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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

excerpt from Pearl

Perle, pleasaunte to prynces paye
To clanly cos in golde so clere;
Oute of orient, I hardly saye.
Ne proved I never her precios pere.
So rounde, so reken in uche araye,
So small, so smothe her sydes were,
Quere-so-ever I jugged gemmes gaye,
I sette hyr sengely in synglere.
Allas!  I leste hyr in on erbere;
Thurgh gresse to ground hit fro me yot,
I dewyne, fordolked of luf-daungere
Of that privy perle wythouten spot.

Sythen in that spote hit fro me sprange,
Ofte haf I wayted, wyschande that wele,
That won was whyle devoyde my wrange
And heven my happe an al my hele.
That dos bot thrych my hert thrange
Mr brest in bale bot bolne and bele.
Yet thought me never se swete a sange
As style stounde let me stele,
For sothe there fleten to me fele,
To thence hir color so clad it clot,
O moul, thou marres a myry juele,
My privy perle wythouten spotte.


The poem commonly referred to as Pearl is a long Middle English semi-romantic devotional poem thought to be written by the same poet as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (in the same hand on the same manuscript).  Less famous than Gawain, this is still a beautiful poem, though very difficult to read.  The Middle English of the Pearl poet is much more difficult than that of Chaucer, but I think when read aloud, it is still reasonably understandable.

These are the first two stanzas of the poem, in which the scene is set.  A pearl, so fine as to please princes, our of the Orient, which brings much pleasure and love, is lost to the poet in a garden.  It was a pearl without spot or blemish.  It's fairly clear that the pearl is a romance object, a metaphorical stand in for perhaps a lady love, or ideal of Holy love.  The pearl is referred to as "hir," the feminine pronoun, constantly.  When the pearl has disappeared, the narrator talks of how his heart in enthralled "in bale bot bolne and bele" which means in great misery.  At the end of the second stanza, the lamest is that the earth has marred and sullied that perfect pearl without a spot, presumably because it has been lost to the ground.  To me, this puts me in mind of the death of a loved one.

I would love to post the whole poem, but as I type these out rather than copy or pasting, and given the powerful difficulty of the text un-translated, I'll abstain from doing so.  It is beyond my ability in Middle English to read the entire poem un-translated.  Just these two stanzas took me an hour or so to get a good handle on, and I'm sure there's much I missed.  It's been a few years since I read Pearl.  Still, I find the sounds and imagery of this poem to be endlessly delightful.  For those adventurous readers among you, I highly recommend trying to read this aloud.  Middle English vowels are pronounced like Latin vowels (no dipthongs) and you generally pronounce every consonant.  Give it a shot, you might be surprised at how understandable and delightful it sounds. 

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