Stay Tuned for More Sir Gawain...


| 12/21/2007 4:23:31 PM


Tags: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Adam Golanski Open Letters Monthly translation Middle English,

Before Spiderman, there was Sir Gawain. His 14th-century superhero-styled story begins when a mysterious Green Knight makes him strange offer: Sir Gawain can take one swipe at the Green Knight as long as the Green Knight can return the blow exactly one year later. Sir Gawain accepts and promptly, cleverly lops the Green Knight’s head off. But when the Green Knight picks up his head, Sir Gawain realizes he’s been punked.

It’s a great story, a fantastic poetical tale, an important piece of literary history. Trouble is it’s written in a tortured 14th-century Middle English dialect. Here’s a sample:

and fer ouer þe french flod felix brutus

on mony bonkkes ful brode bretayn he settez

wyth wynne

where werre and wrake and wonder

steve thorngate_7
12/21/2007 7:44:59 PM

This sounds very cool--the poet's rhyme/metrical schemes are quite complex, and it does lose a great deal in modern English translations, which tend to be pretty loose. Also: you get extra points for correctly identifying the original language as Middle English. If I hear one more NPR story referring to Gawain or Chaucer as being written in OLD English, I'll...well, I don't know what exactly, but something angry and super-nerdy, for sure. http://stevethorngate.blogspot.com