christian theme, causing scholars to interpret Gawain similarly. Comparing it to the poem Cleanness also known as Purity , for example, they see it as a story of the apocalyptic fall of a civilisation, in Gawain's case, Camelot.

In this interpretation, Sir Gawain is like Noah , separated from his society and warned by the Green Knight who is seen as God's representative of the coming doom of Camelot. Gawain, judged worthy through his test, is spared the doom of the rest of Camelot. King Arthur and his knights, however, misunderstand Gawain's experience and wear garters themselves. In Cleanness the men who are saved are similarly helpless in warning their society of impending destruction.

One of the key points stressed in this interpretation is that salvation is an individual experience difficult to communicate to outsiders. In his depiction of Camelot, the poet reveals a concern for his society, whose inevitable fall will bring about the ultimate destruction intended by God. Gawain was written around the time of the Black Death and Peasants' Revolt , events which convinced many people that their world was coming to an apocalyptic end and this belief was reflected in literature and culture.

This makes the knight's presence as a representative of God problematic. While the character of the Green Knight is usually not viewed as a representation of Christ in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight , critics do acknowledge a parallel. Lawrence Besserman, a specialist in medieval literature, explains that "the Green Knight is not a figurative representative of Christ. Furthermore, critics note the Christian reference to Christ's crown of thorns at the conclusion of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

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  • After Gawain returns to Camelot and tells his story regarding the newly acquired green sash, the poem concludes with a brief prayer and a reference to "the thorn-crowned God". Throughout the poem, Gawain encounters numerous trials testing his devotion and faith in Christianity. When Gawain sets out on his journey to find the Green Chapel, he finds himself lost, and only after praying to the Virgin Mary does he find his way.

    As he continues his journey, Gawain once again faces anguish regarding his inevitable encounter with the Green Knight. Instead of praying to Mary, as before, Gawain places his faith in the girdle given to him by Bertilak's wife. From the Christian perspective, this leads to disastrous and embarrassing consequences for Gawain as he is forced to reevaluate his faith when the Green Knight points out his betrayal. An analogy is also made between Gawain's trial and the Biblical test that Adam encounters in the Garden of Eden.

    Adam succumbs to Eve just as Gawain surrenders to Bertilak's wife by accepting the girdle. Feminist literary critics see the poem as portraying women's ultimate power over men. Morgan le Fay and Bertilak's wife, for example, are the most powerful characters in the poem—Morgan especially, as she begins the game by enchanting the Green Knight. The girdle and Gawain's scar can be seen as symbols of feminine power, each of them diminishing Gawain's masculinity.

    Gawain's misogynist passage, [82] in which he blames all of his troubles on women and lists the many men who have fallen prey to women's wiles, further supports the feminist view of ultimate female power in the poem. In contrast, others argue that the poem focuses mostly on the opinions, actions, and abilities of men. For example, on the surface, it appears that Bertilak's wife is a strong leading character. This is not entirely the case, however. While the Lady is being forward and outgoing, Gawain's feelings and emotions are the focus of the story, and Gawain stands to gain or lose the most.

    He, therefore, is in charge of the situation and even the relationship. In the bedroom scene, both the negative and positive actions of the Lady are motivated by her desire. From to —the period in which the poem is thought to have been written— Wales experienced several raids at the hands of the English, who were attempting to colonise the area. The Gawain poet uses a North West Midlands dialect common on the Welsh—English border, potentially placing him in the midst of this conflict.

    Patricia Clare Ingham is credited with first viewing the poem through the lens of postcolonialism , and since then a great deal of dispute has emerged over the extent to which colonial differences play a role in the poem. Most critics agree that gender plays a role, but differ about whether gender supports the colonial ideals or replaces them as English and Welsh cultures interact in the poem. A large amount of critical debate also surrounds the poem as it relates to the bi-cultural political landscape of the time.

    Some argue that Bertilak is an example of the hybrid Anglo-Welsh culture found on the Welsh—English border. They therefore view the poem as a reflection of a hybrid culture that plays strong cultures off one another to create a new set of cultural rules and traditions.

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    Other scholars, however, argue that historically much Welsh blood was shed well into the 14th century, creating a situation far removed from the more friendly hybridisation suggested by Ingham. To support this argument further, it is suggested that the poem creates an "us versus them" scenario contrasting the knowledgeable civilised English with the uncivilised borderlands that are home to Bertilak and the other monsters that Gawain encounters.

    In contrast to this perception of the colonial lands, others argue that the land of Hautdesert, Bertilak's territory, has been misrepresented or ignored in modern criticism. They suggest that it is a land with its own moral agency, one that plays a central role in the story. Lander thinks that the border dwellers are more sophisticated because they do not unthinkingly embrace the chivalric codes but challenge them in a philosophical, and—in the case of Bertilak's appearance at Arthur's court—literal sense. Lander's argument about the superiority of the denizens of Hautdesert hinges on the lack of self-awareness present in Camelot, which leads to an unthinking populace that frowns on individualism.

    In this view, it is not Bertilak and his people, but Arthur and his court, who are the monsters. Several scholars have attempted to find a real-world correspondence for Gawain's journey to the Green Chapel. The Anglesey islands, for example, are mentioned in the poem. They exist today as a single island off the coast of Wales. Holywell is associated with the beheading of Saint Winifred.

    As the story goes, Winifred was a virgin who was beheaded by a local leader after she refused his sexual advances. Her uncle, another saint, put her head back in place and healed the wound, leaving only a white scar. The parallels between this story and Gawain's make this area a likely candidate for the journey.

    Gawain's trek leads him directly into the centre of the Pearl Poet's dialect region, where the candidates for the locations of the Castle at Hautdesert and the Green Chapel stand. Hautdesert is thought to be in the area of Swythamley in northwest Midland, as it lies in the writer's dialect area and matches the topographical features described in the poem.

    The area is also known to have housed all of the animals hunted by Bertilak deer, boar, fox in the 14th century. According to medieval scholar Richard Zeikowitz, the Green Knight represents a threat to homosocial friendship in his medieval world. Zeikowitz argues that the narrator of the poem seems entranced by the Knight's beauty, homoeroticising him in poetic form. The Green Knight's attractiveness challenges the homosocial rules of King Arthur's court and poses a threat to their way of life.

    Zeikowitz also states that Gawain seems to find Bertilak as attractive as the narrator finds the Green Knight.

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    Bertilak, however, follows the homosocial code and develops a friendship with Gawain. Gawain's embracing and kissing Bertilak in several scenes thus represents not a homosexual but a homosocial expression. Men of the time often embraced and kissed and this was acceptable under the chivalric code. Nonetheless, the Green Knight blurs the lines between homosociality and homosexuality, representing the difficulty medieval writers sometimes had in separating the two.

    Carolyn Dinshaw argues that the poem may have been a response to accusations that Richard II had a male lover—an attempt to reestablish the idea that heterosexuality was the Christian norm. Around the time the poem was written, the Catholic Church was beginning to express concerns about kissing between males. Many religious figures were trying to make the distinction between strong trust and friendship between males and homosexuality. Still, the Pearl Poet seems to have been simultaneously entranced and repulsed by homosexual desire.

    In his other poem Cleanness , he points out several grievous sins, but spends lengthy passages describing them in minute detail. His obsession seems to carry into Gawain in his descriptions of the Green Knight. Beyond this, Dinshaw proposes that Gawain can be read as a woman-like figure. Meticulous, past midnight in clear rime,. Infrangible and lonely, smooth as though cast. The bay estuaries fleck the hard sky limits. Already hang, shred ends from remembered stars.

    One frozen trackless smile What words. Slow tyranny of moonlight, moonlight loved. Knowing I cannot touch your hand and look. Where nothing turns but dead sands flashing. In all the argosy of your bright hair I dreamed. But now. Draw in your head, alone and too tall here. Your eyes already in the slant of drifting foam;. Your breath sealed by the ghosts I do not know:.

    Draw in your head and sleep the long way home. Used by permission of Liveright Publishing. Related Learning Resources. Gay and Lesbian Wedding Poems.

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    Love poetry to read at a lesbian or gay wedding. Read More. Langdon Hammer: American Perspectives. From Poetry Lectures December Writing Ideas. Like Crane, try for intensity of affect. Plug your translations back into the poem. What is the effect? Using the phrase as a title, write a poem that either riffs on or explains it. Discussion Questions. How does time work in the poem? Do the numbered sections follow one another in time?

    Or is this something other than a temporal sequence?

    Teach this Poem. Poetry Near You. Academy of American Poets. National Poetry Month. American Poets Magazine. Poems Find and share the perfect poems. This poem is in the public domain. The Conundrum of the Workshops When the flush of a newborn sun fell first on Eden's green and gold, Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mold; And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart, Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves: "It's pretty, but is it Art?

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    They builded a tower to shiver the sky and wrench the stars apart, Till the Devil grunted behind the bricks: "It's striking, but is it Art? They fought and they talked in the north and the south, they talked and they fought in the west, Till the waters rose on the jabbering land, and the poor Red Clay had rest— Had rest till the dank blank-canvas dawn when the dove was preened to start, And the Devil bubbled below the keel: "It's human, but is it Art?

    Rudyard Kipling Tomlinson Now Tomlinson gave up the ghost at his house in Berkeley Square, And a Spirit came to his bedside and gripped him by the hair— A Spirit gripped him by the hair and carried him far away, Till he heard as the roar of a rain-fed ford the roar of the Milky Way: Till he heard the roar of the Milky Way die down and drone and cease, And they came to the Gate within the Wall where Peter holds the keys. The Wind that blows between the Worlds, it cut him like a knife, And Tomlinson took up the tale and spoke of his good in life.