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|The foundation is in the earth and it does not always have smoothly fitted stones. The superstructure rises above the earth, and it demands a smoothly proportioned construction. . . . Even so the Divine Page, in its literal sense, contains many things which seem both to be opposed to each other and, sometimes, to impart something which smacks of the absurd or the impossible. But the spiritual meaning admits no opposition; in it, many things can be different from one another, but none can be opposed. The fact, also that the first course of stones to be laid upon the foundation is placed flush with a tarut cord, and these are the stones upon which the entire weight of the others rests and to which they are fitted - is not without its meaning. For this is like a sort of second foundation and is the basis of the entire superstructure. This foundation both carries what is placed upon it and is itself carried by the first foundation. All things rest upon the first foundation but are not fitted to it in every way. As to the latter foundation, everything both rests upon it and is fitted to it. The first one carries the superstructure and underlies the superstructure. The second one carries the superstructure and is not only under the superstructure but part of it. The foundation which is under the truth as we have said stands for history, and the superstructure which is built upon it we have said suggests allegory. |
Essentially Hugh meant that the expression of the ineffable through analogies which have their basis in historical experience serves to reveal heavenly and spiritual truths both by calling attention to the similarities connecting earthly experience and heavenly life at the same time that they expose the tremendous gulf that separates the two realms of experience. Hugh was building on concepts evolved by Neo-Platonists such as the Pseudo-Dionysius, who in the sixth century described the visible world as a sort of sacred vocabulary for signifying the invisible which serves both to reveal holy mysteries to the initiated and to conceal them from the unworthy In many ways, the whole Pearl project is an extended example of this process, in which the value and worth of divine love and eternal life are explained by analogy to human love and earthly life. Ironically, dear human love is both the only earthly experience by which mankind can understand God's love, and the price which must be paid to achieve it. The Pearl Maiden struggles to convince the dreamer that the pleasure and comfort of human love to which he clings must be abandoned in order to have the far greater pleasure and comfort of divine love. Human love is not only an analogy of God's love, but it is also its exact opposite. Human love, which, as the dreamer shows, is exclusive, selfish, and transient, must be left behind in exchange for God's love which infinite, eternal, unchanging, and all-inclusive.
The narrator opens with a stanza lamenting the loss of his most prized possession, his pearl, described as unique, priceless, and irreplaceable, one to delight a prince, worthy of being enclosed in a golden setting. One day while grieving over the loss of his pearl, he finds himself in a garden where he falls asleep, and while there he dreams of another garden, a landscape of beautiful trees and stones, through which he wanders till he reaches a river, across which he sees an even more beautiful landscape. At the base of a crystal cliff, he sees a young girl whom he gradually recognizes as the pearl that he has lost. The dreamer first thinks that his problems are over, since he has found his pearl. He assumes he can cross over the stream and join her and dwell with her forever. The maiden points out that he has made three errors. First, he did not believe in eternal life until he saw her there. He had no reason to mourn for her since she was in paradise, as his faith should have told him. Instead, it is only the sight of her there that convinced him. She reproaches him essentially for lack of faith, for believing only what his own rational mind can comprehend. Next, he thought he could simply cross over the river. He forgot God's pledge to grant eternal life, but only through the "cleansing" of death. He must die first. Finally, he can only attain salvation through God's "consent"-- through God's grace. The dreamer is at first downcast, because he does not see the purpose of "treasure" if it must be lost, but the maiden, in a speech full of Boethian echoes, instructs him that such willful rebellion against God's governance of the universe is likely to lose him paradise and that he is in danger of losing the greater good by trying to preserve the lesser. Finally the dreamer apologizes for his willfulness, and the maiden tells him that his speech is now pleasing to God.
Next the dreamer wants to know about her life in paradise. The maiden begins by telling him that she is the bride of Christ. The dreamer objects to this statement. He wonders how she, who was only two years old at the time she died, could be raised so high. He also does not understand that there can be more than one queen of heaven. The idea of singularity and uniqueness recalls his earlier definition of the pearl. The dreamer continues to reason in finite, time-bound terms while the pearl maiden tries to teach him the logic of infinity. The maiden illustrates her lesson with the parable of the vineyard, which the dreamer also fails to understand. He is reasoning in terms of the Old Law, according to which one is rewarded according to one's deserts. He fails to take into account the grace accorded by Christ's sacrifice.
Finally, the dreamer wants to know about the nature of paradise and in particular, what marriage to the Lamb is like. Throughout this section, he continues to reason in earthly terms, confusing for example the heavenly Jerusalem with the historical city in Judea. Again the dreamer seems not to understand the difference between earthly life and the eternal kingdom, for he asks to be brought to the Pearl Maiden's home. Although this is denied him, he is granted a sight of the heavenly Jerusalem, the description of which is drawn almost word for word from Revelation. At this sight, the dreamer is seized with such longing for "his little queen" that he madly tries to cross the stream to her, and so the dream ends.
When he awakens, he is overcome by anguish and remorse at his willfulness which has brought the dream to an end. He meditates on his vision and resigns himself to accept the painful prison house of this life in expectation of the next, and the poem ends with the narrator's consolation through the Eucharist.
The poem is organized around four images that are brought together through the symbol of the pearl. The first is the world of growing things, the earthly garden where death is inevitable in which the pearl was lost and where the dreamer falls asleep; the second is also a garden, but this time characterized by precious stones, prompting a reflection on the possibility of transforming the transient and impermanent nature of earthly life, where, as the dreamer says, "all things run to rot," into a permanent and enduring paradise. But this garden also suggests Fortune, the garden described by Boethius in the Consolation of Philosophy and thus material goods, including man-made creations such as art and philosophy. The third image is that of Christ the Lamb, the innocent sacrifice which restored the human soul to its original spotless purity and innocence, in other words salvation by grace which redeems the soul. The fourth image is that of the pearl itself (that is precious, perfect, pure, and unique, the payment that is the reward of the faithful) which unites the other levels of the poem: the natural, mortal world of life and death, and the permanent and enduring world of salvation. The pearl is significant first in human terms (as a symbol of earthly values such as wealth, beauty, pleasure, and love) and then as a symbol of Christ's love, signifying the redeemed soul as well as signifying the whole community of God's faithful, the company of 144,000 that is the perfect setting for Christ's love. The poem is a lesson in the significance of the Eucharist and the nature of the covenant between God and man that grants man eternal and perfect felicity, procured for man through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, in exchange for the loss of life on earth and the surrender of the individual will to God's will. The lesson the dreamer struggles to learn is that the pain of loss that he experiences in earthly life is in fact a sign of the perfect and immutable happiness that has been promised him in the next life through the covenant revealed in the Bible if he will just have faith and not forget the terms of the agreement between man and God. The dreamer has to learn to accept the idea of grace--unmerited redemption that comes from God alone. The dreamer must recognize that his logic of "just payment," i.e. a direct relationship between merit and reward, has no meaning in terms of exchanging transient human values for eternal values. The dreamer is constantly being reminded that although we use figures and images from life on earth to talk about eternal life, these are mere symbols that often represent exactly the opposite of their literal meaning when used anagogically. Thus, in section XVI the pearl maiden uses the pun "mote" (city) and "moote" (spot) to teach the dreamer that although we may reason in terms of cities as dwelling places, one must not confuse the earthly Jerusalem, a city that has a single, determined, physical location (just like the dreamer considers the pearl maiden to be a single, definable, unique individual) with the dwelling place of God and the communion of the saved, that is ineffable and omnipresent. She tells the dreamer,
And as hys flok is with-outen flak
So is hys mote with-outen moote
[Just as his flock is without blemish or speck, so is his city without a spot (but also, so is his city without a place)].
The poem begins with the dreamer's lament for his precious pearl that, he says, he has lost in a garden of herbs. It shot away from him in the grass to the ground. The disappearance of the pearl which used to be the cause of all his gladness has left his heart a prey to sorrow that swells and burns in his breast. He regrets that the pearl is now clad in earth that mars its color, an unsuitable setting for the pearl to his mind. On the spot where the pearl disappeared, flowers of white, blue, and red spring since no flower or fruit can ever fade where the pearl is buried. The dreamer's statement, "For vch gresse mot grow of grayne3 dede" [for each grass must grow out of dead seeds] recalls the idea that death brings rebirth. This particular seed cannot fail to bring forth beautiful fruit. The reference is to John 12:24 and the implication is that the price of the restoration of eternal life is the loss of life on earth. In the garden where he lost his pearl, the dreamer falls asleep. It is August, the season when corn is harvested (possibly also a reference to August 15, the Feast of the Assumption), and the place where the pearl disappeared is shaded by shining green plants and surrounded by gilly flowers, ginger, and peonies. He smells a delicious odor that emanates from the spot where the pearl was lost. The herbs described suggest a medicinal garden, thus one that heals the loss caused by the first garden, Eden. Allegorically, this would be Mary, or Christ's church. This is the way Mary is portrayed in the well-known Middle English lyric, "Now skrinketh rose and lilie flour" in which Mary is described as a healing garden:
Betere is hire medicin
then eny mede or eny win;
Hire erbes smulleth swete
If the first section seemed to describe a natural garden of earthly life that is born, flourishes, and dies, section 2 seems to compare natural life and sensual pleasure to wealth. After falling asleep, the dreamer's spirit leaves his body and travels to a place where cliffs cleave to the heavens facing a forest of rich rocks. The adornment of the landscape by the rocks is compared to the adornment of rich clothing. The colors, the blue of the trees and the silver of the leaves, suggest Mary, and also perfection. Silver was considered next to gold in perfection. The natural beauties of the landscape, the birds, the perfumes of the plants, are described as adornments emphasizing the idea of addition. All of this section highlights sensual perceptions: sight, smell, hearing.. The experience of hearing and seeing the adornment of the landscape is described as the most "gracious" (full of grace?) joy that man could receive. In other words, it seems as though sensual pleasure is an adornment to nature, the increase in the value of the natural world provided by the pleasure the senses can find in it.
The fact that the natural beauties constitute the "dear adornment of the wood" compares sensual pleasure to worldly goods. This comparison is reinforced by the reference to the fact that this is a place where fortune led him (l. 98), and the plants named in ll. 104-5, the spices and the pears, would again seem to refer to sensual beauty and pleasure. Pears and pear trees were an absolutely conventional symbol of male genitalia, and the fact that the hedgerows, banks, and river lands were compared to "fil d'or" suggests that the sensual pleasures afforded by nature are comparable to the embellishments and embroideries on fine clothing.
In the founce þer stonden stonez stepe
As glente þur3 glas þat glowed and gly3t--
have a double allusion. In the first place, they recall the lines in the Roman de la Rose where the lover sees the two stones in which stand reflected the rose bush on which he sees the rose which draws him (Romance of the Rose, ll. 1505-68, 1613-34). In the second, they recall the annunciation, and the commonplace representation of the incarnation as a sunbeam which penetrates glass without breaching it. In both cases, the suggestion is one of impregnation, as in these lines from Middle English lyrics:
For so gleam glidis thurt the glas,
Of thi bodi born he was,
And thurt the hoale thurch he gload
As the sonne taketh hire pas
Withoute breche thorghout that glas,
Thy maidenhod onwemmed it was
This section of the poem describes intense physical beauty (and the passage is rife with allusions to Fortune), but rather than merely representing the false goods of the world that should be denied in order to achieve eternal salvation, here earthly reality--human love--is used both as an analogy for divine love and also as an indication of everything that divine love immeasurably exceeds. Ultimately the anagogic analogy between the dreamer's human love and divine love serves to indicate the type of pleasure that must be denied and rejected in order to obtain the greater bliss.
The link word here is "more and more" as the contrast begins to develop between human measurements in finite terms of "more and less," and the heavenly logic of infinity or absolute and perfect plenitude. In addition, the words "more and more" recall that Divine love is much greater than the greatest, most extreme earthly love, which is never absolute and can always be increased, in contrast to divine love which is perfect. This section begins with the dreamer walking by the woods, more and more delighted with what he sees until he comes to a river. As he gazes at the beauties of the landscape, he relates the increasing pleasure that he feels to the goods of fortune, whose essence, he reflects, is "more and more," or progression, since whoever is a victim of Fortune increases either in misery or happiness. This passage underscores the fact that the nature of earthly experience, whether happy or miserable, is transience and instability. The pleasures of the landscape are so great that he reflects that an earthly heart cold not suffice to sustain even one tenth of the joy that the landscape could provide. As the dreamer gazes across the river, he concludes that the landscape on the other side must be paradise, and even though he notes that the river seems designed as a boundary to separate the two landscapes, he nevertheless wishes to cross over. In spite of the fact that the dreamer finds himself in a surfeit of pleasures, exceeding by ten times what he has the power to enjoy, he is nevertheless seized by the desire for still more, an emotion easily recognized as cupiditas. As the dreamer hesitates, unable to find a way across the deep, dangerous water, he notices on the other side a shining crystal cliff and at its base of it, a child of great beauty and nobility, dressed all in white. (According to the Peterborough lapidary, crystal makes a man chaste and increases his prestige.) As he gazes on her, she becomes more and more familiar to him. He wants to call out to her ,but finds he has no voice, so shocked is he to meet her in such an unexpected place.
This section contains an elaborate description of the pearl maiden, dressed in white linen adorned with pearls, and the link word is "in perle3 py3te" (set in pearls). There is a pun on the ideas of "cost" and "worth." In her breast is set "a wonder perle wythouten wemme" (a wondrous pearl without blemish); she is set in pearls, and she herself is the setting for that "one pure pearl." At the end of this section we find the only indication of the relationship between the dreamer and the pearl maiden, the statement that "Ho wat3 me nerre þen aunte or nece,"(she was nearer to me than aunt or niece), which, together with the dreamer's later statement that she was only two years old when she died, has led to the interpretation that the pearl maiden was the narrator's daughter.
The dreamer feels both longing and fear. He's afraid to call out to her for fear she will disappear. He describes her in terms of what he sees, "that ever I saw with open eyes." Her appearance was that of someone destined for "duke or earl." The dreamer sees her in terms of his familiar, earth-bound experience, where such a royal array would mark her as one of a high rank. To the dreamer's mind the jewels, the "pearls of price," indicate wealth or rank, not any symbolic value. One is reminded of the gift of Pope Innocent III to King John to whom he sent four gold rings adorned with jewels together with a letter in which he said he wished the king to note the significance of the gift in terms of the form, number, material, and color and to appreciate the mystery implied by the gift more highly than the gift itself. The roundness of the rings signified eternity, which has neither beginning nor end. The king should thus move in his understanding from the terrestrial to the celestial from the temporal to the eternal. The number four, the numerus quadratus, signifies constancy of mind, neither to be cast down in adversity nor elevated in prosperity. Such constancy is manifested by the four cardinal virtues. Gold signifies wisdom. The green color of the emerald signifies faith; the blue of the sapphire signifies hope; the redness of the ruby signifies charity, and the light of the topaz signifies good works. Thus, wrote Innocent, "In the emerald you have what you should believe; in the sapphire what you should hope; in the ruby what you should love, and in the topaz what you should do, so that you shall go from virtue to virtue. The dreamer however sees her in terms of his own ability to measure and judge. Thus the pearl in her breast was such that "A manne3 dom mo3t dry3ly demme, / Er mynde mo3t malte in hit mesure" [a man's judgement might be greatly baffled before his mind could comprehend its value].
The link word here is "jeweler," and this section centers on the primary labor of a jeweler, which is finding a proper setting for a jewel. The opening description of the pearl referred to her as a pearl that a prince would love to enclose in gold, "To clanly clos in golde so clere," suggesting the theme of enclosure and thus the "hortus conclusus" the enclosed garden that was the symbol of Mary's virginity, the sanctuary in which Jesus was enclosed. A question the dreamer grapples with, as a jeweler, is finding the proper setting for his pearl.
First the dreamer complains of the sorrow and pain he has endured since losing his pearl, and he seems almost resentful to find her so happy in paradise. His tone is a human lament for something he loved and lost, full of remembrance, nostalgia and longing for the past. The maiden however refuses to acknowledge his recollection of their prior relationship  and tries, through reasoning, to bring him to an acceptance of what he thinks he's lost. The maiden tells him that he should be happy to have found such a beautiful "coffer" for his pearl, a place "Þer mys nee mornyng com neuer nere," (where lack nor loss can never come near). She is punning on "coffin," evoking the paradox that it is necessary first to be "clat in clot" or clothed in earth through burial in order to be restored to eternal life. She is reminding the dreamer that rather than selfishly lamenting his loss, he should be happy that she has achieved eternal salvation. She also reminds him that she is not the same "pearl" that he lost. Death and Christ's grace have transformed her, as we later learn, into an immaculate and perfectly innocent soul, the bride of Christ. She points out that rather than regretting "fate" which took her away, he should be rejoicing since it is through death that one can be transformed into a redeemed soul.
Her rather abstract consolation presumes a level of faith that the dreamer does not possess at this point. He returns to his discourse that is rooted in the past, in memory and loss. He thought she had died, been "done out of days," and is happy now that he has found her. He thinks that his suffering is over and that he can live with her in Paradise as he used to live with her before she died. All he has to do is cross the water.
The maiden points out that he made three mistakes: he assumed that he knew where she was because he could see her; he thought he could live with her where he saw her; he thought he could cross the water of his own volition.
The link words of the first five sections all belong to the mode of lyric love poetry, and emphasize beauty and desire. The earthly values expressed by the language of courtly lyrics must be transformed by Christ's saving grace into heavenly values.
The link word here is "judge," and this section emphasizes the covenant between God and man for the attainment of salvation. Man must accept the pain and suffering of life on earth and finally death in order to be granted eternal salvation. The pearl maiden reproaches the dreamer because he believes only what he sees, i.e. he has no faith. Earlier, the dreamer told the maiden that he had lost his pearl and didn't know where she was until he saw her in Paradise, thus pointing out that he had no faith in eternal life until he was granted a vision of paradise. She reminds him that this is pride. The price for eternal life is death of the body as a result of Adam's sin. She tells him that he first has to ask permission before he can live with her, and he may not obtain it. Next he has to die first and suffer his body to be buried. Death is the cost of entering paradise ever since Adam lost it. Punning on the word "coffer," the pearl maiden tells the dreamer that he should be happy he has found such a beautiful setting for his jewel. She tells him that he is wrong to lament the loss of a rose which fell to the ground and was transformed into a priceless pearl. The Pearl Maiden goes on to tell the dreamer that he is wrong to blame death as a thief, since death was responsible for transforming the rose into a pearl, i.e. fragile and mortal human love into the eternal and perfect love of the redeemed soul. She says that he is unable to see that rather than suffering a loss, he has been given a priceless gift.
The dreamer balks at this situation. He wants to be able to keep his pearl now that he has found her. At first he ignores her words, consoling himself with nostalgia and memory. He disregards her whole argument about salvation and is only worried that she might be angry with him. He says, "Deme3 þou me', quod I, 'my swete, To dol agayn, þþenne I dowyne" (If you condemn me, I said, my sweet, I will pine away in grief again). He complains, ironically that it's no good having treasures if they only serve to cause grief at their loss. He can't understand what good it did him to find his pearl if he must lose her again. In an ironic reversal of Lady Philosophy's lesson, the dreamer asks what good are worldly pleasures when their loss causes us pain. The idea of a new separation causes him to react with despair. He says he doesn't care what happens to him if he loses his pearl again. He fails to recognize that what he lost (a mortal girl) is not the same thing as the transformed and purified pearl that he found. He complains about loss in Boethian terms and the maiden admonishes him not to sacrifice the greater good (eternal life) in pursuit of the lesser: worldly happiness.
When the Pearl Maiden realizes that he is not willing to accept her lesson, she tries a more practical approach. She tells him that he might as well accept the reality of death because no matter how much he laments and complains, he will never be able to change God's purpose. The maiden compares the dreamer's complaints to a stricken doe that plunges and cries to no avail, and she reminds him that all of his lamenting will never cause God to change his mind. For this reason, it is better to stop complaining and seek God's grace.
The link word here is "root and ground of all my bliss." The dreamer addresses the Pearl this way, in terms of the past, and in terms of the future. The term is apt, for Mary is the perfected garden wherein grows salvation. At the same time, the Pearl maiden calls Christ the root and ground of all her bliss. Here the dreamer begins to show humility, for he "casts himself in God's mercy as water flows from a fountainhead." He says that grief for loss of his pearl caused him the bitterest woe since he couldn't see where she had gone, reminding us again that the dreamer lacked faith in the pearl's resurrection and salvation. "Root and ground" recall the natural garden where the poem began, and, finally, of course, the inevitable cycle of birth and death which is the only possible human destiny without faith. This is the world in which the dreamer is still mired because the only alternative to death he can imagine is a return to the past. He addresses her in terms of their past relationship, pleading with her not to reproach him and be angry with him since "when we were separated we were as one; God forbid that we should now be angry since we see each other so seldom." He reminds her again how much he's suffered at her loss and pleads with her to speak to him "without debate." His speech is full of nostalgia and longing for the pearl which he has lost. Finally, beseeching her in the name of Christ and Mary and John, he asks her to tell him about her present life.
The pearl maiden here relents because for the first time the dreamer has laid claim to the kingdom of heaven through Christ's mercy instead of his own rights. She tells him that this is the sort of speech which is pleasing to God rather than "masterful mod and hy3e pryde" (a masterful spirit and high pride) and she admonishes him that in God's presence he must show devotion and meekness, not pride.
She begins to tell him of her new life, and the first thing she mentions is that even though she was "full young and tender of age" on earth, in heaven she has been taken in marriage by Christ, crowned a queen in bliss and has received his full inheritance.
This section illustrates the problems inherent in thinking about eternal life in earthly terms. In order to describe the bliss and honor which the redeemed soul experiences in heaven, the Pearl Maiden compares heaven to a royal court, and the link word here is Queen of courtesy. But although it may be useful to use a courtly analogy to describe the pleasures of heaven, heaven is also the exact opposite of an earthly court, which depends on a society that is exclusive, finite, and hierarchical. The dreamer objects to the Pearl maiden's excessively high rank, and two meanings of both words, "queen" and "courtesy" are opposed: the earthly logic that views incompatibility between something that is single and something that is multiple and the heavenly infinity where such concepts as "beginning and end" "more and less" are without meaning. Courtesy on earth has to do with the court and rank; courtesy on a heavenly level is closely associated with charity and is without rank.
The dreamer can't understand how Pearl can be queen since he knows that Mary is queen. According to his logic, the Pearl would have had to take the crown away from Mary. Mary is the queen of heaven because she was faultless and also as unique as the Phoenix. The Pearl Maiden prays to Mary and tries to explain to the dreamer how in heaven many can be queen without diminishing the rank of any of the others. Unlike earth, where a finite amount must be divided, and the greater the number amongst whom it is divided, the lesser each one has, heaven is infinite, and no one can diminish anyone else. She uses an analogy comparing the members of a single body to the members of Christ's body; just as your head doesn't bear any resentment even if you wear a ring on your finger or arm, likewise members of Christ's body aren't jealous of each other.
The dreamer however is not convinced. He says it's not fair, because she was so young. What about people who have suffered all their lives and done penance in order to win heaven? Don't they deserve more than she deserves? And if she's already queen, how can they have more recognition?
The link word is "date" which means "limit," "degree," "due." The dreamer begins by objecting to God's courtesy which he deems too "free," or generous since according to him, the Pearl has not merited the rank of Queen in heaven since she only lived two years on earth and never even learned to say prayers or know the creed. It is "to dere a date," too precious an assignment. He refuses even to believe what she says, since he can't believe God would do so wrongly. He says it would be plenty enough if she had been made a countess or else a lady of lesser rank on the very first day.
She responds that Christ's goodness derives from his own nature, not from earthly laws. What Christ does is good, and Christ can do nothing but good. The values of earth, which can be measured in terms of "more " and "less," since plenitude and permanence are not attainable on earth, are incompatible with the measurements of heaven. She explains this concept by relating the parable of the vineyard, and alludes briefly to the mass, the significance of which is the central issue of the poem. The allusion to the mass points up the contrast between the free, unlimited, and unmerited grace of Christ's sacrifice communicated to humans through the mass and the dreamer's insistence on merit and desert.
The link word here is "more." When the workers in the vineyard discover that the same amount of money has been given to all of them, those who came first object because they say that by paying them all the same, those who worked less are equated with those who worked more. But the lord warns them not to ask for more than had been agreed upon. The pearl maiden tells the dreamer that she has more of ladyship and happiness than any woman who dwells in the world even though she just arrived in the vineyard at evening. She points out to the dreamer that some are paid immediately and some work and toil for years before receiving their pay. The dreamer objects again and says that he can cite a psalm that says that "You reward each one as is his due." He doesn't understand how one of lesser works can receive more grace. He even says that if God's justice is not supreme (over man's justice), then holy writ is but a fable. To him it sounds like graft and corruption. "Then the lesser one works, the more skilled he is at taking, and ever the longer, the less the more." In earthly terms this would be corruption and injustice, but in heaven, there is no such thing as "more" salvation.
It is often assumed that the dreamer is obtuse in failing to understand the Pearl Maiden's lesson, but throughout the middle ages, the nature of divine grace was highly controversial. The earlier theory of salvation based on the concept of the devil's rights (that the devil had legitimately laid claim to Adam and his descendants for disobedience to God but that God was justified in redeeming mankind after the devil overstepped his rights by the death of Jesus who was the one man who untouched by sin) emphasized divine equity and justice in contrast to the later theory, developed by Anselm and Bernard, which emphasized Christ's role as a sacrificial mediator between God and man. Many medieval theologians raised just the sort of objections that the dreamer is making and feared that too much emphasis on unmerited grace would encourage laxness.
Beginning with Anselm in the twelfth century, a different, older theory of God's redemption of mankind, one put forth by Augustine, which saw the crucifixion in terms of atonement and made man's redemption dependent on God's mercy rather than on man's merit was revived. The central conflict here was between man and God, and Christ's incarnation and sacrifice were necessary to repair the relationship which Adam had forfeited by disobedience. According to this theory, man's salvation depends uniquely on God's mercy, not on any merit of the individual. As Augustine had done, the Pearl Maiden uses the parable of the workers in the vineyard to explain the difference between God's reward, based on the concept of sufficiency, in opposition to the quid pro quo of human justice, based on more and less.
One misgiving about this theory that many medieval clerics shared with the dreamer was the fear that too great a reliance on God's mercy would lead man to believe that there was no need to earn salvation through obedience. "Overhopyng in the mercy of God" was condemned by some to be a deception of the devil.  In his discussion of St. Paul's conversion and the grace showed him by God, which should be a comfort to sinful man, Myrk also points out that some people refuse to leave their sins because they "sayn that God wyll not lese that he hathe boght wyth hys hert-blod." He warns them that those who believe so will lose themselves. "Wherfor to suche, God Hathe ordeynt to turment fendes, and brynge hom to the payne that hathe non ende." 
The link word here is "enough"--God's sufficiency contrasts with man's cupidity of the preceding section. The maiden tells the dreamer that in heaven there is no question of more and less, and all are paid alike. The gifts of the Lord pour like water from a drain, streams from a source that never ceases. The water of mercy is linked to the water and blood that flowed from Christ's side at the crucifixion, and the eternal and continual nature of the never-ending river is comparable to the eternal and continuing nature of Christ's sacrifice, repeated at each mass. She goes on to say that no man is so good that he has merited heaven by himself, and the longer men live, the more chance they have to sin. The innocent who have never had a chance to sin and who have received baptism are the most worthy to enter heaven, while the crucifixion repaid Adam's sin. The grace of God alone is "enough" to win them salvation, since the blood and water that flowed from Christ are an unending river.
She reminds him that man was first created for perfect happiness and it was lost through Adam's sin. After that man was doomed to hell and destruction except for the sacrifice of Christ that paid off man's debt. Blood and water flowed from that well, that broad wound, and delivered them from second death. The water is baptism which washes away the sins in which Adam had drowned mankind while the blood is the wine of the mass that cleanses man of the sins committed by each individual after baptism. The grace of God is enough to restore everything lost by Adam and everything lost by man's sins.
The link word here is "right" or "righteousness," and in this section the maiden takes up the case of those who repeatedly sin, who can win grace through repentance and penance, whereas the innocent who have never sinned and the righteous enter heaven by right. She warns the dreamer not to claim his "right," since if he went to trial on that basis he would inevitably be found wanting. She advises him to claim "innocence" instead, which was procured for him by Christ's death on the cross. No man can plead his right to enter into heaven. Only God's grace restores innocence and affords entry into paradise.
The link word here is "mascellez perle" which means "spotless" pearl, but there is also a pun on "makeless" which means also "matchless" and "mateless," (for another example of this pun, see the lyric, "I Sing of a Maiden"). This section treats of the nature of the pearl of great price, the spotless pearl, the redeemed soul. The pearl without price is the kingdom of heaven that one attains through humble, child-like innocence, the pre-condition for admission. God can restore man to a state of virgin innocence, the message of the parable of the pearl of great price, which is worth more than any goods on earth. So far the dreamer has been thinking in terms of his earthly experience. He recognizes her beauty as an earthly value. She is telling him that in order to win the pearl of great price, her beauty as he sees it now, the pearl set in her breast, he is going to have to give up his earthly joys, including, implicitly, his memory of her.
The dreamer notes her beauty, and asks its source, and he compares her to works by Ovid and Aristotle, recalling Augustine's warnings against the works of pagan philosophers. The dreamer wants to know the source of spiritual beauty, but he can only think in terms of human creations such as philosophy and art. He wants to know who formed her figure and who was clever enough to weave her clothing since, as he rightly notes, they are not of nature? He fails to understand that the beauty of the heavenly city is of a different order. She explains to him that her nature now as bride of Christ is not the same human nature that he remembers. Everything he sees but does not understand is the result of her transformation through Christ's blood, which conferred on her beauty, virginity, and union with God. He then asks her what her office and duties are in heaven, and she tells him she is the bride of the lamb. Once again the dreamer assumes that the bride of Christ is a unique office, and he cannot understand how the maiden "drove away all the other worthy ones" and pushed her claim alone, "so stout and styf."
The link word here is "Jerusalem," and the relationship of the heavenly and earthly Jerusalems is explained. The pearl maiden explains that while she is "immaculate" she is not "matchless" and that there are 144,000 brides of the lamb, as John saw in Revelation. She tells the dreamer of the two Jerusalems, the one, the historical Jerusalem, the city where Christ was condemned and martyred, and the other, the heavenly Jerusalem that John saw in his vision of the Apocalypse.
She describes the crucifixion of Christ, the Lamb, whose death was foretold by Isaiah. Christ was like a lamb because he allowed himself to be a meek, innocent sacrifice for the sins of mankind. The Pearl Maiden says that Christ was fittingly described as a a lamb in Jerusalem twice (once by the old prophet, Isaiah, and by the new prophet, the gospel of John) and that it is right that he should appear as a lamb a third time, which is the vision of John of the end times revealed in Revelation.
In this section the dreamer witnesses a choir of the 144,000 brides of Christ described in Revelation singing before the throne of Christ,. The link word is "never the less" and contrasts to the link word "more and more" used to describe happiness on earth, which is never perfect. In the heavenly city, perfect happiness, the definition of completion, can never be less. The nature of salvation, the estate of being the bride of Christ, is explained. All sinless souls are the proper brides of Christ, and the nature of salvation consists of union with Christ. The maiden tells the dreamer that although their earthly corpses are clothed in earth, the situation that the dreamer was lamenting at the beginning of the poem, their redeemed souls are endowed with the bliss of heaven, showing the futility of the the grieving on earth that death causes, since eternal felicity is achieved through death. She contrasts the perfection and fullness of happiness in heaven, which can never lessen, with earth. Earthly happiness divides a finite amount of material goods, the reason why "more" workers lessen the pay of each one. This is not true in heaven, where love, honor, happiness are infinite. The dreamer seems reconciled to her position now, calling her a "rich rose," which seems to indicate he has accepted the identity between the rose that he lost and the pearl that he now sees. He addresses her with sincere humility and asks her a favor.
The dreamer wants to see the "city" where she dwells. The link word is "mote," which means both "stain" or "spot" and "city." Once again, he has confused the literal and figurative levels of her speech. He can't understand how she can dwell in Jerusalem, which he knows to be far away from the woods where he fell asleep. And he says it would be a pity if such a group of beautiful maidens should have to sleep outside. She explains that Jerusalem of Judea is the Old Jerusalem where the old guilt of mankind was paid off. She says
And as hys flok is withouten flake,
So is hys mote withouten moote.
[And as his flock is without a blemish, so is his city without stain]
There is a pun here, because not only is his city without stain, but his city is also without any geographical "spot" or location. In other words, "city" is an earthly concept that may be helpful in envisioning heaven in a metaphorical way, but it is not literally appropriate. She tells him there are two Jerusalems and the heavenly Jerusalem is the place of eternally increasing glory and bliss. The dreamer then asks for a sight of the holy city, but she reminds him that he can't enter in because only those who are "clean without a spot" may enter paradise. However, she has interceded with Christ and he will be granted a view of the city.
The link word is "the Apostle John." The narrator is conducted up a hill from whence he has a view of the heavenly Jerusalem. The continual references to the book of Revelation make clear the link between the dreamer's vision and the vision received in dream by John. In other words, the experience of reading the book is a direct avenue to the vision of the heavenly Jerusalem. The city is a place of enormous physical beauty and richness. The dreamer enumerates the stones he sees there with which he was familiar from Revelation. In the middle ages, things in the natural world, such as stones and animals, were thought to have moral meanings, and these meanings were glossed in lapidaries and bestiaries.
The 12 stones and their meanings:
The link word is "moon." As in the description in Revelation, the city has four sides with three gates in each side. Each gate bears the names of one of the twelve tribes. It is a place of great light, greater than that given by sun or moon. The dreamer sees the a river that runs fresh and free from the Lord's throne through the streets of Jerusalem. There is no church nor chapel, since the Almighty was their place of prayer (again reminding us of the insufficiency of the logic and reality of earthly language to express the reality of eternal life). The moon is banished from the New Jerusalem, since she's too spotty, and also since there is no need since it's never night. There are 12 trees beside the river that bear the 12 fruits of live 12 times a year. The moon is typically a symbol of change and thus decay.
According to Augustine, the most perfect proportion is equality, which, in its most perfect form, resides only with God. The equilateral triangle, the square, and the circle are all examples of equality, but the square is more equal than the equilateral triangle and the circle is the most equal of all, and therefore the most like virtue.  The description of the New Jerusalem stresses its materials, form, and numbers, all of which (like the circular pearl) symbolize moral values.
This section ends with an expression by the dreamer of the ravishment which he experienced in that vision, one which, he says, would have so overcome a man who experienced it in body that no doctor could have saved him. Apparently the dreamer has an awareness of the distinction between bodily and spiritual existence.
The link word is "great delight." It opens with an apparent contradiction. After having been told that the moon has no right in the New Jerusalem, we see it shining over the procession of the virgins that begins in this section. The 144,000 virgins, each identical to the Pearl Maiden, move through Jerusalem towards the throne of the Lamb, not "pres in plyt, bot mylde as maydenez seme at mas" (not crowded together but mildly as maidens seem at mass), the delicate reference to the mass once again hinting at the theme of the poem. The delights fill all the senses, sight, the sound of the virgin chorus, and the smell of incense cast by the angels. The dreamer sees the Lamb, who is also dressed in white, yet he has a wide wound near his heart from which streams red blood and an expression of sheer joy on his face. The dreamer is so overcome by delight at the sight of the lamb that he joins the others in love for the Lamb. For once he seems to have forgotten the maiden (and his attachment to earthly pleasures), but he catches sight of her among the crowd and is overtaken by "love-longing," which we could call cupidity.
The link word is "to prince's pay," (to the delight of a prince) which connects the end of the poem to the beginning. The dreamer then impulsively tries to swim the river to join his pearl, thus causing God to end his dream. The poem ends with the dreamer in the same spot where he fell asleep, the spot where he lost his pearl. Now however, he is content in the knowledge that she wears the crown of heaven, a thought that will comfort him throughout the pain of his earthly life. He accepts God's will and recognizes his past willfulness and ingratitude. He ends by committing his "pearl" to God in exchange for God's blessing of bread and wine, the gift of sacrifice and redemption with which Christ blesses and rewards the laborers in his vineyard each day.
Dream visions are one of the oldest literary genres. In biblical tradition, dream visions were usually apocalyptic, having to do with the end times and a vision of the other world. Although there are only two apocalypses in the Bible, Revelation and Daniel, there are many extra-canonical apocaplyses related to biblical characters or events, some of the most influential in Western tradition being Il Esdras, the Book of Enoch, and the Gospel of Nicodemus. Influential literary dream visions in classical tradition include the Aeneid and the Dream of Scipio.
In medieval dream visions, the story is always told in the first person. In the dream world the dreamer encounters various figures, often allegorical, and there is at least one authoritative figure who functions as a guide. In some cases (many of Chaucer's poems) the dream vision serves as a chance to reflect on the craft and art of poetry. Others concern a religious or philosophical truth (The Divine Comedy, The Consolation of Philosophy) and some focus primarily on romantic love (Romance of the Rose, Gower's Confessio Amantis).
Pearl draws on many of these traditions: the revelatory vision, the philosophical consolation, the love vision (the description of the garden at the beginning resembles the garden of the Romance of the Rose). Pearl is unlike most dream visions in that while allegory plays a large role, there are no allegorical personifications, i. e. no characters such as "Genius," "Nature,"and the like.
The manuscript contains four works: Pearl, Patience (the story of Jonah and the whale), Purity, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
The manuscript is written in the dialect of the Northwest Midlands and dates from the 1390's. It was acquired by Sir Robert Bruce Cotton (who died in 1631) and the manuscript was not edited till 1839 when Sir Frederick Madden published the first edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. This was followed by Richard Morris's Early English Alliterative Poems in 1864 that contained the first editions of Pearl, Cleanness, and Patience.
5. Cited in Medieval Literary Theory and Criticism, c.1100 - c.1375 : The Commentary Tradition. Ed. A.J. Minnis and A.B. Scott ; with the assistance of David Wallace. Rev. ed. Oxford ; New York : Clarendon, 1991. 280.
8. Convivio, 12.3. Trans. Richard Lansing, 1998. Available at http://members.aol.com/lieberk/welc_fr.html.
Madeleva, Sister Mary. Pearl: A Steady in Spiritual Dryness. New York: Phaeton Press, 1925.
Marti, Kevin. Body, Heart, and Text in the Pearl-Poet. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1991.
Prior, Sandra Pierson. The Fayre Formez of the Pearl Poet. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State UP, 1996.
Stanbury, Sarah. Seeing the Gawain-Poet: Description and the Act of Perception. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1991.
Andrew, Malcolm, and Ronald Waldron, eds. The Poems of the Pearl Manuscript. Rev. ed. Exeter: U of Exeter P, 1987.
Gollancz, Sir Israel, ed. Pearl. London, 1891.
Gordon, E. V., ed. Pearl. Oxford: Clarendon, 1953.
Osgood, Charles G., ed. The Pearl. Boston: D.C. Heath, 1906.
Borroff, Marie, trans. Pearl: A New Verse Translation. New York: ,W.W. Norton, 1977.
Finch, Casey, trans. The Complete Works of the Pearl Poet. Berkeley: U of California P, 1993.
Modern Theoretical Approaches
Aers, David. "The Self Mourning: Reflections on Pearl." Speculum 68:1 (1993): 54-73.
Cox, Catherine S. "Pearl's 'Precios Pere': Gender, Language, and Difference." The Chaucer Review 32:4 (1998): 377-90.
Kline, Daniel T. "The Pearl, a Crayon, and a Lego." Essays in Medieval Studies 15 (1999): 119-22.
Roper, Gregory. "Pearl, Penitence, and the Recovery of the Self." The Chaucer Review 28:2 (1993): 164-86.
Stanbury, Sarah. "Feminist Masterplots: The Gaze on the Body of Pearl's Dead Girl." Feminist Approaches to the Body in Medieval Literature. Ed. Linda Lomperis & Sarah Stanbury. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1993. 96-115.
Text and Authorship
Benson, Larry D. "The Authorship of 'St. Erkenwald?'" Journal of English and Germanic Philology 64 (1965): 393-405.
Chapman, C. 0."The Authorship of the Pearl." PMLA 47 (1932): 346-53.
Kargill, Oscar, and Margaret Schlauch. "The Pearl and Its Jeweller." PMLA 43 (1968): 105-231.
Kimmelman, Burt. "The Language of the Text: Authorship and Textuality in Pearl, The Divine Comedy, and Piers Plowman." The Book and the Magic of Reading in the Middle Ages. Ed. Albrecht Classen. New York: Garland, 1998.
Kowalik, Barbara. "Traces of Romance Textual Poetics in the Non-Romance Work Ascribed to the Gawain-Poet." From Medieval to Medievalism. Ed. John Simons. New York : St. Martin's, 1992.
Moorman, Charles. The Pearl Poet. New York: Twayne, 1968.
Bowers, John M."The Politics of Pearl." Exemplaria 7:2 (1995): 419-41.
Peterson, Clifford. "The Pearl-Poet and John Massey of Cotton, Cheshire." Review of English Studies 25 (1974): 257-66.
Schless, Howard H. "Pearl's 'Princes Paye' and the Law." The Chaucer-Review 24:2 (1989): 183-185.
The Landscape of Pearl
Elliott, R. W. V. 1951. "Pearl and the Medieval Garden: Convention or Originality?" Les Langues Modernes 45 (1951) : 85-101.
Pearsall, Derek and Elizabeth Salter. Landscapes and Seasons of the Medieval World. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1973.
Petroff, Elizabeth."Landscape in Pearl: The Transformation of Nature." The Chaucer Review 16:2 (1981): 181-193.
Robertson, D. W. "The Doctrine of Charity in Mediaeval Literary Gardens." Speculum 26 (1951): 24-49.
Stanbury, Sarah. "Visions of Space: Acts of Perception in Pearl and in Some Late Medieval Illustrated Apocalypses." Mediaevalia 10 (1988):
Tuve, Rosemund. Seasons and Months: Studies in a Tradition of Middle English Literature. Reprint of the 1933 ed. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1974.
Higgs, Elton D. "The Progress of the Dreamer in Pearl." Studies in Medieval Culture. Kalamazoo, MI, 1974. 388-400.
Moorman, Charles. "The Role of the Narrator in Pearl." Modern Philology 53 (1955-56): 73-81.
Structure, Symbolism, and Religious Meaning
Blanch, Robert J. "Color Symbolism and Mystical Contemplation in Pearl." Nottingham Medieval Studies 17 (1973): 58-77.
Borroff, Marie. "Pearl's 'Maynful Mone': Crux, Simile, and Structure." Acts of Interpretation: The Text in Its Contexts, 700-1600: Essays on Medieval and Renaissance Literature in Honor of E. Talbot Donaldson. Ed. Mary J. Carruthers & Elizabeth D. Kirk. Norman, OK: Pilgrim, 1982.
Chance, Jane."Allegory and Structure in Pearl: The Four Senses of the Ars Praedicandi and Fourteenth-Century Homiletic Poetry." Text and Matter: New Critical Perspectives of the Pearl-Poet. Ed. Robert J. Blanch, Miriam Youngerman Miller, & Julian N. Wasserman. Troy, NY : Whitson, 1991.
Earl, James W. "Saint Margaret and the Pearl Maiden." Modern Philology 70 (1972): 1-8.
Gatta, John, Jr. "Transformation Symbolism and the Liturgy of the Mass in Pearl." Modern Philology 71 (1974): 243-56.
Kean, Patricia M. "Numerical Composition in Pearl." Notes and Queries 12 (1965): 49-51.
Levine, Robert. "The Pearl-Child: Topos and Archetype in the Middle English Pearl." Medievalia et Humanistica 8 (1977):243-51.
Macrae-Gibson, O. D. "Pearl: The Link Words and the Thematic Structure." Neophilologus 52 (1968): 54-64.
Marti, Kevin. "Traditional Characteristics of the Resurrected Body in Pearl." Viator 24 (1993): 311-35.
Olmert, Michael. "Game-Playing, Moral Purpose, and the Structure of Pearl." The Chaucer Review 21:3 (1987): 383-403.
Peck, Russell A. "Number as Cosmic Language." Things Seen: Reference and Recognition in Medieval Thought. Ed. Jeffrey David L. Ottawa : U of Ottawa P, 1979.
Spearing, A.C. "Symbolic and Dramatic Development in Pearl?" Modern Philology 60 (1962-3): 1-12.
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