A new and handsomely illustrated translation of the Arthurian mediaeval masterpiece.
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!
For the head in his hand he then holds up,
Addressing his face to those dear on the dais,
And he lifts up his eyelids and looked full abroad
And didn’t mince much with his mouth, as you’ll hear.
“Look Gawain, now you must get ready to do as thou pledged
And, lord, look for me loyally until thou shalt find,
As thou hast promised in this hall and hereunto these knights.
So I charge thee to choose the road to the Green Chapel, to fetch
Such a dent as thou dealt and deserve,
To be yielded by contract on New Year’s morn;
The Knight of the Green Chapel is how many men know me
And you’ll not fail to find me if you ask of my name
Therefore do come, or a coward be called, as you wish.”
With a raging rush the reins he tugs,
And hailed out of the hall door, his head in his hand,
So that fire as from flint flew from all those fast hooves.
To what kith he belongs, no-one there knew
No more than they knew to where he was winding.
The King and Gawain there
At the Green Knight laughed again;
He was blatant and full bare
A marvel amongst those men.
Though Arthur that honourable king held wonder in his heart,
He let no semblance of it be seen, but said full high,
To his comely queen with most courteous speech,
“Dear Dame, never let this day dismay you
For it well becomes such craft upon Christmas,
As like an interlude to the laughter and singing
And most kindly carolling of our knights and ladies;
Nevertheless, to my meal must I now address -
I cannot forsake eating for the sight that I have seen.”
Then he glanced at Sir Gawain and gamely he said,
“Now, sir, hang up thine axe – it’s had enough of hewing.”
And it was put to dangle above the dais on the doser to hang
For all men to marvel at, who might care so to look,
And by true title thereof to tell of that wonder.
Then they busied to the tables, those nobles together:
The King and the good knight were both keenly served
Of all dainties double as befalls such dear men,
With all manner of meat and minstrelsy both;
With a wealth of warmth they passed that day till it wound to an end
Now think well, Sir Gawain,
Of the danger you can’t command
From this adventure so obtained
That thou hast taken in hand.
For the head in his hand he then holds up,
Addressing his face to those dear on the dais,
And he lifts up his eyelids and looked full abroad
And didn’t mince much with his mouth, as you’ll hear.
Green Man or Green Knight in the story of Sir Gawain?
Tuesday, 10 July 2018
One of the recurring themes in the discussion about the Green Knight in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is that he represents the Green Man of folklore. While it is possible that the poet may have drawn from this legend in the creation of his “enker-grene” monster, an association of the character with the legend is much more problematic.
The folklore of the Green Man
The Green Man in…
How the Gawain-poet employs Nature in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Wednesday, 2 May 2018
A common technique employed by the Gawain Poet - and others in the Alliterative Revival of the fourteenth century - is the use of descriptions of bucolic idylls as a contrast to horror to create astonishing tension. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, we are introduced to a range of different uses of this technique - a range which makes him a master of the art. Let's take a look...
Two Gawain Appearances for your Diary!
Saturday, 7 April 2018
As my translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight gets ever closer to publication (and your deluxe copies being sent at the beginning of July), I have a brief update about two events where I am appearing and which may be of interest: a stage performance based on the book, and an appearance at the Bradford Literature Festival.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - a staged production with authentic…
Four Fitts or Nine Parts? Issues of layout in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Sunday, 4 March 2018
In all the many translations there have been of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, it has long been accepted that the work breaks down into four fitts, or parts. Does this still hold true today?
Recent analysis has attempted to change this way of thinking by examining the role played in the original manuscript by the series of illuminated letters which occur within it; indicating that the work…
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - what you can look forward to when the book arrives.
Thursday, 8 February 2018
As we approach 11th February, after which no more pledgers' names can be entered in the back of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, I wanted to take a brief moment to write to you to thank you for pledging and making this book a reality. I could not have achieved this without the kind and generous support of each and every supporter, each and every patron.
So what is there to look…
The sexuality of Lady Bertilak – empowered or manipulated?
Thursday, 1 February 2018
The character of Lady Bertilak in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of the most astonishing creations of the Middle English period. But what was the Gawain-poet’s intention in creating a woman of enormous sexual power and confident in her own needs?
Lady Bertilak, or more simply “the Lady”, is characterised by the poet as someone who is eye-catchingly attractive, articulate and artful…
Monday, 29 January 2018
Dear supporters of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,
Exciting news! I am posting this brief update to tell you all that last week I submitted the amended page proofs of the book to Unbound; very shortly the book itself will be ready to go to print. Publication is drawing ever closer!
Still time for friends to have their names in the back:
Unbound tells me that the book will go to print…
New Year arrives for Sir Gawain – but what message does it bring?
Tuesday, 2 January 2018
New Year is a time when we all try to change our ways and perhaps seek a greater virtue in the year ahead. Yet for Sir Gawain on his quest, New Year is a time of dread and foreboding. What was the poet’s real intention?
Image: Temptation and renewal for Sir Gawain at new year?
In setting his poem in the holidays of Christmas and New Year, the Gawain-poet knew exactly what he was doing…
The Spirit of Christmas comes to Camelot
Thursday, 14 December 2017
In many mediaeval romances, the “holiday” of Christmas features strongly in the story line – particularly, as is usual, if there is an “adventure” which takes place. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is no different; certainly, the festive season provides a backdrop to the story which, helped by its religious significance, works in placing Gawain’s personal struggle right at its heart.
Something a little different - a colourful knight emerges in linocut!
Sunday, 26 November 2017
As readers will know, as well as translating Sir Gawain and the Green Knight I have also produced all the illustrations for the book using the linocut process. For this update, I thought I'd share with you some work I have been doing on a range of new prints featuring mediaeval knights from the time of the Gawain-poet. In this case, a Cheshire knight, Sir Hugh Calveley who may well have known…
How pure is Sir Gawain? The role of the five-pointed star in Gawain and the Green Knight
Thursday, 23 November 2017
Before Sir Gawain sets off on his quest to find the Green Knight, he prepares dutifully for his journey, being ritually armed on a carpet of the finest Toulouse tapestry. It is here that we are introduced to his emblem – the five pointed star –which would mean much to the mediaeval reader, and which serves to explain Gawain’s seeming fall from grace as the poem progresses.
A crucial component…
The Terrifying Journey of Gawain
Saturday, 11 November 2017
Image: The uncertainty of travelling alone is writ large in Gawain's first journey.
One of the astonishing elements of the sheer genius of the Gawain-poet is his ability to place the reader/listener in the mind of the hero, preparing us for what is to come. This is no more so than when Gawain first travels across the land of Logres in search of the Green Knight.
The dangers of travel…
Cover design for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight!
Thursday, 2 November 2017
It feels strange, after five years of work, seeing a book come to life which I first started to work on many moons ago while waiting for my son learning to play the accordion!
But now things are really starting to move forward - Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is beginning to emerge as a tangible entity. A book. It is leaving its own Camelot. It is journeying into a new realm. Like Gawain himself…
Researching Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Sunday, 22 October 2017
This week I learned the great news that my illustrated translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight will be published in July 2018. I thought I’d reveal a little bit about what you’ll see in the book when it’s published…
(Above: a selection of versions of the poem consulted - plus a sneaky peak of the cover of the new edition!)
Over the last seven days, I have been going through the…
The Secrets told by Landscape and Geography in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Wednesday, 11 October 2017
Image: St Winefride's Well - the "Holy Head" mentioned by the Gawain-poet
One of the bewitching elements of the masterpiece which is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is that its mediaeval writer is completely unknown. Yet, occasionally, the poet gives intriguing insights into who he was and where he lived – none more so than his descriptions of the landscape in which the poem is set; in…
Sir Gawain goes to the publishers!
Saturday, 23 September 2017
It's been a long time in coming - five years in fact - but at long last the manuscript and illustrations for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight have been delivered to the team at Unbound for the next step in its story. Five years ago, I could little have imagined it getting this far - here's how it all came about...
Back in 2012, I was busy producing a small range of greetings cards featuring scenes…
The Romance of Castles in the Landscape of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Sunday, 10 September 2017
In the last decade or so, there has been a significant change in the understanding of castles in Britain. In addition to sophisticated architectural reconstructions and the innovative use of techniques such as lidar (light detection and ranging) in showing the lie of the land, much work has also been done into the concept of the castle as statement.
In truth, this should not come as a surprise…
Help Gawain reach 130% funding - special competition and rewards!
Monday, 4 September 2017
Thanks to you all for your support and helping us to spread Sir Gawain's epic story to a new audience. We're now at an incredible 117%. But Sir Gawain and our journey isn't over yet.
I've discussed the campaign with Unbound and we've decided to not only upload some exciting new pledge levels (check out the new giclee "dedicated print" options featuring some of my linocuts of castles and ancient…
Sir Gawain meets two ladies at Castle Hautdesert. Now let the story really begin...
Tuesday, 29 August 2017
After his journey through the land of Logres, Sir Gawain arrives at last at Hautdesert where he meets Lord Bertilak. Then, as shown here in part of my new translation, he is introduced to two women who, it emerges later, yield more power than might be supposed...
(Image: Lord Bertilak and the ladies. The original print of this illustration, framed and signed by me, is available to one lucky…
Gawain arrives at the Green Chapel - an excerpt from my translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Saturday, 19 August 2017
One of the most haunting sections in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is when Gawain comes across the Green Chapel for the first time in his quest. What follows is the part of my new translation which relates to his arrival here.
(above: the cave in its mound at Wetton Mill on the Manifold valley in Derbyshire; one of the candidates for the actual Green Chapel referred to by the Gawain-poet…
Is there a secret message buried in Gawain and the Green Knight?
Wednesday, 9 August 2017
One of the strange features of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is the set of nine crudely drawn illuminated letters which the poet originally produced to accompany his work. Do they constitute a hidden message?
Is there some form of invocation contained in the Gawain manuscript?
There is a main letter for each of the four fitts (parts) and another five elsewhere in the poem (each of…
In search of the Green Chapel in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Monday, 31 July 2017
One of the many wonders of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is its magnificent setting; thought by many to be the Staffordshire Roaches The evidence is compelling...
In translatiing and illustrating my telling of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, I've been fascinated by trying to understand the references made by the (unknown) poet and to grasp not just who he was but also where he was living and…
Now publishing soon - a mediaeval illuminated manuscript for the modern age!
Friday, 14 July 2017
How wonderful it was to learn last week that Sir Gawain had managed to achieve 100% funding. I want to thank everyone who has pledged to help make this new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight a reality - I could not have done this without you. But the story's not over yet - this is where the real hard work begins!
Revisions and accuracy
Since I began work on the translation…
The fabulous hunting scenes in Gawain and the Green Knight
Saturday, 24 June 2017
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is rightly famous for its depiction of hunting – a favourite pastime of Richard II himself, in whose reign this fabulous work is thought to have been written. The inclusion of such sport is a masterstroke by the Gawain Poet in support of the main narrative: while Lady Bertilak hunts Gawain in the castle, her husband, Lord Bertilak, is away, hunting in the fields.…
The Part Played by Chivalry in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Saturday, 17 June 2017
Chivalric test - Lady Bertilak tests the limits of knightly virtue to bring Gawain down
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is justifiably famous for many things; one of the most unusual is the way that it ends. Here, written in another hand, is the famous motto of the Knights of the Garter, Honi Soit Qui Mal Pense (missing the “y” of the full version). Founded by Edward III, the Order of the…
The place of nature in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Saturday, 10 June 2017
One of the most dramatic contrasts in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is that between the action (in Camelot, Hautdesert and the Green Chapel) and the outside world. There is no doubt that the Gawain (or Pearl) Poet was a man deeply in touch with nature. Little wonder because the natural world, the seasons and their effects meant life or death in equal measure in a society where crop failure, famine…
The complex character of Sir Gawain revealed
Wednesday, 7 June 2017
The Arthurian canon is rich with many characters, many of whom have become known to us all: King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Galahad and of course Gawain. Sir Gawain, the subject of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, is himself a curious character who varies in personality depending on which of the stories one reads. He has certainly been a constant figure throughout the histories of Arthur.
Printing linocuts for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - film
Friday, 26 May 2017
As well as my translation, the linocut prints I have produced for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight lie at the heart of my work. The film above shows you the actual printing process for each end every image in the book and below I tell you a little more about the research and production process.
We know from clues within the original manuscript that, despite the anonymity of the Gawain…
Green Knight book plus greetings cards
Sunday, 21 May 2017
One of the pledge options for my translation of Gawain and the Green Knight enables backers to receive 12 mediaeval greetings cards plus a signed and personally dedicated copy of the book.Here's more information...
As you'll know from my other updates, and from reading about my book on Unbound, much of my work in recent years has centred around the creation of a range of linocut prints. In particular…
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - a wonderful story of pride and its downfall
Saturday, 13 May 2017
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a wonderful story set in a fabulous landscape of chivalric rules and the ever-present grip of nature and the seasons. It is also a masterpiece of what is now referred to as the Alliterative Revival of the fourteenth century, a form which achieved particular popularity in the north of England and parts of Scotland. Here, for those unfamiliar with the story, I give…
Researching and creating the back cover image for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
Sunday, 7 May 2017
Among the different pledge reward options for supporters of my new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight are those which include an Artiists Guild quality giclee print of my linocut print of the Green Knight himself, the same image which will also feature on the back of the book. Here I give an insight into how the image was created - and how you might acquire a signed and numbered limited…
Sir Gawain says thank you!
Sunday, 23 April 2017
Dear pledgers, fellow travellers, poets, artists, mediaevalists and lovers of literature, I wanted to thank all of you so far who have helped this edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight reach pledging of 40% after just three weeks. I am honoured by the reception to my work and by the many positive comments I have received.
40% is a great landmark; the equivalent of funding this translation…
How I make the illuminated letters for this edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Sunday, 16 April 2017
I have been overwhelmed by the support shown for my work on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. As well as the four years spent researching and translating my edition, the artwork itself has been a highly involved process. I thought I'd show supporters some of the methods involved in making the artwork itself. In this case, the illuminated letters which are to introduce each of the four Fitts of the…
These people are helping to fund Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.