Summer 2004 • Vol. XXVI No. 3 Book ReviewsJuly 1, 2004 |

A Light Touch

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A new verse translation. By W. S. Merwin. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002. xxiv, 171 pp. $22.00 hardcover.   This is W. S. Merwin's twentieth book of translation, surely a signal event even for this prolific, prizewinning writer who has published more than two dozen books of his own poetry and prose in the last forty years. It opens with a graceful wide-ranging introduction—more a personal essay, really—that shows a rich knowledge of older European literature as well as the several works of the Gawain-poet. Then comes the translation proper, en face with the original text from the Oxford edition of Tolkien, Gordon, and Davis. Merwin's version is lucid and readable, conveying the sense fairly literally and in speaking tones of voice. It moves along fluently, unclogged by archaic diction or over-alliteration. Gawain itself is full of drama and movement, sharp surprises, ambiguous double identities, and Merwin is careful not to impede it

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