From Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

My Dear Sirs,

    I have prepared for you a holiday tale of Companionship and Revelry. It tells of Arthur’s court at Camelot in Ancient Days, with particular reference to the Yuletide Festivities at that place. I have rendered the Middle English into our Modern, and hope that in so doing I have merely burnished the original into legibility.
    I present, Sirs, an Excerpt from


The king dwelt at Camelot at Christmas
With many excellent lords, men of the best,
Worthily, all the righteous brotherhood of the Round Table,
With rich revels aright and reckless mirths.
There soldiers tourneyed in many bouts,
The gentle knights jousted full jollily,
Then carried on to the court, singing carols.
And so the festivities went, full fifteen days,
With all the meat and the mirth that men could imagine;
Such clamor and glee glorious to hear,
With merry din by day and dancing by night.
All was happiness on high in halls and chambers
With lords and ladies amusing themselves as they thought best.
With all the happiness in the world they lived together there,
The most famous knights in Christendom,
And the loveliest ladies to ever live,
And he, the comeliest king that has held court;
With fair folk in the prime of their youth
The hall was filled,
The luckiest people under heaven,
Their king held high by the people’s will.
It would be difficult now to assemble
So hardy a host on a hill.

While the New Year was so young that it was newly come,
That day the host was served doubly on the dais.
For the king was come with knights into the hall,
The chanting of the chapel completed.
There, loud cries were cast from clerks and laymen,
Noël recited anew and said full often.
And afterwards, the rich ran forth to give presents,
Cried out ‘year’s gifts!’ on high, gave them by hand,
And fought gleefully over the gifts.
Ladies laughed full loud, though they had lost,
And he who won wasn’t angry, that you can trust.
All this mirth they made until the appointed time;
And when they had washed well, they went to sit,
The best placed above, as seemed fitting.
Queen Guinevere, full gay, graced the middle
placed on the high dais, adorned all about,
Fine silks beside, a canopy over her
Of choice Toulouse, and Tarsian tapestries enough
That were embroidered and covered with the best gems
That might be bought with pennies
any day.
The comeliest Queen to see
Had gleaming eyes of grey.
That he’d seen a lady more pleasing
Truly no man could say.

But Arthur would not eat until all were served,
He was so jolly of his joyfulness, and somewhat childish:
He liked his life light, and loved the less
Either to lie or sit for long,
So he busied his young blood and his willful brain.
And another custom pleased him as well,
Which he had nobly decreed: he would never eat
Upon such a festive day ere he had been told
A strange tale of some adventure,
Of some unusual marvel, that he might trust,
Of ancients, of arms, of other deeds.
Or else he sought some man, some stout knight,
To join with him in jousting, to to be in jeopardy,
Risking life for life, each leaving the other
To win, as fortune would help them.
This was the king’s custom when he was at court
At each fair feast among his free companions
    In the hall.
So with a noble face
He staunchly rules all.
Young in thatNew Year
Much mirth he makes withal.

John Dampditch (Trans.)