The classic story that inspired the film starring Dev Patel and Alicia Vikander
“A medieval romance…but also an outlandish ghost story, a gripping morality tale and a weird thriller.… I couldn’t put down Simon Armitage’s compulsively readable...energetic, free-flowing, high-spirited version.” — Edward Hirsch, New York Times Book Review
One of the founding stories of English literature, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight narrates the strange tale of a green knight on a green horse who rudely interrupts Camelot’s Round Table festivities one Yuletide, casting a pall of unease over the company and challenging one of their number to a wager. The virtuous Gawain accepts and decapitates the intruder with his own axe. Gushing blood, the knight reclaims his head, orders Gawain to seek him out a year hence, and departs. The following Yuletide, Gawain dutifully sets forth. His quest for the Green Knight involves a winter journey, a seduction scene in a dreamlike castle, a dire challenge answered—and a drama of enigmatic reward disguised as psychic undoing.
Preserved on a single surviving manuscript dating from around 1400, composed by an anonymous master, this Arthurian epic was rediscovered only two hundred years ago and published for the first time in 1839. Following in the tradition of Ted Hughes, Marie Borroff, and J.R.R. Tolkien, Simon Armitage—one of England’s leading poets—has produced an inventive translation that resounds with both clarity and spirit. His work, presented here with facing original text and a note by Harvard scholar James Simpson, is meticulously responsible to the sophistication of the original but succeeds equally in its ambition to be read as a totally new poem. It is as if two poets, six hundred years apart, set out on a journey through the same mesmerizing landscapes—acoustic, physical, and metaphorical—to share in and double the pleasure of this enchanting classic.