Friday, November 30, 2007

Armitage vs. Borroff at Krystmasse

As many of you know, British poet Simon Armitage has just published a new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Many are hoping Armitage does for SGGK what Seamus Heaney did for Beowulf: Drive the poem back to the top of best seller lists for the first time in centuries. Indeed, the facing-page edition (Middle English on left sided pages, Modern English on the right, or if you prefer, ME verso, ModE recto) being published in America by WW Norton has a blurb in praise of Armitage's translation by Heaney, just in case anyone was missing the connection.

It is a beautiful translation, but how does it stack up to Marie Borroff's translation? I use Borroff's because it is probably the most taught translation, is also published by WW Norton, and is sold in a dirt-cheap paperback volume friendly to undergraduate budgets. In fact, it is so common that Amazon lists it new for $5.45, but is also selling more than a dozed used copies for $.01.

In the spirit of Christmas, I offer here a line-by-line comparision of Armitage and Borroff's translation of the Christmas celebration at Camelot. The Middle English is in black, Armitage in red, and Borroff in green.

[Christmas in Camelot]

Þis kyng lay at Camylot vpon Krystmasse
This king lay at Camelot at Christmastide;
It was Christmas at Camelot - King Arthur's court,

With mony luflych lorde, ledez of þe best,
Many good knights and gay his guests were there,
where the great and the good of the land had gathered,

Rekenly of þe Rounde Table alle þo rich breþer,
Arrayed of the Round Table rightful brothers,
all the righteous lords of the ranks of the Round Table

With rych reuel oryȝt and rechles merþes.
With feasting and fellowship and carefree mirth.
quite properly carousing and reveling in pleasure.

Þer tournayed tulkes by tymez ful mony,
There true men contended in tournaments many,
Time after time, in tournaments of joust,

Justed ful jolilé þise gentyle kniȝtes,
Joined there in jousting these gentle knights,
they had lunged at each other with leveled lances

Syþen kayred to þe court caroles to make.
Then came to the court for carol-dancing,
then returned to the castle to carry on their caroling,

For þer þe fest watz ilyche ful fiften dayes,
For the feast was in force full fifteen days,
for the feasting lasted a full fortnight and one day,

With alle þe mete and þe mirþe þat men couþe avyse;
With all the meat and the mirth that men could devise,
with more food and drink than a fellow could dream of.

Such glaum ande gle glorious to here,
Such gaiety and gless, glorious to hear,
The hubbub of their humor was heavenly to hear:

Dere dyn vpon day, daunsyng on nyȝtes,
Brave din by day, dancing by night.
pleasant dialogue by day and dancing after dusk,

Al watz hap vpon heȝe in hallez and chambrez
High were their hearts in halls and chambers,
so the house and its hall were lit with happiness

With lordez and ladies, as leuest him þoȝt.
These lords and these ladies, for life was sweet.
and lords and ladies were luminous with joy.

With all þe wele of þe worlde þay woned þer samen
In peerless pleasures passed they their days,
Such a coming together of the gracious and the glad:

Þe most kyd knyȝtez vnder Krystes seluen,
The most noble knights known under Christ,
the most chivalrous and courteous knights known to Christendom;

And þe louelokkest ladies þat euer lif haden,
And the loveliest ladies that lived on earth ever,
the most wonderful women to have walked in this world;

And he þe comlokest kyng þat þe court haldes;
And he the comeliest king, that that court holds,
the handsomest king to be crowned at court.

For al watz þis fayre folk in her first age,
For all this fair folk in their first age
Fine folk with their futures before them, there in

on sille,
were still.
that hall.

Þe hapnest vnder heuen,
Happiest of mortal kind,
Their highly honored king

Kyng hyȝest mon of wylle;
King noblest framed of will;
was happiest of all:

Hit were now gret nye to neuen
You would now go far to find
no nobler knights had come

So hardy a here on hille.
So hardy a host on a hill.
within a castle's wall.

Wyle Nw Ȝer watz so ȝep þat hit watz nwe cummen,
While the New Year was new, but yesternight come,
With New Year so young it still yawned and stretched

Þat day doubble on þe dece watz þe douth serued.
This fair folk at feast the two-fold was served,
helpings were doubled on the dais that day.

Fro þe kyng watz cummen with knyȝtes into þe halle,
When the king and his company were come in together,
And as king and company were coming to the hall

Þe chauntré of þe chapel cheued to an ende,
The chanting in chapel achieved and ended.
the choir in the chapel fell suddenly quiet,

Loude crye watz þer kest of clerkez and oþer,
Clerics and all teh court acclaimed the glad season,
then a chorus erupted from the courtiers and clerks:

Nowel nayted onewe, neuened ful ofte;
Cried Noel anew, good news to men;
"Noel," they cheered, then "Noel, Noel,"

And syþen riche forth runnen to reche hondeselle,
Then gallants gather gaily, hand-gifts to make,
"New Year Gifts!" the knights cried next

Ȝeȝed ȝeres-ȝiftes on hiȝ, ȝelde hem bi hond,
Called them out clearly, claimed them by hand,
as they pressed forwards to offer their presents,

Debated busyly aboute þo giftes;
Bickered long and busily about those gifts.
teasing with fivolous favors and forfeits,

Ladies laȝed ful loude, þoȝ þay lost haden,
Ladies laughed aloud, though losers they were,
till those ladies who lost couldn't help but laugh,

And he þat wan watz not wrothe, þat may ȝe wel trawe.
And he that won was not angered, as well you will know.
and the undefeated were far from forlorn.

Alle þis mirþe þay maden to þe mete tyme;
All this mirth they made until meat was served;
Their merrymaking rolled on in this manner until mealtime,

When þay had waschen worþyly þay wenten to sete,
When they had washed them worthily, they went to their seats,
when, washed and worthy, they went to the table,

Þe best burne ay abof, as hit best semed,
The best seated above, as best it is beseemed,
and were seated in order of honor as was apt,

Whene Guenore, ful gay, grayþed in þe myddes,
Guenevere the goodly queen gay in the midst
with Guinevere in their gathering, gloriously framed

Dressed on þe dere des, dubbed al aboute,
On a dais well-decked and duly arrayed
at her place on the platform, pricelessly curtained

Smal sendal bisides, a selure hir ouer
With costly silk curtains, a canopy over,
by silk to each side, and canopied across

Of tryed tolouse, and tars tapites innoghe,
Of Toulouse and Turkestan tapestries rich,
with French weave and fine tapestry from the far east

Þat were enbrawded and beten wyth þe best gemmes
All broidered and bordered with the best gems
studded with stones and stunning gems.

Þat myȝt be preued of prys wyth penyes to bye,
Ever brought into Britain, with bright pennies
Pearls beyond pocket. Pearls beyond purchace

in daye.
to pay.
or price.

Þe comlokest to discrye
Fair queen, without a flaw,
But not one stone outshone

Þer glent with yȝen gray,
She glanced with eyes of grey.
the quartz of the queen's eyes;

A semloker þat euer he syȝe
A seemlier that once he saw,
with hand on heart, no one

Soth moȝt no mon say.
In truth, no man could say.
could argue otherwise.

Bot Arthure wolde not ete til al were serued,
But Arthur would not eat till all were served;
But Arthur would not eat until all were served.

He watz so joly of his joyfnes, and sumquat childgered:
So light was his lordly heart, and a little boyish;
He brimmed with ebullience, being almost boyish

His lif liked hym lyȝt, he louied þe lasse
His life he liked lively - the less he cared
in his love of life, and what he liked the least

Auþer to longe lye or to longe sitte,
To be lying for long, or long to sit,
was to sit still watching the seasons slip by.

So bisied him his ȝonge blod and his brayn wylde.
So busy his young blood, his brain so wild.
His blood was busy and he buzzed with thoughts,

And also an oþer maner meued him eke
And also a point of pride pricked him in heart,
and the matter which played on his mind at that moment

Þat he þurȝ nobelay had nomen, he wolde neuer ete
For he nobly had willed, he would never eat
was his pledge to take no portion from his plate

Vpon such a dere day er hym deuised were
On so high a holiday, till he had heard first
on such a special day until a story was told:

Of sum auenturus þyng an vncouþe tale,
Of some fair feat or fray some far-borne tale,
some far-fetched yarn or outrageous fable,

Of sum mayn meruayle, þat he myȝt trawe,
Of some marvel of might, that he might trust,
the tallest of tales, yet one ringing with truth,

Of alderes, of armes, of oþer auenturus,
By champions of chivalry achieved in arms,
like the action-packed epics of men-at-arms.

Oþer sum segg hym bisoȝt of sum siker knyȝt
Or some suppliant came seeking some single knight
Or till some chancer had challenged his chosen knight,

To joyne wyth hym in iustyng, in jopardé to lay,
To join with him in jousting, in jeopardy each
dared him, with a lance, to lay life on the line,

Lede, lif for lyf, leue vchon oþer,
To lay life for life, and leave it to fortune
to stare death face-to-face and accept defeat

As fortune wolde fulsun hom, þe fayrer to haue.
To afford him on field fair hap or other.
should fortune or fate smile more favorably on his foe.

Þis watz þe kynges countenaunce where he in court were,
Such is the king's custom, when his court he holds
Within Camelot's castle this was the custom,

At vch farand fest among his fre meny
At each far-famed feast amid his fair host
and at feasts and festivals when the fellowship

in halle.
so dear.
would meet.

Þerfore of face so fere
The stout king stands in state
With features proud and fine

He stiȝtlez stif in stalle,
Till a wonder shall appear;
he stood there tall and straight,

Ful ȝep in þat Nw Ȝere
He leads, with heart elate,
a king at Christmastime

Much mirthe he mas withalle
High mirth in the New Year.
amid great merriment.

I'll probably have some comments to make later; right now I present it for Wordhoarders to read without being prejudiced by my reading.


  1. Thanks for your comment on Twerpette and for posting the Armitage. Are we Netflix Friends? See my Netflix profile to become so.

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