Dan de Sa's Reviews > Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Cleanness, Patience

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Cleanness, Patience by Unknown
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Jun 05, 12

This edition of the Pearl Poet's oeuvre is simply excellent because the poetry is preserved in the original language.

Foremost, my favorite of the collection is probably that of most: SGGK. I believe there are a number of reasons which account for this. The first is my 20th/21st century preference for narrative over lyric. This doesn't mean I don't like lyric verse, it is just to say that my mind simply looks for narrative structure when I start reading a piece, and I think this results in my (as well as others') preference for SGGK over, say, The Waste Land. The second reason is the poetic skill at work in this poem. This is the first alliterative poem I've read, and I was just struck by the combinatino of the alliterative mode with the bob-and-wheel stanzaic structure. I think that this is one thing that attests to the poem's status as a gem of the alliterative revival.

Pearl, of course, could be said to be great because of the same reasons I've listed. Both have great narratives and both are written with considerable skill. The reason I value SGGK over Pearl, however, is based on generic preference: SGGK is a Romance, while Pearl is a spiritual Allegory. While both genres were popular during the medieval period, I think that Romance is more appealing to modern tastes if only for the fact that it comes down to us through the genre of high fantasy. I like both, and I like what both poems have to say, but if I were given the choice of only one I'd have to go with SGGK.

Of the two remaining poems, I've only read Patience, and it was a long time ago so my memory of it is vague. Basically, Patience and Cleanness (or Purity) are both sermons in alliterative verse. The former argues for the value that the virtue of patience has for us through a retelling of the story of Jonah and the whale. To be honest, it was a bit boring; but I do recommend reading all of the works of the Pearl poet, including these two (and St. Erkenwald, if you can find it, as it MAY have been written by the same author), so to get a full understanding of this poet's writing and thought.

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