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The Death of King Arthur

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  245 ratings  ·  35 reviews
King Arthur comes to vivid life in this gripping poetic translation by the renowned poet and translator.

First appearing around 1400, The Alliterative Morte Arthure, or, The Death of King Arthur, is one of the most widely beloved and spectacularly alliterative poems ever penned in Middle English. Now, from the internationally acclaimed translator of Sir Gawain and the Green
Kindle Edition, 192 pages
Published (first published 1400)
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I don't like this as much as Simon Armitage's other Middle English translation, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It's a more serious poem, I think, less playful and rich in language, but it's still pretty amazing. I can't speak for the quality of the translation right now, I haven't yet compared it with the Middle English -- I'm sure there have been liberties taken, but I think he gets across the tone of the original poem, at least. Sometimes his alliteration is a bit over the top, not quite obe ...more
Crossposted/edited from my blog

I’m going to start off with the disclaimer that I do not read a lot of poetry and don’t feel particularly comfortable analysing it.This makes me a bit of an uncultured idiot when it comes to trying to write a review, but I’m going to do my best. When I do read poetry – and I’m trying to do so more – my preference also lies very heavily towards old-fashioned narrative and epic poems that tell an interesting story. Since I find the King Arthur legend (or legends) one
Vicky Shirley
Just finished reading this to avoid essays. Not quite sure what I think of it. I've never really enjoyed Middle English literature in translation, partly because I'm sure a lot of the musicality of literature from that period is located in word order (which gets shifted around in modern adaptations), and the lower vowel sounds. Some of the translation throughout the poem is probably a bit too modern for my liking, but I guess you have to do so to get around things like metre which dominates alli ...more
Alex Telander
Simon Armitage’s translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was a delight to read and well-received by many readers (it remains one of the top read reviews on BookBanter), and now Armitage is back with his new translation of The Death of King Arthur, appearing in 1400, also known as The Alliterative Morte Arthure; it is imbued with the passion and panache of Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf.

The story opens at a Christmas day feast where King Arthur is entertaining his round table of kn
Fabulous poetry - both the original (quite a lot is understandable when read next to the translation) and the new verse translation. However the subject matter is not terribly interesting..... basically it is a propaganda exercise at a time when the English had been gradually losing control of the vast lands of Western France. King Arthur is repeatedly described as entitled to rule the Roman Empire as 'did all his ancestors except Uther'.
I really, really tried, got over half way through but desp
Michael Joosten
I find myself bucking the major trend of the comments here: I didn't read Armitage and ignore Robert of Thornton; I gave Thornton a try on the first page and found that I could follow the Middle English.

Not 100% by any means! But with a little help from reading aloud, a lot of help from glancing over at Armitage to get the gist of the meaning where it wasn't clear, and with just enough sense of Middle English terminology from Tolkien to keep me afloat, I more-or-less managed it. I don't know if
Jessica Healy
I really wasn't sure what to make of this, being unfamiliar with the source material... I've enjoyed Armitage's poetry before, but this was... somewhat, meh. I had a professor in college who remarked once that Armitage had made a great career out of translating things that don't need to be translated... and even without knowing the original text, I can pretty much see what he meant!

The experience of reading this was strange. I sort of came in and out of it... sometimes it was fun, and snappy, a
This is a moderately entertaining mini-epic. The story is based around Arthur’s conquering of Europe, but it is episodic – one adventure/challenge after another. There doesn’t seem to be an overarching theme, though I guess you could argue it’s about hubris. Arthur fights an ogre, sieges and sacks Lorraine, fights numerous battles, defeats the Roman armies, then returns to England to find that Mordred had usurped him.

There is very little fantastical in the poem. It is very realistic, along with
N.J. Ramsden
I've read some terrifically scathing comments (not here) regarding Armitage's language – no, he's not perfect, he takes liberties and does his own thing with it, and there might even be interpretive errors that slipped past an edit - none of which is unusual or cause for major bitterness. Armitage picked an oddity for a modern working I think, as the narrative of the piece is rather linear and simplistic, and there's clearly some medieval tubthumping going on – but broadly he's pulled it off. Ha ...more
The past is brought vividly to life with such beautiful poetry that is enchanting and well written.

Those readers like myself who are fascinated with the Arthurian legends (of Merlin and Camelot, the Knights of the Round Table and Guinevere), will be captivated by Simon Armitage’s portrayal within his poetry. He recently turned the glorious poem ‘Sir Gwain and the green knight’ into something quite special (in modern English), bringing the past back to life in such a way that is current and cont
Jim Kinsey
This is one of those books I didn't enjoy so much as admire, in contrast with his Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with which I did both.

It's interesting, and certainly a quite different take on the Arthurian legend, but lacks the magic and sympathetic central character of Gawain. It does have its moments, especially toward the beginning with the dream sequences, but overall it reads like uncomplicated propaganda - the enemies are all eeeeee-vil, the knights "our brave boys" showing them how it's
Jim Corrigan

I gave it five stars, but I would rather give it 4.5, simply because it is a medieval poem (written about 1400) and not for everyone. But Armitrage has made it quite readable, and certainly every King Arthur fan should read it (as they should read Once and Future King, Mists of Avalon, and Morte d'Arthur), partly because it predates all of those, and partly because it has a different take on him. Here we see Arthur the Conqueror (sometimes even called Conqueror), challenged by Rome a
Jan 06, 2013 Sarah rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Arthurian Legends buffs
If you're looking for a version of the Arthur legend filled with knights going on quests and wooing ladies, then this is not the book for you. An Anonymous poem from c. 1400, this alliterative Death of King Arthur is more resonant of Geoffrey of Monmouth's historic account.

Simon Armitage masterfully translates the Middle English text, and captures the essence of the poem. Instead of a court of peace, in this poem, we see an Arthur who is the famed champion of Britain. He is a cunning military s
J D Murray
An alliterative poem about King Arthur. I should love it.

I hated it. Turns out it's possible to have too much alliteration. There's a lot of violence here, and a lot of jingoistic posturing at the expense of Johnny Foreigner, and not much magic.

It's not necessarily Armitage's fault. It may be a faithful translation of an original that I would also have hated.

But I hated it.
Geeez, this is a gory tale. The challenge to reading it for me was that I wanted it to have more of a rhythm line by line. The core tale is Arthur going to Rome to avenge some slight sent by ambassador from the Roman Emperor. Arthur left Mordred on charge, and has to return to his realm to deal with the usurper. But the real meat of the poem is the alliterative (rather than rhyming) style. That and the mayhem.

For instance:
"Why flee, false knight? The Fiend have thy soul."
Then Sir Florent was in
A poem about a subject nearly as old as time itself, namely, Britain's relationship with continental Europe. Armitage's translation tells a rollicking tale and while I was unsure how the alliterative structure would work over more than 4000 lines, I fell for it soon and hard. Both reader and hearer gain much in its being read aloud. The edition that I obtained has a yellow and blue wrapper that reminds me of a history textbook from my youth and if the publisher is reading this, I urge that it be ...more
Armitage certainly took a few liberties with the translation, but he made reading it fun so it's cool. I'm so good at this reviewing thing.
Rebecca Stevenson
An interesting curiosity, but not much to recommend here. If you're reading for the story, there isn't a lot to it; the text's focus is on the campaign against Rome. It's a straightforward war story with very little by way of mythic trappings, and the titular event is dealt with almost as an afterthought.

If you're reading for the language, the original verse is interesting enough, but I thought Armitage's "translation" added very little. The text would have been better served by a good glossary
David Kenvyn
This is an assured translation of the 14th century anonymous poem. Simon Armitage is more than a safe pair of hands. He brings an alliterative poem to life with the use of strong muscular language of a kind that is suitable to a story of warfare, bloodshed and the defence of right by the force of arms.

Anyone looking for Merlin however will be disappointed as he is not part of the original. That, however, is the only disappointment that the general reader will find, and that is not the fault of t
Norman Wakefield
I loved it! Couldn't put it down!
Alliterative and bloody and wonderful. OK then - alliterative, astounding and apposite. Yes, apposite given current shenanigans in island Ingerland. I read this when working in Brussels and its full blooded account of Arthur's european exploits were so at odds with the cynical and mealymouthed stances in Westminster. You can smell the gore in the battle scenes, taste the mendacity in the politics and feel the wetness of the weeping.
T P Kennedy
It's a good translation but it's simply not as interesting as Gawain and the Green Knight. Armitage sticks relatively closely to his source so most of the book focuses on who unhorsed who. The alliteration is fun and it's nice to read a version where there's no moral dilemma about Lancelot. Still, I prefer Tennynson's "Morte D'Arthur".
Stuart Parr
Pretty good update of an ancient poem into modern language. I think a poetic form is something many fantasy and sci-fi writers can learn from - complete, epic story in a few thousand lines of poetry, much better that wading through 3 volumes of prose :)
Jennifer Davies
A modern translation of the Alliterative Morte Arthure, a 4000 line poem written around 1400. It was something different and I enjoyed it.
Colin Price
Not quite as robust as Seamus Heaney's Beowulf (though that may be oweing more to the source material than the talents of the translator) but still a powerful and moving rendition of a classic verse text.
I tried to enjoy this, but it became more of a chore to read than I had hoped. It's obviously an important work, and the translation is easily accessible, but I just couldn't get into it.
Nov 03, 2011 Alex marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I really liked Simon Armitage's translation of Gawain, but I can't figure out what this is. Clearly not Morte D'Arthur; Malory's not listed as an author and it's nowhere near long enough.
Katie Monks
Got a bit bored in the middle but I was hooked again by the end.
I seriously don't know how many times I can carry on reading different versions of Arthur's death :s
Fanastic! Armitage does a very good job at preserving the alliteration of the original version. A must for any and all Arthurian lore lovers.
Steve Gillway
I think I might enjoy having this read to me because it is the sound of the words which is important.
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“This misfortune you find is of your own manufacture.
Keep hold of what you have, it will harm no other,
for hatred comes home to the hand that chose it.”
“Oh dire, dreadful death, you drag your heels.
Why dawdle and draw back? You drown my heart.”
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