It is Christmas in Camelot and a truly royal feast has been laid out for King Arthur and his knights. And though there is plenty of good cheer to go around, the festivities hardly begin before a monstrous, axe-wielding, green-skinned knight barges in. He has come to see the famous Knights of the Round Table and offer them a simple but deadly challenge – a challenge taken on by the brave Sir Gawain – a challenge that will force him to choose between his honor and his life . . .
Sir Gawain’s response to the challenge of the green knight shows the style and rhythm of Raffel’s translation:
My life the least, my death no loss
My only worth is you, my royal
Uncle, all my virtue is through you.
And this foolish business fits my station,
Not yours: let me play this green man’s game.
If I ask too boldly, may this court declare me at
Written by a fourteenth-century poet whose name is unknown, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is recognized as an equal of Chaucer’s masterworks and of the great Old English poems, including Beowulf. Translator and editor Burton Raffel writes that “The Gawain-poet can do an incredible number of things in brilliant style . . . [H]e can draw characters so vividly that they breathe, he can paint pictures so vitally that one sees them, almost feels them . . . [H]e can be passionately moral; he can be wickedly comic . . . Gawain is great poetry, it is unqualifiedly a masterpiece.”
Originally published in 1970, the Signet Classic edition contains an introduction by Burton Raffel, bibliography, and an afterword by Neil D. Isaacs. This is part of Hewitt’s Lightning Literature & Composition curriculum.