King Arthur and Merlin watching dragons fight.
The Alliterative Morte Arthure took the style to the extreme, using alliteration at almost every opportunity. It is a poem of over 4000 lines written in Middle English. It is about the life of the legendary King Arthur. Nobody knows when it was first written down but it seems likely that it was during the 14th century when using alliteration was very popular. Reading Middle English is hard work so it is good to know that, at the moment, the English poet Simon Armitage is working on a modern version. What he produces will flow better to today’s readers and we will be able to enjoy it next year.
I’m sure Mr Armitage is doing a better job but in the meantime here’s my version of one small section, where King Arthur has a vision of a dragon. Describing a dragon as a shrimp is odd to today’s ears but I kept that in from the original. I tried to stay true to plentiful alliteration, changing whatever else was necessary to do so. It is probably more fun if you read it out loud.
He dreamed of a dragon, dreadful to behold
Come driving over deep to drown his people
Driven directly from the west, a wanderer unworthy
Covered completely in silver scales
This shrimp was enamelled in shinning shards
Its womb and its wings were wondrous colours
In this marvellous mail it mounted the sky
Whoever it lashed was lost forever
Its feet were flourished in fine fur
Such fierce flame flowed from its lips
The sea itself seemed seared with fire
Here’s the original I worked from, I got it from this online resource. The notes on the website helped me too, as you can see many of the words are no longer used and I needed the translation the site provided.
Him dremed of a dragon - dredful to behold,
Come drivand over the deep - to drenchen his pople,
Even walkand - out the West landes,
Wanderand unworthyly - over the wale ythes
Both his hed and his hals - were holly all over
Ounded of azure, - enamelled full fair
His shoulders were shaled - all in clene silver
Shredde over all the shrimp - with shrinkand pointes;
His womb and his winges - of wonderful hewes,
In marvelous mailes - he mounted full high.
Whom that he touched - he was tint forever!
His feet were flourished - all in fine sable
And such a venomous flaire - flow from his lippes
The flood of the flawes - all on fire seemed!
The description of the dragon starts at line 760 of the Alliterative Morte Arthure. It is followed by the description of a giant bear charging from the east. The two beasts do battle. It's like a 15th century King Kong. These days we have talented animators and special effects to bring monsters to life. In the 14th century writers were using alliteration to make their monsters live and flow, sweeping the audience away.