Þat þe scharp of þe schalk schyndered þe bones [Middle English]
scharp = sharp blade, schalk = man, and schyndered = cleave or burst asunder
So that the sharp blade sheared through, shattering the bones [Brian Stone]
That the shock of the sharp blow shivered the bones [Marie Boroff]
So that the man’s sharp blade cut through the bones [R.A. Waldron, in a footnote]
So that the sharp blade shattered the man’s bones [A.C. Cawley, in a footnote]
Cut through bones and skin and fair [Burton Raffel]
So that the sharp edge sundered the man’s bones [W.S. Merwin]
The cleanness of the strike cleaved the spinal chord [Simon Armitage]
That man’s sharp stroke shattered the bones [Adam Golaski]
Note the location of the word “man.” Cawley and Merwin apply “man” to the Green Knight. Waldron applies “man” to “sharp blade”—which could be read as the sharp blade of the Green Knight, though at this point in the poem that sharp blade—the axe the Green Knight carried into Arthur’s hall—is in Gawain’s possession, and is Gawain's (won by accepting the Green Knight's challenge), so Waldron might be applying “man” to Gawain.
Gawain is a man. The Green Knight is not. That’s why I chose to apply “man” to Gawain.
I wrote “that man” instead of “the man” for the repeated “a” sound.
In my translation, it isn’t the blade that’s sharp, but Gawain’s stroke. Sharp is precise, but sharp is also smart—it at least seems smart to chop of the Green Knight’s head. Too bad about about the irrational supernatural.
Like Stone, I chose to shatter the bones. Shatter maintains my alliteration and is a more violent verb than sunder, sheared, shivered, cut, or cleave. My “shattered” is more aggressive than Stone’s “shattering.”
Raffel took words from surrounding lines, which is why his line is so different. Armitage’s solution was to alliterate with “c” as well as “s”—a big departure from the Gawain poet’s original line. I like Armitage’s line.
My translation of the first fitt of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is featured in this month’s Open Letter’s Monthly. My thanks to editors John Cotter and Steve Donoghue for their hard work in the service of “Green.”