One of the most haunting sections in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is when Gawain comes across the Green Chapel for the first time in his quest. What follows is the part of my new translation which relates to his arrival here.
(above: the cave in its mound at Wetton Mill on the Manifold valley in Derbyshire; one of the candidates for the actual Green Chapel referred to by the Gawain-poet)
Below, from Fitt 4, Stanza 8, Gawain has left his guide and now must travel down into that dreadful place whose occupant there is happy to kill anyone who crosses his path. The Poet's exceptional capacity for description and suspense is beautifully shown in this excerpt…
Then he goads Gringolet and gathers the road,
Shoves on by a scarp with scrub at his side,
Rides by that rugged bank, right to the dale.
Then he looked round about, he thought it most wild,
And sees no sign of residence nowhere beside,
But high banks all bleak upon both sides,
And rough-knuckled knolls of rocks and stone;
Those scouts scratched the sky, it seemed to him.
So with that he hove too and withheld his horse,
And kept changing where he looked to chance on that chapel.
He sees none such in no side, which he thought so strange,
Seeing little on that land save a knoll as it were,
A bold bump by a bank, beside the brim river,
Which flushed about there by the force of its flow;
That bourn blubbered such there that is seemed to boil.
The knight spurs his charger and comes to that knoll,
Gracefully alights and to a lime tree attaches
The reins which he ties round a rough branch.
Then he bears to that barrow and he walks about it,
Debating with himself what it might be.
It had a hole at one end, and on either side,
And overgrown with grass that grew everywhere,
And was all hollow within, nought but an old cave,
Or a crevice of an old crag, he could not find the words
“Oh lord”, said the gentle knight,
“Have I found the Green Chapel?
Might I around midnight
Hear the matins of the Devil?”
I hope you enjoyed this brief excerpt from the book. My recent travels into the Staffordshire Roaches and into Dovedale (related on one of my other blog updates) revealed two (and possibly three) places which may have served to inspire the Gawain-poet’s description.
Most commentators favour Lud’s Church near the village of Flash but, reading the lines above, I tend to favour the cave in its mound Wetton Mill. Its exterior resemblance, plus the strange cave-filled karst landscape of the Manifold valley, conspire to create much of what the poet describes in this and the subsequent stanza.
However, there is also a third inspiration for the Chapel – but you’ll have to wait to receive your copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to find out more!
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