Passus 1, Stanza 2, Lines 20 through 36:
Britain “was built by this baron great” (20). The term “baron great” refers to a great, but specific order or rank of nobility, a baron. A baron is the lowest grade of nobility. In Britain, “Bold boys bred there, in broils delighting” (21). The term “bold boys” means stout-hearted, courageous, daring and fearless boys that were born and raised at that local. The boys delighted in the confusion and disorder of building. The boys did many deeds that were “dire,” dreadful and dismal, horrible and terrible in order to build Britain (22).
“Marvels have happened in this merry land” (23). A “marvel” is a miracle. The term “merry land” means land that causes and creates pleasure and happiness. It descibes land that is pleasing and delightful. More miracles have happened in this land “Than in any other I know” (24). The Gawain-poet introduces Britain’s leader, the legendary King Arthur. The introduction of King Arthur results in the poet’s first commentary when he writes of all the British kings, “King Arthur was counted most courteous of all” (26). The poet is going to unfold an adventure. Some men may think of the adventure as a “marvel” or miracle (28). This adventure is “one unmatched among Arthur’s wonders” (29). The term “Arthur’s wonders” refers to Arthur’s astonishments. The poet asks for the reader to “listen to [his] lay for but a little while” (30). The word “lay” means tale. The poet is going to recite the adventure as he “heard it in the hall” (31).
The tale was “fashioned featly” (33). The term “fashioned featly” means the tale was told properly, suitably and elegantly. The tale was of a “derring-do” (34). A “derring-do” literally means daring to do (34). The meaning through a chain of misunderstandings and errors is now treated as a substantive combination, which means a daring action or feat that may include desperate courage. The tale was “linked in measures meetly” (35). The tale was “linked,” connected and coupled, associated and joined in “measures meetly” (35). The tale was measured so it would not exceed a fitting and proper limit. The tale was connected in a suitable amount “By letters tried and true” (36). The words chosen were well thought out and selected through trial and error.
Modern English Translation:
And since this Britain was built by this baron great,
Bold boys bred there, in broils delighting
That did in their day many a deed most dire.
More marvels have happened in this merry land
Than in any other I know, since that olden time,
But of those that her built, of British kings,
King Arthur was counted most courteous of all,
Wherefore an adventure I aim to unfold,
That a marvel of might some men think it,
And one unmatched among Arthur’s wonders.
If you listen to my lay but a little while,
As I heard it in hall, I shall hasten to tell
As it was fashioned featly
In tale of derring-do,
And linked in measures meetly
By letters tried and true.
Middle English Manuscript:
Ande quen þis Bretayn watz bigged bi þis burn rych,
Bolde bredden þerinne, baret þat lofden,
In mony turned tyme tene þat wro3ten.
Mo ferlyes on þis folde han fallen here oft
Þen in any oþer þat I wot, syn þat ilk tyme.
Bot of alle þat here bult, of Bretaygne kynges,
Ay watz Arthur þe hendest, as I haf herde telle.
Forþi an aunter in erde I attle to schawe,
Þat a selly in si3t summe men hit holden,
And an outtrage awenture of Arthurez wonderez.
If 3e wyl lysten þis laye bot on littel quile,
I schal telle hit as-tit, as I in toun herde,
As hit is stad and stoken
In stori stif and stronge,
With lel letteres loken,
In londe so hatz ben longe.
Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, and Sir Gawain reproduced in facsimile from MS. Cotton Nero A. x with Introduction by Sir I. Gollancz, E.E.T.S. 162, 1923.
Syr Gawayne, ed. Sir F. Madden, Bannatyne Club, 1839.
Sir Gawayne and The Green Knight, ed. R. Morris, E.E.T.S. 4, 1864, revd. Sir I. Gollancz 1897 and 1912.
Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, ed. J. R. R. Tolkien and E. V. Gordon, Oxford, 1925.
The Poems of the Pearl Manuscript: Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Eds. Malcom Andrew, and Ronald Waldron. Exeter: U of Exeter, 1987.
“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature, The Middle Ages. 8th ed. Vol. A. Eds. Alfred David, and James Simpson. New York, N.Y.: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2006. 160-213.