When Courage Becomes Foolishness

I often speak of the importance of chivalry and courage as I truly do believe that, as a knight, there is no greater calling then to serve with honor.  However, “The Preiching of the Swallow” brings up a very important matter that I feel obligated to address.  I do admire those who march into battle bravely even when the odds appear to be against them, hanging on to the hopes of a slim chance at victory.  However, there sometimes comes a point where such bravery becomes recklessness, as clearly evidenced by the naive birds in this tale.  I understand that perhaps they thought that what they were doing would benefit their survival, as the flax seed was truly an enticing bait.  And yet, they did not fully consider their situation.  They never asked themselves if what they could gain was worth the immense risk.  Furthermore, not only were these birds aware of the fowler’s looming presence, they were also alerted to the potential threat by the swallow herself.  Now, I am aware that women have an apt for trickery, but it seems quite unwise to disregard a warning with such heavy implications so thoughtlessly.  Their actions were not courageous, but reckless.

Quite frequently I have praised Sir Gawain for so fearlessly coming to face me in the Green Chapel.  And you may find yourself wondering if this stance that I have taken seems a bit hypocritical.  Why, Sir Gawain appeared to have but a slim chance of survival prior to our exchange.  And so I must point out that there are key differences in these situations.  Unlike these birds, Sir Gawain was a knight bound by duty, to his king and to his country.  These birds, on the other hand, had no such obligation to approach such a trap.  I do admit that they very well may have had some difficulty in find food elsewhere, but it stands to reason that this was not their only source of seed; it was only the most convenient.  Ultimately, they did not need to risk, and consequently lose, their lives for the sake of this flax seed, suffering very dishonorable deaths.  Putting oneself in unnecessary danger for nothing more than seeds is mere foolishness.


6 thoughts on “When Courage Becomes Foolishness

  1. Dear Knight,

    While it is true that service to a king is a high calling, and you do make a strong point regarding prudence in action, I feel it necessary to remind you that while these sparrows may not be in service of a king, they, like all living things, are always in the service of God. No, God does not demand that every one of his subjects press onward into certain death over trite matters, but he does insist that all of his creatures be held to a strong standard of good-heartedness and piety. Much the same as Gawain, these birds have a place in God’s grand scheme, and must act according to their station. So while what is true for a knight may not hold true for a bird, do remember that all living things are bound in service of the Lord, and in this way are given a set of expectations to guide them on the path of righteousness.

    Jesus out.

  2. Your logic is flawed sir, for I am the Rood. The reason they were punished is not because there was inherent danger, but it was because they bore the sin of greed. The sin of greed consumed them and sent them to hell, just as it will do to man if man does not overcome.

  3. My dear friend Bertilak,

    I find your comparison of this story to our own to be an interesting one. I would like to point out, however, that I may have more in common with these birds than you may have initially thought. Contrary to what some others have said, I do not think that the birds necessarily acted out of greed entirely, but also out of desperation. These birds lost their lives in the midst of winter, so likely they were hungry, and in want of food, so when such easy fare came before them, they could not help but cast away their caution and try and partake in the food that they found. I took the girdle and concealed it for a similar reason: I was desperate as well. I was desperate to survive our encounter, and I even compromised my moral code in order to do so. Thus, the birds and I were both desperate to live. I implore you to perhaps judge them with the same forgiveness with which you have judged me. Though they are birds and not knights, in many ways I myself am not so different from these small creatures. The end to their story is very different than mine, however. I was lucky enough to be tested by someone as moral as yourself and survive, but the birds were not so fortunate, and with the exception of the swallow, found themselves cruelly slayed. I pray that you do not take offense from my alternate interpretation.

    Kindest regards,
    Sir Gawain

  4. Well, sir, if you’d like a true moral to this tale it is this: listen to women. Does this sound like the “trickery” you believe women to be so apt at?

    Give women control, it is what we wish for most. However, it may just be what these birds would wish for most now as well. They’d be with their lives today had they given control and a listening ear to this preaching swallow. For all my preaching, all the preaching of this swallow, no one ever seems to want to listen. We have much to say, we have much experience to share.

    Their recklessness spawns from stupidity and lack of experience. Not from their ‘greed’ as the Rood wishes to preach. Act on greed, if it pleases or satisfies you. That is my motto. Many of my husbands have been wealthy. They were good husbands. Am I greedy? If I am a good wif, does it matter? I do not need to overcome my greed, and neither do those late birds. They simply needed to give control to the preaching swallow and heed her words. Greed has nothing to do with their loss of life. Trust me, I know, I have much experience. I do not need advice from a tree. Neither do you.

  5. I would agree with you that these birds seem foolishness for putting themselves in unnecessary danger with nothing more than seed is definitely foolish. Sir Gawain is not only a fearless knight coming to face you when the odds were against him, but he’s also one that seems to handle temptation quite well. Your said “Now, I am aware that women that women have a apt for trickery” is quiet apparent to my situation. I am much like the swallow when it comes to tricky, for I intended to trick Gawain into seducing me. He’s quite a noble man, but me, I am quite a dishonorable lady and my advances for manipulation failed. Gawain is not like these birds you speak of.

  6. These birds are insubordinate invertebrate collections of feathered trash I wouldn’t feed to the poorest in Rome let alone my guard dogs. Foolish? Misguided? Let us not use the litigation of mitigation and call the squalors for their squeaks. For the men of such low virtue and immune to the intelligence required for Emperor rule I will elaborate. Had mine own mother dearest as she be, done deeds comparable to the swallow herein I would not hesitate to send her to the gallows faster than the first single tear begins to swell.

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