Tag Archives: Sir Gawain

A new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight!


Image of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Michael Smith of Mythical Britain

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – new translation is being published by crowdfunding publisher Unbound.

On Gringalet again I ride now glorious Spring glows good

With lengthened leaves grown green that long

For coming summer’s sweet sun to soak.

My dallying days with other duties filled

Have caused a gap too great and gaunt;

I plea for pardon for pain so caused

By my bleak absence from this bench

As other realms awry drew me

Turning eyes north by tempting twists.

Now here is nice news I deem to share:

A new book of my legends, from Lancashire loyally –

The Green Knight translated with knowledge anew

And crafted with linocuts carved for your pleasure!

Yet it cannot be without your help offered

Most kind:

Will you help this book be born

By pledging pure to see it be?

Unbound lets books with your seed corn

Be read anew most handsomely.

Please help bring Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to a new audience!

If you would like to support a new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, translated and handsomely-illustrated by Michael Smith, author of this blog, please do pledge your support at the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight page at publisher Unbound

 

 

 

 

 

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Into Laugharne in search of whispers


Laugharne Castle, Carmarthenshire, once the home of Robert Courtemain and the place where Henry II met the Lord Rhys of Deheubarth in 1189. Much of the castle today was built in the thirteenth century under the de Brians and was later extensively modified in the Tudor period.

Laugharne Castle, Carmarthenshire, once the home of Robert Courtemain and the place where Henry II met the Lord Rhys of Deheubarth in 1189. Much of the castle today was built in the thirteenth century under the de Brians and was later extensively modified in the Tudor period.

Sshh! it is quiet now after the blowing winds as qualmed Myfanwy waits

in the cobbled lane round the back for Mr Jones jolly to return from jaunts with jugging jars of ale alternative.

Silent, too, I have levelled at this old town of Llanffopohuoy on Gringalet by Pendine

where men now ride faster on destrier unimaginable in my mounting days.

It is day but day dawned delightful as a still, clear night;

out on the light, limpid water, seabirds in the sunshine linger.

The odd mew of gull, gullible tourist chit-chat and the chinking of china

in the tea shop by the shore can hardly shatter this silence now

but dark above us, standing stout, to shout stentorian

is the grey-stoned home of the Courtemains growling

through stilled lips at a land long lost when here

Lord Rhys met Henry to settle in much accord and who

in later years took this place from English hand

as through this part of Wales his lordship washed anew

before Llewelyn by destruction laid it low in later years.

Cast as Tudor palace this pile lived again

till fortune fair her back upon it turned and

where once was welcome then came weather

and homely husbandry fell sway to the humbling of the decades:

roofs fell in, ivy crept round and mortar to sand its destiny prescribed

until in recent years its stones afresh were stirred,

its pebbles polished for a poignant day

when poets proud would write their way

to fame and fortune and fate unkind

but whose fame immortal still blessed this inlet isle

held calm in deep Carmarthenshire long after they were gone.

I walk thus warily towards that place and now

where once was guard and garrison is but a shed

with gewgaws game to gently prise the silver

from the tourist’s tipping hand.

There sits Myfanwy, musically holding forth

by mouth with  friends and family at the  till,

happily diverting mind from home, home from men.

I approach for entrance and proffer pence appropriate;

her eyes swivel towards me as if a sudden

apparition apparent had chanced before her orbs

and then the words which all in Britain know so well

as a token of warm welcome – words thus spoke which

waft them home from worldly winds:

“We’re closed”, she crabs with apology none and in a moment

I was gone.

Mefanwy though your life be broke

don’t let it be to dark the sun:

’tis better you are softly spoke

so men can dream that you’re the one.

Laugharne Castle, Carmarthenshire, once the home of Robert Courtemain and the place where Henry II met the Lord Rhys of Deheubarth in 1189. Much of the castle today was built in the thirteenth century under the de Brians and was later extensively modified in the Tudor period.

Laugharne Castle, Carmarthenshire, once the home of Robert Courtemain and the place where Henry II met the Lord Rhys of Deheubarth and which, upon Henry’s death, was seized by Rhys in 1189. Much of the castle today was built in the thirteenth century under the de Brians and was later extensively modified in the Tudor period.

This view of Laugharne is the one which most who visit take back as their abiding memory of the place. It is certainly dramatic.

This view of Laugharne is the one which most who visit take back as their abiding memory of the place. It is certainly dramatic.

The entrance to Laugharne Castle today; until fairly recently, the castle was in a much worse condition and covered in ivy. Thankfully, the ivy has been removed and the ruins consolidated.

The entrance to Laugharne Castle today; until fairly recently, the castle was in a much worse condition and covered in ivy. Thankfully, the ivy has been removed and the ruins consolidated.

Laugharne today is more famous for the man who lived here than the Lord Rhys who seized Laugharne Castle in 1189. Dylan Thomas, creator of Under Milk Wood and other magnificent poetry lived in this beautiful spot at the end of his career.

Laugharne today is more famous for the man who lived here than the Lord Rhys who seized Laugharne Castle in 1189. Dylan Thomas, creator of Under Milk Wood and other magnificent poetry lived in this beautiful spot at the end of his career.

The banality of life, so much of which was celebrated by Dylan Thomas, is summarised in these garments, hanging in the breeze at the Boat House, Laugharne.

The banality of life, so much of which was celebrated by Dylan Thomas, is summarised in these garments, hanging in the breeze at the Boat House, Laugharne.

The Lord Rhys ap Gruffydd certainly had a great reason to capture Laugharne other than taking the castle itself; the view is quite wonderful.

The Lord Rhys ap Gruffydd certainly had a great reason to capture Laugharne other than taking the castle itself; the view is quite wonderful.

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Swinside: Stone Sentinels of Past Centuries


Swinside Stone Circle, Cumbria

Swinside Stone Circle, Cumbria

Travelling, Le Gringalet has called me to Lancashire and Cumberland in my cause;
My horse lifts me high upon heath and mighty on mound
Through lofty lowlands and limp inlets sandy on Furness fallow.
Climbing now with Morcambe bay massive on my left shoulder
I soon rise to fields thrashed by winds, throttling life and thrusting sheep against walls
Where now we reach a circle stoney, standing guard sternly:
Swinside, the sunkenkirk, swept by swarming blasts, many stones sleeping close to the ground.

When I walked here last on the warmest of days under King Richard
These stones still stood circular and knowledge was dim as to their purpose.
And nothing now has changed save the passing of the years from one new one to the next.
Yes, more of this henge no longer hangs but hugs the soil where wind has pushed it
But whether warm to the ground or still windswept and upright
These robust stones remain in their entirety from my day and before.

What celebration have they seen in the years they stood?
What flushed face of youth feebly withstood young love here?
What women grew round and with birth gave the earth?
What men fought fights for far-flung tribal rites?
Did Romans see, stare and set apart?
Did Norman knights ennoble themselves through nuance of connection?
Did woman out of wedlock worry in tears for her child?

These stone sentinels of past centuries have seen it all:
The clasped hands of heaving lovers; the glistening eyes of sorrow;
The last sight of a land once loved by men away to foreign wars;
The coming and going of the seasons, from sweet to sweat;
The growing old of children, as childhood became but yesterday
And men grew weary, weeping for the youth they’d squandered.

Swindside is a site of yesterdays, steward of memories and holding them in its silent grasp:
If we could know its secrets we would without melancholy accept our fate
But yet the passage of time slips through our fingers and from our feeble grasp
And with it we see our lives pass by as particles of sand sieved with fumbling futility.
Swinside with certainty in its silent ways sways us to reflection
On how we lead our lives.

As we journey on our way, take care;
Our errors cause much pain.
But if through all our acts we’re fair
Our honour will remain.

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Castle Rising – my favourite keep in Olde England


Caslte Rising Norfolk

Castle Rising in the County of Norfolk - surely the finest keep in all the land? (Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

In the many years I have spent traversing this kingdom of Logres, from Camelot in the west to the depths of Staffordshire, I have always been impressed by accommodation offered to me. Whether hall house or manor, whether some lowly stable or some vast tower, I have seen them all. Yet few places stand out so much as the keeps and donjons in which it has been my pleasure to lie.

Now, of course, you will know well of my stays with lord and lady Bertilak and my meeting with the Green Knight up near the Staffordshire Roaches. And, of course, for reasons of my shame, I cannot say that my stay in their castle brings me great joy – save to say that it challenged my purity and my arrogance and is therefore worthy of remark. The best place for that castle is in my memory, befogged and dim of view – but there are others, dear reader and here I share my favourite with you, Castle Rising near King’s Lynn in the County of Norfolk, England.

To my mind, there are several great houses and all of them worthy of note: The Tower of London or Windsor, both great Royal keeps; Conisborough, surely the greatest circular keep in the land; Rochester, one of the tallest; Warkworth, one of the most striking; Peveril, one of the most dramatic; Orford, one of the most ingenious; Dover, one of the most impregnable; and Middleham, one of the most solid. Yet, for me, Rising outshines them all.

Rising is a veritable palace, a fine Norman keep of c.1140 set among rolling sandlings and built within great earthworks and – indeed – dwarfed by them. From the outside, it is difficult to gauge the sheer scale of the place; from the village, the tower is scarcely visible. But press on into the bailey and thence to the inner bailey and surely one of the finest keeps in all Albion awaits.

The keep at Rising is a statement of grandeur: a home above all others and the home in my day to William of Albini, the second of his line. The keep is approached up a flight of stairs all within a forebuilding which I would describe as probably the most magnificent in all the land: exquisite arcading, ornate craftsmanship and execution of the highest quality. To enter this building is to be impressed from the moment you walk through the door.

And now, once atop the stairs within a vaulted vestibule, turn left and enter the main building itself – sadly now without its floors but in my mind I recall well the feasts of pork, ox, venison and mutton we ate there with great joy. Oh what majesty! A lofty hall, well equipped with its own private kitchen and – unique possibly – garderobes split between lords and ladies. William respected the privacy of all his guests and built for that accordingly.

But there is more. In my day, few could enter the lord’s private rooms but today you can see within theme clearly. The private garderobe, an ante-chamber, a private staircase and also the keep’s own exquisite chapel. This is a building which clutches you and warms your spirit. It was – and is – a statement of power in the landscape, and quite rightly so.

Lord William was a powerful man, with other possessions (now sadly much depleted) at New and Old Buckenham – including, at the former, a most unusual planned town with a vast motte at one end surmounted by the stump of a round donjon in the continental style. When he built his castles he built them within earthworks so vast – especially in the huge flatness of East Anglia – that they brooded on the land, surveying his territories and visible for miles.

He was nothing if not adventurous in his experimentation in building but he was also a fine huntsman and sportsman which is why, for me, Rising is so special. What is not clear to today’s visitor but which for me kindles the magic of the place, is the great Chase, or park all around it, encompassed by banks some 15 miles long. Rising was a statement within a planned landscape of feudal lordship: proud from without, proud from within.

Oh what pleasant days I had there riding with Sir William, talking about the joys of the hunt, of chivalry and of his beloved Norfolk lands! And so it is, dear reader, that I recommend this place to you if, on your travels, you venture east into Norfolk.

Little wonder that the duke of Norfolk himself in later years, writing a letter to the duke of Suffolk in 1538 took time to say that it was “written on a molehill in Rysyng Chase, 8 August, 11 o’clock”. It’s that sort of place – you’ll like it so much that you’ll want to tell your friends.

Note: until recently, Castle Rising was in the care of the State under the auspices of English Heritage. It is now managed by Lord Howard of Rising although I shall say that I have not been hunting with this gentleman. For information, visiting times and entry charges (not levied in my day but, then again, you had to know the owner personally), click this link to Castle Rising.

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Piers Shonks the Dragon Slayer


Piers Shonks, the Dragon Slayer of Brent Pelham

Piers Shonks - fortune favoured the brave as the brave knight outwitted the Lord of Darkness

When the Devil thinks he’s caught you, a knight can do two things: succomb to the tyrant’s will, or fight back. Now here’s a story of a knight I knew well and whose story lives on today, should you wish to seek him out in a cold vault of an old church: Piers Shonks, the Dragon Slayer.

In olden times the wastelands of upper Hertfordshire, in an area known as the Pelhams, were home to strange men and stranger creatures. Here, when the light is gloomy, the land lies sullen like a great sea creature beached on the sands. The winds can be cold and lonely there, and even the oak and the ash, wayside friends as you seek direction, can suddenly turn silent and stare down at your misfortune.

And so it was a thousand years ago that Piers Shonks, a Norman knight of those fields, came face to face with the Devil’s creature among these fields and stones.

What a night that was! Sir Piers with his three fleet-footed hounds set forth into those fields to seek out a winged serpent whose rustlings and beatings among the woods and ungrowth was causing great concern among the serfs and yeomen who tended those lands.

He found the creature soon enough, nibbling and tearing at the carcase of an ox; its scales catching the evening light, glistening in the gloaming. In one move, Sir Piers couched his lance beneath his arm and charged the worm, launching his lance at the reptile’s mouth and splitting its throat asunder.

Its wings did beat and its tail did flap but in minutes the creature’s lifeless form lay draped upon the stubble, it’s eyes rolled to the welkin and its claws sunk in the earth. Plate by plate its armour had been made. Scale by scale the armour now dropped off like leaves on an autumn tree. The giant was no more.

But the Devil’s work is never done. Now the Lord of Darkness arose from the earth, chastising Sir Piers for his affrontery and glowering said, “your soul shall know no rest and peace shall have no bed. No church will ever hold your sleep, no holy place your soul to keep”. Whether buried inside a church or without, Sir Piers would never be safe from the Prince of Evil.

Or so it seemed…

I knew Sir Piers and knew well how his mind would dwell upon a puzzle. Drawing of his short bow, he placed an arrow and shot it towards the church of Brent Pelham (a corruption, reader, of Burnt Pelham, as it was then known due to the predations of the dragon). There it landed on the church’s north wall and there he intended to be buried – neither inside the wall nor without: safe from Devil’s suction clutches.

And so today, fellow journeyman through time, if you look in the north wall of the church at Brent Pelham, you will still see Sir Piers’ grave and read upon it the words thus placed in more recent times which state:

Nothing of Cadmus nor St George, those names

of great renown survives them, but their Fames;

time was so sharp set, as to make no Bones

Of theirs, nor of their monumental Stones,

but Shonke one Serpent kills, t’other defies,

and in this Wall as in a Fortress lyes.

Is this story true, you ask me? Well reader, I know the truth of it and I shall keep it safe. For sure these stories are embellished with the passing of the years but “Shonkes’ Moat” is still marked upon the maps and in those lands you still meet folk who stand taller for taking the air that once Sir Piers breathed.

And yet still he lies there in his tomb in the wall, a silent guardian against the mischief of wickedness – at peace, slumbering for all time in that dusty vault.

As Byron might have said:

“Shrine of the Mighty! can it be

that this is all remains of thee?”

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