Pearl poem summary, themes and critical analysis

Pearl is one of the famous poems of the Middle English period. It is a part elegy, part dream vision poem and part Christian allegory. About the authorship of the poem, nothing is definitely known. It is, however, generally supposed that the author of Pearl also wrote three other works- Cleanness (Purity), Patience, and Sir Gawayne and the Grene Knight. iliarity—and presumed sympathy—with the New Testament. The central image of the poem is taken from the Book of Matthew, in which Jesus says that “the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”

Pearl is an elegy for a dead child, a daughter who died at just two years of age. In this poem, the poet is found to lament the loss of his little daughter, under the symbol of a valuable pearl. He imagines to have lost his pearl in a garden, and in course of his search, he falls asleep and has a glorious vision of his little daughter’s paradisal bliss. In his dream of her heavenly happiness, the poet’s mortal grief for his own loss passes away and is transformed into joy and wonder. He has a spiritual enlightenment and a divine delight that transcend all his earthly sorrows and weaknesses.

Pearl is a successful allegory and may well be claimed as a just forerunner of Edmund Spenser’s famous poem The Faerie Queene. Thus in the image of the lost pearl, the poet has effectively brought out spiritual truths and visions, related to a devout Christian life. This poem is a grand religious allegory. The allegorical element is well-conceived and carried out with a Christian outlook and a just harmony is established between the poetic emotion and the spiritual elevation.

Pearl consists of one hundred and one stanzas of twelve lines each. In each stanza, the first eight lines rhyme in the order of a, b, a, b, a, b, a, b, while the last four lines rhyme as b, c, b, c. There is, indeed, much originality in the rhyme scheme of the poem. Moreover, the poem shows a rare technique to combine rhyme with alliteration. The highly alliterative lines of the poem have a rare fusion of music and sentiment.

The unknown author of Pearl is found to possess truly a subtle poetic power to combine and balance moral earnestness with artistic skill. He is rightly considered the real literary predecessor of Spenser in his rare gift to use allegory and alliteration with the equal ease and to unify the moral seriousness of Christianity with the literary grace of romance.

Also read; A short note on Ancrene Riwle, a middle English religious prose

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