Rare it is that I fly back to 14th-century England. It was a nasty time, overall. An astonishing lack of toilets. The beginning of The Hundred Years’ War. Chaucer *shudder*.
Oh, but wait.
There was this person, Anonymous, who wrote this lyrical poem called Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Whenever I hop in the Way Back Machine and head to this period of English history (an admittedly rare occurrence), this poem is usually the reason. It’s extraordinary, I think. And not just because it’s actually readable, which relegates it to solitary confinement in the POW camp of 14th-century British literature, but because it is profound in its simplicity. Gawain is easy to love. He has courage in the face of overwhelming odds. He chooses to salvage his integrity over his reputation and even his life. He does these things happily. Such themes age well, regardless of the current climate. There always exists a little spark in us that recognizes nobility, written or real. This is written, but it could be real. Have faith. There’s a little Gawain in us all.
‘Now, liege lord of my life, I beg my leave of you,
You know the kind of covenant it is: I care little
To tell over the trials of it, trifling as they are,
But I am bound to bear the blow and must be gone tomorrow
To seek the gallant in green, as God sees fit to guide me.’
All the company of the court came near the King
With carking care in their hearts, to counsel the knight.
Much searing sorrow was suffered in the hall
That such a gallant man as Gawain should go in quest
To suffer a savage blow, and his sword no more
Said Gawain, gay of cheer,
‘Whether fate be foul or fair,
Why falter I or fear?
What should man do, but dare?’
Because I’m a history geek of epic proportions, I actually recall a little footnote that this day owns. It was 65 years ago that the outcome of the war in Europe was sealed by the result of a battle just south of Moscow. Yes, it would take nearly two additional years for things to come to closure, but here was the real beginning of the end. Germans and Russians fought and died. Lack of American involvement makes it a footnote here. It’s probably even less of one in Germany, if recalled at all, and possibly forgotten even by the Russian victors. It was important to those who were there, though. And they deserve to be remembered.
‘Who Dares, Wins’ is the motto of a number of special forces units scattered hither and yon throughout the world, but it was used first by the British Special Air Service. In WWII. The Dewey Decimal System of our mind is certainly strange in that even rereading a 14th-century poem can remind us of the most obscure things. I’m not complaining, though.
Sir @ July 13, 2008