Title: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A New Verse Translation
Author: Simon Armitage
Release Date: October 17, 2007
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Genre: Poetry, Classics
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5
It’s Christmas at King’s Arthur’s court, and his knights have gathered for the festivities. There is a general sense of merriment, and when a stranger arrives at court, he is welcomed. This is not just any stranger, though. This knight has green hair and green skin, and presents a challenge to all the knights at King Arthur’s court, one which Sir Gawain can’t resist.
In this new verse translation, Simon Armitage tackles the classic late-fourteenth century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The poem’s story is engaging enough; action and adventure abound as Gawain fulfills the terms of the green knight’s challenge. This is also a tale of morality, and though the end of the story approaches the cheesy, it’s a classic that’s worth reading.
However, if you’re a fan of medieval poetry or Arthurian lore, you’re likely already familiar with the poem, so what is important is the translation. And here is where Sir Gawain and the Green Knight really excels. Armitage’s verse is clear, crisp, and easy to read. Though I don’t often read novels in verse, I was pleasantly surprised at how well this book flowed. I could have easily read and enjoyed the entire poem in one sitting, which is a testament to how good Armitage’s translation is. He really updates this classic text, making it accessible for a modern reader, but stays faithful to the poem’s meaning and intentions.
One aspect of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight I really appreciated was the text itself. Armitage chose to include the original Middle English in his book. On facing pages, readers will find the original text on the left hand page and Armitage’s translation on the right. This is wonderful for anyone interested in reading the poem in its original form. Much of the old English was completely indecipherable for me, but it was very interesting to try and puzzle out the meaning, checking my comprehension prowess against Armitage’s much easier translation.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was a quick, easy, and entertaining read, thanks to Simon Armitage’s expert translation. I love reading older works, but am often intimidated by difficult reads, so I appreciate that Armitage took on this labor of love (as he discusses at the end of this work) and translated it into an entirely accessible form. This is a great pick for both fans of the story, as well as those new to Middle English poetry.