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Archive for March, 2016

misty cliff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweeping gaze

to heights

to depths

Dreading haze

this might

these steps

 

Carving light

into sketches

into drought

Soldered height

Now fetching

Now without

 

Gracious sweep

in purpose

in breath

Hoping leap

 

to rescue

from death

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ash butterfly

Photo by Jim Hoffman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tragic strait

At closing day

Unwanted, gapes

Bidden slowly drawn

Toward this fate

Ill-seen display

Approaching fast

Life’s sweet repast

 

Pounding, sweet

Metamorphosed height

Lacquered flowers

Poured from towers

Wandering complete

The forlorn flight

From streamlet night

Ash butterfly

 

Lone epitaph

Carved and forgotten

Contemplative rage

Withered, fraying stage

A sole reed staff

Clasped, besoughten

Release a sigh

Now lifting high

 

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Tapestry of a Woman

Creased and pleated

hung against the wall

fair innocence

now one to duty tied

Loftiest flights

now sweeping sordid stall

grief’s synonym

in sweat and hay deride

Bearing the hope

‘twixt a nuanced scene

devices like taffy

hold fast to spinning wheel

Atrophied escape

glittered, morphing sheen

memorized recipes, pony-tailed

falling, autumn-leafed, a knowing steal

Grasped and faded

calling to the night

the slightest song

silenced, like the soul

Aged and jaded

looping and pulled tight

as snowflakes fade

peering backward at the whole

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literary analysis of sir gawain and the green knight

A Debate on the Power of Grace

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is thought to have been written in the latter part of the fourteenth century. The author is unknown, but the original manuscript that contained Sir Gawain and the Green Knight also included three religious poems with the titles Pearl, Patience, and Purity (Norton, 135). As such, the author clearly had a Christian worldview. In fourteenth-century England, two opposing views had arisen regarding Christianity. The first view held that an individual’s salvation and connection with God was purely by grace through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus (Champion 416). The other view insisted that the grace of God assisted mankind, but that the primary burden of responsibility was for people to earn their own way to Heaven (Champion 416. It was a debate of grace versus works. This debate is woven into the poem, creating a unique layering of religious elements.

Regarding this raging religious debate during the time that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was written, Larry S. Champion stated, “It is inconceivable that [the author] could relate a tale of perilous adventure in which a Christian knight must make a choice between faith and self-determination without conscious reference to the profound religious controversy of his age” (420). It would have been clear to anyone who read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in that time period that the author used the story’s plot to represent the two opposing viewpoints on religion, and to convey his personal opinions on the matter.

On the one hand, the character Sir Gawain represented an honorable knight who was impressive and courageous: “Fastened in his armor he seemed fabulous, famous, / every link looking golden to the very last loop (590-91). At the same time, Sir Gawain was also portrayed as one who trusted in God, indicated by lines such as, “Yet for all that metal he still made it to mass, / honored the Almighty before the high altar” (592-93). On one hand, Gawain represented his own physical strength and power. On the other hand, he manifested the grace and power of God. The core issue of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is where the knight will ultimately place his trust.

Although described as “flawless in his five senses” (640), this flawlessness only lasts as long as he puts his trust in God. When Sir Gawain is lost in the depths of the forest during his quest to find the Green Knight, he utters one prayer and suddenly catches sight of “The most commanding castle a knight ever kept, / positioned in a site of sweeping parkland” (767-68). This is a clear victory of grace over nature. However, when Sir Gawain is tempted by Bertilak’s wife to revoke his honor by wearing her green sash, “it entered his mind / it might just be the jewel for the jeopardy he faced / and save him from the strike in his challenge at the chapel” (1855-57). When he chooses to depend on nature’s magic to “rescue” him, that choice is vain. Sir Gawain only overcomes nature when he depends on the grace of God.

The author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight appears to have utilized Gawain’s relationship to the green sash and the pentangle as a representation of the religious controversy of his era. Champion states, “When Gawain places his faith in God … he is a knight of the shield. When he places faith in himself … he is a knight of the sash” (Champion, 421). It is an interesting plot device that the sash – the symbol of “falsehood” – was the very object that served to bring Sir Gawain to recognize his need for grace. In this way, the author might have been attempting to convey the message that even one’s mistakes and sins can ultimately lead to salvation through dependence on the grace of God.

When bringing in the religious juxtaposition between Christianity and more natural forms of religion, this grace is portrayed as more powerful than nature. Author Louis Blenkner observes the importance of the “Nature-Grace dichotomy” by stating that “both covenant tests [that Gawain undergoes] are conducted within the natural order” (358). She mentions, “It is not mere coincidence that Gawin’s “aunter in erde” (27) begins on Christmas … the celebration … of Grace freely submitting to Nature in order to triumph over it and redeem it” (357). Blenkner seems to be stating that the importance of nature in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” is primarily to juxtapose it against the theme of grace, and highlight grace of being the greater element by virtue of its ability to “triumph over and redeem” nature.

Two contrasting symbols used in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight also contain aspects of the religious debate of the author’s era. The pentangle on Gawain’s shield was a representation of truth, and the green sash offered to him by the wife of Bertilak de Hautdesert represented falsehood (Champion, 421). These two symbols present an interesting paradox in the character growth of Sir Gawain. Toward the end of the poem, Sir Gawain insists on wearing the green sash as a visible token of his frailty and pride. He states, “This, its token, / I will drape across my chest till the day I die. / For man’s crimes can be covered but never made clean; / once sin is entwined it is attached for all time” (2509-2512).

Sir Gawain, by the end of the story, fails to completely accept forgiveness. Although he receives absolution from Bertilak de Hautdesert, Gawain considers himself to be forever marked by his own trickery and deceit. Sir Gawain considered it impossible to be completely expunged from his sin, bringing into question the author’s perspective on the issue of grace versus works. If grace could truly cover sin, could it not also completely cleanse a sordid stain? If so, why the need to continually bear the mark of sin? If one truly believed and fully accepted that the saving grace of Christ covers all sin, there is no need to bear the scars or seek a mark to maintain a semblance of penury. The scars are already worn by hands that stretched across a cross. The wound is already deep in the side of a Man whose heart was broken for mankind.

He bore the stripes. He wore the crown of thorns. So that we, by His grace, might be washed as white as the Lamb that was slain.

 

 

Works Cited

Blenkner, Louis, O.S.B. “Sin, Psychology, And The Structure Of Sir Gawain And The Green Knight.” Studies In Philology 74.(1977): 354-387. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.

Champion, L. S. “Grace Versus Merit in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Modern Language Quarterly 28.4 (1967): 413-25. EBSCO. Web. 31 Oct. 2015.

Greenblatt, Stephen, and M. H. Abrams. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 9th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 2006. 135-188. Print.

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