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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and, Pearl and, Sir Orfeo

ISBN 0048210358 / 9780048210357 / 0-04-821035-8

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Book summary

Throughout his life, Professor J.R.R. Tolkien held alliterative poetry in particular affection, and over many years he endeavored to perfect translations into current speech of those middle-English poems of which he was most fond.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Pearl, two major and long-neglected poems by an unknown author, derive from the West Midlands, an area of England with which Professor Tolkien felt a strong affinity, and where the alliterative tradition survived strongly in the fourteenth century. Sir Orfeo is a slighter, but no less attractive, poem from a different tradition, and was a special favorite of its translator.

These three translations represent with great skill the complete rhyme and alliterative schemes of the originals. They constitute a triumphant memorial to a life-long love of language and its expression in metre and verse·form. No scholar who reads them with attention will fail to find illumination, and no reader of Professor Tolkien's widely known imaginative works will feel disappointed, or fail to perceive in every page flashes of familiarity. It was, indeed, to the general reader that he wished to interpret these poems, and in doing so to lose neither the narrataive skill nor the heightened poetic expression of the originals.

Translation of this quality creates and recreates a work of great intrinsic value, and Professor Tolkien would rejoice if his part in this process contributes to a more general recognition that Gawain and Pearl is poetry of the highest attainment, coeval with Chaucer's and in no sense inferior.

This book has been prepared for publication by Christopher Tolkien, who is a fellow and tutor in English of New College, Oxford.

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