Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1375)

The Gawain Poet

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This is a modern translation by Simon Armitage of part of the Medieval poem, ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’. Further down the page is the original text, as written by The Gawain Poet in the North West Midland dialect of Middle English. You may recite either version.


Sir Gawain and the Green Knight modern translation (Simon Armitage)

In a strange region he scales steep slopes;
far from his friends he cuts a lonely figure.
Where he bridges a brook or wades through a waterway
ill fortune brings him face to face with a foe
so foul or fierce he is bound to use force.
So momentous are his travels among the mountains
to tell just a tenth would be a tall order.
Here he scraps with serpents and snarling wolves,
here he tangles with wodwos causing trouble in the crags,
or with bulls and bears and the odd wild boar.
Hard on his heels through the highlands come giants.
Only diligence and faith in the face of death
will keep him from becoming a corpse or carrion.
And the wars were one thing, but winter was worse:
clouds shed their cargo of crystallized rain
which froze as it fell to the frost-glazed earth.
With nerves frozen numb he napped in his armour,
bivouacked in the blackness amongst bare rocks
where melt-water streamed from the snow-capped summits
and high overhead hung chandeliers of ice.
So in peril and pain Sir Gawain made progress,
criss-crossing the countryside until Christmas
Eve. Then
at that time of tiding,
he prayed to highest heaven.
Let Mother Mary guide him
towards some house or haven.


Sir Gawain and the Green Knight original text (The Gawain Poet)

Mony klyf he ouerclambe in contrayez straunge,
Fer floten fro his frendez fremedly he rydez.
At vche warþe oþer water þer þe wy3e passed
He fonde a foo hym byfore bot ferly hit were,
And þat so foule and so felle þat fe3t hym byhode.
So mony meruayl bi mount þer þe mon fyndez,
Hit were to tore for to telle of þe tenþe dole.
Sumwhyle wyth wormez he werrez and with wolues als,
Sumwhyle wyth wodwos þat woned in þe knarrez,
Boþe wyth bullez and berez and borez oþerquyle,
And etaynez þat hym anelede of þe he3e felle;
Nade he ben du3ty and dry3e and dry3tyn had serued,
Douteles he hade ben ded and dreped ful ofte.
For werre wrathed hym not so much þat wynter was wors,
When þe colde cler water fro þe cloudez schadden,
And fres er hit falle my3t to þe fale erþe;
Ner slayn wyth þe slete he sleped in his yrnes
Mo ny3tez þen innoghe in naked rokkez,
Þer as claterande fro þe crest þe colde borne rennez,
And henged he3e ouer his hede in hard ysse ikkles.
Þus in peryl and payne and plytes ful harde
Bi contray cayrez þis kny3t tyl krystmasse euen,
Al one;
Be kny3t wel þat tyde
To mary made his mone,
Þat ho hym red to ryde
And wysse hym to sum wone.