Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Pearl is a Middle English alliterative poem written in the late 14th century. Its unknown author, designated the Pearl poet or Gawain poet, also appears, 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.
Genre and poetics
The poem, an allegory of the genre known as dream vision 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 units of five (except for XV, which has six). Alliteration is used frequently, but not consistently throughout the poem.
Structure 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 and begins to dream. In his dream he is transported to a beautiful country. 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 at God rewards every man by his works. She responds that God gives the same gift of Christ's salvific 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. 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. They walk upstream, he sees the city across the stream – 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 and resolves to fulfill the will of God.
- William Vantuono , ed. The Pearl poems : an omnibus edition (New York: Garland Pub., 1984) ISBN 0824054504 (v. 1) ISBN 0824054512 (v. 2) Text in both Middle English and Modern English
- Malcolm Andrew and Ronald Waldron . The Poems of the Pearl Manuscript (Berkeley: University of California Press. Fourth ed. 2002) ISBN 0859895149.
- J. R. R. Tolkien, Trans. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo. (New York: Ballantine Books, 1975; repr. 1988) ISBN 0345277600.
Commentary and criticism
- George Doherty Bond The Pearl poem : an introduction and interpretation. (Lewiston, N.Y., USA : E. Mellen Press, 1991) ISBN 0889463093
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