Nikki's Reviews > Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo by Unknown
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Mar 14, 10

bookshelves: arthurian, myth-legend-saga-etc, medieval-literature, classics, poetry
Read in March, 2010

Tolkien's translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight comes with two more translations, one probably by the Gawain-poet, Pearl, and one by another anonymous poet, Sir Orfeo. I've said a lot about Sir Gawain in my reviews of other translations, so I'll keep my comments on this translation short. It's lovely and lyrical, as magical as one would expect, but it's less accessible than it could be. Tolkien didn't fully bring it into modern language. If that's your thing, then it's no barrier to enjoying the story -- but if you just want to enjoy the story, without worrying about language, Simon Armitage's translation might be more your thing.

I didn't like Pearl all that much. The language is lovely, and some of the imagery, but the subject matter isn't really my thing.

Sir Orfeo, however, filled me with glee. I'd never really heard/read about it before -- or I hadn't remembered, if I had. It's essentially a medieval version of Orpheus and Eurydice, transplanted from Thrace to Winchester. Tolkien's translation is readable and interesting, and while the poem isn't on the scale of Sir Gawain, it's enjoyable.
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Hollis (new)

Hollis I'm just asking out of interest: I know you often hear mention of 'The Gawain Poet' in the sexy world of medieval studies, but who is this guy/gal exactly? Or does no-one know, is it an anonymous writer?


Nikki As far as I know, no one knows. Tolkien's introduction simultaneously says we know nothing about the Gawain-poet and that he was a major poet of his time. It's assumed, I think based on vocabulary, that the Gawain-poet wrote all the other poems in that manuscript -- Pearl, Purity and Patience, if I remember the titles right. Only one copy of the manuscript survives, so I think it's hard to make judgement on how major or minor the poet was. He was from Chesire, based on the vocabulary, and right now I can't think why everyone assumes the poet was male -- whether there's some evidence for that or not, I don't know. I think there's been a name suggested for the poet, but I don't think it's widely accepted.

I think that's all I know about the Gawain-poet, although I imagine the figure of the poet is something we'll discuss in my Sir Gawain class eventually. So far we've focused solely on the text.


Nikki That was a lot of "I think" and "if I remember rightly"ing. I'm pretty sure about everything I just said. *laughs*


message 4: by Hollis (new)

Hollis Oh, that's interesting. I didn't know Tolkein did that sort of thing as well (I suppose he was an Oxford scholar in his day-job so he must have done): I might check that out.

I think it would be funny if you all agreed to call him 'Dr Funk', something like that. Is this a module you do on your degree course called 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' or is just part of a more general medieval studies thing?


Nikki What kind of thing? The translation, or the commenting on texts? He revolutionised the way people criticise Beowulf, after all... His is not my favourite translation of Sir Gawain, but it's pretty good.

It's a module unto itself. Only ten credits, like the normal modules we have, but the guy who teaches it has said that he'd make it a seventy credit module if he could, heh. We read it in a copy that has the original and a prose translation, and the first seven or eight weeks of the ten week schedule are devoted to just close-reading it. I think people probably come out of the other end of the course either loving it or hating it. I'm in the former camp.


message 6: by Hollis (new)

Hollis 'the first seven or eight weeks of the ten week schedule are devoted to just close-reading it.'

No way...haha. I bet the people who don't like the module must go into a seizure whenever they hear the words 'green knight'.


Nikki Close-reading the Middle English, even, not just the prose translation.

Someone in the first class said "Oh fuck, I didn't know this had King Arthur in it! I hate it already." I always wonder how they're faring now...


message 8: by Hollis (last edited Mar 16, 2010 07:24AM) (new)

Hollis 'I always wonder how they're faring now...'

Probably bludgeoning himself/herself to death with the 'Oxford Companion to English Literature'.


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