The Book of Revelation and the “Pearl” Poem Essay
It is important to note that the literature of the Middle Ages was largely influenced by Christian beliefs. Poets often resorted to biblical stories and symbols. They often tried to glorify major Christian values providing various parallels.
Thus, the poem Pearl can be regarded as a kind of didactic narrative based on the Book of Revelation. It is possible to trace several parallels between the poem and the Book of Revelation: numerical symbolism, the idea of people’s resignation and the idea of revelation.
Due to these three parallels, the poem can be regarded as a medieval symbolic periphrasis of the Book of Revelation.
In the first place, it is necessary to note that the poem is triadic in form (Lambdin and Lambdin 96). Thus, there are three settings: factual garden where the knight is looking for his pearl, the garden in his dream where he speaks with the Lady and the view of the New Jerusalem.
Thus, Lambdin and Lambdin state that the garden where the knight is talking with the Lady is a setting-within-a-setting, and that the New Jerusalem serves as a setting-within-a-setting-within-a-setting because the dreamer views it from a position within the first dream landscape. (96)
Admittedly, the number three has a great significance in the Christian culture. This number stands for the Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Of course, the use of the number in the poem of the Middle Ages is not surprising as many poets of that time resorted to this number.
One of the best examples of this tradition is the number of trials the main characters, knights, had to complete. There always were three victories to be achieved.
Nonetheless, the poem under consideration is rather unique as the author exploits the number in such a specific way. Thus, the author creates three dimensions where the protagonist has to find himself to reach the truth.
These three dimensions can also be associated with the Trinity as they represent the humanness, spirituality and the divine truth. The protagonist has to spend some time in the three dimensions to find his pearl which stands for the divine truth: “Where dwells that dearest, as I ween, / My precious pearl without a spot” (Tolkien 125). It is but natural that he perceives the truth at the end of his journey throughout the three dimensions.
Apart from the numerical symbolism, it is possible to trace the influence of the Book of Revelation in terms of the idea of human’s resignation. In fact, this idea is central to Christianity as major postulates of Christianity are concerned with people’s resignation.
It is acknowledged that people should clearly understand what their place in this world is. Pearl also touches upon the idea of resignation. Thus, the author dwells upon the “beauty of purity and perfection” (Andrew and Waldron 30).
The author provides a long dialogue between the man and the mysterious Lady. The Lady speaks of resignation and the glory of God.
Thus, the author provides a rhetoric question: “What greater glory could to him belong / Than king to be crowned be courtesy?” (Tolkien 141). Admittedly, courtesy and purity are regarded as some of the most important characteristic features of rightful people.
The Lady makes the knight understand one of the major postulates of Christianity: “To their body doth loyalty true unite, So as limbs to their Master mystical / All Christian souls belong by right (Tolkien 140).
Thus, the author emphasizes the necessity to accept the simple truth that people are nothing more than creations of God. Andrew and Waldron point out that the poem reveals the transformation of a mere human into a rightful man who possesses the greatest pearl, i.e. the truth (30).
Admittedly, the idea of resignation is also central to the Book of Revelation which predicts the future of humanity. Thus, in the Book of Revelation only rightful people, who accept their status, can be saved.
Only those who resign to God can be saved. It is also important to note that it is only when the dreamer acknowledges and accepts his status, he is permitted to see the New Jerusalem:
…As John the apostle it did view,
I saw that city of great renown,
Jerusalem royally arrayed and new (Tolkien 159).
In fact, this is an allegorical representation of the revelation. The medieval author reveals the way people can achieve revelation: it is necessary to understand what humans really are.
When it comes to the idea of revelation, the parallels are almost overt. In the first place, the author of the Pearl portrays the New Jerusalem which was promised to rightful people after the apocalypse. Many scholars have argued that the depiction of the city in Pearl is somewhat unusual (Andrew and Waldron 31).
Admittedly, it differs from the Biblical descriptions as wells as later depictions of the New Jerusalem. It is somewhat brighter. It is important to note that the poem was created at the time when the catastrophic aftermaths of the Black Plague were still in people’s memory.
Perhaps, this fact influenced the author’s perception of the biblical motives. In fact, this point is really meaningful as it justifies the argument that Pearl is medieval interpretation of the Book of Revelation.
Interestingly, the author contemplates the major Christian values accepting every instance. Thus, the author preaches that people should resign to God’s will and work hard to be able to tread the land of the New Jerusalem.
The author also contemplates sins that can prevent many people from achieving their revelation. The author also alludes to the pictures of apocalypse revealed in the Book of Revelation. However, at the same time, it is clear that people’s perception of the Christian beliefs changed.
Thus, the Pearl is not concerned with punishment which was one of the central motives in the Middle Ages. The author focuses on the beauty of Christianity and the glory of God. The author glorifies God’s kindness.
Remarkably, this makes the poem that important as it is one of the literary works that reveal transformation in religious beliefs in Europe in the Middle Ages.
On balance, it is possible to point out that Pearl can be regarded as a medieval interpretation of the Book of Revelation. In the first place, the book touches upon the major themes revealed in the Book of Revelation.
Thus, Pearl is mainly concerned with the idea of resignation and revelation. More so, the parallels between the two works can be traced on the level of numerical symbols as the two works exploit such symbols extensively.
In Pearl the number three plays an important role. However, the most important peculiarity of the poem is that it reveals the transformation of some central Christian values.
Thus, the author tells the story revealed in the Book of Revelation, but focuses on the beauty of Christianity and God’s glory, rather than on the idea of punishment which was common for the Dark Ages.
Andrew, Malcolm, and R. Waldron. The Poems of the Pearl Manuscript, Berkely, CA: University of California Press, 1982. Print.
Lambdin, Laura.C., and R.T. Lambdin. Arthurian Writers: A Bibliographical Encyclopedia, Westport, CT: ABC-CLIO, 2008. Print.
Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; Pearl; [and] Sir Orfeo, New York, NY: Del Rey, 1979. Print.
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