Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, by Simon Armitage

GreenKnightOne new year a Green Knight interrupts the feasting at Camelot and challenges the assembly: this day he will stand still an receive one blow from any one of them with his axe. But the following new year the person who deals the blow must likewise stand still and receive a blow in return. Sir Gawain accepts the challenge and cleaves the Green Knight’s head from his body. The body promptly pick up the head, which reminds Gawain of his vow, and gallops off into the night.

Hence the following winter Gawain sets off to find the Green Knight and keep his bargain.

As with Heaney’s Beowulf, Armitage’s voice in this translation is recognisably modern but rendered in the faithful service of the original poetry. Many of the descriptive passages of hunting are particularly memorable. There is also palpable tension in the finely drawn sequences when, towards the end of his quest, the wife of Gawain’s host attempts his seduction.

All in all one of the most deeply satisfying books of poetry I have read in a long time.

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