Pearl – 29th April 2015

The next meeting of the MEMORI reading group will be held on Wednesday the 29th of April in Rm. 2.50, John Percival Building.  Our reading this month is Pearl and Martha has kindly prepared the notes and topics for discussion below:


The fourteenth-century Dream-Vision poem Pearl survives in a single copy as one of four poems contained within MS Cotton Nero A. x. The other texts in the manuscript are two religious poems, Patience and Cleanness, and the romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.


Pearl begins with the figure of the Dreamer mourning his lost pearl (and deceased daughter) in a garden. The Dreamer falls asleep and enters a dream landscape in which he encounters his daughter, now transformed into the shape of the Pearl Maiden. The Dreamer questions her about her current state and she replies with Christian doctrine. The Pearl Maiden eventually shows the Dreamer the city of New Jerusalem, but, lost in his desire to reach her, the Dreamer attempts to cross the river that divides him from his daughter and wakes up.


In Pearl, the Gawain-poet uses language to combine mathematical perfection with aesthetic and poetic visual beauty. For this reason, most of the questions that I have suggested for consideration pay particular attention to the relationship between structure and imagery within the poem.

  • What is the significance of the vineyard parable to Pearl and how is it incorporated into the text?
  • The regular stanza lengths, rhyming patterns, concatenation and repetition seen in Pearl have caused to critics to suggest the pearl, pearl necklace (Ian Bishop) and rosary (Kevin Marti) as metaphors for the structure of the poem. How successful do you think any of these metaphors are to conceptualising the structure of Pearl?
  • What does the dream-vision frame add to the meaning of the poem?
  • What do you think about the presentation of the different landscapes through which the Dreamer travels?
  • How is the reader supposed to interpret the figure of the lost pearl?
  • Is the Dreamer’s sadness a fitting response to the death of a daughter or an emotional response out of measure?
  • What is the significance of the river that separates the Dreamer from his Daughter?

The Dreamer, BL Cotton Nero A.x., f.37r