Modern and Middle English parallel text edition
Sir Gawain & the Green Knight is a classic Arthurian tale of enchantment, adventure and romance. This splendid new translation – by one of the world’s leading poets – has already been acclaimed in America. The original poem and W.S. Merwin’s modern version are comparable in stature and imaginative power to another medieval epic, Beowulf, in Seamus Heaney’s rendering.
All Camelot is merry with Christmas revelry when an enormous green-skinned knight with brilliant green clothes rides into King Arthur’s court. This giant throws down a sinister challenge: he will endure a blow of the axe to his neck without offering any resistance, but whoever delivers the fatal blade must promise to take the same in a year and a day. When the young Gawain beheads him, the Green Knight grabs hold of his severed head and makes off on horseback. The poem follows Gawain’s adventures thereafter – shockingly brutal hunts, an almost impossible seduction, and terrifyingly powerful adversaries – as he gallantly struggles to honour his promise.
Capturing the pace, impact and richly alliterative language of the original Middle English text – presented on facing pages – Merwin brings a new immediacy to a spellbinding, timeless narrative written many centuries ago by a master poet whose identity has been lost to time.
‘Gawain remains, centuries after it was written, a poem of uncanny power. It has the tapestried richness of legend, but also an astonishing psychological complexity. Its lines are elegantly wrought, but they propel us through an adventure filled with erotic entanglements, dire challenges, and mysterious landscapes. Here is that rare poem with both the epic dimension of ageless myth and the eerie intimacy of last night’s dream. The clarity, ingenuity, and force of W.S. Merwin’s translation will enable a new generation of readers to discover a remarkable masterpiece’ – J.D. McClatchy.