The year was so new, it yawned and stretched…

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I was in London over new year, and there was one place I had to go. The British Library to see the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition. It is stuffed with treasures, including some of the earliest works ever written and translated into English, all under one roof.

And there, in the shop, was this. I’d heard a lot about it, in fact the poems I wrote about two weeks ago drew on it, with equally fabulous rhythm and alliteration. I’d also loved Simon Armitage’s translation of the Pearl. Now, ten years after it had been published, was my chance to read his Gawain.

As the new year yawned and stretched is when this tale is meant to be told. King Arthur and his court are celebrating the twelve days of Christmas with gusto, and they want to be entertained. So did I, and I was.

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Suddenly and dramatically, the joyful scene is shattered, as the Green Knight bursts in. Only the king himself, and then his nephew, Gawain, dare to rise to his grim challenge. The noble Gawain seems to defeat the intruder easily…

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Gawain has a whole year until he faces the Green Knight again. He roams through Wales and the middle of England to find him. And the language rolls with the landscape; the text is 600 years old, but the weather doesn’t seem to have changed much in that time.

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Gawain encounters the Green Knight again the next new year. Despite his best efforts to stay true to his ideals and plan for every eventuality, despite his apparent victory even, he is disappointed. As the first shine starts to wear off our own new year’s resolutions, its worth seeing how he faces his fear of failure. Until the year turns once more, and it’s time to start all over again… strengthened by stories such as these.

 

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Posted in books, Christmas, Folklore, history, literature, translation

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