Heavenly Worthiness and Earthly Value
An Analysis of Prominent Themes and their Effect in the Poem Pearl
The title of the poem, Pearl, indicates something of high value – whether it be spiritual, economical or personal – to the audience. The pearl is indeed valuable to the father as he lives in misery as he mourns the death of his daughter however the poem discusses many aspects of worthiness and value when describing a person’s physique, piety, and behavior. During the dream dialogues between father and daughter arguments erupt about heavenly rewards based on earthly conduct and beliefs which lead to discussions of sin and repentance. The poem intertwines discussions of earthly value and heavenly worthiness in its content and structure to ultimately show that heavenly worthiness should be the ultimate goal of humans as earthly value last only in life while the beauties of heaven are ever lasting and more impressive.
Structurally, the Pearl poet writes intricately using tightly rhyming stanzas with a connecting word that connects each stanza with the first line of the following stanza. “My privy perel wythouten spotte (Burrows 110). at spot of spysez mot nedez sprede” is an example of this connection (Pearl 24-25). The Pearl poet uses alliteration throughout the poem, although not consistently, to add poetic merit to the poem. The content of the poem is highly religious and full of religious discussion and questions of morality. The poem itself is given spiritual merit as it discusses ways to better one’s self in life while chiefly using references to the book of revelation but also other excerpts from other books of the bible. The poem Pearl itself becomes a poem of high earthly value because of its poetical devices but also a poem of high heavenly value as it preaches faith in god no matter how miserable the circumstances. The poem does this by showing the fathers inability to join his daughter in paradise because he has become angry with God for taking his daughter from him.
The Pearl is given high earthly value though its description in the first stanza. It is described as “plesaunte to prynce paye To clanly clos in golde so clere, Oute of Oryent” and “So rounde so reken in urch araye, So small, so smo e [its] sydez were” (Pearl 1-3, 5-6). The pearl in these lines are given feminine characteristics which represent the daughter’s characteristics when she was in her earthly form. The description of feminine beauty echoes Chaucer’s Troilus “Hire armes smale…Hire sides longe, fleshly, smothe and white” which gives the girls beauty high value as it was the ideal feminine characteristics at the time (Troilus III.I 247-8). From the descriptions in the first stanza, the daughter is highly regarded as beautiful because she has died young and innocent but there is also a strong emotional connection between the father and daughter that is not based on earthly appearances. The father is explained as miserable as her death “at dotz bot prych my hert range, My breste in bale bot bolne and bele” (Pearl 17-18). He longs to ease the emotional pain by having his daughter back with him which adds value to her earthly form in a non-physical way.
During the dream vision of Pearl the father discovers a maiden dressed in pearls that he thinks is his daughter on the other side of a river which he cannot cross. On the daughters side of the river is paradise. The fact that the father cannot cross the river to be with his daughter suggests that he has a low religious worth. The border between the real world and a fairy or spiritual world is often represented by a river or stream (Markman 161). However the people who cross the border usually are high ranking or highly pious as seen in the medieval texts Sir Gawin and the Green Knight and Landvall (Markman161). The father is neither high ranking nor strongly pious and so cannot cross the border and fails to do so at the end of Pearl. The daughter tries to get him to see the sins...
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