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Tony Grist

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Sir Gawain [Jun. 15th, 2011|10:13 am]
Tony Grist
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is all about aristocratic types being polite to one another. It's like Jane Austen with hauberks. The fighting- with bores (boars), bears and etains (giants)- is hurried past so we can get to the really interesting stuff- which is the paying of compliments. These guys eat a lot too. And when they want to reward themselves for some particularly fabulous act of courtesy they tuck into double portions.

I've been meaning to read this since the seventies (when I bought the copy I've been hauling from house to house.) I find I'm getting the hang of Middle English and that much of the obsolete vocabulary is guessable. They have ever so many different words for "man"-but I suppose we do too. I love the rattle of alliterative verse- and the brilliance of the scene-painting- at its best when the weather is worst.:
Near slain with the sleet, he slept in his irons
More nights than enough in naked rocks,
There as clattering from the crest the cold burn runs,
And hanged high over his head in hard icicles.*

[User Picture]From: michaleen
2011-06-15 11:01 am (UTC)
I have two editions of Sir Gawain: Tolkien's alliterative translation and an old, hard-bound, study edition of the original text.

I love alliterative verse, for some reason, and sometimes must guard against too many alliterations slipping into my prose.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-06-15 12:58 pm (UTC)
I'm inclined to think it's a pity we dumped the alliterative tradition for rhyme. I suppose rhyme works better for lyrical verse. On the other hand the English language has far fewer rhymes than (say) Italian which means "fountains" and "mountains" and "love" and "dove" keep cropping up in one another's company. Alliterative verse does away with all those hackneyed, weak and forced line endings.
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2011-06-16 10:54 am (UTC)
Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
A personal favorite and not so much forced as it is a thumb in the eye of literary convention.

I suppose we lost alliterative verse when English turned into a bastard Romance language, or tried to. I was told, once, that the strength of one's English prose depended upon having a good ear for Anglo-Saxon, which as a Tolkien fan I suspect is true.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-06-17 02:27 pm (UTC)
Stick to the Anglo-Saxon words and you can't go far wrong, but the masters know when to leaven them with choice pieces of French or Latin. Shakespeare often does it the other way round- dropping an Anglo-Saxon word or phrase into a piece of Latinate orotundity- where it explodes like a bomb.

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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2011-06-18 11:53 am (UTC)
Which, to my mind, suggests that the ear is key, a consciousness at some level, much like one must be well aware of the rules and restrictions of grammar in order to break them properly.
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