Thursday, October 11, 2007

Will Simon Armitage do for SGGK what Seamus Heaney did for Beowulf?

A great many people seem to think so.

I've just ordered this promising new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight for my new course "Myths of Britain" in the spring (an introduction to the major, the course looks at the literature of early England within a paninsular, transnational frame). More here when the volume arrives.

Honestly, isn't it about time a leather-jacket clad poet got his hands on the thing?

(Thanks, Jonathan Hsy, for calling my attention to its publication).

12 comments:

steve said...

Last December, BBC Radio broadcast an excellent reading of the Armitage translation by Ian McKellan. It doesn't seem to be available on the BBC site anymore, but hopefully it will be again in the future.

Mary Kate Hurley said...

You mean spawn a ton of movies within five years?

Now how cool would that be. Looking forward to hearing what you think of it...

Rob Barrett said...

Unfortunately, SGGK has already spawned some movies. :)

As for JJC's use of "paninsular," I like it. Consider it stolen!

Matt said...

BBC radio ran a SGGK play based on Armitrage's translation last December as yuletide fare. I can't find it on their website now, but they might be prevailed upon to reair that broadcast, it was quite good.

So why is there no decent film adaptation of SGGK? Stephen Weeks directed both Sword of the Valiant(1984)--which is intermittently watchable, maybe--but also SGGK (1973) which is not watchable and is a felonious (ab)use of great narrative poetry.

Anonymous said...

It's an effective, worthy but bloodless translation. For translation-as-poetic recreation - that is, for translation that lives - check out Ciaran Carson's _Inferno_ or (even better) his new translation of the great Irish mythological cycle, _The Tain_. An Irish Borges...

Jonathan Hsy said...

This is a spectacular translation.

I was fortunate enough to hear Armitage give a reading of his translation last night, and I was immediately sold. He clearly loves the poem as a poem, and he conveys the sound-patterns and pacing of the Middle English original very effectively.

But what really strikes me is the book's introduction--it offers a beautiful description of the process of translation itself:

"[The lines of the poem] seem to make sense, though not quite. To the untrained eye, it is as if the poem is lying beneath a thin coat of ice, tantalizingly near yet frustratingly blurred. To a contemporary poet, one interested in narrative and form, and to a northerner who not only recognizes plenty of the poem's dialect but detects an echo of his own speech rhythms within the original,
the urge to blow a little warm breath across that layer of frosting eventually proved irresistible" (11).

I'm definitely using this translation in the future.

J J Cohen said...

Steve, I couldn't find the Gandalf -- err, McKellan -- reading, but there is this.

As to Gawain movies, Mary Kate, we have Sword of the Valiant. What could top that??? The themesong alone is worth the $1.98 I paid for the DVD. Also, it is the only film I know to address the how does a knight-in-armor answer nature's call question (with a special key that opens that portion of the casing).

Jonathan, thanks for posting ... and for turning me on to this new translation.

meli said...

Oooh, exciting. I do love Carson too, though.

Adam Roberts said...

Hasn't Armitage's translation been mentioned before on In The Middle?

Why, yes. It has. http://jjcohen.blogspot.com/2007/02/happy-birthday-dear-blog-happy-birthday.html#c6701481278538283641

J J Cohen said...

Here's the complete URL:
http://jjcohen.blogspot.com/2007/02/happy-birthday-dear-blog-happy-birthday.html

Here's a link.

Adam, you are soooo far ahead of the curve that we here at ITM are just playing catch up. Some day you will slow down.

Adam Roberts said...

I may be a little ahead of the curve on the subject of 'poetry published in the UK before it comes out in the US', but I'm waaay behind on being able to embed links properly in blogger comments boxes; thanks for sorting that for me JJ.

As for the question in the blog-post's title: I might say that I bought my copy of Armitage's Green Knight in Tesco, the UK's biggest chain of supermarkets. If a book is being flogged by Tesco, then it is being flogged in large numbers, and people who might otherwise not be reading poetry are reading it. As they should: it's excellent.

srj said...

Simon Armitage is also on the national curriculum for GCSE school students (age 14-16). Although I don't think that SGGK is on the curriculum yet - his high profile is likely to bring the work into schools.

He does a lot of good work speaking at organised events for this age group - and seems to go down well with them. That - combined with Tesco - could make him one of the most widely read popular poets of our time.