Sir Gawain and the Green Knight/ Patience/ Pearl: Verse Translation by Marie Borroff 40’s?. These three works are all by an anonymous fourteenth century poet referred to as Gawain/poet, a contemporary of Chaucer. Marie Borroff has taken on the Herculean task of translating these works into modern English, all the while respecting the use of alliteration and rhyme in the original Middle English texts. Any random line in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight will show the clever alliterative flow: ”His long lovely locks he laid over his crown.” The narrative is punctuated with summary or reflective rhyming quatrains: “’Now hold your grim tool steady/And show us how it hacks.’/’Gladly, sir; all ready’/Says Gawain; he strokes the ax.”
What’s the ax for, you might wonder. It is for Gawain to use in decapitating the Green Knight, not that the impressive chevalier is daunted by the loss of his head. No. He holds it aloft, and it manages to speak with authority. So, what I thought would be a purely academic exercise (and maybe a bit boring) in medieval literature turns out to be crazy, exciting, dangerous adventure with some pretty racy sexual temptation.
Patience and Pearl are more didactic and perhaps of less interest to the lay reader, though Patience does tell the tale of Jonah and the whale. Marie’s introductions and scholarly views are helpful as is her analysis of the metrical forms. Her expertise as a scholar (a longtime professor at Yale) makes this book a classic for students of early English literature.