The Complete Works of the Pearl Poet Summary


The Complete Works of the Pearl Poet

This edition brings together five alliterative poems composed in the latter half of the fourteenth century. Written in the Northwest Midlands dialect, they probably derive from Lancashire or Cheshire.

In his introduction Finch offers some thoughts on the possible identity of the eponymous Pearl (or Gawain) Poet. The first four poems are presented in the order they appear in MS Cotton Nero A. x. Art. 3: PEARL (an elegy for a two-year-old girl; the poem lends itself to allegorical interpretation), CLEANNESS (a medley of biblical tales treating purity and fidelity), PATIENCE (a retelling of Jonah), and the Arthurian legend SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT. The final work in the collection, SAINT ERKENWALD, which recounts a miracle performed by a bishop of London, derives from another manuscript, but its style has led numerous scholars to ascribe it to the Pearl Poet.

Finch’s translation is readable and competent, though freer than that of Marie Boroff, who has translated only SIR GAWAIN and PEARL.

Finch preserves the alliterative quality of the verse but has changed the meter to render it more regular. The Middle English text on the pages facing the translation is that of the standard modern editions, and the glossary is reproduced from the Andrew-Waldron THE POEMS OF THE PEARL MANUSCRIPT (1987). Finch’s introduction concisely explains the poems, and the eight-page bibliography offers a sound sampling of the hundreds of books and articles that these poems have inspired.

Those innocent of Middle English will find in Finch’s translation a lively rendering of great literature. Students seeking a reasonably priced standard edition of the poetry or wanting assistance with the originals will also appreciate this volume.