Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:

ISBN: 0582484065
ISBN 13: 9780582484061
By: Unknown Marie Borroff

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About this book

A new verse translation,Composed during the fourteenth century in the English Midlands, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight describes the events that follow when a mysterious green-coloured knight rides into King Arthur’s Camelot in deep mid-winter. The mighty knight presents a challenge to the court: he will allow himself to be struck by one blow, on the condition that he will be allowed to return the strike on the following New Year’s Eve. Sir Gawain takes up the challenge, decapitating the stranger - only to see the Green Knight seize up his own severed head and ride away, leaving Gawain to seek him out and honour their pact. Blending Celtic myth and Christian faith, Gawain is among the greatest Middle English poems: a tale of magic, chivalry and seduction.

Reader's Thoughts


Perhaps my favorite Arthurian classic so far. Loved the alliterative verse and the beautiful descriptions of seasons - the conflicting ideas centered on chivalry, courtship, religion, etc. all made the reading much more intellectually stimulating. Not to mention that the ending throws in a wedge that forces one to evaluate the overall theme of the poem, or whether a unifying theme exists at all. Highly recommended for those interested in British literature and for those who want to give it a try; it's much more bearable than Beowulf, and the seduction scene is one of my favorites.


One of the best of the 'classic' Arthurian tales. Gawain is presented a bit differently here from many of the other ones. Usually he's a bit of a braggart and kind of a jerk, especially to women, but here he is presented as the perfect exemplar of courtoisie. He's also a bit young and still untried, so maybe that explains it for those who want to be able to have a grand unified theory of Arthuriana. Anyway, you probably all know the story: Arthur is about to have a New Year's feast, but according to tradition is waiting for some marvel to occur. Right on cue in trots the Green Knight on his horse, a giant of a man who proceeds to trash the reputation of the entire court and dare someone to cut off his head as long as he gets to return the favour. No one makes a move and Arthur decides he better do something about this until Gawain steps up and asks to take on this quest himself. Everyone agrees and Gawain proceeds to smite the green head from the Knight's body. Everyone is fairly pleased with the result until the Green Knight gets up, picks up his smiling head, and says: "See you next year, G. Don't forget that it's my turn then." (I paraphrase, the middle english of the poet is far superior.) Needless to say everyone is a bit nonplussed by this.The year passes and Gawain doesn't seem to do much of anything until he finally decides it's time to get out and find this green fellow and fulfill his obligation...hopefully something will come up along the way to improve his prospects. What follows is a journey to the borders of the Otherworld as well as a detailed primer on just how one ought to act in order to follow the dictates of courtliness. Gawain ends up being the guest of Sir Bertilak, a generous knight who says that the Green Chapel, the destination of Gawain's quest, is close by and Gawain should stay with them for the duration of the holidays. We are treated to some coy (and mostly chaste) loveplay on the part of Bertilak's wife from which Gawain mostly manages to extricate himself without contravening the dictates of politeness, as well as the details of a medieval deer, boar and fox hunt with nary a point missing. In the end Gawain goes to the chapel and finds that his erstwhile host Bertilak was in fact the Green Knight. Gawain submits himself and is left, after three swings, with only a scratch as a reward for his courteous behaviour in Bertilak's castle. Despite the apparent success of Gawain, he views the adventure as a failure since he did not come off completely unscathed and he wears a girdle he was gifted by Bertilak's wife as a mark of shame to remind himself of this. Harsh much?The language of the Gawain poet's middle english is beautiful and I highly recommend reading it in the original with a good translation at hand to catch the nuances of meaning. The poem is replete with an almost dreamlike quality that is made real by all of the exquisite details of medieval life that are interspersed throughout the text. This is a great book to read at Christmas time.

Jenny J

An Arthurian poem in Middle English (written around 1400), accompanied by a very readable modernization by Simon Armitage. The story is simple: As King Arthur, his Queen, his knights, and their ladies are enjoying a Christmas feast, they are interrupted by the axe-wielding Green Knight, who challenges Arthur's champion, Sir Gawain (the purest and bravest and, well, you know the drill). His deal is this: Sir Gawain gets to deal him one blow with the axe, and the Green Knight won't fight back. Then, a year later, Sir G has to seek the Green Knight and receive an undefended blow in return. In between, Sir G travels the land, wrestles with temptation (guess who wins?) and is generally pure and brave.The pleasure in reading this is not really in the story. It's typical Arthurian fare, with plenty of chivalry and a nod to Morgan le Fay. Sir G's necessarily a bit holier-than-thou. But consider that this was written 600 years ago. And then read it out loud.When read out loud, this poem SINGS. The translator captures the alliteration and rhythm of the original, and it's just wonderful. The Christian allegory left me a little cold, but the language is lovely, and the nostalgic fantasy of a simpler, more violent but more honorable time, is nearly palpable. Good stuff.


I read “Sir Gawain and The Green Knight” translated by Marie Borroff. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” is a romantic poem that was composed sometime in the 14th century depicting an event in the time of the 7th century during King Arthur’s reign. A New Years festival in Arthur’s Kingdom is interrupted by a large green Knight who is sitting on a green steed. He first asks where the host of the party is and then proceeds to make a proposition of a New Year’s beheading game. When no one steps up to the game he then mocks King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table for lacking the courage that they are rumored to possess. After hearing this King Arthur steps up in a rage and by doing so accidentally volunteers for the game. Sir Gawain then steps up to take his place because though the King should win this game if he did not then there would be chaos in the kingdom and if Sir Gawain were to lose then it would not be such a big deal. After the Knight rides away with his head quite disconnected from his body Sir Gawain has a year to contemplate his actions. Then throughout the story Sir Gawain and his chivalrous behaviour is tested through love of his own life, seduction and cowardice. In this poem the main characters are obviously Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Sir Gawain is the character that you follow throughout the story and his morals and code of chivalry are tested at many points in the story and succeeds and fails at proving that he is a chivalrous person at different points. The Green Knight actually makes two appearances in the story, once, obviously as the Green Knight and the second as the Lord of the Castle that Sir Gawain stays in on his journey to find the Green Knight. The Green Knight seems to be a very well thought out character who has everything all planned out. He already knew that as the Lord of the Castle he would try and make Sir Gawain seem as unfaithful as possible and then he knew how to manipulate Sir Gawain at the end of the story and in the end make him realize his wrong-doings. A few other minor characters are King Arthur who makes his only appearance at the beginning of the story, The Knights of the Round Table who are really only mentioned and never take a part in the story besides Sir Gawain, Guinevere who is Arthur’s wife and Queen and also a relative of Sir Gawain’s, The Lady of the Castle is the Green Knight’s wife and Queen and plays a huge part in exposing Sir Gawain’s non-chivalrous behavior. This story takes place almost completely in Britain. The New Year’s festival at the beginning of the story takes place at King Arthur’s Kingdom and then the rest of the story takes place in Northern Wales while Sir Gawain is searching for the Green Knight and finds him later on. Moral of the story in this poem to me is to be wary of the decisions you make and what codes and morals it goes against. Not only that but also that if you do break a code or one of your own morals that you have a very good reason for it and also to make sure you repent. Sir Gawain committed many wrongs throughout this story and at the end is called on them by the Green Knight and Sir Gawain realizes his wrongs and repents. I overall enjoyed this story though it was hard to comprehend at times with all the different types of words that were used in the 14th century and also the format of the poem was different to me so it threw me off. I would recommend it to someone who enjoys reading a fancifully worded story that takes place in the time of the Great King Arthur. Also people may enjoy the supernatural elements and thoughtfulness that the Green Knight brings to the story.

Chelsea K.

I can't believe I haven't read this before now! This poem is wonderful. It's structured in so many different ways -- almost too structured at first glance, but it all serves to highlight this extreme tension between nature and wildness and culture and chivalry. Two castles, two kings, four fitts, three hunts, three temptations.I won't even get into all the Green Knight symbolism brilliance here because I'm sure people have written books on it. Highly recommend. So entertaining. Almost funny too at parts, for modern audiences. The original Middle English is difficult, but highly lyric and lovely.


An excellent translation of a favorite work. Like Heaney's Beowolf, the original text is set facing the translation.What I particularly loved about Armitage's work is his devotion to alliteration throughout the work. As he explains in his preface, the Gawain poet was writing in a form that hearkens back to Anglo-Saxon poetry, where alliteration within the line instead of rhyming at the end is key to the music of the poem. Really, his introductory musings on poetry is a big part of why I enjoyed the poem so much.


I read “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” translated by Burton Raffel. This narrative poem is about the Green Knight who travels to Camelot to challenge King Arthur to a game.The main characters of this narrative poem are Sir Gawain, a knight that serves for his king. King Arthur, the king of Camelot. The Green Knight, who chooses to travel all the way to Camelot to test the chivalry of the king.In this book, The Green Knight travels to Camelot to play a beheading game. At first, he challenges King Arthur, but Sir Gawain thinks it is too risky for the king. The game is a test of chivalrous behaviors, and Sir Gawain takes King Arthurs place. During the game he is put in difficult situations, and makes some bad decisions during it. The story takes place in The Green Chapel in Camelot during medieval times. While Sir Gawain travels he goes through the wilderness until he makes it to Bertilak’s castle to keep his word with The Green Knight.There were many different themes I found in this book, but the biggest one to me was to honor the code of chivalry. Throughout this book chivalrous options were given to Sir Gawain in different occasions, and how he acted towards them determined his outcome. I enjoyed reading this book, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a challenging good book.

Logan Erdmann

I found this story to be a little confusing at times but I think it represents the time period well. It starts off with Sir Gawain accepting the challenge from the Green Knight for the beheading game. Sir Gawain plays in place of King Arthur. The game seems like an easy win for Sir Gawain but the Green Knight has supernatural powers and lives even after he has been beheaded. Sir Gawain now must let him return the favor a year and a day from the time the game took place. The main characters are Sir Gawain, the Green Knight, King Arthur, and the Lord of the Castle. Sir Gawain is a knight of the round table and Arthur’s nephew. The Green Knight is the proposer of the game and seeks to test Sir Gawain’s chivalry. King Arthur is the King of Camelot and the uncle of Sir Gawain. The Lord of the Castle allows Sir Gawain to stay at his place but is actually the Green Knight.The settings are Camelot on New Year’s Day, the Lords Castle, and the Green Chapel. This all took place sometime in the 11th century. One of the themes I found was the chivalrous behavior. Sir Gawain still makes the trip to what he thinks is his death. He holds still for the second axe blow from the Green Knight. He also accepts the challenge in place of his king. I would recommend this story to high school students that are interested in the time period of King Arthur and his knights of the round table.

Mark Adderley

This is probably the greatest medieval romance ever written. Maybe that's extravagant praise--there's also Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, Dante's Divine Comedy, and a few others, but I do think that if it hadn't been for Chaucer, the anonymous Gawain-poet would have been considered the greatest medieval English poet.The story is about a beheading test--the Green Knight challenges Gawain to exchange beheadings. Gawain will behead the Green Knight now, and then undergo the same thing a year hence. Sounds easy, but the Green Knight is magical, and doesn't die--he just picks up his head and rides away.The plot is intricately constructed, interweaving the beheading challenge with bedroom seduction scenes, hunting, questing, religious piety, chivalry and honour. The poet keeps you on your toes--he leads you to expect one thing, then surprises you with something else. You don't know what's going on until you've reached the last line.This text is the standard one in Middle English, and although it's tough-going, it's worth it. For a handy translation, I'd recommend either J. R. R. Tolkien's or Marie Borroff's.

Rebecca Payton

"Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" by Pearl Poet, was about the Green Knight coming to a New Year's celebration in Camelot. King Arthur and his knights were sitting around the round table, feasting in celebration when all of a sudden, the Green Knight shows up out of nowhere. Everybody around the table just stared in awe, wondering what to do. The Green Knight showed up wanting to play a game, but not just any old game. This game was called the beheading game, and was a very simple game to play. The beheading game was a deal made between Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Sir Gawain has the chance to decapitate and kill the Green Knight with his sword, but if the Green Knight doesn't die, a year and day later the Green Knight will have his chance at beheading and killing Sir Gawain. Sir Gawain, not realizing all of the red flags going up all over the place, had agreed to the game. He took one swipe of his sword and cut the knight's head off, leaving it to roll on the ground. The Green Knight didn't die, and picked his head back up. A deal is a deal, and so a year and day later Sir Gawain had to go to the Green Chapel where the Green Knight lived to fulfill the beheading game. Along the way, unknowingly Sir Gawain was faced with different challenges before he was able to finish the game. These challenges were a test of his chivalry, but unfortunatley he had failed them. The Green Knight taught Sir Gawain a valuable lesson at the end of the story."Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" was taken place at Camelot, King Arthur's castle,and also the Green Chapel where the Green Knight lived. It took place during the winter around Christmas time.Sir Gawain was from Camelot, and the Green Knight lived in the Green Chapel. Some valuable themes from the story dealt a lot with chivalry; those being loyal, honest, and brave. All of these themes were being tested on Sir Gawain by the Green Knight. Toward the end of the story, the Green Knight shapeshifted into the lord of the castle, and Sir Gawain was put through three different tests unknowingly. These tests that were taken place was when I thought the themes of the poem really came through. Two of the themes occured at the beginning of the poem, when Sir Gawain had volunteered to be a part of the game instead of having King Arthur risking his life. He showed he was loyal and brave to his King. I thought this was a very creative story, and I wasn't expecting the ending to be the way it was. I thought somebody was going to die at the end, but clearly I was wrong. I enjoyed reading the poem and would recommend this to all students taking english classes, because no matter what they're going to have to read this anyways.

Kori Looker

"Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" takes place in Camelot with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. In King Arthur's castle on New Years, a green knight challenges them to a beheading game. A chivalrous knight, Sir Gawain, takes the place of King Arthur. Sir Gawain fails to behead the green knight. He must return to the Green Knight a year and one day later to stick his deal in the beheading game. The story's main character is Sir Gawain. The Green Knight who challenges Sir Gawain is a giant, green, red eyed knight who rides a green horse. Other characters include the lady and lord of the castle who give shelter to Sir Gawain. This story takes place in medieval times in Wales. The time period is important, because the author shows the difference in chivalry between medieval times and present day.The main theme is chivalry. Chivalry is like morals, knowing right from wrong. Most present day people are not very chivalrous. Chivalry in medieval times was considered being loyal, warrior-like virtues, and christian values. Chivalry today is considered being respectful to women, such as holding the door open or pulling out their chair. Chivalry is looked at different view points from different people, but in the end I think chivalry is just doing what is right.I would recommend this book to older adults. I feel as though older adults would take more interest in this long narrative poem. I found "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" to be weird and boring.

Stephanie Sykes

I really enjoyed “Sir Gawin and The Green Knight” translated by Marie Borroff. We read this story as a class.This story is about about a guy named Sir Gawin, who goes in for King Arthur. Sir Gawin took the challenge of beheading the Green Knight, but the Green Knight lived and that meant the Green Knight gets to do the same to Sir Gawin in one year and a day. The main characters were: Sir Gawin, Green Knight, the lady of the castle, and King Arthur. Sir Gawin is the nephew of King Arthur and he is also a knight. The Green Knight comes on New Years Eve and offers the challenge to King Arthur. The Lady of the Castle gives Sir Gawin three gifts to give to the lord of the castle.The story took place in the 11th century. It took place at three places: Camelot, Lord’s Castle, and the Green Chapel. Camelot took place on New Years Eve. The Lord’s Castle took place in North Wales on the following Christmas Eve and New Years Eve. The Green Chapel took place on New Years Eve. The themes would be:live by the sword, die by the sword, chivalry, appearance vs reality, and if something seems to good to be true it probably is. Live by the sword, die by the sword was shown when Sir Gawin went in for King Arthur. Chivalry was shown when Sir Gawin goes in King Arthur. If something seems to good to good to be true it probably is that was shown when Sir Gawin keeps the belt, because he thought it would keep him alive. I would recommend this book to high school students, because I thought it was a little difficult to read. I would recommend this book to both girls and boys, because this book doesn’t really focus on one gender. I really enjoyed this book, because it had a good lesson behind it.


When I found out we had to read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight for a current university subject, I was a little worried. I often struggle with analysing poetry and something written in Middle English was not going to be easy. Thankfully we had to read the Brian Stone translation, which only hints at being Middle English. This is a famous 14th century Arthurian romance that is often known for the beheading game.This is a typical quest narrative; The Green Knight exposes the Knights of the Round Table as timid and cowards when he challenges them to the beheading game. The rules are simple, one knight tries to behead the Green Knight and in a year and a day he will meet them for the returning blow. The Arthurian world is governed by a well-established code of behaviour. This code is one of chivalry, a romantic notion that is deeply rooted in Christian morality, being a beacon of spiritual ideals in a fallen world.The beheading game is a plot device used as a test in the quest narrative, Sir Gawain is thrown into participating in the game and he is left with a choice, to be a man that lives by his code or not. A game that is meant to measure the inner worth of the knights and it does it in a big way, it exposes the Knights as cowards but Gawain steps up, sort of.There is a whole lot of humour in this story that often gets over looked when trying to analyse this difficult text. The idea of beheading someone and them returning for a reciprocating blow should have given that away. However the supernatural elements might have made this difficult to pick up on the comedic value. The Green Knight can be interpreted as an allusion of Christ and the strong religious overtones might lead you to think that but I saw him more as a plot device to represent life’s challenges.Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was a rather beautiful and interesting exploration for me. The translation I read did make it easier to understand, I don’t think I could handle learning Middle English. I had to do an assignment on this text and the quest narrative so I feel like I’ve already said plenty about this poem before sitting down to writing this review. I hope there is plenty of information here and gives the reader an idea of what to expect when reading this poem. It isn’t hard to understand if you have the right translation and is well worth reading.This review originally appeared on my blog;

Dan Tews

“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, is a Medieval Romance, that is based on chivalry. The story starts off in a kingdom called Camelot. The king and his knights were celebrating the New Year by feasting and other festivities, when a Giant Green Knight barged into the hall ordering to see the king. The Green Knight proposed a beheading game to the king and embarrassed the king in front of his knights. The Green Knight would give the king or any challenger his axe and they would have one strike to cut off the Green Knights head and kill him. If he fails, in a year and a day the challenger would have to find the Green Knight so that the Green Knight can repay the blow. Sir Gawain stepped in and told King Arthur that he could not put his life on the line, so Sir Gawain would take his place in the challenge because his life is not as important as King Arthur’s. The Green Knight laughed when Sir Gawain took the challenge, but still gave the axe to Sir Gawain and told him the rules of the game. When the Green Knight was finished explaining the rules of the game he bent over to receive the first blow. Sir Gawain wound back and chopped off the Green Knight’s head. His head rolled across the floor, the Green Knight picked up his head, and said that in a year and one day Sir Gawain will find him at the Green Chapel, so that the game can be continued. Sir Gawain set off for the Green Chapel in November, and come across a castle. The king said that Sir Gawain can stay in the castle as long as he gives the king any gift he receives from anyone of the castle. Sir Gawain receives a green girdle from the Queen that will keep him safe from the Green Giant, but he had to kiss the queen to get the girdle. He also did not give the King the gift because it was going to save his life, and he valued his life. After three days Sir Gawain left the castle to find the Green Chapel. When he found the chapel he was met by the Green Knight, and the Green Knight was happy that he kept his word. Sir Gawain prepared to receive his blow for the beheading game, when the Green Knight wound back and began to swing Sir Gawain flinched. The Green Knight mocked him for flinching, but Sir Gawain prepared himself again. The Green Knight wound back, began to swing, then he stopped and mocked Sir Gawain for not flinching. Sir Gawain prepared himself again, this time Sir Gawain did not flinch and the Green Knight swung and nicked Sir Gawain’s neck with his axe. The Green Knight then told Sir Gawain that he was actually the king from the castle and was proving a point to the Knight’s of the Round table, that they were not as chivalrous as everyone said they were. The King took the first blow of the game for not returning the green girdle to the king, the second was for kissing his wife, and the third was to finish out the game. "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight", is about a Chivalrous Knight that made mistakes throughout the book. He shows Chivalry by volunteering for the king and keeping his word by going to his own beheading. Sir Gawain shows that he is not a perfect knight because he does not keep his word to the king that he would give whatever he is given back to the King. He also kisses the King’s wife so that he can get the green girdle from her. The Green Knight is an inspirational knight because he shows Sir Gawain that he is not perfect and tries to make Sir Gawain a better knight. He has supernatural powers that allow him to have his head chopped off and is still able to walk away. He has the ability to change from a human body to his Green Knight creature. The setting of this book takes place in the eleventh century. The book starts off in Camelot during New Years Eve and moves to a place called the Green Chapel around Christmas Eve. The change in the setting is evidence of the book being a medieval romance because adventure is one of its traits.The theme of this story in my opinion is to make people more chivalrous. I think that the author is trying to say that some people are going to try to be chivalrous, but no one is going to be perfect because we are all human and we all make mistakes. I think that this book was a good book for English, but it was kind of boring. This book did not draw my attention because there was not very much action, and it got kind of confusing at times. I recommend this book to people that like more challenging books and that are able to understand it.

Mark Adderley

It’s always puzzling to know what to do with a book subtitled “A New Verse Translation.” It’s all very well for the moment, of course, but what about in a few years? When the translation is no longer new, will it need a new title? I have similar reservations about terms like “postmodern.” What comes after it? Post-postmodern? And is modernism now called pre-postmodernism?All of which doesn’t seem strictly relevant, except that I can’t help feeling that there’s something slightly self-conscious about Simon Armitage’s new verse translation of the Middle English masterpiece Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which is somehow symbolized by the subtitle.The other thing about the subtitle is that it is exactly the same as Seamus Heaney’s new verse translation of Beowulf, which, since it was published in 1999, isn’t really new any more. On the front cover of Armitage’s translation is a glowing review from Heaney, and in the Acknowledgements section, Armitage acknowledges Heaney himself and his translation as one of his inspirations. Inside the jacket-flap, another reviewer, this one anonymous (like both the Beowulf- and Gawain-poets, ironically) but writing for the Sunday Telegraph, enthuses about how both Armitage and, earlier, Heaney, have helped “to liberate Gawain [or, presumably, Beowulf:] from academia.” Like Heaney’s Beowulf, Armitage’s Gawain has a facing-page original text and translation; like Heaney’s Beowulf, Armitage’s Gawain has a black cover with a stylish armoured figure on it; like Heaney’s Beowulf, Armitage’s Gawain has ragged pages along the vertical edge, making is I suppose equally difficult to turn the page.Heaney’s Beowulf was well known, among other things, for bringing the ancient poem right up-to-date—the new date, that is, not the eighth-century date at which the poem was composed. Thus, Heaney translated the poem’s famous opening word, “Hwæt!” as “So.” Further down the page, the Old English “þæt wæs god cyning!” became “That was one good king.” Such translations as these made many academics wonder about the advisability of providing “new verse translations” of medieval poems. But since, as the Sunday Telegraph’s reviewer enthusiastically proclaimed, the aim of both translations was to liberate the poems from academics, what they thought really didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that Faber and Faber in Britain, and W. W. Norton in America were turning not to translators with a knowledge of the Middle Ages for these translations, but to poets who had to learn the language as they went.I’ll give you some examples from Armitage’s Gawain. Early in the poem, when the feast in Camelot, the Gawain-poet writes that the canopy over the royal dais “were enbrawded and beten wyth the best gemmes / That myght be preved of prys wyth penyes to bye / in daye” (78-80). This can be literally translated as “were embroidered and beaded with the best gems that could be proved of value to buy in that day.” The translation is rough and unpleasant, but it’s literal. Armitage translates that the tapestry was “studded with stones and stunning gems. / Pearls beyond pocket. Pearls beyond purchase.” Here’s it’s not specifically the translation that’s at issue. Armitage has translated into a style that is hip for the moment—the use of parallelism and fragment—but which, for one, gives undue emphasis to a rather unimportant feature of the description and, for another, uses a poetic trick that pulls the reader out of the world of the poem and into the modern world. That was one good canopy.Here’s another example. When Gawain arms to face the Green Knight at the end of the poem, the poet describes his armour as “The gayest into Grece” (2023). Acknowledging that “into” might better be translated as “unto,” we can see that the line is supposed to imply that Gawain’s armour is the most splendid in Europe—in the known world, in fact. in the medieval imagination, Greece was the edge of the civilized world. It included Byzantium, the seat of the eastern Roman Empire, known for its stylized art, gold and blue, richness and wealth. The description places Gawain’s armour in that oriental world, giving audiences a mental image of splendour, brightness, colour, vividness. Armitage writes that “no man shone more, it seemed / from here to ancient Greece.” Armitage specifically limits the reader to thinking not of Byzantine art, but of the Greece of mythology. The original line held both implications. The translation directs us exclusively to one.In all fairness, Armitage defends this practice in his introduction and, as we might expect, his argument is airtight. So would an argument be from the opposite perspective. That’s the nature of argument. But I can’t help wondering if there’s something wrong with entrusting the translation of a masterpiece of medieval literature to someone whose expertise is modern poetry—Ted Hughes and the like. It’s like entrusting brain surgery to a heart specialist. Sure, he knows enough anatomy to get away with it. But I’m not sure that “getting away with it” is really enough. I’d like to be imaginatively transported to the world of medieval romance, not of new verse translations.It’s also only fair to add that this is a highly readable translation. You speed through these pages, and time flies away from you. You’ve just met Arthur at Camelot, and before you know it, you’re reading the concluding lines. Some lines are particularly beautiful, particularly the famous passage of the seasons, and one passage actually made me think about the poem in a different way. (It was the section detailing Camelot’s craven assertion that it would be “Cleverer to have acted with caution and care” [line 677:]; that puts their eventual glib and joyous acceptance of Gawain’s error into a wholly different perspective, for me.)Ultimately, I think, we have to see a book like this not so much as a translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but as Simon Armitage’s poem inspired by it. As such, it’s a beautiful achievement—certainly as beautiful as Heaney’s Beowulf—and will hopefully lure many readers to its source, the Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

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