I’m not generally a fan of Armitage’s poetry but I enjoyed this book. Perhaps it is that the wonderful, bizarre narrative by the ‘unknown author / poet’ is already in place leaving Armitage to use his undoubted linguistic skills solely in the organisation of the dance of the words that he is translating.
While feasting at King Arthur’s court one Yuletide;
a fearful form appeared, framed in the door
a mountain of a man, immeasurably high
a hulk of human form from head to hips…
I should genuinely judge him to be half-giant
This giant green clad stranger lay down a challenge which Gawain, took up and is now pledged to go to this Knight’s castle one year later to face his forfeit. He travels up the west coast, through Wales,
crossing at Holy Head and coming ashore
in the wilds of the Wirral, whose wayward people
both God and good men have quite given up on
(I know some people from the Wirral…little has changed.)
Along the way there are adventures, temptations, magic, more feasting, until he finally arrives at The Green Chapel, home to the fearsome Knight.
The introduction does a great job of telling the history of the epic, the reason why Armitage is re-doing this translation and the things he was trying to achieve while doing it: to my mind he achieves his own objectives. I bought the book after seeing him read from it in a church in Ilkley in front of a rolling serious of backdrops of the illustrations to the edition, which are by Clive Hicks-Jenkins and are seductive and original. It was a great way to experience some of the book.
It is a cracking little adventure and well worth the 2 or 3 hours it takes to read.