Book Review: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – Simon Armitage

Title: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A New Verse Translation
Author: Simon Armitage
ISBN: 9780393060485
Pages: 208
Release Date: October 17, 2007
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Genre: Poetry, Classics
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:

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.

Review:

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.

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Comments

  1. This is actually something that I have been wanting to read for a long time, but have been too intimidated to even try. I think it is so very cool that it’s been translated in to a more accessible form, and also that the original text is shown in a side by side comparison. This is so going on my list, and I am glad that you enjoyed it! Great review on this one today!

  2. This is actually something that I have been wanting to read for a long time, but have been too intimidated to even try. I think it is so very cool that it’s been translated in to a more accessible form, and also that the original text is shown in a side by side comparison. This is so going on my list, and I am glad that you enjoyed it! Great review on this one today!

  3. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention. I enjoyed a prose version of the book recently, but would like to explore Armitage’s someday.

  4. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention. I enjoyed a prose version of the book recently, but would like to explore Armitage’s someday.

  5. I have an old copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that I bought at a used bookstore that has moldered on my bookshelf for years. I’m interested in the story but have been intimidated by the epic poetry-ness of it. I think I am going to give the translation I already have a try, just because it is on my shelf, but it is good to know that if that one doesn’t work for me, I don’t have to give up — I’ll give this translation a try.

  6. I have an old copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that I bought at a used bookstore that has moldered on my bookshelf for years. I’m interested in the story but have been intimidated by the epic poetry-ness of it. I think I am going to give the translation I already have a try, just because it is on my shelf, but it is good to know that if that one doesn’t work for me, I don’t have to give up — I’ll give this translation a try.

  7. I have Merwin’s new verse translation (2002)- and I really enjoyed it. It also presents the original Middle English text on the facing pages. Now I’m curious to have a look at this new-new verse translation. I love this story pretty much however it’s told.

  8. I have Merwin’s new verse translation (2002)- and I really enjoyed it. It also presents the original Middle English text on the facing pages. Now I’m curious to have a look at this new-new verse translation. I love this story pretty much however it’s told.

  9. Glad you tackled this and let us know how great the translation is. Would love to give it a read someday!

  10. Glad you tackled this and let us know how great the translation is. Would love to give it a read someday!

  11. I ve only read one of his poetry collections and his book about being in a band ,I lioke sound of this I think Tolkien did a take on this story as well ,all the best stu

  12. I ve only read one of his poetry collections and his book about being in a band ,I lioke sound of this I think Tolkien did a take on this story as well ,all the best stu

  13. I think I’m familiar with this story but I’ve never read any version of it although I’d like to. This definitely sounds like one to try!

  14. I think I’m familiar with this story but I’ve never read any version of it although I’d like to. This definitely sounds like one to try!

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