By the end of the stanza her twelve lines still represent the twelveline stanza of the original. It is a rare model of how to modernise and be faithful at the same time.
But of course there is something even more important than form in the definition of a great poem. Since its first commentators in the nineteenth century it has been recognised that Pearl has greatness in subject and imagination, and in an unusual way. The poem is a religious dream vision, but it is also an elegy for a dead two-year-old daughter by a father sorrowing in his ‘doel-dongeon’, his ‘prison of sorrow’. In this way it immediately invites comparison with other bereaved English poetic fathers, Ben Jonson or Wordsworth. And, though the narrative of the poem describes how the father comes gradually to an understanding of the working of God’s justice through a visionary exchange with the radiant spirit of this lost daughter, he is never reconciled and the abiding feeling is of sombre regret. In genre it is a consolatio, but it does not cancel the deeply mourning sentiments that the consolation addresses: the narrator reminds his spiritual instructress
Of care and me ye made acorde, That er was grounde of alle my blysse. (371–2) In Draycott’s version:
remember this: that it was you who first acquainted me with sorrow, you who’d been the source of all my bliss. It is hard to describe how the poet of Pearl achieves this double perspective of accepting faith and enduring human attachment by the end of the poem. The poet awakes at the end, but still lying on his daughter’s grave (represented as a mound of earth into which a precious pearl has slipped out of his grasp) and now thinking back to the otherworldly, paradisal vision in the course of which the transfigured child has reassured him. It is not easy, either, to give a human voice to the visionary maiden as she instructs the dreamer about the justice of God’s actions. The relationship between the two figures in the poem is a complex one, and not just because it is presented in both earthly and supernatural terms. It is the relationship between father and daughter, with an idea of parental care; but it is also a dialogue between the daughter as ‘a soul in bliss’ (the recognition scene in King Lear comes to mind) and the father in his
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