Southern Messenger

"The parties in this conflict are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders - they are atheists, socialists, communists, red Republicans, Jacobins, on the one side, and the friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. In one word, the world is a battleground - Christianity and atheism are the combatants and the progress of humanity is at stake." Rev. James Henley Thornwell

Location: Occupied South Carolina

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Knightly Duty

You may not find a child within your sphere of influence who has read or has knowledge of Howard Pyle’s The Story of King Arthur and His Knights. And that is a shame. It is a treasure of tales of heroism and nobility that makes modern media heroes seem contrived and trivial. These are not mutated reptiles or faceless plasticized rangers. These are men, real men and one comes away with an elevated impression of God’s creation.

Pyle’s Foreword begins, “After several years of contemplation and of thought upon the matter herein contained, it has at last come about, by the Grace of God, that I have been able to write this work with such pleasure of spirit that, if it gives to you but a part of the joy that it hath afforded me, I shall be very well content with what I have done.” This is a strong suggestion of what is to come. Rare is the author who considers “God’s Grace” in any project.

Each of Arthur’s knights has his own following, I suppose, to those rare folk who follow the Arthurian legends. Much is heard of the heralded Sir Lancelot; more should be heard of the noble Galahad, but I find a hero in Sir Gawaine, the dark, brooding Welshman who is, in my opinion, the noblest knight, and is worthy of emulation far more than any hero considered such by most youngsters (and adults) today.

A useful apology may be found in the last section of the book, a section called The Book of Three Worthies, Part III. This is divided into three chapters. “Chapter First” is the story of Gawaine and the White Hart, a story of a tragic misunderstanding, a wrongful accusation from the Queen, and Gawaine’s noble acceptance in silence of the Queen’s censure.

In “Chapter Second,” Arthur and his squire become lost in the woods and take lodging at a dark castle. While there the dark Knight of the Castle challenges Arthur to a game of “courage,” a duel that goes against the king and finds Arthur ready to forfeit his life. The Knight, in an admitted mood of cruelty, gives Arthur one year to find the answer to a riddle. Darkness attends Arthur throughout the year as he questions one and another of his people, none who seem to have an adequate answer. Finally, at year’s end, Arthur leaves to his appointment with death and on the way discovers, in a dark part of the forest, an old cabin almost blended into the oak next to which it stands. Within is an “old woman sitting bent over a small fire that burned upon the hearth. And King Arthur had never beheld such an ugly beldame as that one who sat there bending over that fire, for her ears were very huge and flapped, and her hair hung down over her head like to snakes, and her face was covered all over with wrinkles so that there were not any places at all where there was not a wrinkle; and her eyes were bleared and covered over with a film, and the eyelids were red as with the continual weeping of her eyes, and she had but one tooth in her mouth, and her hands, which she spread out to the fire, were like claws of bone.”

When she greeted him as “King,” although he was not in kingly attire, he was taken aback, and engaged in conversation with her in which he confessed the events of the preceding year. She told him she could provide him with the riddle on one condition, that she might be wed to one of his knights. “Ha!” said King Arthur, “how may I promise that upon the behalf of anyone?” Upon this the old woman said, “Are not the knights of thy Court of such nobility that they will do that to save thee from death?”

She had him there. He agreed. She provided the answer. The King proceeded to his rendezvous with his nemesis at which time he foiled the plans against his life with the correct answer.

He went straight to the hag’s hut. “Thou has holpen me a very great deal in mine hour of need, so now will I fufil that pledge which I made unto thee, for I will take thee unto my Court and thou shalt choose one of my knights for thy husband. For I think there is not one knight in all my Court but would be very glad to do anything that lieth in his power to reward one who hath saved me as thou hast done this day.”

He not only carried the woman behind him on his steed, he “comported himself to that aged beldame in all ways with the utmost consideration as though she had been a beautiful dame of the highest degree in the land.” As the knights gather around, she “pointed with her very long bony finger unto Sir Gawaine, saying, ‘Yea, I would marry that lord…’.”

When Arthur asked Gawaine if he indeed was willing, the noble knight said, “Yea, lord, whatsoever thou requirest of me, that will I do.” The wedding is held, and we learn that in truth, Gawaine has pushed his noble spirit to a breaking point; in seclusion for the day he feels “shame” and “great humiliation,” but gathering his strength and fortified with duty, he strides to the bedchamber. When in the dimly lit room he was reprimanded by his new wife for his remonstrance, he declares, “Lady, I could not help it, for I was very sore oppressed with many cares. But if I have disregarded thee this day, I do beseech thy forgiveness therefore, and I will hold myself willing to do all that is in my power to recompense thee for any neglect that I have placed upon thee.” At length, his new wife mentions that “it is very dark in this place; let us then have a light.” “It shall be as thou dost desire,” said Sir Gawaine, “and I, myself, will go and fetch a light for thee.”

The sad and noble knight goes for a light and upon returning to the room and drawing close to the old woman he is struck dumb, shocked and amazed, because before him in the light of his torch stands “a lady of extraordinary beauty and in the very flower of her youth. He beheld that her hair was long and glossy and very black, and that her eyes were likewise black like to black jewels, and that her lips were like coral, and her teeth were like pearls. So, for a while, Sir Gawaine could not speak, and then he cried out, ‘Lady! Lady! Who are thou!”

With kindness, grace, and gentleness the lady of great beauty reveals the curse that has been broken by his noble sense of duty. As the truth unfolds between them, relief turns to love and adoration. “And indeed there was not one knight there of all that Court who would not have given half his life to have been so fortunate in that matter as was Sir Gawaine, the son of King Lot of Orkney.”

The lesson drawn from this tale of noble self-sacrifice is this, written into the last three paragraphs of this great book by Howard Pyle.

“Such is the story of Sir Gawaine, and from it I draw this significance: as that poor ugly beldame appeared unto the eyes of Sir Gawaine, so doth a man’s duty sometimes appear to him to be ugly and exceedingly ill-favored unto his desires. But when he shall have wedded himself unto that duty so that he hath made it one with him as a bridegroom maketh himself one with his bride, then doth that duty become of a sudden very beautiful unto and unto others.
“So may it be with ye that you shall take duty unto yourselves no matter how much it may mislike ye to do so. For indeed a man shall hardly have any real pleasure in his life unless his inclination becometh wedded unto his duty and cleaveth unto it as a husband cleaveth unto his wife. For when inclination is thus wedded unto duty, then doth the soul take great joy unto itself as though a wedding had taken place betwixt a bridegroom and a bride within its tabernacle.
“Likewise when you shall have become entirely wedded unto your duty, then shall you become equally worthy with that good knight and gentleman Sir Gawaine; for it needs not that a man shall wear armor for to be a true knight, but only that he shall do his best endeavor with all patience and humility as it hath been ordained for him to do. Wherefore, when your time cometh unto you to display your knightness by assuming your duty, I do pray that you also may approve yourself as worthy as Sir Gawaine approved himself in this story which I have told you of as above written.”

Would that we all might say to our Saviour, "Yea, Lord, whatsoever thou requirest of me, that will I do."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I have just discovered (through a link from Harry’s board) The Welshman. The current post is a wonderful article on “Ruth.” He tops off his webpage with the following:

The land we currently know as Wales was once known as Cymru. These people who were the original Bretons, called themselves the Cymry, which means “kin” in their tongue. Genetics tells us that these people were the Neolithic inhabitants of that region. Eventually invaders came: the Celts, the Romans, the Saxons, the Norsemen, and the Normans all pushing the Cymry further and further into the corners of their land. In this process, their remaining corner of this fair land once name for kinship was renamed Wales, a word meaning foreigner. The Cymry were called foreigners in their own land. This same process is occurring in our homelands today, by different invaders, pushing, provoking, trying to make us foreigners in our own lands. In that sense, my European brothers, we are all Welshmen now.”

Brother, as you can see from the top of my page, I live in “Occupied South Carolina.” There are many of us who are strangers in our own home. Amen and amen!

Visit the Welshman at;


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