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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1912)

by Gawain Poet

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
7,8341041,128 (3.77)1 / 327
"The Green Knight is a chivalric romance that was written anonymously and first published in the late 14th century as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight"--
  1. 171
    Beowulf by Beowulf Poet (OwenGriffiths, chrisharpe)
    OwenGriffiths: If you like Old/Middle English texts translated by great poets...
  2. 91
    Idylls of the King by Alfred Tennyson (chrisharpe)
  3. 60
    Sir Gawain and the Green Knight / Pearl / Cleanness / Patience by Gawain Poet (OwenGriffiths)
  4. 50
    Sir Gawain and the Green Knight / Pearl / Sir Orfeo by Gawain Poet (Muscogulus)
    Muscogulus: Tolkien's fluent translations of "Sir Gawain" and "Pearl" are an excellent introduction to the genius of the anonymous Pearl-Poet. "Sir Orfeo" with its strange images of Faerie makes a good addition to the volume.
  5. 40
    The Sagas of Icelanders by Örnólfur Thorsson (chrisharpe)
  6. 30
    The poems of Ossian by James Macpherson (ghilbrae)
  7. 31
    The Death of King Arthur: A New Verse Translation by Anonymous (jm501, jm501)
  8. 33
    The Odyssey by Homer (chrisharpe)
  9. 22
    On Hunting by Roger Scruton (bertilak)
  10. 11
    Pericles, Prince of Tyre by William Shakespeare (EerierIdyllMeme)
    EerierIdyllMeme: Two works in older forms of English which play with forms from even older forms of English.
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» See also 327 mentions

English (90)  Spanish (3)  All languages (93)
Showing 1-5 of 90 (next | show all)
Apparently, I read this book back in 2012. And I have no recollection of it. But thats okay, because this wonderful version translated by Simon Armitage and it was a delight to read. The story itself is typical for the time. There shouldn't be any unexpectedness. Sir Gawain is a good knight, but the youngest and least experienced of King Arthur's Elite. When the Green Knight barges in on Christmas and offers up a challenge, Its Gawain who takes the mantle, because he is the least important of the group and his death wilil not be a big loss to the group. The challenge is simple, the Green Knight will take one blow with an axe by a round table knight, but one from now, that knight will have to find the Green Man, and receive a blow from him. Of course, Gawain prevails, but not without difficulty.

Where the book shines is the poetry - Emotion is clear - from how important Gawain's faith is to him, to the temptation of his new friends wife. All of these tests are to prove Gawain worthy, and he passes, but is not without scars (or green girdle, in this case).

As for this version, I quite liked being able to see Middle English compared with Modern English. Its such a strange thing - I suspect if I heard it spoken, it would sound like English, but with a large chunk of gibberish thrown in. I also want to say that this specific translation has only a few pages that describe the book - how it was found, how it was received, and what the current thoughts are on the story's author. I highly recommend it. ( )
  TheDivineOomba | Feb 2, 2024 |
I am not much of a poetry fan. I understand it, and I know that it can have some serious power in that condensed and emotional way over the standard prose. But I just dont like it as much as prose. For me poetry is always something that gets way to over analyzed, every word, every line, every rhyme looked at from hundreds of directions and always presented as something so sublime and hidden in meanings that this [over]analysis always made reading poetry a choir. And sometimes, just sometimes, we get poetry cloaked in old-speech-of-ages-past and soon the words and the play with them takes precedence and I have a feeling we forget what the poem is all about.

So it surprises me greatly when I come across a poem of old but presented in a way one would expect to be the case in the past. Because while rich vocabulary was required to make the story gilded, interesting, intellectual (hey, they had egos then too) so on, main purpose of the ballads and poem's was to tell a story, not necessarily teach but entertain and, especially when it comes to poetry, try to throw some good or bad things around - elements playing in the background and understandable to everyone but hidden, made a little bit difficult to point at (which would be the case with standard prose).

But mainly, this was box-office of the day - stories of daring, adventure and all those things that are valued in life as it was then (and to be honest as it is today).

And this is where I find this adaptation (by Bernard O'Donoghue) to be exquisite one. Adaptation is written in English that is understandable today and through it one can see with the inner eye a bard comfortably seated by the fire in deep, wet, snowy night, telling a story with deep but calming voice, of early challenge of Sir Gawain (since he is rather young in here, this looks like a very start of his knightly career).

Structure of this poem is very clean cut - it interweaves several story lines into a single one without losing the focus and images flash in front of the reader's inner eye like scenes from Excalibur. I find this very interesting because even today some writers get lost in their stories and take thousands of pages. Here entire setup is less than hundred pages and it keeps you glued to the very end.
It is so easy to imagine damp, winter days with frost and ice on which horse's shoes echo like it is walking on steel, fog and low set sun that shines almost bloody red through layers of clouds and mist. Even when we are talking of winter nature, it always seems to be rich in color for the main action events, green color [of Gawain's opponent] especially so striking in contrast to the grayish environments, and richly colored castle environments and ladies outfits.

Story itself is given in the brief description of the book so wont go into details here because there are some twists and turns that I do not want to spoil.

As I said I go by the simplest approach to poetry, and for me poem resonates in a way that in life ideals are good guidance, but to succeed and actually live ones life richly and not waste it one must stand by his word, accept that we never know where life will take us, we need to keep the eye on the ball as they say and not allow distractions to cause unnecessary hazards and finally give our best to survive, use everything that can be an advantage because there is no difference if man dies like martyr or in a fight to live - in both cases he is dead but in the latter case he will at least give his best to prevent loss of his life. As they say failure is failure but failure without trying is the failure.

And I think above is confirmed by reactions of everyone Sir Gawain talks to after his adventure - they are touched by the young, promising, knight and chose to help him understand wasting one life is not a way to go [in life].

As I said, beautiful adventure, with very lean text and structure, trimmed to the maximum effect on the listeners/readers. What can I say, poem and adaptation to my taste :)

Highly recommended. ( )
  Zare | Jan 23, 2024 |
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of the most famous Arthurian legends, written by an unknown author in the 14th century. One Christmas Eve, King Arthur and his court are visited by the Green Knight who challenges them to cut off his head, on the condition he can return the blow. None among the court is brave enough to step forth, save young Sir Gawain! Gawain embarks on a journey to the green chapel to face the Green Knight that will challenge his honor and virtue. In his struggles to keep his bargain, Gawain demonstrates chivalry and loyalty until his honor is called into question by a test involving the lord and the lady of the castle where he is a guest.

Now the lord proposes a bargain: he goes hunting every day, and he will give Gawain whatever he catches on the condition that Gawain give him whatever he may gain during the day. Gawain accepts. After he leaves, his wife visits Gawain's bedroom and behaves seductively, but despite her best efforts he allows her nothing but a single kiss in his unwillingness to offend her. When the lord returns and gives Gawain the deer he has killed, Gawain gives a kiss to him without divulging its source. The next day the lady comes again, Gawain again courteously foils her advances, and later that day there is a similar exchange of a hunted boar for two kisses. She comes once more on the third morning, but once her advances are denied, she offers Gawain a gold ring as a keepsake. He gently but steadfastly refuses but she pleads that he at least take her sash, a girdle of green and gold silk. The sash, the lady assures him, is charmed and will keep him from all physical harm. Tempted, as he may otherwise die the next day, Gawain accepts it, and they exchange three kisses. The lady has Gawain swear that he will keep the gift secret from her husband. That evening, the lord returns with a fox, which he exchanges with Gawain for the three kisses – but Gawain says nothing of the sash.

The next day, Gawain binds the sash around his waist. At the so-called Green Chapel, only an earthen mound, he finds the Green Knight sharpening an axe. As promised, Gawain bends his bared neck to receive his blow. At the first swing, Gawain flinches slightly and the Green Knight belittles him for it. Ashamed of himself, Gawain doesn't flinch with the second swing; but again the Green Knight withholds the full force of his blow. The knight explains he was testing Gawain's nerve. Angrily Gawain tells him to deliver his blow and so the knight does, causing only a slight wound on Gawain's neck ("It's merely a flesh wound" hehehe.). The game is over. Gawain seizes his sword, helmet and shield, but the Green Knight, laughing, reveals himself to be none other than the lord of the castle, Bertilak de Hautdesert, transformed by magic. He explains that the entire adventure was a trick of the "elderly lady" Gawain saw at his castle, who is actually the sorceress Morgan le Fay, Arthur's step-sister, who intended to test Arthur's knights and frighten Guinevere to death.

This is a poem to revisit again and again as it has many lessons it can teach us about honor, loyalty, virtue, ambition, temptation, and life/death. And the poem does not lend itself simply to one interpretation. There are feminist, homoerotic, postcolonial interpretations. J.R.R. Tolkien, himself being a devout Catholic, probably went with the chivalric romance/Christian interpretation of the poem. In the Christian interpretation, to some, the Green Knight is Christ, who overcomes death, while Gawain is the Every Christian, who in his struggles to follow Christ faithfully, chooses the easier path. In Sir Gawain, the easier choice is the girdle, which promises what Gawain most desires. Faith in God, alternatively, requires one's acceptance that what one most desires does not always coincide with what God has planned. It is arguably best to view the sash not as an either–or situation, but as a complex, multi-faceted symbol that acts to test Gawain in more ways than one.

This is something like the fourth or fifth time I've read this poem and I always find something illuminating within its verses. It would be interesting to read other translations as well.

P.S.- If you haven't seen the David Lowery adaptation yet. Do yourself a favor and rush out to the cinema.










( )
  ryantlaferney87 | Dec 8, 2023 |
This book was both surprisingly readable and surprisingly entertaining. The book tells the story of Sie Gawain, a nephew of KIng Arthur, who accepts a challenge from the Green Knight that will almost certainly result in his own death.

I was always reluctant to pick up a book written circa 1400 in Middle English, but was motivated to pick up this book because of the positive reviews for Simon Armitage's translation of the work into contemporary English. Armitage even maintains a poetic feeling for the work. ( )
  M_Clark | Dec 4, 2023 |
I read the Armitage translation and enjoyed it a lot. The alliterative verse is really enjoyable to read out loud to yourself, the sounds are great and as a poetry dullard it pretty much always avoids the tortured syntax so common in iambic pentameter stuff.

( )
  tombomp | Oct 31, 2023 |
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» Add other authors (364 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Gawain Poetprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Armitage, SimonTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Banks, Theodore HowardTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kirtlan, Ernest J.B.Translatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
O'Donoghue, BernardTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tolkien, J. R. R.Translatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Borroff, MarieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Burrow, J.A.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cooper, HelenIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gardner, JohnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harasymowicz, SwavaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hare, KennethTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hare, KennethTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harrison, KeithTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hicks-Jenkins, CliveIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jones, GwynTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kredel, FritzIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lawrence, FredericIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Markus, ManfredEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Merwin, W. S.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morris, RichardEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Neilson, William AllanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
O'Donoghue, BernardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Raffel, BurtonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ridland, JohnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ridley, M. R.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rieu, E. V.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stone, BrianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sudyka, DianaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vantuono, WilliamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilson, R. M.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilson, R. M.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
Dedication
To
My Lady of Dreams
My Wife
(Ernest Kirtlan edition)
First words
Siþen þe sege and þe assaut watz sesed at Troye,
Þe borȝ brittened and brent to brondeȝ and askez,
Þe tulk þat þe trammes of tresoun þer wroȝt
Watz tried for his tricherie, þe trewest on erþe:
Once the siege and assault of Troy had ceased,
with the city a smoke-heap of cinders and ash,
the turncoat whose tongue had tricked his own men
was tried for his treason - the truest crime on earth.

(translated by Simon Armitage, 2007)
When the war and the siege of Troy were all over
and the city flattened to smoking rubble,
the man who'd betrayed it was brought to trial,
most certainly guilty of terrible crimes.

(translated by Bernard O'Donoghue, 2006)
After the battle and the attack were over at Troy,
The town beaten down to smoking brands and ashes,
That man enmeshed in the nets of treachery—the truest
Of men—was tried for treason; I mean

(translated by Keith Harrison, 1983)
Once the siege and assault had done for Troy,
And the city was smashed, burned to ashes,
The traitor whose tricks had taken Troy
For the Greeks, Aeneas the noble, was exiled

(translated by Burton Raffel, 1970)
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Disambiguation notice
Please do not combine this work with the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight/Pearl/Sir Orfeo or any other omnibus work. Thank you.
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Wikipedia in English (3)

"The Green Knight is a chivalric romance that was written anonymously and first published in the late 14th century as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight"--

No library descriptions found.

Book description
Haiku summary
Gawain chops green neck
But flinches when it's his turn.
He is forgiven.
(bertilak)
The winter axe falls
and the green fruit rolls away;
Gawain will suffer.
(Michael.Rimmer)

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