Week 170: From ‘Pearl’ (author unknown)

‘Pearl’ is a long narrative poem in Middle English from the late 14th century in which a father, apparently mourning the loss of his daughter, falls asleep in a garden and has a vision of a maid in a strange landscape on the other side of a stream: she reproves him for his grief according to Christian doctrine, with a good deal of homily and the usual spiel about submitting to God’s will, and these elements of the poem are maybe not likely to appeal much to our more secular age. But there is one verse that I do find haunting, where the man’s natural humanity is allowed to cry out against the maid’s celestial complacency, while at the same time he remains, in a most pathetic way, desperate not to quarrel with the lost daughter.

I think the English is mostly intelligible to the modern reader, but I append my own attempt at a somewhat modernised rendering.

My blysse, my bale, ye han ben bothe,
But much the bygger yet watz my mone,
Fro thou watz wroken from vch a wothe,
I wyste neuer quere my perle watz gon.
Now I hit see, now lethez my lothe,
And, quen we departed, we wern at on;
God forbede we be now wrothe,
We meten so selden by stok other ston…

My joy, my grief, you have been both,
But much the more has been my moan,
Since you went free from woes of earth,
I knew not where my pearl had gone.
Now that I see, I am less loth,
And when you left, we were as one;
Now God forbid that we be wrath
Who meet no more by stick or stone.

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One thought on “Week 170: From ‘Pearl’ (author unknown)

  1. ‘Pearl’ is one of my favourite poems, I have to admit. Thanks for this posting.
    The author was presumed to be based at a Stockport priory or some such, but later a member of the royal court.
    The sheer skill of the writing is breathtaking, and the complex rhyming schemes.

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