Resurrecting the Green Knight
My romance with medievalism makes me a sucker for anything Arthurian. What a treat, then, to be part of the generation that gets to enjoy Simon Armitage's new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, one of the most beloved epic poems in the orbit of the Arthurian tales. Armitage was particularly concerned to recover something often ignored by other translators: the importance of alliteration in the original. With that as a central goal, Armitage has produced a version that sings, even though it also conveys the grittiness and earthiness of the poetry (think Ted Hughes). This is poetry where guttural syllables matter. (I tried to read it with a kind of northern brogue in my head--but probably it's best read out loud. I'm going to try to convince the kids of that!) Aside from a fascinating story of honor, chivalry, and the Green Knight's rather pig-headed lack of prudence, there is also the titillating undercurrent of a certain eroticism in the story that is alluded to with a wink and a grin. A delightful experience that repays many re-readings.