The Gawain Project
February 13, 2009 8:18 PM   Subscribe

The Gawain Project is an ongoing translation of the late 14th century anonymous poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (originally written in Middle English) into Modern English, for the amusement of Arthurians and anyone who likes a good story. [via mefi projects]
posted by Effigy2000 (18 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

also, "And this they named the numbles, that knew such terms of art."

I remember this because it was on an English Lit. survey class final exam.
posted by exlotuseater at 9:10 PM on February 13, 2009

This is great! Here's the Middle English (ME) text that he's working from.

(I'm currently TAing for History of English, an undergrad linguistics course at SF State, and this site will be a fun additional reference for the students when we get to ME in a few weeks.)
posted by iamkimiam at 9:41 PM on February 13, 2009

Good stuff!
posted by RussHy at 12:11 AM on February 14, 2009


Sir, I know english, and that is no english.
posted by flaterik at 12:15 AM on February 14, 2009

That's "thought" in modern English.
þ=unvoiced "th", 3=a more guttural "gh", almost like in German "dachte", but with more of a g to it.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:15 AM on February 14, 2009

I am in favor of this! I read the Simon Armitage Sir Gawain over Christmas, and have the Tolkien on standby for when next I'm feeling me some epic poetry.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:28 AM on February 14, 2009

No, sirrah, you know English not.

þat gode englissh is.

(And the Sean Connery film is a horrible movie.)
posted by IAmBroom at 4:42 AM on February 14, 2009

I've only read the Tolkien version; there is certainly something to be said for how the alliterative style sticks in your head.

When the siege and assault had ceased at Troy...
posted by sciurus at 5:51 AM on February 14, 2009

Two thumbs up for the Armitage translation, which I also read this Christmas. And Tolkien's is a classic. But the more, the merrier. . .

It's fun to write in this style. Just a couple of simple rules.

4 beats per line.

And. . . can someone help me out with the alliteration? There are some conventions about which of the 4 accented syllables get the alliteration, typically. (I'm thinking the second beat drops the alliteration often. . .) Not that crucial, though. Stick with 4 beats and alliterate some and you're there.
posted by flotson at 6:58 AM on February 14, 2009

This is fantastic! I hardly ever use my LJ acct, but now I have something to keep up with.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:10 AM on February 14, 2009

This is really nice.

How was "highe" (as in "ennias þe athel and his highe kynde") pronounced? Was the gh different than the 3 sound?
posted by mail at 7:48 AM on February 14, 2009

"In destinies sad or merry, true men can but try."

What's that bit look like in ME, I wonder.
posted by notyou at 8:27 AM on February 14, 2009

mail, AFAIK "gh" is the standard transliteration for the yogh (at least, in its gutteral-gh sound - it also can represent a consonantal-y sound IIRC) . Ergo, the same.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:10 AM on February 14, 2009

Notyou, it might be the "iche tolke mon do as he is tan tas to non ille/ ne pine" bit near the end of stanza 72.
posted by No-sword at 5:01 PM on February 14, 2009

Just finished watching Excalabur, coincidentally. Gawain having more than a minor role. About to Google for the 4 "G" brothers from the Orkney Isles... Most annoyed I have forgotten...

/twitter post
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:06 PM on February 14, 2009

Oh wow! Many delighted thanks to Effigy2000 for the FPP and to everyone for the kind comments!

I'm in Cornwall at the moment, but will be home soon, and hope to finish off Passus I and start Passus II next week. (Pentagrams! Gawain's horse Gryngolet! The Winter Journey!)

I take flotson's point about the 4-stress line; that's certainly the rule for much of the Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse which inspires the metre of Gawain, as well as for the Middle English poems Piers Plowman and Pearl. I'd argue, though, that a five-stress line is more common in Gawain, and that the Gawain-poet him/herself isn't always perfectly strict about it. The usual pattern of alliteration (in the long lines) is on every stressed syllable, sometimes excepting the last. For example, the first two lines of the poem:

siþen þe sege and þe assaut watz sesed at Troye,
þe bor3 brittened and brent to brondez and askez,

[After the siege and the assault were ceased at Troy,
The city shattered and burnt to cinder and ash;]

Five stresses, right? I like to think that it prefigures the shift to pentameter as the "natural" meter of modern English. In my current translation, I'm the first to admit I don't always get the rhythm right. I wish I could match the mighty metre of the original, as well as the alliteration and the all-important distinction between the "you/ye" and "thou/thee" forms of address. What I'm prioritising over all of these, though, is fidelity to the original. I hope to become better at merging all these as I go.

Meanwhile, anyone kind enough to read should feel free to comment. In a poem this big I'm bound to get some bits wrong, so feel free to challenge; I won't get touchy.

Finally: uncanny hengeman, the four sons of King Lot of Orkney are (I think) Gawain, Gaheris, Agravayne and Gareth; and notyou, here's that bit you were after (stanza 24):

þe kny3t mad ay god chere
and sayde "quat schuld I wonde?
Of destines derf and dere
what may mon do bot fonde?"

posted by Pallas Athena at 12:39 PM on February 15, 2009

Bloody brilliant, Pallas Athena, thanks. I was going from memory from T. H. White's brilliant 1930s[?] tome. I could have sworn it was 4 "G"s. The memory's going!

Most Google / Wiki answers were confusing, and rightfully quoting much older texts. Names and number of brothers varied wildly!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:21 PM on February 15, 2009

Bravo, Pallas Athena; I have bookmarked this and look forward to Passus II.

Frank Kermode wrote an excellent review of the Armitage and O'Donoghue versions, showing what a challenge the poem presents to a translator. He also explains the pattern of alliteration (answering flotson's query above): 'The rhythmic alliterative line was divided into two halves, each containing two (or in the first half-line originally three) main stresses .. The third stress (that is, the first stress of the second half-line) always alliterates with one or both of the stresses in the first half-line, but never with the fourth stress.'

I'm not a huge fan of Armitage's poetry (too blokeish for my taste) but his Gawain translation is superb, and it's fun to watch him having fun with the alliteration -- 'every person present performed party pieces' (which Kermode thinks is a 'stunt' but I think is brilliant). He wrote an amusing article about it (in which I figure anonymously as the 'contact' who 'took pity' on him).
posted by verstegan at 2:32 AM on February 19, 2009

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