Seeing Sir Gawain

August 17, 2012

This week, at bedtime, I have been slowly stumbling my way through Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, reading it in the original and massively vexing Middle English. It’s a wonderful poem, of course, which I have read a few times before in modernisations, but this time I am trying it unadulterated. It’s like eating a thick steak with large bones in it.

I am delighted to discover today, via the British Library, that the famous original (and sole) manuscript in which Sir Gawain is found, Cotton Nero A.X, has been digitized and made available online. (The same manuscript, of course, also includes the moving and technically super-virtuosic poem Pearl, as well as two other works by the same poet, Patience and Cleanness. They too are available on the same site.)

Simply to look at the pages of this manuscript — a treasure salvaged from the fires of time — is a privilege. Not that one would want to read the poem this way: the script is awkward for us and the letters are faded. The poetry is difficult enough without adding such obstacles. But I’ve tried reading a page or two, and it can be done. The illustrations are wonderful.

(Hat-tip (again): Modern Medieval)


Things will be quiet around here for the next week or two.

2 Responses to “Seeing Sir Gawain”

  1. Adam Hincks Says:

    Well, it’s certainly prettier than the Beowulf manuscript.

    Keep at it!

  2. cburrell Says:

    Agreed, but it hasn’t had quite as rough a ride either. In a certain sense the condition of the manuscripts suit the poems: Beowulf rough and somewhat crude, and Gawain elegant and colourful.

    I haven’t given up, but it is awfully tough going.

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