top of page
  • Michael Smith, printmaker, Mythical Britain

Illustrating my new translation of the Alliterative Morte Arthure (King Arthur's Death)

As I write, I am nearly half way through my translation of the Alliterative Morte Arthure (King Arthur's Death), a fourteenth century poem originally written in Yorkshire or Lincolnshire. I have now begun to produce the linocut illustrations for the poem which, at 4400 lines is nearly twice as long as my recent translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Again, I will be using linocut prints to illustrate the poem only this time the mood has changed. In Gawain, the mood was one of mediaeval whimsy. In King Arthur's Death, the tone is much darker, reflecting the deep messages the poet was trying to convey: the horrors of war; the dangers of foreign ventures; the fragility of kingship; the loneliness of power.

If Gawain is almost a treatise on the conflict between chivalry, religion and personal conduct, King Arthur's Death instead draws the reader into a more political environment. We are asked by the poet to consider the consequences of rash actions. The poem, written in the provinces, may indeed be a comment on the obsession of fourteenth century monarchs with foreign wars..

Like Gawain, the poem is part of the Alliterative Revival of the fourteenth century. These poems were written away from London, gaining particular popularity in the midlands and north of England and in Scotland.

The method of writing dates back to Anglo-Saxon times. Its punchiness and brevity of technique allows complex messages to be conveyed almost as if by accident. This may be deliberate, so as to disguise views which may have been deemed treasonous or heretical.

So, with this mood in mind, I have adopted a different approach to my printmaking which enables me to focus on the personal messages within the poem. In the text, you will encounter considerable interrogation of the mediaeval military and royal psyche; in the illustrations, I have tried to convey this darker feel by focusing on human emotion and personal conflict.

I hope you like the work. It is current crowdfunding through Unbound (the same publisher who published my translation of Sir Gawain). If you would like to be a patron of the book with your name in the back, I would be very grateful for your support. Different pledge levels allow patrons to choose from different rewards - including some very special prints I have made especially for patrons featuring two-colour versions of the illustrations in the book.

To pledge support and have your name in the back as a patron, please click here

71 views0 comments
bottom of page