Mar 28: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight parts 1&2

At the beginning of part two, the narrator goes into a description of the nature and the changing of seasons. How does the author seem to portray Camelot’s natural surroundings?

4 thoughts on “Mar 28: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight parts 1&2

  1. Camelot’s natural surroundings are conveyed in an artistic fashion to emphasize the natural world outside of the knightly. What is truly significant, however, in the portrayal of nature is the way that throughout the year it remains unaffected by the going-ons of King Arthur’s court. The seasons change and move just as they always have, unaware and unconcerned of Gawain’s quest that approaches with each passing day. The calendar rolls on through Lent and the Harvest until Michaelmas again, heedless of the needs or desire of Gawain for it to slow. The words and phrases used to describe the nature are undoubtedly poetic, but it is the manner in which nature progresses as it always has that is particularly interesting in the tale.

  2. Something about this portrayal of nature reads a little ominously to me; I think it’s the language, and how it seems to be winding around and back to Gawain’s (seemingly) grim fate. Starting with the description of the weather “waging war” on winter and ending with “then all which had risen over-ripens and rots / and yesterday on yesterday the year dies away,” the description we get is kind of looming and dark, all leading up to this one point in which Gawain must ride off again to face the Green Knight. There’s a short reprieve, of course, with spring and summer, but ultimately it ends with that grim description I already mentioned. I agree with Alexis, this is all unique and interesting in that the poet seems to use nature independently of Arthur’s court, as a completely separate force of time. I think this is significant in that it leads me to assume that Gawain is experiencing something similar. While the rest of court is living their lives, Gawain has this task looming over him all year.

  3. There are just over half as many lines in this passage that read as happy and positive about the seasons, most of them, as you would expect, in the summer segment. The negative lines about the other seasons are nearly twice that. I think it’s worth noting, though, that nature is not just seen as a unified force that strives against humanity. Nature strives just as much, if not moreso, against itself. We are told that ‚Äč”weather wages war on winter” (504), that autumn “hardens the harvest” (521), and that the fruits and seeds that have grown are given a “warning to ripen before winter” (522). The sky “wrestles the sun with its winds” (525). In fact, I can only find two instances where nature is depicted in this passage as being set against people: when it tests the flesh in Lent (502) and when the moon serves as “a warning to Gawain” (534). But even there you could argue that nature is helping more than harming. The test of Lent is supposed to have a growing, strengthening effect on the human soul, and the warning is given for Gawain’s own good, so that he doesn’t wait too long (which he nearly does anyway) to seek the Green Knight. I think nature vs. nature is much more demonstrable a struggle here than nature vs. man, and this surprises me, given how hostile the two seemed to be in “The Wanderer” and “The Seafarer”.

  4. It is not surprising given how closely medieval people lived with nature that we are given such a vivid and practical description (practical as in summer is good because it gives harvest and winter is bad because it takes that away). What I find interesting here is the seasons are marked by certain christian holidays. Lent, Michaelmas, All Saints’ Day, and Chirstmas are our markers instead of months or simply the passage of the seasons themselves . These holidays invoke Christianity, chivalry, and civilization, yet they are being used to describe nature. To me this either describes how “natural” these concepts were to medieval people, or perhaps instead the subtle domination of civilization over nature – the domination that the green knight rebels against.

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