on 21 April 2013
It's thought that the Gawain poet was roughly contemporary with Chaucer, but if you're familiar with Chaucer you'll find some differences between the two. Chaucer's language is that of London and southern England, whereas here we have the rich dialect of the north-west, with a splintering of Scandinavian and Old Norse, plus Norman French (mainly reserved for the language of courtly love).
The image of the Green Knight seated on his horse at the court of Arthur is surely one of the most startling and enduring in English literature, yet the story of which it is part is possibly less well-known. The construction of the work is intriguing: one hundred and one stanzas (to represent the year-and-a-day which the Green Knight allows Gawain before their next meeting, at which Gawain must accept a blow from the Knight's axe). Within the stanzas the lines are carefully structured, and alliteration is used to for emphasis. Having such a treasure-trove of vocabulary available, the Gawain poet dazzles us with literary jewels, making this a heady draught.
James Winny provides the ideal format for reading the poem, with the original faced by a straightforward and literal translation which doesn't attempt to reproduce the alliterative dimension. His introduction is a fascinating insight into the translator's challenges and the additional couple of stories give some interesting background to the poem.
on 28 January 2014
The chief virtue of this rather sorry edition is that Winny has left the original text almost intact. Modern letters have replaced older thorn, etc., but otherwise it's there. The line numbers make referencing easy. The cover's nice.
Right, that's the praise done with.
Beyond that it's a travesty of many kinds. Winny's introduction is dismissive and hubristic, suggesting the dialect of the piece to be 'outlandish', amongst other things. Just because this isn't Chaucer. Well, apologies to Winny for the fact that there is a great variety of language in this country, and has been for a very long time. Deal with it.
Then there's his dull, pedestrian, and stilted translation, a turgid effort that is belittled by dangling opposite the original like some stale sock with a fancy pattern on it. You know the ones. You get them for Christmas. There's no life to his version. There's no sense of it being a poem at all, really, except for the schoolboy rhymes wedged in every now and again.
His notes are acceptable, the appendices superfluous.
Don't waste your money. Get the more properly scholarly Tolkien edition and put some work in.