All right, so I didn’t keep my oath (or my troth, in the parlance of Gawain). Now I’m going to out myself as Polish – yesterday Poland won the World Volleyball Championships finals with Brazil and the whole country (me included) has been delirious with happiness ever since. But back to work!
The Green Knight awaits Gawain’s blow, holding up his long hair at the nape. Gawain strikes the blow and cuts off the head in one clean stroke. The lines describing this scene are grisly and beautiful at the same time – blood contrasting with the green of the Knight’s hair and face. But then the Knight picks up his head by the hair, as if nothing had happened, jumps upon his horse and says – or rather the head says “if you please, find me at the same time next year. My address is Green Chapel, I am widely known as the Knight of the Green Chapel, so you should have no problem in finding me. And if you fail to meet your end of the bargain, you’ll be disgraced forever.” And off he goes at such speed that the hooves of his horse strike sparkles from the flintstones in the courtyard. King Arthur says “Well, what an adventure! But at least now my oath is fulfilled and I can have my meal.” The axe of the Green Knight is hung above the dais on the wall, for everyone to marvel at.
Thus ends part 1 or “fitt 1” in the original Middle English. It’s got magic, beauty and violence all rolled into one. The contrast between the elaborate description of the Green Knight’s rich dress and his bloody not-quite-demise reminds me of this famous painting by Paolo Uccello Saint George and the Dragon. The violence here is so stylized one doesn’t perceive it as such, really, but rather as some kind of cruel ballet. And anyway, the Green Knight was apparently none worse for the wear after having his head chopped off, so why should we worry?