Pearl Poet


Pearl Poet

The "Pearl Poet", or the "Gawain Poet", is the name given to the author of "Pearl", an alliterative poem written in Middle English. Its author appears also to have written the poems "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight", "Patience", and "Cleanness"; some scholars have suggested he may also have composed "Saint Erkenwald". Save for the latter (found in BL-MS "Harley 2250"), all these works are known from a single surviving manuscript, the British Library holding "Cotton Nero A x".

The poet was a contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, and William Langland, who are sometimes called the Ricardian Poets (John Burrow's term), but nothing is known about the author except what can, with much uncertainty, be inferred from the poems themselves. "Pearl" may speak of a dead daughter (although the poem is not explicit on this), and the poetry is exceptionally conversant with learning, shows an interest in technical vocabulary about hunting and the court, the landscape of his region, and has an interest in poverty as a Christian virtue. However, the Pearl Poet never refers to contemporary scholarship as Chaucer does, and shows much more of a tendency to refer to materials from the past (the Arthurian legends, stories from the Bible) than any new learning, so it is impossible to place the poet at court, the universities, or monasteries. However, he must have been educated and of a certain social standing, most likely a courtly poet.

All four poems of the Cotton Nero A.x manuscript are in the same Middle English dialect of Cheshire in northwest England. Chaucer was writing in the London and East Midlands dialect, the precursor to Modern English, with a large number of words borrowed from French. One consequence of this Gallic influence was the increased possibility for vocalic rhyme. This contrasts with the Gawain Poet's own masterful use of alliterative verse, a device especially suited to the more Germanic West Midlands dialect. Chaucer himself recognized this contemporary tradition when he playfully mocked it in his own work. However, the differences between the two poets are better thought of as geographic and linguistic. The Gawain Poet's handling of his subject matter is as deft and sophisticated as Chaucer's, and he proves himself adept at subtle verse forms and comfortable with intellectual debate, illustrating lively hunting scenes and courtly conversation and wooing. And in spite of the dominant influence of the alliterative tradition, he uses some French words as well as words from Old Norse and Latin. And in "Pearl" and "Gawain" he demonstrates facility with extraordinarily intricate rhyming.

In addition to linguistic similarities, the four poems are also united by several recurrent themes: patience and humility contrasted with pride; courtesy as a noble virtue; and purity, symbolized by pearls, which are mentioned in every poem in the manuscript and after which the poet is named.

The manuscript is unusual for the time because it contains illustrations of the poems. They are generally considered crude. Still, very few manuscripts of Middle English vernacular romances contain any illustrations.

External links

* [http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/browse-mixed-new?id=AnoPear&tag=public&
Pearl
]
* [http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/teams/pearlint.htm Scholarly Introduction to Pearl, Sarah Stanbury]
*cite web|author=Michael Twomey | title=Travels with Sir Gawain| url=http://www.ithaca.edu/faculty/twomey/travels/sggk_frameset.htm | accessdate=2007-06-23


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