Fourteenth Century Verse & Prose

By Kenneth Sisam | Go to book overview

VI
THE PEARL

ABOUT 1375.

The facts leading to the presumption that Pearl and Sir Gawayne are by the same author have been mentioned in the prefatory note to Sir Gawayne. But the poems are markedly different in subject and tone. Pearl, like Chaucer Death of Blanche the Duchess, is an elegy cast in the vision form made popular by the Roman de la Rose. The subject is a little girl, who died before she was two years old, and the treatment is deeply religious. Her death is symbolized as the loss of a pearl without spot, that slipped from its owner's hand through the grass into the earth.

On a festival day in August, the poet, while mourning his loss, falls asleep on his child's grave. His spirit passes to a land of flowers and rich fruits, where birds of flaming hues sing incomparably, where the cliffs are of crystal and beryl, and a river runs in a bed of gleaming jewels. On the other side of the river, which is lovelier still, sits a maiden dressed all in white, with coronet and ornaments of pearl. The poet recognizes his lost child, but cannot call to her for wonder and dread, until she rises and salutes him. He complains that since her loss he has been a joyless jeweller. She rebukes him gently; she is not lost, but made safe and beautiful for ever. Overjoyed, he says he will cross the river and live with her in this paradise; but she warns him against such presumption, for since Adam's fall the river may be crossed only by the way of death. He is in despair to think that now that his Pearl is found, he must still live joyless, apart from her; but he is bidden to resign himself to God's will and mercy, because rebellion will avail him nothing.

-57-

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Fourteenth Century Verse & Prose
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction ix
  • The Texts xlv
  • Select Bibliography xlvi
  • I - Robert Mannyng of Brunne's Handlyng Synne Begun 1303 1
  • II - Sir Orfeo 13
  • III - Michael of Northgate's Ayenbyte of Inwyt 32
  • IV - Richard Rolle of Hampole 36
  • V - Sir Gawayne and the Grene Knight About 1350-75. 43
  • VI - The Pearl 57
  • VII - The Gest Hystoriale of the Destruction of Troy 68
  • VIII - Piers Plowman (1362-1400) 76
  • IX - Mandeville's Travels 94
  • Epilogue. 104
  • X - The Bruce Written in 1375 by John Barbour. 107
  • XI - John Wiclif 115
  • XII - John Gower D. 1408. 129
  • XIII - John of Trevisa's Translation of Higden's Polychronicon 1387. 145
  • XIV - Political Pieces 151
  • XV - Miscellaneous Pieces in Verse 162
  • XVI - The York Play 'Harrowing of Hell' 171
  • Xvii the Towneley Play of Noah 185
  • Notes 204
  • Appendix the English Language in the Fourteenth Century 265
  • A Middle English Vocabulary 293
  • Glossary 297
  • Index of Names. 455
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