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10 thoughts on “The Poems of the Pearl Manuscript

  1. says:

    This review is to grow by and by as I go through the respective poemsPearlThe edition starts with the allegorical poem Pearl in which the author – here we may safely assume a conflation of author and lyrical persona – tells us about a dream a ”veray avysoun” of his in which he converses with his late daughter who died aged two on the banks of a beautiful river The poem is inspired by Christian piety and has the daughter the author’s Pearl appear as one of the 144000 virgin brides of the Lamb we find mentioned in Revelation and although she is now a beautiful woman bedecked in clothes studded with pearls the father immediately recognizes his daughter but the ensuing conversation during which the Pearl explains to her father the world of bliss she has entered makes it clear that he as a mortal man has no grasp of the laws governing the world beyond because he mainly sees her as an individual his lost daughter whom he loves and cherishes whereas she is now part of a heavenly host The person he once rocked on his knee is no and the father has difficulty reconciling himself with that concept Finally when on an impulse he tries to cross the river separating himself and Pearl in order to get closer to the person he loves and whom with a father’s eye he spots among the host of virgins he destroys the vision and finds himself alone at the foot of her graveFor all the religious teachings the glimpses into life after death the daughter offers Pearl is anything but a formulaic poem in that you can sense the bitterness and despair of the father’s grief who has to realize that even in their long home he will probably never recover his daughter as he knew her It is thus a poignantly personal poem and it leaves no doubt about the impossibility for a mortal being to get a clear understanding of death and maybe also to find comfort in the thought that there is a life after death On the surface the father submits to God’s will when he says”Lord mad hit are that agayns thee stryvenOr proferen thee oght agayns thy pay”but his despair is clearly palatable It does go to a reader’s heart to sense the genuine anguish of a man who poured it into words centuries ago Saying that I think that the Gawain Poet bears comparison with Chaucer on any level whose language is elegant and refined in that there is a sterling uality about the style of this man from the North West Midlands Just take the following example where he describes the riverside of his dream whose beauty still carries memories of the sadder waking world”The dubbement of tho derworth depeWere bonkes bene of beryl bryghtSwangeande swete the water con swepeWith a rounande rurk raykande aryghtIn the founs there stonden stones stepeAs glent thurgh glasse that glowed and glyghtAs stremande sternes when strothe men slepeStaren in welkyn in wynter night;For uch a pobbel in pole there pyghtWas emerad saffer or gemme gentThat all the logh lemed of lyghtSo dere was hit adubbement”Cleannessto be completedPatienceto be completedSir Gawain and the Green KnightThis is the last of the four poems which are commonly ascribed to the anonymous “Pearl Poet” or “Gawain Poet” and it is probably the best known and the only one of them which is clearly secular in nature The story begins on New Year’s Eve when King Arthur and his court have assembled for a sumptuous banuet and suddenly a rather rude stranger clad in green and armed with a Danish axe appears and challenges the knights in the following manner Who is there among the knights that dares deal him a fell blow with that axe and then receive a counter blow by him – if a counter blow can still be made – after the lapse of one year and a day? As everyone present is astounded at this seemingly crazy challenge Gawain King Arthur’s nephew rises to the occasion in order to defend the honour of the court the Green Knight taking their inaction for cowardice instead of amazement and he merrily chops of the rude knight’s head But lo the mysterious stranger picks up his head carries it nonchalantly by the hair and fixes an appointment with Sir Gawain By New Year’s Eve next year Gawain is to make his appearance at the Green Chapel and endure the knight’s retaliation the only unsettling detail being that Gawain is not able to do that trick of carrying his head around Nevertheless he feels himself bound by his promise and seeks out his adversary but on his way to the Green Chapel he stops at a castle whose lord offers him to host him for Christmas there and then tell him the way to the place he is looking for Gawain and the lord enter into a friendly covenant which obliges the host to give up to his guest the uarry of his hunts in return for whatever Gawain who is to stay at the castle and to recover from his travels will receive in the course of the day Now the following three days the lord of the castle and his merry men go hunting and while they are roaming the forests the lord’s wife a beautiful damsel does her own bit of hunting too Morning after morning she enters Gawain’s bedroom where she tries to seduce him The good knight knows that it would be a betrayal both to his own codices of honour and to his host’s trust to sleep with the man’s wife but courtly etiuette and his reputation as a womanizer also demand that he be not impolite to a lady and so he cannot simply tell her to cut it out Instead he enters on the terrain of elegantly parrying all her advances without snubbing her and they pass their time in agreeable conversation When the host arrives later in the day and presents Gawain with the animals he has hunted the good knight returns him the kisses – given in decency – he received from the lady without telling him where he got them So far so good But on the last day the lady urges Gawain to accept a gift as a love token a reuest that Gawain elegantly turns down – until the lady offers him a girdle of hers which has the power to protect its owner from blows cuts and other injuries Gawain afraid for his life during the encounter with the Green Knight cannot resist this temptation and accepts the girdle and what is he fails to hand it out to the host thus breaking their covenant When a few days later he meets his opponent at the Green Chapel Gawain is in for a surprise Sir Gawain is probably one of the best known chivalric romances and at the same time it struck me as uncommonly modern This was because for all his prowess and principle its protagonist is anything but a faultless knight in shining armour and we do not go through just another tale of heroic achievement Gawain like most of us would be is uite afraid for his life when he anticipates his encounter with the Green Knight in which it is incumbent on him to receive the first blow kneeling with the nape of his neck offered to the blow of the axe In other words the deal he made with the Green Knight and to which his honour makes him stick is going to send him to his certain death Knowing this and hoping to miraculously escape Gawain accepts the girdle although this means breaking the promise he made to his host ie to exchange whatever he received in the course of the day for the host’s gifts Gawain’s tragedy lies in the fact that both the Green Knight and King Arthur and his followers regard this failure to keep his word as a venial sin since it was committed with a view to preserve his own life – and in this they are backed up by the theological authority of Thomas Auinas who said that a sin is diminished if it was motivated by fear for one’s life Gawain himself however cannot find it in himself to see his lapse in such a reconciliatory light because all that counts for him is that he did not manage to live up to his own set of values and he decides to wear the girdle as a sign of his shame henceforthThis tension between societal values and one’s own individual convictions makes Gawain a fascinating rather modern figure and also gives the poem the power to still speak to us modern readers Even before he received the girdle Gawain was in a dilemma His own truthfulness and loyalty ”trauthe” reuired him to fend the enticing lady off whereas courtly etiuette ”courtaysye” made it impossible for him to bluntly tell the lady that he was not interested in her and so he entered into a game at the end of which he was offered that alluring girdle Gawain’s dilemma is uite a modern one since most of us have probably often found ourselves in a situation in which society obliged us to profess to an idea that in our heart of hearts we felt to be a lie or at least to swallow this lie This may be especially true in an age whose hallmark is the cheap moralization of political life and it may well have been easier for Gawain to rebuff the obtrusive lady than it is for us to speak what we regard as truth in an age of public indignationWhile it is fascinating to discover parallels to modern life in a text that is 600 years old the poem is also worth reading because of the author’s masterly use of language and his ability to conjure up a certain atmosphere Personally I’d say that the Gawain poet is able to maintain a standard of intensity and genuineness that Chaucer doubtless the elegant poet of the two achieves at times only for instance in The Franklin’s Tale Here is a passage that tells us how Gawain on arriving at the Green Chapel hears the sound of his opponent’s whetting his weapon”Then herd he of that highe hille in a hard rocheBiyonde the brok in a bonk a wonder breme noyseWhat hit clatered in the clyff as hit cleve schuldeAs one upon a gryndelston had grounden a sythe;What hit warred and whette as water at a mulne;What hit rusched and ronge routhe to here”This is certainly uite different from the often formulaic style of Thomas Malory’s Le Mort Darthure and being an inveterate film buff I could not help while reading it visualizing the events as they might look on the silver screen 600 years may have passed but Sir Gawain is still green in its freshness and intensityI can strongly recommend this edition of the poems which gives the text in its Middle English words in a spelling that has been modernized to some extent doing away with the yoghs and thorns and discriminating v from u An abundance of notes – both footnotes and detailed annotations in a separate section – and a rich glossary of Middle English words will enable you with a little bit of patience to enjoy the text in what is almost its original form so that you don’t have to content yourself with a translation into Modern English which cannot possibly salvage the beauty of the words

  2. says:

    PearlPreviously familiar to me from Tolkien's translationIt's tough going for the uninitiated using original spelling ie thorn yogh u for v etc and the dialect makes it even difficult I found it harder going even than Piers Plowman which itself is demanding than Chaucer's dialectThe poem is a dream vision as is Piers Plowman Such visions also occur in Middle English Romances eg the Sege of Melayne but they are of starkly contrasting nature Piers and Pearl are both pious works tackling serious theological uestions and inhabiting a Christian space of serious reflection on Jesus' moral message where as the Romances tend towards psychopathic mass murder of SaracensMuslims as the way to go if you want to get to heavenHere the author describes a man finding comfort in a dream of his recently deceased young daughter having come to Heaven and everlasting joy It seems tender and personal than Piers leading many to assume that the dreamer and the dead girl are in fact the author and his daughter It's also accessible than Piers in that the theological discussions are at least conducted in Middle English as opposed to the continual Latin Biblical uotes of Piers it's also a lot shorterWhilst I feel that the author is essentially telling himself a fairy tale in order to assuage his own grief I can appreciate his feelings of love and loss and unfairness and they are set down in a way that sounds delightful if you can get your ear well enough attunedCleannessI enjoyed this a lot than Pearl It's or less a sermon on the necessity for cleneness of spirit if one wants to enter the Kingdom of Heaven illustrated by three Old Testament tales; Noah and the Flood Sodom and Gomorrah and finally The Writing on the Wall Not being Christian the framing sermon is of little interest to me but the Bible stories were great because of the way they were re told The poet feels no need to restrict himself to the limits of the source and adds details and imagery from both common folklore and his own imagination These add a great deal and show off the author's impressive descriptive powers powers that did not really shine through in Pearl because of its very limited and oft repeated palette of metaphor Here however diverse and vivid imagery abounds along with little details that delight eg the idea of Lot's wife being used as a salt lick by cattle after she foolishly turns to look at the destruction of the cities behind herPatienceThe shortest of the four poems in the manuscript has in common with Cleanness than the other two since it follows the same format of a sermon followed by an examplum Biblical story Here we have the tale of Jonah retold in the same style as the stories appearing in Cleanness with embellishments delightful imagery sailors holding Jonah's feet while the whale has his head in its mouth stands out and a verve that lacks in the original source I would strongly recommend starting here rather than with Pearl if you want to find out how good the Gawain Poet can beSir Gawain and the Green KnightThis is of course the main event; what brought me to be reading this book in the first place Twice as long as the next longest poem in the manuscript in four parts and comprised of 101 stanzas It's fundamentally different in approach to the other three poems It's neither a dream vision nor a sermon with exempla Instead it is a Romance No not one of those preposterous billionaire alpha hole marries shy and retiring introvert romances a knights and ladies and preposterous adventures Romance It is however still deeply informed by Christianity Going by the extant Middle English poetry there were really two major strands of Christian philosophy in the Mediaeval period One was a gung ho we're better than everyone else and we'll slaughter you if you disagree in order to prove it approach as exemplified by Romances such as The Sege of Melayne in which the clergy form their own army to fight Saracen invaders Another was a philosophical and introspective approach involving serious Bible study with a focus on the moral teachings of Jesus in particular as exemplified by the lengthy Piers Plowman Now Gawain and the Green Knight has all the trappings of a Romance what with a giant green knight with a green horse who can survive being beheaded turning up at King Arthur's Court cavemen living in the wilds a mysterious castle in the back of beyond and a witch who lives there but it also clearly takes Christianity seriously than just a tribal label to fight for My God is better than your GodThis is first advertised fairly early on by the symbolism of the pentagram on Gawain's shield and the portrait of the Virgin Mary on its inside then made clear when Gawain despairing of ever finding the Green Chapel mired in the wilds suffering from being away from civilisation for months and running out of time prays to Mary and finds an unfamiliar castle soon after But the whole adventure is a series of tests The over arching reuirement to attend an appointment with what one can reasonably only expect to be one's own death is a test of honour and bravery and the uest to find the Green Chapel is a test of commitment in the face of physical suffering and danger with no guarantee of success that is only passed through an act of Christian faith The prayer to Mary After arriving at Bertilak's castle and being assured that the Green Chapel is nearby and he can rest and relax Gawain is in fact even thoroughly morally examined He's wooed continuously by Bertilak's wife and tempted to cheat on a silly game he's agreed to play with Bertilak The temptation is enormous because it could turn out to be the only way Gawain can survive beyond the next day and he succumbs to speaking a lie in order to try to preserve his own life Gawain passes every test he's put through except this one All of this is about faith Christian and chivalric virtue and courtly manners not about conuering the infidel in the name of the Lord This in the context of three other poems that treat themes of faith and personal virtue as the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven leads me to the strong conviction that what we have here is a deliberate and conscious subversion of the populist xenophobic intolerant and mostly plain silly Romance form to the ends of serious Christian moral instruction written by a devout believer Which leads to the uestion of what lesson we are supposed to learnIn the introduction Andrews and Waldron point out that there are three views expressed about Gawain's liecheat in the swapping gameGawain's own view is that it is a disaster that has ruined his honour forever Whilst he ruefully complains about how women through history have tempted men to ruin with examples such as Adam and Eve and Sampson and Delilah note Biblical cases he also says he is going to openly wear the girdle that cost him his honour as an antidote to future pride and a spur to greater humility He doesn't seem to be seriously saying the moral fault lies with anybody but himself And it's a major faultBertilak instigator of this whole series of events who openly admits that they were deliberately intended as a test of Arthur's court and it's reputation is forgiving He says that Gawain's liecheat was trivial in the circumstances and fully repaid by the cut to the neck Gawain received which it's later hinted leaves a permanent scar That was punishment enough given the threat to Gawain's life and his passing of all the serious tests Gawain should forget about it he and Arthur's court are vindicatedFinally the knights back home take the view that the whole adventure redounds greatly and solely to the benefit of the reputation of Arthur's court and don't take the girdle incident at all seriouslyWho was right? What did the Pearl Poet think? Tolkien in the intro to his translation infers that the point is that courtly manners are entirely secondary to genuine Christian morals and that the fact that Gawain is not seduced by Bertilak's wife is what really counts This might well be true The Poet certainly never overtly states an opinion to the contrary I can't help thinking though that the fact that Gawain wears the girdle as a reminder of past failure is actually the key lesson because it fits so well with what is going on in the other poems What Gawain learns is greater humility and not to pride himself on his honour but to try to do better in the future Striving for self improvement and forgiveness of past failure are major moral tenets of non fundamentalist interpretations of Jesus' message and that's what happens Bertilak forgives and Gawain goes forward trying to do better in future Overview of the whole bookWow I knew this was going to be a challenge but didn't think it could be tougher than Piers Plowman In fact the only ways in which Piers was harder were in over all length and the heavy use of Latin that I simply don't know at all Reading all four poems was a really worth while exercise not solely because each has its merits but because taking them together informs each one individually This was especially true of Gawain and I strongly recommend reading it last rather than skipping the others or reading them after This also has the incidental benefit of the reader having developed some familiarity with the obscure and difficult dialect and spelling that make Chaucer look like a book for kindergardeners Pearl is the dullest though most personal and heart felt of all the poems and lacks the story telling verve and exciting and varied imagery of the others so maybe don't start there either The re tellings of Bible stories are the highlights of the other two poems and some of the scenes and images in those will stay with me just as long as any of the crazy events in GawainSo hard work but amply repaid and a long standing ambition achieved

  3. says:

    ‘Pearl’ is incredible

  4. says:

    I read the Medieval Romance “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” translated by Marie Borroff This poem was a test of chivalry for Sir Gawain The Green Knight proposes for someone to play his game The rules were that one person is to try and cut the head off of the Green knight and if they succeed they get to keep the ax Although if they fail in 12 months and a day the Green Knight will be able to cut the head off of his opponent The game took place and someone lost but in the end there was no loser Sir Gawain is the nephew of King Arthur and is a knight of the round table Sir Gawain chooses to be an opponent in the Green Knights game which he lost Sir Gawain is a knight filled with chivalry throughout this poem but also was deceitful In the end nobody was hurt and lessons were learned“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” took place in the 11th century The setting took place in Camelot in the beginning In the end the setting was was at the Green Chapel in North Wales The author’s message in this poem is to always do the right thing Chivalry is the main theme of this Medieval Romance and in the end Sir Gawain passes the game Without bravery honest valor and courage Sir Gawain would have never passed The Green Knights gameI would recommend this poem to English classes I didn't really care for this story but it does show you how chivalry works

  5. says:

    By far the best edition of these poems I've ever come across Gives the complete Middle English texts of of all four poems with extensive notes introduction and glossary Does for the Gawain poet what Frederick Klaeber did for Beowulf

  6. says:

    Very helpful translation

  7. says:

    rating BThis is for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight only I really thought this was engaging and interesting It also uestions Knightly conduct and the idea of the cyclical nature of Glory or ignoring failure Although the Middle English is not as hard as some other texts it is still useful to have a translation nearby

  8. says:

    “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” is a story that mainly focused on Gawain’s chivalry being tested in many ways by the Green Knight Everything began when a knight wearing nothing but green showed up to King Arthur’s home in Camelot The knight asked Arthur to participate in his beheading game To everyone’s surprise Sir Gawain another Knight of the Round Table suggested that he play in his King’s place Gawain is told that he can have one swing at the Green Knight’s head but if the knight survived Gawain had to let him have a swing himself Sir Gawain beheaded the Green Knight immediately but the knight picked up his head and rode off on his horse Because of this Gawain had to seek out the Green Knight a year and a day later to hold up his end of the deal On his journey to find the Green Knight Gawain’s chivalry was tested a few times In this story Sir Gawain was the main character Also the Green Knight played a major role Unlike anybody else in the story the Green Knight had supernatural powers Apart from surviving his beheading the Green Knight shape shifted “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” took place during the 11th century The first part of the beheading game took place at King Arthur’s home in Camelot When Gawain went looking for the Green Knight he wandered through the woods of North Wales until he stumbled upon a random castle While at the castle Sir Gawain learned the whereabouts of the Green Chapel The end of this story takes place at the Green Chapel There were a couple of prevalent themes in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” I concluded that honor was the most important theme By seeking out the Green Knight to finish the beheading game Gawain honored the Green Knight’s terms I also thought loyalty was a significant theme By offering to play in his King’s place Gawain showed loyalty I enjoyed reading “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” Basically the moral of the story was to always do the right thing Because a lot could be taken from this story I would recommend it to anyone above at or above a high school reading level

  9. says:

    “Sir Gawain” is a narrative poem that tells us a story about chivalry Sir Gawain is the knight who is tested On New Year’s Eve a Green Knight comes to Camelot looking to play a game He asked who the leader of the castle was because he figured he would be the one to play the game King Arthur tells the Green Knight he is the leader and the Green Knight tells the King all the rules of the game The Knights at the Roundtable know they should not let their King play the game so Sir Gawain is the brave one who steps up to play the game Sir Gawain gets his one chance to chop the Green Knight’s head off and he fails so he has to wait a year and one day to think about what is going to happen to him Then he ventures off to the Green Knight’s castle to receive what is going to happen to him Sir Gawain is one of the most important characters in the story because if it weren't for him Camelot would have been without a King The Green Knight is another main character because if he was not there the story would not have been written There are a few other minor characters such as King Arthur Green Knight’s wife and the Knight’s of the RoundtableThe story is taken place in Camelot and also North Wales at the Green Knight’s castle It is written in medieval times You can tell because there are knights castles and the chivalrous acts are different than what we would consider today The main theme in this story is chivalry The Knight’s of the Roundtable are all tested but only one of them steps up and is courageous enough to play the game and that is Sir GawainI think this book was very interesting It always kept me thinking what was going to happen next and had these little hints that if you picked them up you could kind of tell what would happen next I would recommend this book to high school students

  10. says:

    Those are of an academic four stars rather than four stars of enjoyment I prefer Tolkein's rendering of Gawain and the Green Knight which strikes me as both atmospheric and epic while also being grounded in the language of the original but I am about the furthest thing from a medieval expert Take with a grain of salt Pearl on the other hand is a very very difficult poem which I found horribly obscure and nearly unreadable in every single iteration I tried This however has a gloss on the other side of Pearl in modern English which finally helped me to get some sort of grip on it at least its most basic meanings Cleanness and Patience frankly look like vacations after the long long endurance test that is Pearl and attempting to decipher its many multilayered meanings and non meanings This book was extremely useful to me when I was first trying to get some grasp on Middle English