Saturday, December 16, 2006

The knot, the chine and the slot

At the Guardian, Simon Armitage has a stirring piece on translating Gawain and the Green Knight (I really, really want to write a modern adaptation of something old, The Bacchae is my most pressing idea of this sort but may be less practical than some others that might be attempted):

Naturally, to the trained medievalist the poem is perfectly readable in its original form; no translation necessary. And even for the non-specialist, certain lines, such as "Bot Arthure wolde not ete til al were served", present little problem, especially when placed within the context of the narrative. Conversely, lines such as "Forthi, iwysse, bi zowre wylle, wende me bihoues" are incomprehensible to the general reader. But it is the lines that fall somewhere between those extremes - the majority of lines, in fact - which fascinate the most. They seem to make sense, though not quite. To the untrained eye, it is as if the poem is lying beneath a thin coat of ice, tantalisingly near yet frustratingly blurred. To a contemporary poet, one interested in narrative and form, and to a northerner who not only recognises plenty of the poem's dialect but detects an echo of his own speech rhythms within the original, the urge to blow a little warm breath across that layer of frosting eventually proved irresistible.


I would like to hear that McKellen reading...


  1. Hi, I lurk normally, but I just wanted to mention that the McKellen reading will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 21st December, and should, if they run true to form, be available on their Listen Again facility for seven days. I'm certainly looking forward to hearing it.

  2. Thank you! I will take a look there once it's time and see, v. thoughtful of you to fill me in...