The Love of Life: “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, Close to Home

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (Professor of English, George Washington University) opened our speaker series with a trenchant paper entitled “The Love of Life: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Close to Home.” How surprising that from that paper one of the memorable quotations was: “cutting something off does not take it out of the mesh.” An apt reminder that in an ecotone of green even the distant may be close to hand.

JJC slideSir Gawain and the Green Knight is an intricate romance. Desire (or love) and vibrancy (or life) burgeon throughout, opening widest when we accept what the text has always insisted upon: Sir Gawain is not its protagonist – and his time, his history, are not always the poem’s. Around a linear and all too masculine narrative of blunder and supposed transcendence unfold tales of yearning and vitality: dormancy, season-change, lives glimpsed but not grasped, nonhuman tempos and durations. The poem’s love of life entwines humans of all genders with nonhumans, creates a world not of static verities but repetitions with lively differences, sediments an enduring here inextricable from body, climate, atmosphere, season, plant, animal, stone. These powerful “eco-temps” are best discerned in the company of Morgan la Fay, the learned woman who sets the poem’s action into motion. I follow a series of interwoven ecological strands in the romance to emphasize a here that is temporally thick and requires attentive lingering over climate and season. I frame my argument within and through an urban park close to my home, carrying its environing of my argument into the poem’s.

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