Pearl (poem)

Pearl (poem)

"Pearl" is a Middle English alliterative poem written in the late 14th century. Its unknown author, designated the "Pearl poet" or "Gawain poet", is generally assumed, on the basis of dialect and stylistic evidence, to be the author of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight", "Patience", and "Cleanness" and may have composed "St. Erkenwald".

The manuscript, Cotton Nero A.x is in the British Library. The first publication was by the Early English Text Society (o.s. 1), edited by Richard Morris, in 1864, while a standard modern edition was edited by E. V. Gordon (Oxford, 1953). The most recent edition came out in 2002, edited by Malcolm Andrew, Ronald Alan Waldron, and Clifford Peterson, and is available in a slightly earlier form with a parallel translation into modern English by Casey Finch (1993).

Genre and poetics

A great deal of critical discussion has taken place since the poem was first published in the late 19th century on the question of what genre the poem belonged to. Early editors, such as Morris, Gollancz and Osgood, took it for granted that the poem was an elegy for the poet's lost daughter (presumed to have been named Margaret, ie. 'pearl'); a number of scholars however, including W. H. Schofield, R. M. Garrett, and W. K. Greene, were quick to point out the flaws in this assumption, and sought to establish a definitive allegorical reading of the poem. While there is no question that the poem has elements of medieval allegory and dream vision (as well as the slightly more esoteric genre of the verse lapidary), all such attempts to reduce the poem's complex symbolism to one single interpretation have inevitably fallen flat. More recent criticism has pointed to the subtle, shifting symbolism of the pearl as one of the poem's chief virtues, recognizing that there is no inherent contradiction between the poem's elegiac and its allegorical aspects, and that the sophisticated allegorical significance of the Pearl Maiden is not unusual but in fact has several quite well-known parallels in medieval literature, the most celebrated being probably Dante's Beatrice.

Besides the symbolic, on a sheer formal level, Pearl is almost astounding in its complexity, and generally recognized to be, in the words of one prominent scholar, "the most highly wrought and intricately constructed poem in Middle English" (Bishop 27). It is composed of 101 stanzas of 12 lines each with the rhyme scheme a b a b a b a b b c b c. Stanzas are grouped in sections of five (except for XV, which has six), and each section is marked by a capital letter in the manuscript; within each section, the stanzas are tied together by the repetition of a key "link"-word, which is then echoed in the first line of the following section. The oft-praised "roundness" of the poem is thus emphasized, and the final link-word is repeated in the first line of the whole, forging a connection between the two ends of the poem and producing a structure that is itself circular. Alliteration is used frequently, but not consistently throughout the poem, and there are a number of other sophisticated poetic devices. [cite book
last = Shippey
first = T. A.
authorlink = Tom Shippey
title = The Road to Middle-Earth
publisher = HarperCollins
date = 1982
pages = 176-177
id = ISBN 0-261-10275-3

tructure and content

The poem may be divided into three parts, an introduction, a dialog between the two main characters in which the Pearl instructs the narrator, and a description of the New Jerusalem with the narrator's awakening.


Sections I - IV (stanzas 1- 20)The narrator, distraught at the loss of his Pearl, falls asleep in an "erber grene" and begins to dream. In his dream he is transported to an other-worldy garden. Wandering by the side of a beautiful stream, he becomes convinced paradise is on the other shore. As he looks for a crossing, he sees a young maid whom he identifies as his Pearl. She welcomes him.


Sections V - VII (stanzas 21 - 35)When he asks whether she is the pearl he has lost, she tells him he has lost nothing, that his pearl is merely a rose which has naturally withered. He wants to cross to her side, but she says it is not so easy, that he must resign himself to the will and mercy of God. He asks about her state. She tells him that the Lamb has taken her as His queen.

Sections VIII - XI (stanzas 36 - 60)He wonders whether she has replaced Mary as Queen of Heaven. She responds that all are equal members of the body of Christ and recounts the parable of the vineyard. He objects to the idea that God rewards every man equally, regardless of his apparent due. She responds that God gives the same gift of Christ's redemption to all.

Sections XII - XV (stanzas 61 - 81)She instructs him on several aspects of sin, repentance, grace and salvation. She wears the Pearl of Great Price because she has been washed in the blood of the Lamb, and advises him to forsake all and buy this pearl.

Description and awakening

Sections XVI - XX (stanzas 82 - 101)He asks about the heavenly Jerusalem; she tells him it is the city of God. He asks to go there; she says that God forbids that, but he may see it by a special dispensation. They walk upstream, and he sees the city across the stream, which is described in a paraphrase of the Apocalypse. He also sees a procession of the blessed. Plunging into the river in his desperation to cross, he awakes from the dream back in the "erber" and resolves to fulfill the will of God.

ee also

*Allegory in the Middle Ages



*"Pearl, Cleanness, Patience and Sir Gawain, reproduced in facsimile from the unique MS. Cotton Nero A.x. in the British Museum", introduction by Sir Israel Gollancz, EETS OS 162 (London, 1923)


*Richard Morris, ed. "Early English Alliterative Poems", EETS o.S. 1 (1864; revision 1869; reprint 1965).
*Sir Israel Gollancz, ed. and trans. "Pearl", (London 1891; revision 1897; 2nd edition with Giovanni Boccaccio's "Olympia", 1921)
*Charles C. Osgood, ed. "The Pearl", (Boston and London, 1906)
*E. V. Gordon, ed. "Pearl" (Oxford, 1953).
*Sister Mary V. Hillmann, ed. and trans., "The Pearl" (New York, 1961; 2nd edition., introduction by Edward Vasta, 1967)
*Charles Moorman, ed. "The Works of the 'Gawain'-Poet", (Jackson, Mississippi, 1977)
*A. C. Cawley and J. J. Anderson, ed., "Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" (London, 1978)
*William Vantuono, ed. "The Pearl poems : an omnibus edition" (New York: Garland Pub., 1984) ISBN 0-8240-5450-4 (v. 1) ISBN 0-8240-5451-2 (v. 2) Text in both Middle English and Modern English
*Malcolm Andrew, Ronald Waldron and Clifford Peterson, ed. "The Poems of the Pearl Manuscript" (Berkeley: University of California Press. Fourth ed. 2002) ISBN 0-85989-514-9.


*Brian Stone, "Medieval English Verse" (Harmondsworth, 1964) [contains "Patience" and "Pearl"]
*John Gardner, "The Complete Works of the Gawain Poet" (Chicago, London and Amsterdam, 1965)
*Margaret Williams, "The Pearl-Poet: His Complete Works" (New York, 1967)
*J. R. R. Tolkien, Trans. "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo". (New York: Ballantine Books, 1975; repr. 1988) ISBN 0-345-27760-0.
*Marie Borroff, Trans. "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; Patience; Pearl: verse translations". (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1967; repr. 1977, 2001) ISBN 0-393-97658-0
*Casey Finch, "The Complete Works of the Gawain Poet" (Berkeley, Los Angeles and Oxford, 1993) [contains a parallel text with an earlier edition of the Andrew, Waldron and Peterson edition, above]

Commentary and criticism

*Ian Bishop, "Pearl in its Setting: A Critical Study of the Structure and Meaning of the Middle English Poem" (Oxford, 1968)
*Robert J. Blanch, ed. "'SG' and 'Pearl': Critical Essays" (Bloomington, Indiana and London, 1966) [reprinted essays]
*George Doherty Bond "The Pearl poem : an introduction and interpretation." (Lewiston, N.Y., USA : E. Mellen Press, 1991) ISBN 0-88946-309-3
*Robert J. Blanch, "The Gawain poems: A reference guide 1978-1993" (Albany, 2000)
*John M. Bowers, "The Politics of 'Pearl': Court Poetry in the Age of Richard II" (Cambridge, 2001)
*John Conley, ed., "The Middle English 'Pearl': Critical Essays" (Notre Dame and London, 1970) [reprinted essays]
*P. M. Kean, "The Pearl: An Interpretation" (London, 1967)
*Kottler, Barnet, and Alan M. Markman, "A Concordance to Five Middle English Poems: Cleanness, St Erkenwald, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Patience, Pearl" (Pittsburg, 1966)
*Charles Muscatine, "The 'Pearl' Poet: Style as Defense", in "Poetry and Crisis in the Age of Chaucer" (Notre Dame and London, 1972), 37-69
*Paul Piehler, "Pearl", in "The Visionary Landscape: A Study in Medieval Allegory" (London, 1971)
*D. W. Robertson, "The Pearl as a Symbol", "MLN", 65 (1950), 155-61; reprinted in Conley, 1970
*Rene Wellek, "'The Pearl', Studies in English by Members of the English Seminar of the Charles University, Prague" 4 (1933), 5-33; reprinted in Blanch, 1966


External links

* [
* [ Questia: Online Library]
* [ Medieval English Narrator - The Pearl text & audio online] Dr. Anthony Colaianne, Chris Baugh - listen to recorded excerpts of Medieval English literature with text alongside for translation help.
* [ Pearl text & modern translation online] William Graham Stanton - contains original text, literal translation, and poetic translation.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Pearl of Great Price — may refer to:*Parable of the Pearl, a parable told by Jesus in explaining the value of the Kingdom of Heaven * Pearl (poem), a Middle English alliterative poem written in the late 14th century * Pearl of Great Price (Latter Day Saints), part of… …   Wikipedia

  • Pearl (poème) — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Pearl. Pearl est un poème allitératif en moyen anglais écrit à la fin du XIVe siècle. Son auteur est inconnu, mais on considère généralement, d après son style et le dialecte qu il emploie, qu il est… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Pearl (disambiguation) — A pearl is a hard object produced by mollusks. Pearl may also refer to: Contents 1 People 2 Places 3 Literature …   Wikipedia

  • Pearl Primus — (29 November 1919, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago ndash; 29 October 1994) was a dancer, choreographer and anthropologist.Pearl Primus immigrated to the United States on board the S.S. Voltaire and arrived at Ellis Island on June 24, 1924.… …   Wikipedia

  • Pearl — (ca. 1375)    Pearl is an important Middle English DREAM VISION poem preserved in a single late 14th century manuscript known as Cotton Nero A.x, the same manuscript in which survive three other long poems: SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT,… …   Encyclopedia of medieval literature

  • Pearl Poet — The Pearl Poet , or the Gawain Poet , is the name given to the author of Pearl , an alliterative poem written in Middle English. Its author appears also to have written the poems Sir Gawain and the Green Knight , Patience , and Cleanness ; some… …   Wikipedia

  • Pearl of Great Price (Latter Day Saints) — The Pearl of Great Price is part of the standard works of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints (LDS Church; see also Mormonism) and some other Latter Day Saint denominations.The first paragraph of the Introductory Note in the LDS… …   Wikipedia

  • Pearl — For other uses, see Pearl (disambiguation). Pearl Pearls General Category Mineral Chemical formula Ca …   Wikipedia

  • pearl —    ‘Ho, ho, my dainty, my little pearl! No lady loves her hound, monkey, or parakeet as I do thee.’ Thus speaks a mother to her child in The Witch of Edmonton, by Rowley, Dekker, and Ford. ‘Pearl’ has been applied to a person considered precious… …   A dictionary of epithets and terms of address

  • Oriental Pearl Tower — Oriental Pearl redirects here. For the cruise ship, see MS Oriental Pearl. Oriental Pearl Tower 东方明珠塔 The Oriental Pearl Tower as seen from below General information …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.