An Introduction to the Gawain-Poet

By Ad W. Putter | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Pearl

INTRODUCTION: PEARL AND ITS PROBLEMS

Pearl is the most ambitious of the Gawain-poet's works. His themes in the poem are human loss and the mysterious workings of heaven, in themselves hardly original themes, but all the more taxing in that many writers had gone before him. Moreover, neither human loss nor heaven lend themselves easily to verbalization: heaven, since it was believed to be fundamentally different from anything imaginable, beyond comprehension and articulation; bereavement, because it may be felt so strongly and personally that people cannot, or do not wish to, state it in a language that turns it into hard fact. Faced with loss, language seems often reduced to euphemisms or evasions, just as the ineffable otherness of heaven has mostly found expression in awesome silences, in analogies (heaven is like this), or negatives (heaven is not like this) ( Schotter 1984; Watts 1984).

It is not surprising, then, that linguistic tensions are very much in evidence in Pearl. Indeed, the bulk of the poem, the debate between the Dreamer and the Pearl-maiden, consists of communicative short-circuits and misunderstandings. The prologue of Pearl is similarly opaque. While critics today tend to agree that the loss which the Dreamer laments in the opening section concerns his daughter,1. the fact remains that he is obscure about what has actually happened. His lament is hedged about with figures of speech, as if he were unwilling to confront what has taken place, or taking refuge in formality.

The complex literary form which the Gawain-poet chose for his dream vision continually generates more verbal equivocations. The 101

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1.
See Eldredge ( 1975) for an overview of Pearl-criticism.

-147-

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An Introduction to the Gawain-Poet
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Note on References and Abbreviations ix
  • Chapter 1 the Gawain-Poet in Context 1
  • Chapter 2 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 38
  • Conclusion 98
  • Chapter 3 Patience 103
  • Introduction 103
  • Chapter 4 Pearl 147
  • Chapter 5 Cleanness 199
  • Bibliography 237
  • Index 253
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