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Pearl: Part 2 | by Giles Watson's poetry and prose
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Pearl: Part 2





The story so far: The Dreamer loses his Pearl in a grassy mound - evidently her grave. He swoons with grief, and awakens in an earthly paradise.


Pearl: Part 2


From that spot, my spirit springs, as into space,

My body bound to ground, engrossed in sleep,

My ghost gone wandering, by God’s grace,

Questing after miracles – I creep

As on a strange planet, a perfect place

Where crags and cliffs cleave canyons deep –

And towards a flawless forest turn my face,

Where crenellated castles tower, each keep

A beacon of bright light which leaps

Into gleaming glory, elegantly framed,

Embroidered of woven stone: stark, steep,

Severe, and splendidly adorned.


Adorned – all the mountainsides –

With cliffs of crystal, clear, aglow,

Bound about by woodland rides

And birch-boles blue as indigo.

Like burnished silver, each leaf slides

Against its fellow. On winds they flow

Agleam with gold; the foliage glides

On breeze that shimmers as it blows,

And on the ground, the gravel grinds

Smooth as oriental pearls, forged

Of sunbeams set to sear and blind,

Each sphere splendidly adorned.


Splendidly adorned, those downs so sheer,

And so my ghost forgets all grief:

The scents of fruits so fresh and clear

Would bring a starving man relief,

And birds fill every branch and briar –

Their flaming hues light up each leaf.

Citole and cittern charm the ear

Yet fail to reflect the splendid life

And mirth of birds: their wings blithe

With beating, like a choir warmed

With gracious, gleeful, delightful breath –

In praise and plumage splendidly adorned.


Splendidly adorned – that bright wood

Where fortune bids me fare forward.

No tongue can tell it in the world –

A glory life cannot afford.

I walk forth willing, my way to wend,

Not hemmed by hills, and unafraid,

And far in the forest, fair and wild:

Pears and spices, plants of the field,

Hedgerows, meadows, and rivers undefiled,

Each gilded bank unfurling like a frond,

With snaking shores softly ferned.

Lord! It is splendidly adorned!


The adornment of those splendid deeps:

Beautiful banks of beryl, bright

As sun. Swirling, sweet water sweeps

With whisperings so soft and slight

Over shimmering stones – it weeps,

Glows, glints like glass in light,

As stars stream with splendour when we sleep –

Stars which wink on a winter’s night –

And pools each pebble with delight,

As an emerald or sapphire sweetly formed,

Glazed in laughing streams of light,

Perfect, and splendidly adorned.



Late fourteenth century poem, written in a north-west midland dialect of Middle English, paraphrased by Giles Watson. Here the exquisite structure of the poem begins to unfold: each section has its own concatenation, or echoing refrain. My phrase “splendidly adorned” replaces the Gawain poet’s “adubbemente”, which carries the meaning of both words, and which emphasises the difference between the terrestrial paradise on the one hand, and the dreamer’s mortal world on the other. The garden-like qualities of the terrestrial paradise are juxtaposed with the artifice and transitory nature of the world we inhabit. The image of the perfect river with jewels for a bed is a common motif in mediaeval texts, such as Dante’s Paradiso, the Travels of Sir John Mandeville, and the romance of Floris and Blanchefleur.


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Taken on October 23, 2011