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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight


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Simon Armitage is an award-winning poet who has published ten volumes of poetry and translations of both Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and The Death of King Arthur. He is professor of poetry at the University of Sheffield, England.


Composed in medieval England by an unknown poet and set in what were (even then) the old days of King Arthur, the tale of Sir Gawain begins when a magical warrior with green skin and green hair interrupts the Christmas party at Camelot with a bizarre challenge: "If a person here present, within these premises,/ is big or bold or red blooded enough/ to strike me one stroke and be struck in return" in once year's time, says the knight, "I shall give him as a gift this gigantic cleaver." Pure, loyal Sir Gawain accepts the agreement: the adventures that ensue include a boar hunt, a deer hunt, and an extended flirtation with a noble lady, designed to test Sir Gawain's bravery, fidelity and chastity, and to explore-with some supernatural help-the true meaning of virtue. The Gawain-poet, as he is known to scholars, wrote in Middle English (reproduced here); though it is slightly harder to read than Chaucer, the grammar is more or less our own. Armitage (The Shout), one of England's most popular poets, brings an attractive contemporary fluency to the Gawain-poet's accentual, alliterative verse: We hear the knights of Round Table "chatting away charmingly, exchanging views." This is a compelling new version of a classic. (Oct.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

A classic newly rendered by an outstanding young poet; there's even a parallel Middle English text. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

"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

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