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13 November 2014

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You are in: Stoke & Staffordshire > Entertainment > Poetry > Sir Gawain & The Green Knight

Gawain and the green knight

Gawain and the green knight

Sir Gawain & The Green Knight

One of the greatest poems in the English language was written here in the Staffordshire Moorlands - that’s what some experts say. Here we explain how – and invite you to listen to its story.

Just before Chaucer, some time in the fourteenth century, a great poetic saga was written.  It tells one of the most famous of the King Arthur stories, that of ‘Sir Gawain & The Green Knight’.

No one knows who wrote it, and in fact only one original manuscript exists.
It wasn’t even re-published until 500 years later.
What’s more, it’s virtually impossible to understand now, being written in a very rich version of Anglo-Saxon Early English. (Analysis of the dialect words and phrases suggest it was written by someone living on the Staffordshire-Cheshire border).

But … it is very well-known.  Two movies have been made of the poem’s story; and a ‘translation’ of the poem even figured as the centre of the BBC’s Poetry Season in 2009. You can buy more than a few audio-books of it – one even with Terry Jones (from Monty Python) as the reader.

Not bad for an anonymous, unreadable work!


The most famous translator of 'Sir Gawain & The Green Knight' is the author of ‘Lord of The Rings’, JRR Tolkien. 
Tolkien had quite a few Staffordshire connections (which you can read about on this site) – and he identified the language as being of the 1300s, and of the North Midlands.

Lud's Church

Lud's Church - the "green chapel"?

In the 1950s, a professor from Keele University in north Staffordshire went further. Ralph Elliott went walking with his students, and identified many of the sites in the poem as being in Staffordshire.
Most famously, he identified the ‘Green Chapel’ in the poem as the ‘Lud’s Church’ (or Ludchurch) rock fissure near the Swythamley estate, just inside the Staffordshire border.

His researches were continued by another Keele professor, John Levitt, who claimed that the poet was probably a monk at the nearby Dieulacresse (or Dieulacres) Abbey at Leek. 
Professor Levitt also said that if you read the poem with a Potteries accent, then it all became clear, and wasn’t then incomprehensible at all!
The fact is that – if you can get someone to read it out loud to you in the old English – it has a magic, alliterative, hypnotic quality.
Set in the wildernesses and wilds of the Staffordshire moorlands, it makes alive each tree, rock and bird it describes.


The latest writer to attempt a full translation (the poem has over 2000 lines) is Simon Armitage.
See and hear him search out the landscape of the poem for the BBC’s 2009 Poetry Season.  Click on the ‘Poetry Season’ link in the top right-hand corner of this page.

Abbey Inn, Leek

The Abbey Inn - near the old Dieulacres site

Also, as befits the local station in whose area the poem is probably set, BBC Radio Stoke broadcast its own half-hour programme about the saga.
Producer Mark Stewart based his documentary on the journey of Gawain, following the knight deeper and deeper into the wastes of the Moorlands. Mark spoke to local people; and found some strange coincidences along the journey.

We found the programme in the station’s archives, and re-publish it here for you.  Click on the link below to hear the programme

last updated: 24/11/2009 at 10:34
created: 27/05/2009

You are in: Stoke & Staffordshire > Entertainment > Poetry > Sir Gawain & The Green Knight

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