About the book
A fabulous journey into a distant age
Discover King Arthur's Death here, Michael Smith’s new translation of the vibrant fourteenth century poem.
This book is now in production but you still have the chance to get the strictly limited collector's hardback edition with its coloured endpapers, embossed boards and spot laminate cover
Written in the North West of England towards the end of the fourteenth century, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a masterpiece of mediaeval alliterative poetry. Comprising over 2500 lines, it draws on a rich vocabulary with ancient roots, including many dialect words still in use in Lancashire and Cheshire today. It is a magnificent work which rivals even Chaucer in the beauty and complexity of its language.
As a north-westerner and mediaevalist myself, I have been attracted to this exquisite work like Tristan to Yseult – bewitched by its power. Despite its age, the story and its characters are as fresh and vibrant as when the anonymous poet first put quill to paper over 600 years ago. It blends temptation and erotica with horror and suspense. It is exciting and funny yet melancholic and existential. Its descriptions of the passing seasons, the mediaeval hunt and the wintry landscape of Cheshire and Staffordshire are quite simply astounding.
As a writer, I wanted to capture the poet’s courtly style and translate his work in such a way that if the Gawain poet were to come back today he would feel at home reading it in modern English. And of course I was determined to maintain the wonderful alliteration, with its fabulous “bob and wheel” device at the end of each stanza.
But Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is also fabulous journey into the mediaeval world. When you look carefully there is, behind the narrative, a vivid description of courtly ritual, contemporary fashion, hunting techniques and so much more. There are also, I think, some coded references to the dark events surrounding the death of Richard II. So as a historian, I wanted not only to translate the work but to help provide a key to understand the social and political landscape within which the poem was set. Hence, I have also included detailed supplementary notes about words used by the poet and the references he makes to the world he knew.
An illuminated manuscript for today.
The result, I hope, is what might be described as a new courtly edition of this fabulous masterpiece which also enables the reader to get a flavour of the poet’s life and times. But I also wanted to make the book so much more than this, something really special. So, as an artist, I have created a collection of linocut prints especially for it.
Every print has been meticulously researched to reflect the style of the 1390s. I have also created illuminated letters replicating those in the original manuscript (known as Cotton Nero A.x in the British Library). Each print you will see in the book has taken at least 20 hours to cut before printing on a Victorian Albion press in the depths of Cambridgeshire.
The result is a beautiful volume to treasure and enjoy – like a really good book should be. It is like a mediaeval illuminated manuscript for the modern age, to be enjoyed again and again and passed down, like an heirloom, through the ages.
But this new illuminated manuscript cannot exist without your help. Please pledge your support and let the Gawain Poet speak to you anew!