by Simon Armitage
Before the advent of electricity, winter was a dire time of darkness and deprivation. Some cultures developed elaborate rituals to encourage the return of the sun and arrival of spring. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a relic of those times, a medieval solstice story set in King Arthur's court. Gawain accepts the challenge of a mysterious stranger dressed in green to chop off his head. If the stranger survives, he can do the same to Gawain. The axe falls, the head rolls, and the Green Knight retrieves it and walks away unharmed. Now it is Gawain's turn on the block. Under sentence of death, he is given a year to make his way to the Green Knight's castle where his life will end. Gawain's journey is an allegory for the changing seasons, and the battle of spring against winter. The text of poet Simon Armitage's vivid translation is placed aside the Middle English original, making comparisons easy. Likewise, with the audio version, you can hear the Middle English version out loud. This is a great one for wintertime!