Friday, January 04, 2013

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight


As I was looking for books that take place over the Christmas holiday season I came across Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which I hadn't read in many years. I read it first for my English class in high school probably in the Weston translation, which can be read online here. I read it again sometime during my young adult years using the Tolkien translation, which I can't find online.

from the back of the book:
The fourteenth-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of the greatest classics of English literature, but one of the least accessible to most twentieth-century readers. Written in an obscure dialect, it is far more difficult to digest in the original than are most other late medieval English works. Yet any translation is bound to lose much of the flavour of the original. This edition of the poem offers the original text together with a facing-page translation. With the alliterative Middle English before the reader, James Winny provides a non-alliterative and sensitively literal rendering in modern English. This edition also provides an introduction, explanatory and textual notes, a further note on some words that present particular difficulties, and, in the appendices, two contemporary stories, The Feast of Bricriu and The Knight of the Sword, which provide insight on the poem.
There are many translations. The one I came across at my favorite local used book store is the 1992 James Winny translation. It's easy to read and leans towards accurate meaning when alliterative fidelity compromises that. No translation is perfect. I'm fine with losing some of the form in the service of meaning, though I realize some of the meaning may be in the form itself.

I won't even go into how nuts I go over the sexism displayed at the end:
But it is no wonder if a fool acts insanely
And is brought to grief through womanly wiles;
For so was Adam beguiled by one, here on earth,
Solomon by several women, and Samson was another -
Delilah was cause of his fate - and afterwards David
Was deluded by Bathsheba, and suffered much grief.
Since these were ruined by their wiles, it would be a great gain
To love women and not trust them, if a man knew how.
For these were the noblest of old, whom fortune favored
Above all others on earth, or who dwelt under heaven.
Bequiled were they all
By women they thought kind.
Since I too have been tricked
Then I should pardon find.

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