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10 thoughts on “Gawayn and þe Grene Knyȝt

  1. says:

    I didn't know where to post this so I think this is a good place!
    It remains me of my Literature professor, in a good way of course! :)


  2. says:

    Contains the greatest "OH FUCK" moment in medieval literature!

    Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - listed here as written by Unknown, though I believe it may have been penned by that prolific Greek author Anonymous - is a classic tale from Arthurian legend in which the code of honor attributed to chivalry is heavily ensconced.

    There are many interpretations of the poem's meaning, and historically speaking it's often dependent on the reader's bias. For instance, Christians latched on to the sex aspect and pagans saw a Green Man parallel. Me? I just see it as damn good fun, just as I'll wager the eagerly listening common folk heard it told by their smoky peat fires so many hundreds of years ago.


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  3. says:

    Enchanting translation that made me love words again. The cadence and rhythm Armitage employed gave life to the modern English rather than direct translation. The Introduction laid out precisely what he would do and why he made the choice he did--to preserve the beauty of the poetry, both the alliterative Anglo-Saxon and the breakout stanzas of continental rhyming.

    And I fell in love with language again. I found myself speaking aloud or mouthing them to feel the words tumbling out. For that joy, I am grateful again. As a selection for my Yuletide reading, I was most fortunate.

    The tale itself is quite simple, but filled with so many tidbits. It is a heroic story as Sir Gawain is tested. The similarities between the Green Knight and the Green Man mythology was one of the most interesting to me. But, the amalgamation of Christianity and pagan beliefs is fascinating. I'm going to ignore the misogynistic aspects of Christianity and women as the downfall of man when it is clearly their own decisions at play or here specifically, at the behest of another-- Yes, please continue to abdicate personal responsibility. Thus, I found the judgment at the end interesting.

    Sir Gawain got off lightly, and I concur with his interpretation of his actions over those of the Knights of the Round Table. The poem itself might be only a four star read, but how it made me feel bumps this to five stars, easily.


  4. says:

    The season if not of mellow fruitfulness than of frost and fog brings this back to me with the childhood memory of going to school in a proper pea souper, every familiar landmark lost, only the tarmac footpath remained solid beneath my childish feet, occasionally a hut would burst out of the milkiness to demonstrate that I was making progress. My little quest however did not take a year and a day, as all self respecting quests must.

    Alas the language is beyond me, I am comfortable with Chaucer (though I suspect that's just the false friends fooling me), and I found Langland, with concentration, manageable, but this dialect of English, roughly contemporary to the other two a bit too much, maybe if I knew some Norse or Danish, or had been born and raised in that country where it had been written rather than close to the dark waters of the Thames I would find it easier. But this edition does have a fine cover illustration which takes you to the heart of the matter.

    If you don't know it all, then it is a medieval English poem dealing with a knight of King Arthur's court, who gets into a beheading game with a wandering Green knight (view spoiler)


  5. says:

    Simon Armitage translation (Faber & Faber / Norton), and the Oxford edition's notes

    I'd half forgotten about Gawain and the Green Knight - and I'd definitely forgotten it was set over Christmas and New Year, until I heard this mid-December episode of In Our Time. As I thought during the programme how bored I now was of Simon Armitage - he's become a very regular fixture on BBC arts shows in the last few years - I didn't expect to end up reading his translation of Gawain. But I looked at a couple of others and they seemed too formal and RP. The poem's northernness (or perhaps more precisely north-west-midlandness) is one of the most distinctive things about it, and is what makes it different from other 14th-century English works like The Canterbury Tales or Piers Plowman, and I wanted that to be evident in the translation. Although the beginning of Armitage version didn't have as many dialect words as I'd hoped (nor did it in the full poem), you can hear an accent in it if you're looking, the way you can't in the Penguin or Oxford translations.

    However, he says about the translation, "the often-quoted notion that a poem can never be finished, only abandoned, has never felt more true. Even now, further permutations and possibilities keep suggesting themselves, as if the tweaking and fine-tuning could last a lifetime" - and a new revised edition was published in October 2018, so there may even be more dialect in it now.

    And - its other great advantage I only fully realised after starting to read it properly - Armitage's version uses alliteration like the original, rather than blank verse or a rhymed meter. One edition's introduction explains that Germanic languages frequently use alliteration as a poetic device, whereas romance languages use rhyme. I love alliteration, but it's kind of uncool: done to excess (and excess is easy to do with alliteration) it can seem like the dad-dancing of English wordplay. (Is that anything to do with its being an older, pre-Norman component of the language?) It was perhaps my favourite aspect of Armitage's Gawain, seeing, for the first time, alliteration used in such quantity and so well, and utterly *allowed*, and never once with a need to cringe.

    On the appearance of the Green Knight at Camelot:

    The guests looked on. They gaped and they gawked
    and were mute with amazement: what did it mean
    that human and horse could develop this hue,
    should grow to be grass-green or greener still,
    like green enamel emboldened by bright gold?
    Some stood and stared then stepped a little closer,
    drawn near to the knight to know his next move;


    Gawain's adventures on the journey northwards in winter:

    Where he bridges a brook or wades through a waterway
    ill fortune brings him face-to-face with a foe
    so foul or fierce he is bound to use force.
    So momentous are his travels among the mountains
    to tell just a tenth would be a tall order.
    Here he scraps with serpents and snarling wolves,
    here he tangles with wodwos causing trouble in the crags,
    or with bulls and bears and the odd wild boar.
    Hard on his heels through the highlands come giants.
    Only diligence and faith in the face of death
    will keep him from becoming a corpse or carrion.


    It brings home how bloody cold a medieval winter felt, with so many fewer hopes of getting warm than we have.

    And the wars were one thing, but winter was worse:
    clouds shed their cargo of crystallized rain
    which froze as it fell to the frost-glazed earth.
    With nerves frozen numb he napped in his armour,…

    So in peril and pain Sir Gawain made progress,
    crisscrossing the countryside until Christmas
    Eve…

    ---
    Now night passes and New Year draws near,
    drawing off darkness as our Deity decrees.
    But wild-looking weather was about in the world:
    clouds decanted their cold rain earthwards;
    the nithering north needled man’s very nature;
    creatures were scattered by the stinging sleet.
    Then a whip-cracking wind comes whistling between hills
    driving snow into deepening drifts in the dales.


    It's clear how exhausting a journey through this was, with rest and recuperation much needed, and no shame in the knight lying abed while the lord went out hunting.

    “You were weary and worn,
    hollow with hunger, harrowed by tiredness,
    yet you joined in my revelling right royally every night.


    What a contrast Christmas was with the rest of winter under these conditions:
    And with meals and mirth and minstrelsy
    they made as much amusement as any mortal could,
    and among those merry men and laughing ladies
    Gawain and his host got giddy together;
    only lunatics and drunkards could have looked more delirious.
    Every person present performed party pieces
    till the hour arrived when revellers must rest,


    (Which may have been later than you'd think; A Tudor Christmas, which I read a couple of weeks earlier, stated that in 1494, Henry VII processed at 11pm after mass on Twelfth Night.)

    As with all good long poems, there are a handful of lines that don't work, but those that do outweigh those that don't sufficiently to make the off-notes negligible.


    Needless to say, all this left me with renewed respect for Armitage, and I enjoyed watching this documentary in which he visited the likely locations the Gawain-poet thought of as he was writing. Lud's Church in North Staffordshire, the probable site of the Green Chapel, really did look like somewhere a high-fantasy film hero would fight a pivotal battle with a monster (or maybe they just filmed it well to make it look that way). If you also remember Armitage from the 90s Mark Radcliffe Radio 1 show, you will probably enjoy the soundtrack too.


    Armitage's edition has a short - and interesting - intro, but if you want the best historical background info, the Oxford edition is the place to look, at Helen Cooper's introduction and notes. (The Penguin Bernard O'Donoghue version doesn't have nearly as much.) Info like this was exciting (to me at least) after having heard several briefer, less detailed histories of the text:

    the precise detail of this location may however represent the origin of the scribe who copied the poems into the manuscript rather than of the poet himself, who certainly came from the same region but may not be possible to locate with quite the same degree of exactness.

    The Wirral was notorious as a refuge for outlaws though the comment here on the wildness of its inhabitants could also be a joke against the poem's first readers since Gawain is travelling into their own home territory. This is, however, the dangerous past, not the familiar present. (So the Liverpool jokes have an ancient history…)

    Other highlights included various estimates of when wild boar became hunted to extinction in England; the ranked, and also gendered, classification of hunted beasts; when carpets were probably introduced by Eleanor of Castile; mini-biographies of candidates for the authorship and dedication; the influential coterie of Cheshiremen around Richard II in the 1390s; and that Gawain was part of an Alliterative Revival in poetry, all known works written "in the north or west of England or in southern Scotland".


    For a long time I was not all that interested in reading Gawain because I'd never found chivalric culture very interesting and couldn't help but imagine it taking place in the sanitised scenes of Victorian Gothic revival paintings, even though they were obviously hundreds of years later. Not only did I enjoy the alliteration and the descriptions of the winter weather and its effects in the poem, but it helped me start to see chivalry in a different context: grittier, for want of a better word, and part of what seems to have been a confusing, demanding and perhaps sometimes contradictory set of social standards for medieval nobility which I'd actually like to know a bit more about (but paper-length rather than book-length).

    The only reason for giving 4 stars rather than 5 is the known fault with the original, that the purported plot by Morgan Le Fay, as explanation for events, is unconvincing. Otherwise, the poem ends with a beautiful and unexpectedly moving final line, as if it were a prayer; although the story is playful and mythical, this reminds the reader of the religion at the heart of medieval life.

    (read Dec 2018, review Jan 2019)


  6. says:

    Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Unknown, Burton Raffel (Translator), Neil D. Isaacs (Afterword)

    Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl‬, ‎edited with an introduction by A. C. Cawley‬, ‎London‬: ‎J.M. Dent AND Son‬, ‎1962 = 1341‬. ‎Pages: 16, 150, xxv

    Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a late 14th-century Middle English chivalric romance. It is one of the best known Arthurian stories, with its plot combining two types of folk motifs, the beheading game and the exchange of winnings.

    Written in stanzas of alliterative verse, each of which ends in a rhyming bob and wheel, it draws on Welsh, Irish and English stories, as well as the French chivalric tradition. It is an important example of a chivalric romance, which typically involves a hero who goes on a quest which tests his prowess.

    In Camelot on New Year's Day, King Arthur's court is exchanging gifts and waiting for the feasting to start when the king asks to see or hear of an exciting adventure. A gigantic figure, entirely green in appearance and riding a green horse, rides unexpectedly into the hall. He wears no armour but bears an axe in one hand and a holly bough in the other. Refusing to fight anyone there on the grounds that they are all too weak to take him on, he insists he has come for a friendly christmas game: someone is to strike him once with his axe on the condition that the Green Knight may return the blow in a year and a day. The splendid axe will belong to whoever accepts this deal.

    Arthur himself is prepared to accept the challenge when it appears no other knight will dare, but Sir Gawain, youngest of Arthur's knights and his nephew, asks for the honour instead. The giant bends and bares his neck before him and Gawain neatly beheads him in one stroke. However, the Green Knight neither falls nor falters, but instead reaches out, picks up his severed head and remounts, holding up his bleeding head to Queen Guinevere while its writhing lips remind Gawain that the two must meet again at the Green Chapel. He then rides away. Gawain and Arthur admire the axe, hang it up as a trophy and encourage Guinevere to treat the whole matter lightly.

    تاریخ خوانش روز چهارم ماه جولای سال 2015 میلادی

    عنوان فارسی: سر گاوین و شوالیه سبز؛ نویسنده ناشناس؛ شابک 0140440925؛ تعداد صفحه (نسخه چاپی - نسخه الکترونیکی) 187؛

    سر گاوین و شوالیه سبز، «سر گاوین و شوالیه سبز» در سالهای میانی سده ی چهاردهم میلادی از ماجراجویی سر گاوین، که یکی از شوالیه های میزگرد شاه آرتور بودند، میگوید؛ در داستان، سر گاوین یک چالش را از یک جنگجوی مرموز که پوست آن سبز است، را میپذیرد. یکی از افسانه های بنیادی و بسیار با ارزش است. ا. شربیانی


  7. says:

    Rating: 5* of five

    This is the book to get your poetry-resistant friend this #Booksgiving 2017. I read it on a dare. I don't like poetry very much, it's so snooty and at the same time so pit-sniffingly self-absorbed that I'd far rather stab my hands with a fork repeatedly than be condescended to in rhyming couplets.

    This tale is fabulous in every sense of the word, which is no surprise since it's survived for so many centuries. But poet and translator Simon Armitage has made the old world new again. He sucked me right in and never let me come up for air with his gorgeous words and his carefully chosen words and his alliterative rhythmical phrases.

    If the idea of a Norton Critical Edition is keeping you far away from this delightful read, rest assured it's not stodgy or dry or just plain boring. It's vibrant, alive, shimmering with an inner power, waiting for you to open its covers and fall utterly under its spell. Become happily ensorcelled, gentle reader, relax into the sure and strong embrace of a centuries-old knight and his spectacular tale.


  8. says:

    One thing I wasn't expecting in this was such beautifully clear descriptions of landscapes. Perspectives on the bleak winterscapes undulate, moving from terrifying cold to almost beautiful mists. It's really *Sublime*.

    One of my favourite lines:
    "So the year passes on through its series of yesterdays".


  9. says:

    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.


  10. says:

    I gave this three stars because it whetted my sapiosexuality for (view spoiler)