Last May, when on the occasion of his daughter’s birthday, Adam Greenwood reported the tragic passing of his daughter Betsey in March over at Times and Seasons, my mind turned to a poem of mourning I had read in which the unknown author, a contemporary of Chaucer but writing in the language and grammar of the West Midlands, relates a vision of his infant daughter who had passed away. I hesitated in posting this for the Greenwoods at that time and will not miss the chance this time. Now, on the occasion of moving away from the town where Betsey last accompanied them in mortality, A. Greenwood has posted again about his daughter, and his hope that her memory will not diminish as grief passes. How fitting that Betsey’s name is also Pearl, since this poem from circa 1400, translated from the Middle English in 1953 by J.R.R. Tolkien, is about the Pearl that the author has lost and furtively seeks again. Here then is a Pearl (or excerpts thereof) for A. Greenwood. May it lift your spirits at this time while turning your mind to your own Pearl:
1 Pearl of delight that a prince doth please
To grace in gold enclosed so clear,
I vow that from over orient seas
Never proved I any in price her peer.
So round, so radiant ranged by these,
So fine, so smooth did her sides appear
That ever in judging gems that please
Her only alone I deemed as dear.
Alas! I lost her in garden near:
Through grass to the ground from me it shot;
I pine now oppressed by love-wound drear
For that pearl, mine own, without a spot.
2 Since in that spot it sped from me,
I have looked and longed for that precious thing
That me once was wont from woe to free,
To uplift my lot and healing bring,
But my heart doth hurt now cruelly,
My breast with burning torment sting.
Yet in secret hour came soft to me
The sweetest song I e’er heard sing;
Yea, many a thought in mind did spring
To think that her radiance in clay should rot.
O mould! Thou marrest a lovely thing,
My pearl, mine own, without a spot.
. . . .
4 That spot whereof I speak I found
When I entered in that garden green,
As August’s season high came round
When corn is cut with sickles keen.
There, where that pearl rolled down, a mound
With herbs was shadowed fair and sheen,
With gillyflower, ginger, and gromwell crowned,
And peonies powdered all between.
If sweet was all that there was seen,
Fair too, a fragrance flowed I wot,
Where dwells that dearest, as I ween,
My precious pearl without a spot.
5 By that spot my hands I wrung dismayed;
For care full cold that had me caught
A hopeless grief on my heart was laid.
Though reason to reconcile me sought,
For my pearl there prisoned a plaint I made,
In fierce debate unmoved I fought;
Be comforted Christ Himself me bade,
But in woe my will ever strove distraught.
On the flowery plot I fell, methought;
Such odour through my senses shot,
I slipped and to sudden sleep was brought,
O’er that precious pearl without a spot.
6 From that spot my spirit sprang apace,
On the turf my body abode in trance;
My would was gone by God’s own grace
Adventuring where marvels chance.
I knew not where in the world was that place
Save by cloven cliffs was set my stance;
And towards a forest I turned my face,
Where rocks in splendour met my glance;
From them did a glittering glory lance,
None could believe the light they lent;
Never webs were woven in mortal haunts
Of half such wealth and wonderment.
. . . .
8 In wonder at those fells so fair
My soul all grief forgot let fall;
Odours so fresh of fruits there were,
I was fed as by food celestial.
In the woods the birds did wing and pair,
Of flaming hues, both great and small;
But cithern-string and gittern-player
Their merry mirth could ne’er recall,
For when the beat their pinions all
In harmony their voices bent:
No delight more lovely could men enthrall
Than behold and hear that wonderment.
. . . .
11 The wonderous wealth of down and dales,
of wood and water and lordly plain,
My mirth makes mount: my mourning fails,
My care is quelled and cured my pain.
Then down a stream that strongly sails
I blissful turn with teeming brain;
The further I follow those flowing vales
The more strength of joy my heart doth strain.
As fortune fares where she doth deign,
Whether gladness she gives or grieving sore,
So he who may her graces gain,
His hap is to have ever more and more.
12 There more was of such marvels thrice
Than I could tell, though I long delayed;
For earthly heart could not suffice
For a tithe of the joyful joys displayed.
Therefore I thought that Paradise
Across those banks was yonder laid;
I weened that the water by device
As bounds between pleasances was made;
Beyond that stream by steep or slade
That city’s walls I weened must soar;
But the water was deep, I dared not wade,
And ever I longed to, more and more.
. . . .
14 A marvel more did my mind amaze:
I saw beyond that border bright
From a crystal cliff the lucent rays
And beams in splendour lift their light.
A child abode there at its base:
She wore a gown of glistening white,
A gentle maid of courtly grace;
Erewhile I had known her well by sight.
As shredded gold that glistered bright
She shone in beauty upon the shore;
Long did my glance on her alight,
And the longer I looked I knew her more.
15 The more I that face so fair surveyed,
When upon her gracious form I gazed,
Such gladdening glory upon me played
As my wont was seldom to see upraised.
Desire to call her then me swayed,
But dumb surprise my mind amazed;
In place so strange I saw that maid,
The blow might well my wits have crazed.
Her forehead fair then up she raised
That hue of polished ivory wore.
It smote my heart distraught and dazed,
And ever the longer, the more and more.
16 More than I would my dread did rise.
I stood there still and dared not call
With closed mouth and open eyes,
I stood as tame as hawk in hall.
A ghost was present, I did surmise,
And feared for what might then befall,
Lest she should flee before mine eyes
Ere I to tryst could her recall.
So smooth, so seemly, slight and small,
That flawless fair and mirthful maid
Arose in robes majestical,
A precious gem in pearls arrayed.
17 There pearls arrayed and royally dight
Might one have seen by fortune graced
When fresh as flower-de-luces bright
She down to the water swiftly paced
In linen robe of glistening white,
With open sides that seams enlaced
With the merriest margery-pearls my sight
Ever before, I vow, had traced.
Her sleeves hung long below her waist
Adorned with pearls in double braid;
Her kirtle matched her mantle chaste
All about with precious pearls arrayed.
18 A crown arrayed too wore that girl
Of margery-stones and others none,
With pinnacles of pure white pearl
That perfect flowers were figured on,
On head nought else her hair did furl,
And it framed, as it did round her run,
Her countenance grave for duke or earl,
And her hue as rewel ivory wan.
As shredded sheen of gold then shone
Her locks on shoulder loosly laid.
Her colour pure was surpassed by none
Of the pearls in purfling rare arrayed.
. . . .
20 In pearls arrayed that maiden free
Beyond the stream came down the strand.
From here to Greece none as glad could be
As I on shore to see her stand,
Than aunt or niece more near to me:
The more did joy my heart expand.
She deigned to speak, so sweet was she,
Bowed low as ladies’ ways demand.
With her crown of countless worth in hand
A gracious welcome she me bade.
My birth I blessed, who on the strand
To my love replied in pearls arrayed.
21 “O Pearl!” said I, “in pearls arrayed,
Are you my pearl whose loss I mourn?
Lament alone by night I made,
Much longing I have hid for thee forlorn,
Since to the grass you from me strayed.
While I pensive waste by weeping worn,
Your life of joy in the land is laid
Of Paradise by strife untorn.
What fate hath hither my jewel borne
And made me mourning’s prisoner?
Since asunder we in twain were torn,
I have been a joyless jeweller.”
22 That jewel in gems so excellent
Lifted her glance with eyes of grey,
Put on her crown of pearl-orient,
And gravely then began to say:
“Good sir, you have your speech mis-spent
to say your pearl is all away
that is in chest so choicely pent,
Even in this gracious garden gay,
Here always to linger and to play
Where regret nor grief e’er trouble her.
‘Here is a casket safe’ you would say.
If you were a gentle jeweller.
23 But jeweller gentle, if from you goes
Your joy through a gem that you held lief,
Methinks your mind toward madness flows
And frets for a fleeting cause of grief.
For what you lost was but a rose
That by nature failed after flowering brief;
Now the casket’s virtues that it enclose
Prove it a pearl of price in chief;
And yet you have called your fate a thief
That of naught to aught hath fashioned her,
You grudge the healing of your grief,
You are no grateful jeweller.”
24 Then a jewel methought had now come near,
And jewels the courteous speech she made.
“My blissful one,” quoth I, “most dear,
My sorrows deep you have all allayed.
To pardon me I pray you here!
In the darkness I deemed my pearl was laid;
I have found it now, and shall make good cheer,
With it dwell in shining grove and glade,
And praise all the laws that my Lord hath made,
Who hath brought me near such bliss with her.
Now could I to reach you these waters wade,
I should be a joyful jeweller.”
25 “Jeweller,” rejoined that jewel clean,
“Why jest ye men? How mad ye be!
Three things at once you have said, I ween:
Thoughtless, forsooth, were all the three,
You know now on earth what one doth mean;
Your words from your wits escaping flee:
You believe I live here on this green,
Because you can with eyes me see;
Again, you will in this land with me
Here dwell yourself, you now aver;
And thirdly, pass this water free:
That may no joyful jeweller.
26 I hold that jeweller worth little praise
Who well esteems what he sees with eye,
And much to blame his graceless wayus
Who believes our Lord would speak a lie.
He promised faithfully your lives to raise
Though fate decreed your flesh should die;
His words as nonsense ye appraise
Who approve of naught not seen with eye;
And that presumption doth imply,
Which all good men doth ill beseem,
On tale as true ne’er to rely
Save private reason right it deem.
27 Do you deem that you yourself maintain
Such words as man to God should dare?
You will dwell, you say, in this domain:
‘Twere best for leave first offer prayer,
And yet that grace yo umight not gain.
Now over this water you wish to fare:
By another course you must that attain;
Your flesh shall in clay find colder lair,
For our heedless father did of old prepare
Its doom by Eden’s grove and stream;
Through dismal death must each man fare,
Ere o’re this deep him God redeem.”
28 “If my doom you deem it, maiden sweet,
To mourn once more, then I must pine.
Now my lost one found again I greet,
Must bereavement new till death be mine?
Why must I at once both part and meet?
My precious pearl doth my pain design!
What use hath treasure but tears to repeat,
When one at its loss must again repine?
Now I care not though my days decline
Outlawed afar o’er land and stream;
When in my pearl no part is mine,
Only endless dolour one that may deem.”
29 “But of woe, I deem, and deep distress
You speak,” she said. “Why do you so?
Through loud lament when they lose the less
Oft many men the more forego.
‘Twere better with cross yourself to bless,
Ever praising God in weal and woe;
For resentment gains you not a cress:
Who must needs endure, he may not say no!
For though you dance as any doe,
Rampant bray or raging scream,
When escape you cannot, to nor fro,
His doom you must abide, I deem.
30 Deem God unjust, the Lord indict,
From His way a foot He will not wend;
The relief amounts not to a mite,
Though gladness your grief may never end.
Cease then to wrangle, to speak in spite,
And swiftly seek Him as your friend,
You prayer His pity may excite,
So that Mercy shall her powers expend.
To you languor He may comfort lend,
And swiftly your griefs removed may seem;
For lament or rave, to submit pretend,
‘Tis His to ordain what He right may deem.”
31 Then I said, I deem, to that damosel:
“May I give no grievance to my Lord,
Rash fool, though blundering tale I tell.
My heart the pain of loss outpoured,
Gushing as water springs from well.
I commit me ever to His mercy’s ward.
Rebuke me not with words so fell,
Though I erring stray, my dear adored!
But your comfort kindly to me accord,
In pity bethinking you of this:
For partner you did me pain award
On whom was founded all my bliss.
32 Both bliss and gried you have been to me,
But of woe far greater hath been my share.
You were caught away from all perils free,
But my pearl was gone, I knew not where;
My sorrow is softened now I it see.
When we parted, too, at one we were;
Now God forbid that we angry be!
We meet on our roads by chance so rare.
Though your converse courtly is and fair,
I am but mould and good manners miss.
Christ’s mercy, Mary and John: I dare
Only on these to found my bliss.
33 In bliss you abide and happiness,
And I with woe an worn and grey;
Oft searing sorrows I possess,
Yet little heed to that you pay.
But now I here yourself address,
Without reproach I would you pray
To deign in sober words express
What life you lead the livelong day.
For delighted I am that your lot, you say,
So glorious and so glad now is;
There finds my joy its foremost way,
On that is founded all my bliss.”
34 “Now bliss you ever bless!” she cried,
Lovely in limb, in hue so clear,
“And welcome here to walk and bide;
For now your words are to me dear.
Masterful mood and haughty pride,
I warn you, are bitterly hated here.
It doth not delight my Lord to chide,
For meek are all that dwell Him near.
So, when in His place you must appear,
Be devout in humble lowliness:
To my Lord, the Lamb, such a mien is dear,
On whom is founded all my bliss.
35 A blissful life you say is mine;
You wish to know in what degree.
Your pearl you know you did resign
When in young and tender years was she;
Yet my Lord, the Lamb, through power divine
Myself He chose His bride to be,
And crowned me queen in bliss to shine,
While days shall endure eternally.
Dowered with His heritage all is she
That is His love. I am wholly His:
On His glory, honour, and high degree
Are built and founded all my bliss.”
. . . .
38 “The court where the living God doth reign
Hath a virtue of its own being,
That each who may thereto attain
Of all the realm is queen or king,
Yet never shall other’s right obtain,
But in other’s good each glorying
And wishing each crown worth five again,
If amended might be so fair a thing.
But my Lady of whom did Jesu spring,
O’er us high she holds her empery,
And none that grieves of our following,
For she is the Queen of Courtesy.”
. . . .
91 Such marvels as neath the moon upraised
A fleshly heart could not endure
I saw, who on that castle gazed;
Such wonders did its castle gazed;
I stood there still as quail all dazed;
Its wondrous form did me allure,
That rest nor toil I felt, amazed,
And ravished by that radiance pure.
For with conscience clear I you assure,
If man embodied had gained that boon,
Though sages all essayed his cure,
His life had been lost beneath the moon.
92 As doth the moon in might arise,
Ere down must daylight leave the air,
So, suddenly, in a wondrous wise,
Of procession long I was aware.
Unheralded to my surprise
That city of royal renown so fair
Was with virgins filled in the very guise
Of my blissful one with crown on hair.
All crowned in manner like they were,
In pearls appointed, and weeds of white,
and bound on breast did each one bear
The blissful pearl with great delight.
93 With great delight in line they strolled
On golden ways that gleamed like glass;
A hundred thousands were there, I hold,
And all to match their livery was;
The gladdest face could none have told.
the Lamb before did proudly pass
With seven horns of clear red gold;
As pearls of price His raimant was.
To the Throne now drawn they pacing pass:
No crowding, though great their host in white,
But gentle as modest maids at Mass,
So lead they on with great delight.
. . . .
95 Delight the Lamb to behold with eyes
Then moved my mind with wonder more:
The best was He, blithest, most dear to prize
Of whom I e’er heard tales of yore;
So wondrous white was all His guise,
So noble Himself He so meekly bore.
But by his heart a wound my eyes
Saw wide and wet; the fleece it tore,
From His white side His blood did pour.
Alas! thought I, who did that spite?
His breast should have burned with anguish sore,
Ere in that deed one took delight.
96 The Lamb’s delight to doubt, I ween,
None wished; though wound He sore displayed,
In His face no sign thereof was seen,
In His glance such glorious gladness played.
I marked among His host serene,
How life in full on each was laid–
Then saw I there my little queen
That I thought stood by me in the glade!
Lord! great was the merriment she made,
Among her peers who was so white.
That vision made me think to wade
For love-longing in great delight.
97 Delight there pierced my eye and ear,
In my mortal mind a madness reigned;
When I saw her beauty I would be near,
Though beyond the stream she was retained.
I thought that naught could interfere,
Could strike me back to halt constrained,
From plunge in stream would none me steer,
Though I died ere I swam o’er what remained.
But as wild in the water to start I strained,
On my intent did quaking seize;
From that aim recalled I was detained:
It was not as my Prince did please.
. . . .
99 It pleased me ill outcast to be
So suddenly from that region fair
Where living beauty I could see.
A swoon of longing smote me there,
And I cried aloud then piteously:
“O Pearl, renowned beyond compare!
How dear was all that you said to me,
That vision true while I did share.
If it be true and sooth to swear
That in garland gay you are set at ease,
Then happy I, though chained in care,
That you that Prince indeed do please.”
. . . .
101 To please that Prince, or be pardon shown,
May Christian good with ease design;
For day and night I have Him known
A God, a Lord, a Friend divine.
This chance I met on mound where prone
In grief for my pearl I would repine;
With Christ’s sweet blessing and mine own
I then to God it did resign.
May He that in form of bread and wine
By priest upheld each day one sees,
Us inmates of His house divine
Make precious pearls Himself to please.