Voyages from I to Thou.

Location: Skellig Michel, Ireland

Friday, January 28, 2005

Third Sign of the Cross

At the right turning
And he rode through England, Sir Gawain, on God's
Behalf, though the ride was hardly a happy one.
He was often alone, at night, in places
Where the path ahead of him could please no one.
Only his horse rode with him, through woods
And hills, and the only voice he heard
Was God's, until he reached the north
Of Wales. The Anlesey Islands were always
To his left; he forded rivers near the highlands,
Crossing at Holy Head and landing
In the wilderness of Wirral Forest, where few men
Lived whom God or a good man could love.
and Gawain asked, as he rode, if anyone
He met had heard of a green man, or a green
Chapel, anywhere nearby, and everyone
Said no, never in their lives, neither seen
Nor heard of a man whom heaven had colored

Gawain's path
Wound through dreary scenes,
And his head leaned
First this way, then that, as
he hunted that chapel.

He climbed over cliffs in many strange lands,
Nowhere near home, friendless now.
And at every ford over every stream
He found himself facing enemies so foul
And wild that they forced him to fight for his life.
He met so many marvels in those hills
It is difficult to tell a tenth of it -- dragons
Attacked him, and sometimes wolves, and satyrs,
And forest trolls, running out of rocks,
And bulls, and bears, and ivory-tusked boars,
And giant ogres leaping from crags.
His strength saved him, and his courage, and his faith
In God: he could have died a dozen times
Over. And the fighting was hard, but the foul
Winter was worse, so cold that rain froze before it could fall to earth;
Sleeping in his armor, sleet came close
To killing him, lying on open rock
Where icy rivers charged from mountains
And over his head icicles hung,
Sharp and hard. In danger and hardship
Gawain stayed alone, riding until Christmas
When he prayed to Mary
to end his grief,
To guide his weary
Steps to relief.

Next morning, more cheerful, he rode down a hill
To a deep forest, incredibly wild,
Set into mountains and surrounded by hundreds
Of huge grew oaks. Hazel and hawthorn
Were snarled and tangled together, and shaggy
Moss hung everywhere in ragged clumps;
And sad birds sat on the bare
Branches, piping pitifully in the cold.
Gawain hurried his horse, crossed swamps
And mires and bogs, acres of mud,
Afraid, now, that he'd lost all chance
Of hearing Christmas mass and honoring
Mary's son, born to end
Our sorrow; and sighing, he said: "Oh Lord,
Oh Mary, gentlest Mother and dear,
I beg you to send me some lodging, to let me
Hear mass before morning; I ask meekly,
And in proof pray swiftly my pater, my ave,
My creed."

He prayed as he rode,
And wept for misdeeds,
And shaped the sign of the cross
And called Christ in his need.

Three times he shaped that sign, and suddenly,
On a hill above a field, set deep
Among massive trees, he saw a moat And a castle- the loveliest ever owned,
In the middle of a meadow, with woods and lawns
And a thick palisade fence, and grass
And grounds running more than two miles...

from Gawain and The Green Knight,
transl. Burton Raffel
(691 - 769)


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