Speak Early Modern English to Me, Paramour

I was prowling the aisles of a Barnes and Noble one afternoon in high school when I wandered into the History section. Most of the shelves were full of modern historians looking back on various points of history. But in the corner of the section, the bottom two shelves were full of original texts. The second-to-bottom shelf had The Odyssey, The Iliad, The Aeneid, the Bhagavad Ghita, Enkidu and other “classic” texts. Below that were the more obscure European texts. I recognized Beowulf–I had read the Seamus Heaney translation earlier that year in school. (That version had the original Old English on the left-hand page and the modern English on the right, and I would compare the lines and try to learn the Old English words. More than a few mof them looked quite like their Modern English counterparts.)

I didn’t recognize the rest of the books on that bottom shelf, but one word caught my eye: “Arthur.”

Like King Arthur?

The full title was “Le Morte d’Arthur.” Two books bore this name on their spine. The summaries on their backs confirmed that yes, they were about the King Arthur.  One of the books was narrow, with fragile thin pages and tiny tiny font, and cost less than ten dollars. The other was thicker and heavier and larger, and cost fifteen dollars.

I knelt on the floor next to this shelf, and hefted each book in my hand. I already knew I was going to buy one of them. The only question was: do I go with the cheaper copy, or the copy that wouldn’t destroy my already-poor eyesight? I bought the thicker, more expensive copy. I still have it, too. The cover has long since fallen off.

By my junior year of high school I had read so much of “Le Morte d’Arthur” that my thoughts would often lapse into the book’s distinctive diction and grammar. I love the way the words sounded in those patterns, the way the sentences meandered for lines and lines and then abruptly ended.

During winter break that year, my AP English teacher gave our class the assignment to write a full account of one day during the vacation. I thought that sounded like a pretty terrible assignment. Who wanted to read what would basically be a really detailed diary?

Then I thought about Le Morte d’Arthur. And I wrote this.

I just found it in my computer files and thought I would post it online. In general my writing skills have progressed far beyond what they were in high school, but I think this particular piece still holds up because it was an intentional effort to mimic a very specific writing style, and I think I was generally pretty successful in doing so.

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