Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: In a Modern English Version with a Critical Introduction by John GardnerThe adventures and challenges of Sir Gawain, King Arthur’s nephew and a knight at the Round Table, including his duel with the mysterious Green Knight, are among the oldest and best known of Arthurian stories. Here the distinguished author and poet John Gardner has captured the humor, elegance, and richness of the original Middle English in flowing modern verse translations of this literary masterpiece. Besides the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, this edition includes two allegorical poems, “Purity” and “Patience”; the beautiful dream allegory “Pearl”; and the miracle story “Saint Erkenwald,” all attributed to the same anonymous poet, a contemporary of Chaucer and an artist of the first rank. “Mr. Gardner has translated into modern English and edited a text of these five poems that could hardly be improved. . . . The entire work is preceded by a very fine and complete general introduction and a critical commentary on each poem.”—Library Journal
Read along "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight stanzas 39-51
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
The two poets quite obviously differ in depth and scope; whereas Chaucer's art is matched by that of no English poet but Shakespeare, the art of the Gawain -poet, like that of George Herbert, for instance, is minor. The Gawain -poet lacks Chaucer's moral complexity, lacks Chaucer's fascination with men unlike himself and the psychological insight that goes with that fascination, and lacks Chaucer's philosophical and artistic eclecticism. But granting the fundamental difference between them, that is to say the difference in poetic stature of a certain kind, one is nevertheless increasingly struck by similarities as one studies the themes, techniques, and attitudes of the Gawain -poet and Chaucer. It may be simply that they wrote from approximately the same medieval Christian vision, or it may be, as I am at times inclined to believe, that some more direct relationship exists between the poetry of the two men. At all events, one good way of introducing the Gawain -poet is to compare him more or less systematically with his greater contemporary. We know a good deal about Chaucer considering our distance from him in time, but about the Gawain -poet we know virtually nothing.
It is one of the best known Arthurian stories, with its plot combining two types of folk motifs, the beheading game and the exchange of winnings. Written in stanzas of alliterative verse , each of which ends in a rhyming bob and wheel ,  it draws on Welsh , Irish and English stories, as well as the French chivalric tradition. It is an important example of a chivalric romance , which typically involves a hero who goes on a quest which tests his prowess. It remains popular in modern English renderings from J. Tolkien , Simon Armitage and others, as well as through film and stage adaptations. It describes how Sir Gawain , a knight of King Arthur 's Round Table , accepts a challenge from a mysterious " Green Knight " who dares any knight to strike him with his axe if he will take a return blow in a year and a day. Gawain accepts and beheads him with his blow, at which the Green Knight stands up, picks up his head and reminds Gawain of the appointed time.