Sir Gawain & The Green Knight Comparisons

This page allows you to compare seven versions of Sir Gawain side by side, six verse translations and one prose.

For more information about this book, view our Sir Gawain page Enjoy!


W.S. MERWIN (2002)    

MARIE BORROFF (1967)    


J.R.R. TOLKIEN (1975)

BRIAN STONE (1959)    


The Green Knight's Appearance
This man and his clothes were all coloured green.
He'd a tight mail coat, well made for his size.
Over it he wore an elegant cloak,
lined with bleached fur, and the braid was edged
with the richest ermine: the same with his hood,
which was off his head and draped on his shoulders.
Neat, tight stockings of the same colour
clung to his calves; his polished spurs
were gleaming gold, shining on silk,
and his feet stood shoeless on the stirrups.
And all his attire was totally green,
to the stripes on his belt and the various gems
that were lavishly studded on every part,
on a background of silk, on saddle and tunic.
It would be too much to list half the adornments
stiched on his clothes, the birds and the insects,
all splashes of bright green set against gold.
All the horse's tackling--the rich crupper,
the bosses on the bit--was enameled metal:
the stirrups he stood on embellished the same way,
saddle-bows too, and the regal horse cloths
that shone and sparkled with their green jewels.
The horse he was mounted on exactly the same, in every detail.
   A green horse: strong, well set,
   a steed hard to hold back,
   but by the embroidered reins
   responsive to his rider.
And all in green this knight and his garments
With a close-fitting coat that clung to his side
A fine robe over it adorned on the inside
With furs cut to one color, an elegant lining
Trimmed brightly with white fur, and his hood also
That was caught back from his long locks and lay on his shoulders;
Neat, tight tailored hose of that same green
Clung fast to his calf, and shining spurs below,
Of bright gold, on silk bands enriched with stripes,
And so the knight rides with slippers on his feet
And all that he was wearing was indeed pure verdure
But the crossbars of his belt and the shining stones set
Resplendent here and there in his gleaming garments
All around him and his saddle, in silk embroidery--
It would be too hard to tell half of the details
That were there in fine stiches, with birds and butterflies
In a high green radience with gold running through it.
The tassels of his horse's trappings and the handsome crupper,
The studs on the enameled bit and all the other metal,
And the stirrups that he stood in were of the same color,
And his saddle bow also and the rest of the fastenings,
It all kept glimmering and glinting with green stones.
The horse that he was riding resplendent with the same hue
       as all the rest.
   A green horse, hard to handle,
   A strong steed, huge and massive,
   Tossing the embroidered bridle,
   The right horse for that knight to have.
And in guise all of green, the gear and the man:
A coat cut close, that clung to his sides,
And a mantle to match, made with a lining
Of furs that cut and fitted-the fabric was noble,
Embellished all with ermine, and his hood beside,
That was loosed from his locks, and laid on his shoulders.
With trim hose and tight, the same tint of green,
His great calves were girt, and gold spurs under,
He bore on silk bands that embellished his heels,
And footgear well-fashioned, for riding most fit.
And all his vesture verily was verdant green;
Both the bosses on his belt and other bright gems
That were richly ranged on his raiment noble
About himself and his saddle, set upon silk,
That to tell half the trifles would tax my wits,
The butterflies and birds embroidered thereon
In green of the gayest, with many a gold thread.
The pendants of the breast-band, the princely crupper,
And the bars of the bit were brightly enameled;
The stout stirrups were green, that steadied his feet,
and the bows of the saddle and the side-panels both,
That gleamed all and glinted with green gems about.
The steed he bestrides of that same green so bright.
   A green horse great and thick;
   A headstrong steed of might;
   In broidered bridle quick,
   Mount matched man aright.
And his armor, and his shirt were green, all green:
A short tight tunic, worn close, and a merry
Mantle, sewn-in with fur that rippled
As he rode, trimmed rich at the edges with bright
White ermine, both his mantle and the hood thrown low
On his back, below his flowing hair;
And his smooth-webbed stockings, stretched taught on his legs,
Were green, all striped with embroidered silk,
And his shining spurs were gold, and he wore
No shoes, rode peacefully to that prince's court.
Everything about him was an elegant green,
From the colored bands on his belt to the jewels
Set in his clothes and his saddle, woven
Around with silk designs: birds
And butterflies flew in that embroidery, beautifully
Worked and fine, decorated in green
And with gold scattered across them. His horse's
Armor was enameled, and the saddle and its straps
And the bit in its teeth were green, and the stirrups
For that knight's feet were green, and his saddle
Horn, and the shining leather hung
From the saddle, glittering and gleaming with green
Stones, and his stallion took, as green
   As its ride,
   A huge horse,
   Headstrong, decisive
   And quick, but caught up
   By his hand's touch on the bridle.
All of green they were made, both garments and man:
a coat tight and close that clung to his sides;
a rich robe above it all arrayed within
with fur finely trimmed, shewing fair fringes
of handsome ermine gray, as his hood was also,
that was lifted from his locks and laid on his shoulders;
and trim hose tight-drawn of tincture alike
that clung to his calves; and clear spurs below
of bright gold on silk broideries banded most richly,
though unshod were his shanks, for shoeless he rode.
And verily all this vesture was of verdure clear,
both the bars on his belt, and bright stones besides
that were richly arranged in his array so fair,
set on himself and on his saddle upon silk fabrics:
it would be too hard to rehearse one half of the trifles
that were embroidered upon them, what with birds and with flies
in a gay glory of green, and ever gold in the midst.
The pendants of his poitrel, his proud crupper,
his molains, and all the metal to say more, were enamelled,
even the stirrups that he stood in were stained of the same;
and his saddlebows in suit, and their sumptuous skirts,
which ever glimmered and glinted all with green jewels;
even the horse that upheld him in hue was the same,
I tell:
   a green horse great and thick,
   a stallion stiff to quell,
   in broidered bridle quick:
   he matched his master well.
And garments of green girt the fellow about—
A two-third length tunic, tight at the waist,
A comely cloak on top, accompanied with lining
Of the finest fur to be found, made of one piece,
Marvellous fur-trimmed material, with matching hood
Lying back from his locks and laid on his shoulders;
Fitly held-up hose, in hue of the same green,
That was caught at the calf, with clinking spurs beneath
Of bright gold on bases of embroidered silk,
But no iron shoe armoured that horseman's feet.
And verily his vesture was all vivid green,
So were the bars on his belt and the brilliants set
In ravishing array on the rich accoutrements
About himself and his saddle on silken work.
It would be tedious to tell a tithe of the trifles
Embossed and embroidered, such as birds and flies,
In gay green gauds, with gold everywhere.
The breast-hangings of the horse, its haughty crupper,
The enamelled knobs and nails on its bridle,
And the stirrups that he stood on, were all stained with the same;
So were the splendid saddle-skirts and bows
That ever glimmered and glinted with their green stones.
The steed that he spurred on was similar in hue
        To the sight,
   Green and huge of grain,
   Mettlesome in might
   And brusque with bit and rein—
   A steed to serve that knight!
For he was clad all in green, with a straight coat, and a mantle above; all decked and lined with fur was the cloth and the hood that was thrown back from his locks and lay on his shoulders. Hose had he of the same green, and spurs of bright gold with silken fastenings richly worked; and all vesture was verily green. Around his waist and his saddle were bands with fair stones set upon silken work, 'twere too long to tell of all the trifles that were embroidered thereon--birds and insects in gay gauds of green and gold. All the trappings of his steed were of metal of like enamel, even the stirrups that he stood in stained of the same, and stirrups and saddle-bow alike gleamed and shone with green stones. Even the steed on which he rode was of the same hue, a green horse, great and strong, and hard to hold, with broidered bridle, meet for the rider.
Gawain's Good Character
First he was faultless in all his five senses;
next, he never failed in his five fingers,
and all his trust was in the five wounds
of Christ on the cross, as the Bible describes.
And whenever this knight was hard-pressed in battle,
his firm belief, above all else,
was that his strength came from the five joys
that the noble queen of heaven took in her child.
It was fitting then that Gawain had
her image depicted inside his shield,
so when he looked at it his heart would not falter.
The fifth five virtues that Gawain maintained
were generosity and sympathy first of all,
chastity and courtesy which he never failed in,
and above all compassion. These five things
were fixed more firmly in him than anything else.
And all five were rooted in this knight,
each locked to the next so that there was no end
or beginning to any: fixed and unwavering,
neither overlaying nor divided on any side,
without end at a corder to be found anywhere,
no matter at which point you started to test them.
On his shield this device was marked out
with red gold on a red background.
'The pure pentangle', the people called it traditionally.
   Now fine Gawain is ready,
   he takes his lance at once
   and bids them all farewell—
   as he thought, for evermore.
First he was found faultless in all his five senses,
And second, the knight's five fingers never failed him,
And all his faith upon earth was in the five wounds
Christ received on the cross, as the creed tells us,
And wherever this man found himself in the fighting,
His whole thought held to those through everything else,
And then all his courage came from the five joys
That the high Queen of Heaven had from her Child.
For this reason the knight had her portrait
Painted on the inside of his shield,
So that when his glance fell on it his heart never faultered.
The fifth five that the knight practiced, I find,
Were generosity, and fellowship especially,
Purity of heart and courtesy were nver wanting in him,
And pity, that surpasses all the other points—these pure five
Were more closely bound to that knight than to any other.
And the five forms of them, in fact, were arrayed in him,
Each one braiding into another so that there was no end,
Running among the five points that were never lost,
That never met on any side nor were ever parted,
Without end anywhere at any angle, as I find,
Wherever the game began or ran toward and end.
Therefore the knot was emlazoned on his bright shield,
Royally in red gold on a red ground,
The design which the learned refer to as the pure pentangle.
And first, he was faultless in his five senses,
Nor found ever to fail in his five fingers,
And all his fealty was fixed upon his five wounds
That Christ got on the cross, as the creed tells;
And wherever this man in melee took part,
His one thought was of this, past all things else,
That all his force was founded on the five joys
That the high Queen of heaven had her child.
And therefore, as I find, he fittingly had
On the inner part of his shield her image portrayed,
That when his look on it lighted, he never lost heart.
The fifth of the five fives followed by his knight
Were beneficence boundless and brotherly love
and pure mind and manners, that none might impeach,
And compassion most precious-these peerless five
Were forged and made fast in him, foremost of men.
Now all these five fives were confirmed in this knight,
And each linked in other, that end there was none,
And fixed to five points, whose force never failed,
Nor assembled all on a side, nor asunder either,
Nor anywhere at an end, but whole and entire
However the pattern proceeded or played out its course.
And so on his shining shield shaped was the knot
Royally in red gold against red gules,
That is the peerless pentangle, prized of old in lore.
His five senses were free of sin;
His five fingers never failed him;
And all his earthly hope was in Christ's
Five wounds on the cross, as our creed tells us;
And whenver he stood in battle his mind
Was fixed, above all things, on the five
Joys which Mary had of Jesus,
From which all his courage came-- and was why
This fair knight had her face painted
Inside his shield, to stare at Heaven's
Queen and keep his courage high.
And the fith of his fives was love and friendship
For other men, and freedom from sin,
And courtesy that never failed, and pity,
Greatest of knightly virtues—and these noble
Five were the firmest of all in his soul.
And all these fives met in one man,
Joined to each other, each without end,
Set in five perfect points
Wholly distinct, yet part of one whole
And that whole seamless, each angle open
And closed, wherever it end or begin.
And so the pentangle glowed on his shield,
Bright red gold across bright red stripes,
The holy pentanle, as careful scholars
Call it.
First faultless was he found in his five senses,
and next in his five fingers he failed at no time,
and firmly on the Five Wounds all his faith was set
that Christ received on the cross, as the Creed tells us;
and wherever the brave man into battle was come,
on this beyond all things was his earnest thought:
that ever from the Five Joys all his valour he gained
that to Heaven's courteous Queen once came from her Child.
For which cause the knight had in comely wise
on the inner side of his shield her image depainted,
that when he cast his eyes thither his courage never failed.
The fifth five that was used, as I find, by this knight
was free-giving and friendliness first before all,
and chastity and chivalry ever changless and straight,
and piety surpassing all points: these perfect five
were hasped upon him harder than on any man else.
Now these five series, in sooth, were fastened on this knight,
and each was knit with another and had no ending,
but were fixed at five points that failed not at all,
coincided in no line nor surrenderede either,
not ending in any angle anywhere, as I discover,
wherever the process was put in play or passed to an end.
Therefore on his shining shield was shaped now this knot
royally with red gules upon red gold set:
this is the pure pentangle as people of learning have taught.
First he was found faultless in his five wits.
Next, his five fingers never failed the knight,
And all his trust on earth was in the five wounds
Which came to Christ on the Cross, as the Creed tells.
And whenever the bold man was busy on the battlefield,
Through all other things he thought on this,
That his prowess all depended on the five pure Joys
That the holy Queen of Heaven had of her Child.
Accordingly the corteous knight had that queen's image
Etched on the inside of his armoured shield,
So that when he beheld her, his heart did not fail.
The fifth five I find the famous man practiced
Were—Liberality and Lovingkindness leading the rest;
Then his Continence and Courtesy, which were never corrupted;
And Piety, the surpassing virtue. These pure five
Were more firmly fixed on that fine man
Than on any other, and every multiple,
Each interlocking with another, had no end,
Being fixed to five points which never failed,
Never assembling on one side, nor sundering either,
With no end at any angle; nor can I find
Where the design started or proceeded to its end.
Thus on his shining shild this knot was shaped
Royally in red gold upon red gules.
That is the pure Pentangle, so people who are wise
Are taught.
For first he was faultless in his five senses; and his five fingers never failed him; and all his trust upon earth was in the five wounds that Christ bare on the cross, as the Creed tells. And wherever this knight found himself in stress of battle he deemed well that he drew his strength from the five joys which the Queen of Heaven had of her Child. And for this cause did he bear an image of Our Lady on the one half of his shield, that whenever he looked upon it he might not lack for aid. And the fifth five that the hero used were frankness and fellowship above all, purity and courtesy that never failed him, and compassion that surpasses all; and in these five virtues was that hero wrapped and clothed. And all these, five-fold, were linked one in the other, so that they had no end, and were fixed on five points that never failed, neither at any side were they joined or sundered, nor could ye find beginning or end. And therefore on his shield was the knot shapen, red-gold upon red, which is the pure pentangle.
A Cold Winter Morning
Now the New Year's approaching, and the night is passing.
The dawn defeats dark, as the Lord ordains it.
But the worst weather in the world brewed up outside;
clouds drove the cold down to the ground
with enough of north's sharpness to perish poor people.
Bitter snow slanted down and stung the wild beasts;
the screaming wind whipped down from the heights
and filled every valley with swollen snowdrifts.
The knight listened where he lay in his bed.
Though he closes his eyes, he sleeps very little;
by each crow of the cock he knew well the time.
Quickly he dressed, before the day dawned,
by the glow of the lamps that gleamed in his chamber.
He called to his servant, who answered at once,
and asked him to bring his armour and saddle.
The man got up and brought him his clothes,
and fitted out Gawain in the finest way possible.
First he dressed him in garments to ward off the cold,
and then in his equipment, which had been well looked after.
Both body-armour and plate brilliantly shone
and the rings of his chainmail were rubbed free of rust.
All was clean as new, and he was duly grateful and said thanks.
   He wore every piece,
   attentively wiped clean,
   and the finest knight in Europe
   asked to be brought his horse.
Now the New Year comes near and the night passes.
At heaven's command the day presses hard on the darkness.
The wild weather of the world wakens outside,
Clouds casting fierce cold across the earth
With bitter blasts from the north to lash the naked.
The snow shivered down, freezing, stinging the wild creatures,
The shrieking wind came bursting out of the sky
And piled up high drifts in all the hollows.
The knight listens to it all, lying in his bed.
Though his eyelids are shut he barely sleeps.
Each time the cock crows he recalls what awaits him.
He got up quickly before the day began,
By the light of a lamp left burning in his bedchamber.
He called to his bed servant, who appeared before him,
And told him to bring his coat of mail and saddle his horse.
The man is brisk and brings him clothes and his armor
And gets Gawain ready in full spledor.
First he put his clothes on him to ward off the cold
And then the rest of his armor that had been well taken care of.
The rust rubbed off the rings of his rich coat of mail,
And all was as clean as when it was new, and for this
   he was grateful.
   He puts on each piece,
   Well polished and lustrous.`
Now the New Year draws hear, and the night passes,
The day dispels the dark, by the Lord's decree;
But Wild weather awoke in the world without:
The clouds in the cold sky cast down their snow
With great gusts from the north, grievous to bear.
Sleet showered aslant upon shivering beasts;
The wind warbled wild as it whipped from aloft,
And drove the drifts deep in the dales below.
Long and well he listens, that lies in his bed;
Though he lifts not his eyelids, little he sleeps;
Each crow of the cock he counts without fail.
Readily from his rest he rose before dawn,
For a lamp had been left for him, that lighted his chamber.
He called to his chamberlain, who quickly appeared,
And bade him get him get his gear, and gird his good steed,
And makes ready his master in manner most fit.
And then his other harness made handsome anew,
His plate-armor of proof, polished with pains,
The rings of his rich mail rid of their rust,
And all was fresh as at first, and for this he gave thanks indeed.
Now New Year's comes, and the night passes,
Daylight replaces darkness, as God
Decrees. But storms crackled through the world,
Clouds tumbled their bitter cold
On the earth, northwinds freezing the poor;
Snow shivered in the air, and animals
Shook; the wind whistled from the hills
And drove snowdrifts down in the valleys.
And Gawain listened, lying in his bed;
His eyelids were closed, but he slept little.
Each cockcrow told him what hourhad come.
And just before dawn he rose, dressing
Quickly by the light of a lamp: then he called
His groom, who came running, and ordered him
To bring his mail-shirt and Gringolet's saddle.
His weapons and all his armor were brought,
And Gawain was made magnificently ready:
First wool, against the winter cold,
And then his brightly polished war-gear,
The belly shield, and the steel plates,
And the gleaming rings of his mail-shirt, all ready,
Shining as when he'd worn them to that castle.

Now New Year draws near and the night passes,
day comes driving the dark, as ordaine by God;
but wild weathers of the world awake in the land,
clouds cast keenly the cold upon earth,
with bitter breath from the North biting the naked.
Snow comes shivering sharp to shrivel the wild things,
the whistliing wind whirls from the heights
and drives every dale full of drifts very deep.
Long the knight listens as he lies in his bed;
though he lays down his eyelids, very little he sleeps:
at the crow of every cock he recalls well his tryst.
Briskly he rose from his bed ere the break of day,
for there was light from a lamp that illumined his chamber.
He called to his chamberlain, who quickly him answered,
and he bade him bring his byrnie and his beast saddle.
The man got him up and his gear fetched him,
and garbed then Sir Gawain in great array;
first he clad him in his clothes to keep out the cold,
and after that in his harness that with heed had been tended,
both his pauncer and hiis plates polished all brightly,
the rings rid of the rust on his rich byrnie:
all was neat as if new, and the knight him thanked with delight.

Now the New Year neared, the night passed,
Daylight fought darkness as the Deity ordained.
But wild was the weather the world awoke to;
Bitterly the clouds cast down cold on the earth,
Inflicting on the flesh flails from the north.
Bleakly the snow blustered, and beasts were frozen;
The whistling wind wailed from the heights,
Driving great drifts deep in the dales.
Keenly the lord listened as he lay in his bed;
Though his lids were closed, he was sleeping little.
Every cock that crew recalled him to his tryst.
Before the day had dawned, he had dressed himself,
For the light from a lamp illuminated his chamber.
He summoned his servant, who swiftly answered,
Commanded that his mail-coat and mount's saddle he brought.
The man fared forth and fetched him his armour,
And set Sir Gawain's array in splendid style.
First he clad him in clothes to counter the cold,
Then in his other armour which had been well kept;
His breast- and belly-armour had been burnished bright,
And the rusty rings of his rich mail-coat rolled clean,
And all being as fresh as at first, he was fain to give thanks
Now the New Year drew night, and the night passed, and the day chased the darkness, as is God's will; but wild weather wakened therewith. The clouds cast the cold to the earth, with enough of the north to slay them that lacked clothing. The snow drave smartly, and the whistling wind blew from the heights, and made great drifts in the valleys. The knight, lying in his bed, listened, for though his eyes were shut, he might sleep but little, and hearkened every cock that crew. He arose ere the day broke, by the light of a lamp that burned in his chamber, and called to his chamberlain, bidding him bring his armour and saddle his steed. The other gat him up, and fetched his garments, and robed Sir Gawain.