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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
GUEST,Hilary Dame Ragnell and Sir Gawaine (Child #31) (4) ADD: The Marriage of Sir Gawain 22 Dec 10


Unfortunately, we have no traditional tune for this ballad. Even some of the words are missing from Child's version. Apparently some of the pages were used to start a fire some time in the 17th or 18th century. However, there is a woman named Lisa Theriot who sings an adaptation of Child's text to her own tune. It's called "The Marriage of Sir Gawain." It is on her CD The Keys of Canterbury, definitely worth checking out if you are into the medieval period at all, especially the Canterbury Tales. The lyrics are as follows:

^^ THE MARRIAGE OF SIR GAWAIN

It fell about Saint Stephen's Day
The season of Yuletide
King Arthur took himself to horse
His forests for to ride
And when to Carlisle he returned
His face was full of pain
And speedily he sought the ear
Of his cousin, Sir Gawaine

"Oh cousin, now your counsel give
My heart is wondrous sore
A fearful choice of life and death
Now lies your King before
A riddle I am sworn to solve
Or lose my life instead
Shall I lose honor, faith and friend
Or shall I lose my head?

When I came to Tarn Wadling
A Black Knight cried me stand
He struck me from my horse
And then my sword he did demand
'I've bested you, Oh King,' he said,
'And now I'll have your head
And on your throne I'll sit
Within the hour that you are dead

Or else you may a ransom give
Though not in silver paid
A riddle you must answer me
Or die upon my blade.'
I begged a boon for any time
The answer for to find
For surely one in all my realm
Would know the villain's mind

'Give me oath you will return
By noontide New Year's Day
And answer me this question bold
Or with your life you'll pay
Bring me word what thing it is
That women most desire
This shall thy ransom be, O King
I'll have no other hire.'

As I rode back with heavy heart
I came upon a glade
And there did sit a loathly beast
Was dressed like any maid
And there as should have set her mouth
Then there was set her eye
The other in her forehead fast
And both did me espy

Her nose was flat as any pig's
Her mouth a toothless maw
A worse-formed lady than she was
No mortal ever saw
She raised herself on crooked legs
And unto me did speak
'Fear me not, you King Arthur
I know the thing you seek

The wisest man in all your land
Knows not a woman's mind
The answer to the Black Knight's charge
In truth you will not find
But I do see the riddle's end
Its answer I know well
Give me a knight of Arthur's court
In marriage, and I'll tell.'

And so," said Arthur, "these three paths
My choices are forsooth
So shall I break my oath and live
In want of faith and truth?
Or shall I bid a goodly knight
To take this beast to wife?
Or shall I to the Black Knight go
And offer up my life?"

"Oh Sire, be easy," said Gawaine
"I'll take this beast to wife
Though I may lose some hope of joy
You shall not lose your life
However foul this lady be
I'll wed her with a ring
My happiness will be to know
How well I serve my King."

Gawaine and Arthur took them out
The morn of New Year's Day
They came upon the fearful hag
To her Gawaine did say,
"I pledge to take you for my wife
And wed you with a ring
If you will now the answer give
To save my lord, the King"

The Black Knight sat upon his steed
And saw the King draw nigh
"Have you the answer, King Arthur,
Or have you come to die?"
"I have not come to die" said he,
"But to complete my task
For I believe that I have solved
The riddle that you ask

A woman does not lust for gold
For gems, or rich attire
A woman seeks to have her will
This is her chief desire."

"I am betrayed!" the Black Knight cried
"'Tis treason, by my troth
It was my sister told you this
The Devil take you both."
He turned his horse's head about
And rode off through the green
And nevermore in Arthur's realm
Was that base villain seen.

The King at length returned to court
And all the tale was told
And Guinevere sent for the hag
So fearsome to behold
And on the arm of Sir Gawaine
She came before the throne
And knights and ladies cried aloud
To see the awful crone.

"Dame Ragnall," said Queen Guinevere,
(For so the beast was hight)
"Be welcome to our court;
You shall be married this same night
For you have saved the King, my lord
And honored shall you be
And we will make a wedding feast
To cheer thy lord and thee!"

At last the feast was over
And the court retired to bed
And to the bridal chamber went
Gawaine with weary tread
He greeted Ragnall courteously
Then turned to bolt the door
And when he turned around again
The monster was no more.

Where there had stood a loathly hag
A maiden had her place
With twenty maidens' rightful share
Of beauty and of grace.
"What sorcery is this?" he cried
As he beheld the scene
"How is it now you wear a form
As comely as a Queen?"

"'Tis sorcery indeed," she said
"A curse upon me lays
And causes me like fiend to walk
For half of all my days
But you must now my seeming choose
Since you took me to wed
Shall I be fair by day or night?
In court or in your bed?"

"Oh lady wife, I cannot judge
Wherein the right does lie
A beast by day to live in shame
Before each noble eye?
Or beastly only in our bed
Where lovers' arms should twine?
What right have I to choose your pain?
The choice must needs be thine."

And then the lady laughed and cried
And said, "You have me won!
I shall be fair both night and day
The spell you have undone!
By giving me my will you win
My freedom and my heart
I'll henceforth be your lady gay
And we shall never part."

With what great joy did Arthur's court
Receive the wedded pair
The bravest knight in all the land
Now had a lady fair.
And good King Arthur's heart was glad
As grass would be of rain
And all the bells in Carlisle rang
For Ragnall and Gawaine.

So men, if you would fair maid win
And make your life with her
Then take a lesson from Gawaine
And to your wife defer
A woman crossed is like a beast
That e'er your peace will rend
But if you let her have her will
Your joy shall know no end!

This has always been one of my favorite Arthurian stories.


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