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Alliterative Morte Arthure

The Owl and the Nightingale and Five Other Middle English Poems

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John Gardner


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
304 pages, 5 x 8


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About the Book

Poets of every age deal with roughly the same human emotions, and for the experienced reader poetry is interesting or not depending upon the moment-by-moment intensity of its appeal. This skillful rendering by John Gardner of seven Middle English poems into sparklingly modern verse translation—most of them for the first time—represents a selection of poems that, generally, have real artistic value but are so difficult to read in the original that they are not as well known as they deserve to be. The seven poems are: The Alliterative Morte Arthure, Winner and Waster, The Parlia­ment of the Three Ages, Summer Sunday, The Debate of Body and Soul, The Thrush and the Nightingale,and The Owl and the Nightingale.

The first four poems represent high points in the alliterative renais­sance of the fourteenth century. Morte Arthure,here translated for the first time in its entirety into modern verse, is the only heroic romance in Middle English—a work roughly in the same genre as the French Song of Roland. The other three poems have been included in the anthology as further poetic examples.

With his employment of extensive comments and notes on the poems, Gardner provides a wealth of aids to appreciation and understanding of his outstanding translations. The anthology will be of interest to general readers as well as to students.


John Gardner is Professor of English at Southern Illinois University. His previous books include a modernized English version of The Complete Works of the Gawain-Poet and a recently published novel, The Wreckage of Agathon.


“His proved literary creativity makes Gardner’s translations of me­dieval poems exceptional, and superior to those by possibly more erudite interpreters; and his equally sure position as a teacher guar­antees a basic fidelity to his sources where a poet lacking his schol­arship might falter.”—Rossell Hope Robbins, Anglia

“John Gardner… modernizes rather than translates the title poems, plus Win­ner and Waster, Parliament of Three Ages, Summer Sunday, Debate of Body and Soul,and Thrush and Nightingale,generally preserving the original meter, alliteration, and vigor. The seven poems represent a sampling of the ‘alliterative revival’ of later medieval England; regret­tably, all seven are seldom edited, rarely translated, and little studied or taught. So Gardner’s making them available for the general reader is a real service. His appre­ciations are lively and sensible.”—Donald K. Fry, Library Journal