Monday, August 28, 2006

Þer as claterande fro þe crest þe colde borne rennez

In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (c1380), the poet describes the landscape through which the hero rides with sufficient detail that R.W.V. Elliott has been able to situate the story in the area of Leek in Staffordshire. Here are lines describing the increasingly inhospitable conditions as winter draws in:
For werre wrathed hym not so much þat wynter nas wors,
When þe colde cler water fro þe cloudez schadde,
And fres er hit falle my3t to þe fale erþe;
Ner slayn wyth þe slete he sleped in his yrnes
Mo ny3tez þen innoghe in naked rokkez,
Þer as claterande fro þe crest þe colde borne rennez,
And henged he3e ouer his hede in hard iisse-ikkles.
In Bernard O’Donoghue’s new translation for Penguin, the second and third lines relate that ‘ice-cold water poured from the clouds / and froze before it hit the grey ground’. And Gawain is described sleeping in the naked rocks ‘where cold streams clattered down from the heights / or hung over his head in hard spears of ice.’ 

Simon Armitage is also currently working on a translation, due from Faber in 2007. However, an extract has already been included in Wild Reckoning: An anthology provoked by Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ (2004). Armitage has ‘clouds shed their cargo of crystallized rain / which froze as it fell to the frost-glazed earth’ and describes Gawain ‘bivouacked in the blackness’, ‘where melt-water crashed from the snow-capped peaks and high overhead hung chandeliers of ice.’

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