Because April is Poetry Month, each Saturday I am going to discuss one of my favorite poetic works as well as a shorter poem to read and discuss here on the blog and/or Facebook and Twitter. So jump in on the conversation and discuss what you thought of the poem, as well as if you have read the longer one being featured.
It is no surprise to many that I am a huge King Arthur fan. After all, I wrote a short story that was published in the King of Ages: A King Arthur Anthology. One of my favorite poems was written by an anonymous poet in the 14th century, known as either the Pearl-Poet or the Gawain-Poet (depending on who you ask). There are four poems typically credited to this poet, the two most popular being Pearl as well as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. These two poems were both translated by J.R.R. Tolkien during his career, and I highly recommend his translation of them both if you can get your hands on it!
As you can guess by the title, this poem follows Sir Gawain, a knight of King Arthur’s court, and his dealings with the mysterious Green Knight. The poem begins with a Christmas feast at Arthur’s court when this tall Green Knight barges in and throws open a challenge to any man present. The terms: they may strike him once on the neck with an axe and, the following year, they must allow the Green Knight to do the same to them. When no man rushes forward to take up the challenge, Sir Gawain accepts and his journey begins. What transpires in King Arthur’s court is nothing more than the opening scene to a sweeping adventure where judgment and morals will be questioned and things are not always quite what they appear to be. It is a tale with a great moral message, and perhaps my favorite Arthurian story out there.
Given the age of the poem, there are many free translations available to read online, although I still recommend investing in the Tolkien translation. Here are links to both options:
Free online translation
Amazon link to Tolkien’s translation
There is a set of excellent poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Idylls of the King, which all pertain to parts of the King Arthur legend and this is well-worth reading for any King Arthur fan. Tolkien composed a fragment of an Arthurian poem as well, which was published only a few years ago: The Fall of Arthur.
For a shorter Arthurian poem to read and discuss, I present you with “The Legend of King Arthur” by Thomas Percy. It was written back in the 17th/18th century, so the spelling is, at times, archaic, but it all should be understandable with reasonable effort.
Read the poem here and then come back with your initial thoughts. What did you like about the poem? What didn’t you like about it? Any comments in general?
Also, have you read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight?