by Simon Armitage - £10.99 Faber and Faber (2009)
paperback ISBN 13: 9780571223282 | ISBN 10: 0571223281
Preserved on a single surviving manuscript dating from about 1400, composed by an anonymous master, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was rediscovered only 200 years ago, and published for the first time in 1839. One of the earliest great stories of English literature after Beowulf, the poem narrates in crystalline verse the strange tale of a green knight on a green horse, who rudely interrupts the Round Table festivities one Yuletide, casting a pall of unease over the company and challenging one of their number to a wager. The virtuous Gawain accepts, and decapitates the intruder with his own axe. Gushing blood, the knight reclaims his head, orders Gawain to seek him out a year hence, and departs. Next Yuletide Gawain dutifully sets forth... His quest for the Green Knight involves a winter journey, a seduction scene in a dream-like castle, a dire challenge answered - and a drama of enigmatic reward disguised as psychic undoing.
Simon Armitage's new version is meticulously responsive and responsible to the tact and sophistication of the original - but equally succeeds in its powerful persuasive ambition to be read as an original new poem. It is as if, six hundred years apart, two northern poets set out on a journey through the same mesmeric landscapes - acoustic, physical and metaphorical - in the course of which the Gawain poet has finally found his true and long awaited translator.
(Price & availability last checked: June 2018)