Extract from “Perle” (Cotton Nero A.x manuscript)

July 10, 2006 at 5:06 pm 24 comments

Pearl Poet

Listen (to Hatshepsut read)

in Middle English

In Translation

Perle, pleasaunte to prynces paye
To clanly clos in golde so clere,
Oute of oryent, I hardyly saye,
Ne proued I neuer her precios pere.
So rounde, so reken in vche araye,
So smal, so smoÞe her syde3 were,
Quere-so-euer I jugged gemme3 gaye,
I sette hyr sengeley in synglere.
Allas! I leste hyr in on erbere;
Þur3 gresse to grounde hit fro me yot.
I dewyne, fordolked of luf-daungere
Of Þat pryuy perle wythouten spot.

SyÞen in Þat spote hit fro me sprange,
Ofte haf I wayted, wyschande Þat wele,
Þat wont wat3 whyle deuoyde my wrange
And heuen my happe and al my hele.
Þat dot3 bot Þrych my hert Þrange,
My breste in bale bot bolne and bele.

Pearl, to delight a prince’s day,
Flawlessly set in gold so fair
In all the East, I dare to say,
I have not found one to compare.
So round, so radiant in array,
So small, so smooth her contours were,
Wherever I judged jewels gay
I set her worth as truly rare.
I lost her in a garden where
Through grass she fell to earthen plot;
Wounded by love beyond repair
I mourn that pearl without a spot.

Since from that spot it fled that day
I waited oft, in hope to see
What once could drive my gloom away
And charge my very soul with glee;
But heavy on my heart it lay
And filled my breast with misery.

Hatshepsut writes, ” I have a real weakness for Middle English and Anglo-Saxon poetry. Its cadences, its internal rhythms, its dense alliteration – so, so beautiful to listen to. ‘Perle’ is one of my favourite dream vision poems. And the dream vision is my favourite genre within Middle English poetry. Its self-reflexive, meta-nature and the possibilities its structure opens up (the dream within the dream within the dream etc.) are only part of why I like the form so much. What really fascinates me, are the historical and philosophical reasons for the evolution of the form. What fascinates me is the idea that, in a time when creative writing had to have a reason to be (just like other growing disciplines, each of which was trying to establish its place in the world), the dream vision was a way of legitimizing the exercise of creative writing and elevating it to the status of divinely conceived, while infusing it with the heady rush of the other-worldly mystical. It was also a way of freeing the author from incriminating creative offspring: “I dreamt it, I have no control over it, I’m only transcribing.” I’ve only included a small excerpt from ‘Perle’ where the dreamer talks about the loss of his daughter – his immaculate pearl. The manuscript is one of the most poignant poetic explorations of loss I’ve ever read. The emotion of the dreamer’s voice slices through the seven centuries that separate us with consummate ease.”


[1] The Pearl poet (/Gawain poet) at wiki.

[2] Text of Pearl online.

[3] A brief discussion on the structure and content here.



Entry filed under: Black Mamba, English, Hatshepsut, Pearl Poet.

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24 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Falstaff  |  July 10, 2006 at 6:04 pm

    Hatshepsut: Nice. Some Chaucer next, perhaps?

  • 2. hatshepsut  |  July 10, 2006 at 7:05 pm

    thanks falstaff!

    a couple of amendments: it should read syde3, gemme3, wat3 and dot3.


  • 3. blackmamba  |  July 10, 2006 at 7:39 pm

    Rectified. (figuring out subscripts in WP was a bit tedious -they are supposed to be subscripts, yes?) are they alright now?

  • 4. Facetious Feline  |  July 10, 2006 at 11:15 pm

    Nice. Some Skelton in the future, perhaps?

  • 5. hatshepsut  |  July 11, 2006 at 5:54 am

    yes, thanks BM – they’re perfect now.

    and thanks feline :)

  • 6. neha  |  July 11, 2006 at 9:44 am

    Nice. Really nice!

  • 7. A middle england native  |  December 1, 2006 at 8:47 pm

    thankyou for bringing to life the words of old leek, the town where the poem was first written down. the poem was based i assume round ludd church in the staffs moorlands, as sir gawain is too. there is marked on maps nearby an field called the pearl. An odd coinsidence dont you think. lots of rivers too to make a pretty hard crossing point.

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