Introduction by Simon Armitage
Simon Armitage – translating Gawain
Introduction by Simon Armitage
Evolving drafts of 'Once the siege...'
‘Once the siege…’ in the early notebook
First version of ‘Once the siege…’ in the Gawain notebook
Second version of ‘Once the siege…’ in the Gawain notebook
Third version of ‘Once the siege…’ in the Gawain notebook
Early drafts of ‘Once the siege…’
Early notes for ‘Once the siege…’
First draft of ‘Once the siege…’
Second draft of ‘Once the siege…’
Third draft of ‘Once the siege…’
Fourth draft of ‘Once the siege…’
‘Once the siege…’: lines in detail
Evolving drafts of 'Now through England's realm...'
'Now through England's realm...' in the Gawain notebook
First version of 'Now through England's realm...' in the Gawain notebook
Second version of 'Now through England's realm...' in the Gawain notebook
Third version of 'Now through England's realm...' in the Gawain notebook
Early notes for 'Now through England's realm...'
First draft of 'Now through England's realm...'
Second draft of 'Now through England's realm...'
Third draft of 'Now through England's realm...'
Writing a poetic translation: defending the work
Writing a poetic translation: translating dialect
Writing a poetic translation: pronunciation
Translating Gawain Bibliography: Ecocriticism
Introductions to Ecocriticism
Armitage and Ecocriticism
Ecocriticism and the Late Medieval
These drafts, which I haven't looked at for several years, remind me what a hesitant, tentative start I made to the translation, but also how determined I was to open with a statement of intent, and have those first few lines announce the tone and style of what would follow. My ambition was always to privilege the acoustic properties of the poem, to compose alliterative lines of mostly four stresses, and to produce a readable, contemporary version while trying to remain faithful to the original structure, storyline and, as far as possible, the language. I couldn't move on until I felt those elements were securely in place. After about seven hundred lines I decided to leave the "bob and wheel" sections until the end, because I was finding it difficult shifting between the long alliterative lines and the shorter lines of rhyme, so all those concluding envois were work-shopped at the back of the notebook. I can also see how my confidence grew as I became more familiar, even conversant with the Middle English, so by the half way point I was constructing a transliteration on the left hand page and composing its immediate poetic counterpart on the right.
I've never been able to spell and have even wondered on occasions if I suffer from a mild form of dyslexia. Some poets drool over language and its component parts, even go as far as to call language their muse, but to me it's as much a hindrance as a help, the thing that stands between the idea and its poetic execution. A contradiction I know, but it explains why, when I'm properly engaged with the writing and absorbed by it, my handwriting becomes little more than an indecipherable scrawl or shorthand (even to me sometimes), as if the partly formed poem might expire if I take too long thinking about the correct design and ordering of letters. They can be sorted out later.
A project like this is never finished. My editor in this country had plenty of questions and suggestions, as did the proof reader, and the American publishers had an even longer set of queries, some of them related to my use of vernacular or colloquial English expression (''bumfluffed?''), or regarding the occasional liberties they felt I'd taken, so the British and American editions are not by any means identical. Right through manuscript and proof stages I was still tinkering, and over subsequent years I've revised the whole poem on two further occasions through dialogue with medievalists Alfred David and James Simpson, preparing it for inclusion in the Norton Anthology. By that stage I could only handle the document on a computer, although I've found scribblings and scratchings of Gawain material in my later notebooks from when I'd taken a few lines out for the day. Seeing all the archive laid out across a large desk in the Brotherton Library earlier this year, all the false starts and endless revisions, made me feel utterly exhausted; if someone had told me at the outset how much work would be involved, I don't think I would have gone anywhere near it. Odd, as well, that those scruffy, frenetic and spontaneous jottings should now be so painstakingly documented, so carefully ordered