The Green Knight

A look of lightning flashed
from somewhere in his soul.
The force of that man’s fist
would be a thunderbolt.

Yet he wore no helmet and no hauberk either,
no armored apparel or plate was apparent,
and he swung no sword nor sported any shield,
but held in one hand a sprig of holly —
of all the evergreens the greenest ever —
and in the other hand held the mother of all axes,
a cruel piece of kit I kid you not.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: a new verse translation by Simon Armitage

Simon Armitage’s SIR GAWAIN and the GREEN KNIGHT

What we know about the original:

  • It was “probably written around 1400.” It was recorded as being in the collection of Sir Robert Cotton, who also owned the Lindisfarne Gospels “and the only existing manuscript of Beowulf . . . but it did not come to light again until Queen Victoria was on the throne.”
  • Its official name is Cotton Nero A.x., and it sits (of course) in the British Library “under conditions of high security and controlled humidity.”
  • It was written down by “a jobbing scribe,” probably not the author.
  • A line from the manuscript: “Forthi, iwysse, bi yowre wylle, wende mi behoves.” (This was what medieval English sounded like! It has almost no similarity to modern English)

Self hopes she will actually be able to stick with this translation, all the way to the end. She has never read Sir Gawain in verse form. Verse (as opposed to poetry) isn’t really her thing. That said, she did read Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey, and loved it. And she loves the story of Sir Gawain. Earlier this year she saw The Green Knight, supposedly based on this translation, which struck her as mysterious and strange. Which is what led her here.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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