The classic story that inspired the film starring Dev Patel and Alicia Vikander
“A medieval romance…but also an outlandish ghost story, a gripping morality tale and a weird thriller.… I couldn’t put down Simon Armitage’s compulsively readable...energetic, free-flowing, high-spirited version.” — Edward Hirsch, New York Times Book Review
One of the founding stories of English literature, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight narrates the strange tale of a green knight on a green horse who rudely interrupts Camelot’s 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. The following Yuletide, Gawain dutifully sets forth. His quest for the Green Knight involves a winter journey, a seduction scene in a dreamlike castle, a dire challenge answered—and a drama of enigmatic reward disguised as psychic undoing.
Preserved on a single surviving manuscript dating from around 1400, composed by an anonymous master, this Arthurian epic was rediscovered only two hundred years ago and published for the first time in 1839. Following in the tradition of Ted Hughes, Marie Borroff, and J.R.R. Tolkien, Simon Armitage—one of England’s leading poets—has produced an inventive translation that resounds with both clarity and spirit. His work, presented here with facing original text and a note by Harvard scholar James Simpson, is meticulously responsible to the sophistication of the original but succeeds equally in its ambition to be read as a totally new poem. It is as if two poets, six hundred years apart, set out on a journey through the same mesmerizing landscapes—acoustic, physical, and metaphorical—to share in and double the pleasure of this enchanting classic.
About the Author
Simon Armitage is Professor of Poetry at the University of Leeds and from 2015 to 2019 served as the Oxford Professor of Poetry. He has published ten collections of poetry and is the author of four stage plays, over a dozen television films, a libretto, two novels, and three memoirs. His poetry has won numerous awards, including a Gregory Award, a Forward Prize, a Lannan Literary Award, and the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. In 2019 he was appointed Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom.
Drives the force of the old poem through the green Armitrage fuse. Highly charged work.
— Seamus Heany, Nobel Prize-winning translator of Beowulf
Simon Armitrage's luscious version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight continues the tradition of great poet-translators such as Edward FitzGerald, Arthur Waley, and Seamus Heaney. Like them, he has taken an artifact from a remote era and made it his own, while simultaneously restoring it to itself.
— John Ashbery
Brilliantly orchestrated.... Armitrage has produced a brilliantly well-tuned modern score for one of the finest surviving examples of Middle English poetry.
— Poetry Review
[Armitrage's] version inventively recreates the original's gnarled, hypnotic muscle, its vivid tableaux and landscapes, its weird, unsettling drama.
— Mark Ford - Financial Times
A free and wonderfully offbeat version of this unusual masterpiece... fresh and startling, as though it had been written yesterday; it is rough-knuckled and yet it sings.... From start to finish, Mr. Armitrage has clearly had great fun; each of his words has been tasted with gusto.
— Eric Ormsby - New York Sun
Full of make-believe and festivity, this wonderful narrative poem possesses a Mozartean lightness and wit. Luckily, several modern versions, particularly those by W.S. Merwin and Simon Armitrage, deftly replicate much of the feel and rhythm of the Middle English original.
— Michael Dirda - Wall Street Journal
I enjoyed it greatly for its kick and music; its high spirits, its many memorable passages. I enjoyed it because, like the Gawain poet, Armitrage is some storyteller.
— Kevin Crossley-Holland - The Guardian
Armitrage makes it utterly, even compulsively readable, and as fresh as it must have been in 1400.
— Brian Morton - Sunday Herald