The Knight and the Girdle

As a knight who must live my life in accordance with a strict moral code in order to hold myself to the high standards of chivalry that King Arthur mandates for his knights, I find fables interesting.  Though these little stories oftentimes seem to be simple, the morals contained within them are often important truths that even, or perhaps especially, all knights would be well served to remember.  A fable that I came across recently, seemed to be of particular interest to my own situation.

In the tale, a poor rooster searches for food in a dung heap, but finds precious jewel hidden within it.  Rather than keep this valuable prize, the rooster deems it to be of little use to himself as it cannot be eaten, and discards it.  You may wonder how in the world I find this brief story to be of particular interest to me when many other fables have more noble morals attached to them.  You see, the piece of Jasper found by the fowl cannot help but remind me of my own green girdle.

Before you dismiss this notion as mere silliness, consider this, in the moral at the fable’s conclusion, listeners are informed that Jasper “makis ane man stark and victorious,/ Preservis als fra cacis perrillous./ Quha hes this stane sall have gude hap to speid/ Of fyre, nor fallis him neidis not to dreid” (Henryson 123-126).  Is this not startlingly similar to what I was told of the green girdle?  As I feared for my life, the wife of my host told me that the girdle would provide me a means of surviving since I would be unharmed as long as I wore it.  In this fable, it seems that Jasper is of a similar protective property.

Long have I struggled with feelings of shame for accepting, and then concealing the green girdle, which I still wear, not for protection, but as a reminder.  Though I have since been absolved by my host Bertilak for my transgression, I remained troubled by it.  I cannot help it for I have always tried to remain strictly within the bounds of chivalry and have done my best to live my life with the utmost courtesy.  In this tale, however, the fowl is called a fool for leaving such a powerful object behind.  This mirrors the words of my host when he told me that I could not be blamed for taking the girdle as I “wanted to live” (Gawain Fitt IV 2368).  It is suggested that the fowl should have acted as I did and accepted the protection of an amulet such as the Jasper. Although I remain shamed by my behavior, I cannot help but take some comfort in the form of this fable as an additional assurance that I may not have acted entirely in the wrong.

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6 thoughts on “The Knight and the Girdle

  1. Dear Gawain, King Arthur certainly does have the finest Christian knights that ever graced this world. Especially you. Your kindness and humble spirit exceeds any other man from the Round Table that has reached this creature’s heart and the eyes of our dear Lord Jesus Christ. I commend you, Gawain, for being a mighty man of valor and pray that you keep the fear of God in your heart.

    Do not fear, dear Gawain, for no piece of garment can make you less of a man. Do not be ashamed for your rightful desire to ensure your safety. God always provides a way out for his beloved people and you are no exception.

  2. Dearest Mistress Kempe,

    I must humbly thank you for your truly kind words. Coming from an individual as faithful as yourself, it means a good deal to me that I have your approval in this matter. I am honored that my story has touched you so, and that you recognize the courtesy that I strive to embody with each of my actions. Moreover, I must agree with you that the Lord protected me throughout both my journey to the Green Knight, and my encounter with him, as well as on all of my other quests.

    Though it pains me to disagree with a lady, especially one as holy as yourself, I must insist that Arthur possesses knights far worthier of such high praise than I. Should I even come close being worthy of my fellow Knights of the Round Table, it would be the greatest honor in my life, and it is something that I strive for in my every action. I only hope that one day I will be able to live up to these highest of expectations. In spite of this, I am exceedingly honored that you hold me in such high regard, and I thank you for it.

    Should I ever be of service, please do not hesitate to inform me so that I can be of aid.

    Kindest regards,
    Sir Gawain

  3. Good Sir Gawain, I dare to think that you did no mistake by taking that girdle from the wife of Bertilak. Nay, I would liken it to my own feast in the hall of Hrothgar, where I was given many gifts by that good lord and his own wife for the deed of killing that foul beast Grendel and his wretched mother. I would say that the girdle which ye took from that woman were a similar kind of token.

    If ye are distraught about what the girdle may say about thy honor, I say ye should not be so. Any great warrior such as thyself or myself would be wise to take a precaution against a foe such as that Green Knight! And of course, thy comrades at that glorious Round Table did agree with me, for did they not begin to wear their own girdles in honor of your tactics?

    No, Gawain, that girdle is no mark of shame, but a mark of an intelligent man, of a man willing to use the resources around him to achieve the impossible. That girdle marks ye as a man worthy of sitting at that Round Table with the wondrous King Arthur.

  4. Aye, Gawain, I agree with both Beowulf and the Lady Kempe. You hold yourself to such high standards that you cannot possibly help but be dissapointed! All men transgress their values at some point in their lives. You could hardly call yourself a knight, or even a warrior if you’ve never found yourself in situation that has you questioning your beliefs, or tempting you to break those beliefs in order to save your life. Indeed, that green girdle is truly a sign of your prowess. Not only is it a symbol of your victory, but it will aid you in your pursuit of further victories on the field of battle! And though I have denounced Margery Kempe in the past, I do appreciate the kind words about my Knights.

  5. To hear such high praise from warriors such as yourselves is truly remarkable, Beowulf and my King Arthur. You are both the sort of warriors who will have their tales told down through the ages, and as such your confirmation that I made the correct choice in taking the girdle fills me with pride the likes of which I have seldom known. The both of you are wise and well tried in combat, and I hope that one day I can become anywhere near as worthy of glory as the both of you are.

    Beowulf, I find it interesting that in your time gifts such as this girdle were common as rewards. I am mostly familiar with gifts from ladies being used as tokens for good luck in tournaments, battles, and the like, so I am interested to know if your culture has an equivalent to this practice. I suppose that there may be some overlapping between the two ideas.

    My dear uncle and Lord, I must thank you for your kind words as well. I appreciate that you have noted the high standards to which I hold myself. Though I admit that I may be setting myself a somewhat insurmountable hurdle by being so critical of myself, I feel that this is what I must do to become as worthy a knight as I possibly can be.

    Thus, I verily thank the two of you for your exceedingly kind words to a knight such as myself.

    Kindest regards,
    Sir Gawain

  6. Sir Gawain, the shame you feel is real, for you are shamed by sin! Take heed! For your hunger for life was like the hunger of the larks it winter! It clouded their minds and against their better judgment, they betrayed their souls! Remember thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor! Your lust for your own life led you off the path of the righteous and onto the path of sin! The pain and pleasure of this life is temporary, but the pain and pleasure of the next life is eternal. Your girdle was your chaff. It was sinful to take it. It clouded your judgment! It was by the mercy o our lord that you did not end up like a lark in fowler’s sack, bleeding and broken, with a soul heavy with the weigh of sin!

    But fear not! Your lesson has been learned and your shame shall help you remember it! If you walk the path of the righteous, there is nothing to fear in this life – but if walk in the footsteps of the fiendish fallen angel and succumb to the temptations of sin, then death you shall fear! Hell and everlasting torment awaits your soul!

    Sir Gawain I beseech you, take heed of your gods commandments, do not be lead astray by those who believe they need not be followed. Find yourself a preacher, a swallow perhaps, and follow their words. They will help you stay upon the righteous path! You everlasting soul is at stake!

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