A Life Of Fiction XXXIX

For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work before purchasing it on the Kindle store; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: For the last couple of years I have been struggling with my own translation of the medieval classic, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I know that there are plenty of good translations of it around. But it has become a bit of a pet project of mine. It was to see if I could produce something of worth, despite having little knowledge of medieval English. Also, I had bought a Penguin copy which did not have a modern English version of the text.

I will be putting which verses I have translated on this website. I should say that they are not yet in their final form, as I am not happy with the translation so far. The verses are not yet poetic enough, and I intend to keep working away at them until I have translated them all, and I am happy with them all.

The plan is, when I am happy with the translation, to put the translated work on the Amazon Kindle store. When I do that – at some distant point in the future – I will remove all of the verses from this WordPress site, as there won’t be much point in people paying to read my version if they can get it for free. Until then, sir Gawaine and the Green Knight will feature on here. I will update, change, and add verses as I go along.

Anyway, here is the first verse of Gawain, to show you what I was dealing with. I have tried to transcribe it as accurately as I can, and I apologise if there are any errors.

The first verse, in the original English

siþen þe sege and þe assaut watz sesed at troye

þe borȝ brittened and brent to brondez and askez

þe tulk þat þe trammes of tresoun þer wroȝt

watz tried for his tricherie þe trewest on erþe

hit watz ennias þe athel and his highe kynde

þat siþen depreced prouinces and patrounes bicome

welneȝe of al þe wele in þe west iles

fro riche romulus to rome ricchis hym swyþe

with gret bobbaunce þat burȝe he biges vpon fyrst

and neuenes hit his aune nome as hit now hat

ticius to tuskan and teldes bigynnes

langaberde in lumbardie lyftes vp homes

and fer ouer þe french flod felix brutus

on mony bonkkes ful brode bretayn he settez

wyth wynne

where werre and wreke and wonder

bi syþez hatz wont þerinne

and oft boþe blysse and blunder

ful skete hatz skyfted synne

That, above, is the original verse of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Below is my humble attempt at a translation. As with the rest of my attempt at a translation, I am still not one hundred percent happy with it. I will probably make changes to it at some time in the future.

Verse One

After the siege and the assault surceased at Troy,

The town broken and burnt to cinders and ashes –

The man that the schemesof treason there wrought

Was tried for his treachery, the truest on earth –

It was Aeneas the noble and his good kindred

Who since then subdued provinces and founders became

Well-nigh of all the wealth in the west world.

For good Romulus to Rome travelled there fast,

With great grandeur that town he began to build

And bestowed on it his name, as it now has;

Ticius to Tuscany and townships began,

Langobardus in Lombardy raised up homes,

And far beyond the French straits Felix Brutus

On many banks full broad Britain he ruled

With joy,

Where war and woe and wonder

At times have dwelt therein,

Often both bliss and blunder

Swiftly have shifted since.

That is my attempt. Ideally, I would like the last five lines of my version to rhyme, like the last five lines of the original. I fear that would not be possible, however, without changing the meaning, as some of the words which existed at the time that this was written are no longer found in the English language: wynne, for example, no longer exists in the modern lexicon.

I think that the loss of some of those words has lessened the English language. It means that we have fewer synonyms for certain things. Some of the words in Sir Gawain have had their meaning lost, through time, and we can only speculate what they meant, due to the way that they are used in the narrative.

Such a word is runischly. The Green Knight, when he comes to King Arthur’s court, at one time gazes runischly around the chamber. It has been suggested that it means fiercely. But I have seen other explanations for what the word means.

In a previous post I mentioned that I like the word vewter, which meant, specifically, a keeper of greyhounds. There are a few other nouns from Sir Gawain which have disappeared from the lexicon, and which I feel would enrich the language if they were still present. There is debonerty, for courtesy (from the same root as debonair); salure, meaning a saltcellar; tryster, a hunting station; and so on.

One thing to be careful about when doing such translations is that the meanings of words have changed over the years. For example aloft meant upon, rather than on high; a closet was a closed pew, rather than somewhere where you put your clothes; discover meant to reveal; and solace meant good cheer or pleasure. All this has to be taken into account when translating the work. And sometimes I simply can’t find the right words to fit, as I work away at the meaning of the text.

I think that is enough Sir Gawain and The Green Knight for now.


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