Sir Gawain

Sir Gawain

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a unique poem which not only tells the tale of a knight (or "knyyt" as it is written in the Middle-English manuscript) who goes on a quest, but also provides a subtle criticism of Arthurian legend by way of telling us how Sir Gawain is a "pearl amid white peas" when he is evaluated by the Green Knight late in the tale (line 2065).

Why is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight important?

This poem consists of 2530 lines that are arranged into 101 stanzas. It is commonly considered to be a part of the 14th century "Alliterative Revival" and is written in a language dialect that is from the English northwest Midlands estimated to be in the vicinity of Lancashire, Cheshire and Derbyshire. As such, the "Pearl Poet" (most common designation for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight's unknown author, though he is also referred to by some as "the Gawain Poet") is classified as a "northern poet" in contrast to, for example, a "southern poet" like Geoffrey Chaucer.

The "Alliterative Revival" was a form of poetry that hearkened backward to pre-Norman conquest Anglo-Saxon poetry that emphasized accented meter instead of syllabic rhyming (such as Chaucer).

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is usually described as a fusion between two main poetic subject traditions: French romance and Celtic literature.


HONI SOYT QUI MAL PENCE*


The Merwin Translation

The Merwin BOok - The Green Knight

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - translation by W. S. Merwin
Published by Alfred A Knopf, 2002, approx 175 pages

Besides W. S. Merwin's translation of the poem, this book includes a transcription of the J.R.R. Tolkien and E. V. Gordon version of the original manuscript (the Cotton Nero A.x. manuscript) from the 1967 2nd Edition published by Oxford University Press.

Amazon W. S. Merwin Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Alfred Knopf Books page on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight


The Armitage Translation

Armitage -  Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - translation by Simon Armitage
Published by W.W. Norton, 2007, Approx 198 pages

This volume also includes the Middle English text of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight from Everyman's Library, 1962.

  • Introduction by Simon Armitage
  • A Note on Middle English meter
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • Acknowledgements
  • About the Gawain Poet
  • About the Translator

Amazon Page Paperback Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (A New Verse Translation)

The Norton Books page on the Armitage Sir Gawain and the Green Knight


The Tolkien Translation

Tolkien Translation - Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - Translation by J. R. R. Tolkien
Published by Balantine Books, 1975, Approx 214 pages

  • Introduction by Christopher Tolkien
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • Pearl
  • Sir Orfeo
  • Glossary
  • Appendix on Verse-forms
  • Gawain's Leave-taking

Amazon page Tolkien Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; Pearl; [and] Sir Orfeo

Random House / Ballantine Tolkien Sir Gawain and the Green Knight


The Raffel Translation

Brian Raffel
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - Translation by Burton Raffel
Published by Signet Classics, 2001, Approx 156 pages

  • Preface by Burton Raffel
  • Introduction by Brenda Webster
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • Afterward
  • Selected Bibliography

Amazon page Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Signet Classics)

Penguin Books /Signet Classics Sir Gawain and the Green Knight


The Kerven Retelling

Arthurian Legends Cover Rosalind Kerven

Arthurian Legends - by Rosalind Kerven
Published by the National Trust, 2011, 224 pages

This volume of seven Arthurian tales includes a 26 page abridged version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Volume also has a large supplementary note section which discusses the seven stories and Arthurian tales in general, along with a bibliography and list of external sources.

This version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is heavily abridged and liberty is taken with story elements.

Amazon page Arthurian Legends


The Gerould Version

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - Gerould Translation

Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Poems of Two Great Eras with Certain Contemporary Pieces

Newly Translated by Gordon Hall Gerould
Professor of English, Princeton University
The Ronald Press Company, New York
Copyright 1929, 1933, 1935
230 pages

Gerould's Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a dignified version of the tale with attention given to translation into easy to read prose, instead of lines attempting to duplicate the Pearl poet's structure or alliterative sound scheme.

The end section is a supplementary series of notes on the translation work and is very informative, covering issues important to understanding Sir Gawain and the Green Knight up to the time of this books publication..

Amazon Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight : poems of two great eras with certain contemporary pieces, newly translated.

Sir Gawain Title Page - Gerould Edition

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - Contents Page - Beowulf, Pearl, Wanderer, Cynewulf, Piers Plowman


The Brian Stone Translation

Brian Stone Version Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Translated and with an instroduction by Brian Stone
Penguin Books, updated second edition version 1974 (original version 1959)
Approx 186 Pages

This book contains a number of additional items for further study:

  • Preface to the Second Edition
  • Introduction
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Fit I, II, III, IV)
  • The Common Enemy of Man (an essay on the Green Knight)
  • Gawain's "Eternal Jewel" (An Essay on the moral nature of Gawain)
  • The Poem as Play (Performed at Newcastle, Christmas 1971)
  • The Manuscript
  • Theories about the Poet
  • The Pentangle and its Significance
  • Notes on Arthurian Matters
  • Extracts from the Original Poem
  • Bibliographical references in the text
  • Bibliographical Suggestions for the Students
  • Notes

Amazon Page Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Penguin Classics)


Norton Anthology Marie Borroff Version

Norton Anthology Vol 1 SIr Gawain

The Norton Anthology Eigth Edition - The Middle Ages Volume A
Published by W.W.Norton,

The section on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight features a six paragraph overview of the poem, then a full translation by Marie Borroff (1967 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight A New Verse Translation ) with abundant footnotes on most pages.

Amazon Page (9th Edition) The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 8th Edition, Volume 1


* The book (from the Cotton Nero A.x. manuscript) ends with "HONI SOYT QUI MAL PENCE" - This is a Anglo-Saxon motto derived from Old French meaning roughly "shame to he who thinks evil of it" though it is more often streamlined to be "shame to him who finds evil here"


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