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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

January 12, 2014

Walking, landscape and writers.

I have spent much of the New Year reading a recent translation of this medieval poem, which is appropriate for everyone who loves the British countryside.

Many years ago I struggled through it in the original Middle English, which I think is hard work even if you can manage quite well with Chaucer and Langland – as I could at the time.

This recent translation is by the poet and Oxford don Bernard O’Donoghue (Penguin 2006). This translation concentrates on the tale itself and the rhythm of the original, veering away from the alliteration and half lines of the original. I think O’Donoghue captures the spirit of the poem well.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a beautiful tribute to the English countryside. As Sir Gawain rides on his quest to the castle of the Green Knight we get wonderful pictures of the landscape of England, and possibly Wales, grand vistas of nature and the seasons, with a bit of sexual seduction, courtly love and romance – in the historic sense of the word – thrown in.

The poet is unknown but his words live on.

And this is a very good time of the year to read his words.Arnside 045


6 Comments leave one →
  1. plethiproject permalink
    January 12, 2014 12:11 pm

    The only version of Gawain and The Green Knight I’ve read is the Simon Armitage version. Simon has done a Bookclub discussion of it which is available still as a podcast on the Radio Four website. On the radio programme he discusses how the story can be located into a particular region and dialect of the UK. Well worth a listen if only to put the story into its landscape.

    Simon re-languages the work into Modern Northern English exquisitely and when the climactic finale arrives you want to read it again just to feel the word textures again.

    Check out the Stanza Stones in West Yorkshire for more of Simon’s compelling landscape based work.

  2. January 12, 2014 12:44 pm

    I have the 1959 Penguin edition, translated by Brian Stone. Must be 20 years since I read it. Opened it at random: “. . . galloped down the path, / Thrust through a thicket there by a bank, / And rode down the rough slope right into the ravine. / Then he searched about, but it seemed savage and wild . . .” Too cool; must read it again. Thanks.

  3. January 12, 2014 4:10 pm

    Which castle is that?

  4. January 12, 2014 5:23 pm

    It is the castle at Arnside

  5. January 12, 2014 9:27 pm

    Hi. I read a Penguin Classic version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight about 35 years ago but I can’t remember whose translation it was. When I used to take my son camping when he was little, it was one of the many tales I used to tell him while we were lying out beneath the stars. He still remembers it all these years later.
    The foreword to my version reckoned it was set in the Wirral, or there abouts, if I remember correctly.
    Cheers, Alen McF

  6. January 13, 2014 7:58 am

    A number of places claim credit, including Staffordshire and Cumberland, but I don’t suppose anyone will ever find out given that we don’t know who the poet was. Cheers JB

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