Buried Treasure

Simon Armitage on 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'

It's Christmas at Camelot. Arthur and his men are feasting and carousing. Suddenly the door bursts open and in rides an uninvited guest. Nothing too unusual about that, except this knight is green from head to foot, and so is his horse. Bemused and intrigued, the court listens as the Green Knight sets out his challenge. He offers to receive one strike from his mighty axe, on the proviso that in a year's time he will return the blow. Up steps Gawain, and so begins a winding tale, leading to the mysterious Green Chapel via the north Wales coast and the "wilderness" of the Wirral. Written in the late 14th century by an unknown author, this masterpiece of Middle English interweaves two plot lines of honour and temptation. But one of its underlying themes - man's pact with nature - holds an eerie relevance. The regenerative powers of the green man, a living embodiment of nature, must be respected. Or else. The poem aches for a modern translation to put it in reach of the general reader while maintaining its poetic integrity. Now who might be interested in a job like that?

Simon Armitage's novel 'The White Stuff' is published by Viking

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