The duality of the spiritual/divine and the material
the 'Pearl' poem

Hauptseminar: 'Middle English Dream Visions'
Dozent: Dr. R. Holtei
Sommersemester 1996

I. Introduction  
i. methods and devices of interpretation
II. The spiritual and the material  
i. Pearl: jewel -> maiden -> soul
ii. Paradise: 'erber' -> earthly paradise -> Heaven
iii. Love: dreamer -> Heavenly Lover (Jesus)
iv. Jerusalem: old and new
III. Conclusion  
IV. Bibliography  

I. Introduction

Ever since 'Pearl' was first published in 1864 for the modern world the poem has been a constant subject of considerable research and disputes about its origins and interpretations. What can one say about a poem which was written six centuries ago, in a time that was so different from ours? Many scholars have argued whether the 'Pearl' was an elegy on the death of a loved child, an allegory on theological debates or a consolatio.

Of course, a lot of scholars have also debated about the spiritual and the material duality in and of the 'Pearl', and this is the subject of the following term paper. Philosophers both classical like Boethius and medieval like Thomas Aquinas had different opinions about spirituality and materiality.

While using four examples from the 'Pearl' poem, namely the

i. meaning of pearl: jewel -> maiden -> soul
ii. meaning of paradise: 'erber' -> earthly paradise ->Heaven
iii. meaning of love: dreamer and Jesus
iv. meaning of Jerusalem: old and new

I want to show the duality of the spiritual and the material (physical). In these four examples, I want to prove that the author deliberately used a threefold division to create the resulting sum of 'twelve' as the important and recurring numerical symbol of the pearl.

But before analyzing the presented subject, here are some directions to the methods I used: first, we will look into the three above mentioned examples taken from the 'Pearl' text from the spiritual and the material point of view.
Moreover, I deliberately used the alchemistic word 'materiality' instead of materialism for the word materialism has too many economical and political connotations to it. The next step is to investigate whether the author deliberately used ambigious images to show that the old alchemistic lore 'As above, so below' was still valid during the late fourteenth century and that the author kept closely to the mysterical number 'twelve' and arranged the 'Pearl' text around this particular number.

This particular method forces me to ignore the immediate interpretation of 'The Pearl' text itself and especially the scheme of word-links.

A last remark is made here on the quotations in this paper, all Middle English quotations are from the standard edition by E.V. Gordon, the English translations underneath the original texts have been translated by myself. Some primary and secondary literature will occur quite often, especially the 'Pearl' I have shortened to the Italic signet TP. Single words quoted from the text are also written in Italics , followed by chapters and lines. Latin numerals following the titles or signets mark either books, chapters or stanzas, Arabic numerals mark either lines or pages.
Unfortunately, I realized too late that the chosen form of presentation of the four examples is in an arbitrary order. The arrangement would have beenbetter beginning with the 'erber' than followed by pearl and Heaven (as this is the division used in the poem) but because of lack of time, I used this particular order.

II. The spiritual and the material

Spirituality has always been connected with gods and deities. In the early times of mankind it had the shroud of forbiddeness around it. Only those who were learned in the ancient magics or rituals were allowed to participate or discuss spirituality.
Later, when Greek and Roman philosophers sought a new way of explaining the world with its mechanisms as how the worldly and heavenly orders worked, spirituality was a way to explain the unexplained regions of mankind, i.e. the corpereal substance (body, ratio) versus the ethereal substance (soul, emotions) of all beings and things. Christian theologicans tried to combine these concepts with the Christian belief. They did not only distinguish between two contrasting schemes, i.e. spirituality and materiality, but they had two threefold divisions: the corporeal, the spiritual and the divine and the literal, the symbolic and the mystical.
Materiality was more easily defined. Everything that existed and could be seen and touched was material. Man was very much part of this, inevitably linked to the material.(Of course, some philosophers denied this as well but this is not the subject of this paper).

i. Pearl: jewel -> maiden -> soul

The image of the pearl whether seen as a symbol for spirituality and the soul or as the material image of a jewel and wealth is in itself ambigious. The pearl symbol is not static but dynamic: its meaning develops not only in our everyday life but also in the poem as the text unfolds itself when reading it. The first impression the reader/audience gets of the 'Pearl' is that of a priceless pearl without fault:

  "I dewyne, fordolked of luf-daungere,  
  Of žat pryuy perle withouten spot."  
(TP, I, ll. 11-12)
  (I pine away, wounded by the power of love,  
  for my pearl without a spot.)  

This last line of the first stanza is repeated at the end of each line of the opening stanza-group of the first book/chapter of the 'Pearl' poem to emphasize the wordly part of the meaning. In the poem the dreamer the first-person narrator) explains that this pearl was not only a piece of jewelry but he uses this imagery as a metaphor forhis dead child or loved one.

Here, the pearl begins its transcending journey from a natural objet d'art to a more philosophical meaning:
  "Syžen in žat spote hit fro me sprange,  
  Ofte haf I wayted wyschande žat wele  
  žat wont wat whyle deuoyde my wrange  
  And heuen my happe and al my hele -  
  To ženke hir color so clad in clot!  
  O moul, žou marrez a myry juele,  
  My priury perle withouten spotte."  
(TP, I, ll. 13 - 24)
  (Here in this spot she came from me,  
  often I have waited and pined to glean that pearl  
  brought happiness and health.  
  In dreams of her though wrapped in rot,  
  Oh Earth, you rob a rich and rare  
  and precious pearl without a spot.)  

While the story unfolds itself, the reader soon finds out that there is more to discover about the pearl image than one might think at first. The dreamer insists that the pearl he had lost is his child who had the fair and shining complexion of a pearl and denies that there is something ethereal which he cannot properly grasp with his ratio.

But let me return to the spirituality of the pearl symbol: the image of the pearl which transcends from the mere shell of materiality, becomes something more ethereal and hard to understand in the second part of the poem ( from ll. 271 ff.). During the dream of the jeweller in which he converses with the pearlmaiden, it becomes clear that the pearl symbol turns into a philosophical and theological concept, i.e. the soul. While the dreamer mourns not entirely for his loved one but more for the material jewel he has lost, for he calls himself a jeweller now (TP, V, l. 25). This emphasizes his feeling that the child/maiden is his own, as the pearl is the property of a jeweller. Though the dreamer/jeweller now claims that he is the rightful owner to the pearl, in the spiritual way he is not. He owned the mortal body but not the immortal pearl, i.e. the soul. The maiden reprimands him and tries to make him understand the difference:

  "Bot, jueler gente, if žou schal lose  
  žy joy for a gemme žat že watz lef,  
  Me žynk že put in a mad porpose,  
  And busyez že aboute a raysoun bref;"  
(TP, V, ll.265-268)
  (But gentle jeweller since you lose  
  your joy because you lost a gem,  
  I think you follow a mad purpose  
  and busy yourself with a momentary whim.)  

The maiden tries to show that although it is important to believe in the material side of all things, it is important as to appreciate the spiritual and eventually the divine side of things. True joy cannot be experienced from material/worldly things and if someone does so, his/her reason (or ratio) is used in a mad or unreasonable manner, for although man can use his reason, he has to abide God's law.

Furthermore, she explains that the material aspect of a thing or being is only important if combined with God's grace and forgiveness:
  "For žat žou lestez watz bot a rose  
  žat flowred and foyled as leynde hyt gef;  
  now žur kynde of že kyste žat hyt con close  
  To a perle of prys hit is put in pref."  
(TP, V, ll.269-272)
  (For what you lost was but a rose  
  that flowered and finally withered in time.  
  Now healed within this heavenly abode,  
  and became a blessed pearl of beauty.)  

But the subtleties of this concept are lost on the dreamer for although he accepts what the maiden has said (TP, V, ll. 277ff.) he thinks that he can reclaim his 'perle' (TP, V,l. 258) in a worldly manner.

Here, the two concepts of the spiritual and the material symbol of the pearl are seemingly at war with each other. The maiden represents the spiritual side of all things and beings, i.e. the Lord, Trinity and soul, whereas the jeweller who cannot understand that the pearl they are talking about is represented in both worlds, refuses to the spiritual side of it and appreciates only the very 'down to earth' image of the pearl, i.e. wealth, he very much belongs to the material world.

But the jeweller is somewhat obstinate and does not want to understand (perhaps the dreamer was a little too exaggerated by the author, i.e. dreamer in dream visions are always naive and not too 'bright'), as if the author wanted to confront his contemporaries with their own mirror-images, of wanting 'more' (TP, III, ll.135.136) of worldly fortune.
The material world and the spiritual (combined with the divine) represented by the world (jewel) and the pearl (maiden and soul) are connected with each other to the point where the spiritual pearl leaves the corporeal pearl behind to enter Heaven. The maiden incorporates both the spirituality of man and also the Divine, for the soul was created by God and is in itself part of the Lord and his power. The pearl transcends through three stages (that of jewel, child, maiden) until it reaches the divine.

The transcending journey of the spiritual and the material

Illustration No. 1

ii. Paradise: 'erber' -> earthly paradise -> Heaven

The paradise concept can be divided into three stages: the earthly 'erber' as an imperfect locus amoenus, the earthly paradise which is the paradisus terrestris of the dream and the Heavenly Paradise, the paradisus coelestis of the new order.
The 'erber' described in the beginning of the poem is a very earthly garden: with 'gresse' (TP, I, l.10) and a lot of colourful herbs and flowers (TP, I,ll.25-27). It seems as if it is a garden that one can still find in the countryside and moreover, could have been found during medieval times. The beauty of the garden or 'erber' is savagely connected with decay and death (the eventual destiny of mankind) for although the garden is in full bloom:

  "Gilofre, gyngure, and gromylyoun,  
  and pyonys powdered ay bytwene."  
(TP, I, ll. 43-44)
  (Gillyflower, ginger and gromwell bred  
  and peonies in between.)  

and ready to be harvested "Quene corne is coruen wyth croke kene" (TP, I, l.40) the author makes clear that this is not a perfect setting but an earthly image of the locus amoenus where decay fulfills the cycle of life on earth. The garden which is synonymous with the world, is a place of sorrow, hardship and yet of considerable beauty which foreshadows the Heavenly 'erber' in the dream proper. In the garden, the pearl was lost, and yet she can be found in a different form in the next step, beauty returning to beauty. The garden in the dream looks familiar at first but soon the dreamer findsout that there are differences; that the surrounding landscape has an unearthly touch:

  "Holtewodez bry t aboute hem bydez  
  Of bolle as blwe as ble of Ynde;  
  As bornyst syluer že lef on slydez,"  
(TP, II, ll. 75-77)
  (Below each, far forests were  
  of boles blue as the ink of India  
  as lovely silver the leaves were laced.)  

The dreamer cannot detect any hints of decay, only beauty. The only evil which is apparent comes from the dreamer himself as he wanders through the garden (TP, III, ll.151-154). After some hesitant remarks about being in 'paradyse' (TP,III, l.137), the dreamer ackowledges 'Eden'. But he onlyexperiences the 'paradisus terrestris', the earthly paradise, still a world apart from the 'real' paradise on the other side of the river. But this transition marks the final step towards the Heavenly Paradise(paradisus coelestis) and the change of the dreamer's state of mind. Although the dreamer is now onan elevated sphere between the material (Earth) and the spiritual (Heaven) he remains connected tothe material. In order to enter the Heavenly Paradise he has to cross the river which he cannot forhe is still material body.

However, he is granted a glimpse of the 'paradisus coelestis' in his vision. The superior beauty of this divine world is highly emphasized by the author:
  "I stod as stylle as dased quayle  
  For ferly of žat frelich fygure,  
  žat felde I naw er reste ne trauayle,  
  So watz I ravyste with glymme pure.  
  For I dar say with conciens sure,  
  Hade bodyly burne abiden žat bone,  
  ža alle clerkez hym hade in cure,  
  His lyf mer loste anvnder moone."  
(TP, XVIII, ll1085-1092)
  (I stood as still as a dazed quail  
  for that fair and noble figure,  
  that I felt neither rest nor hardship  
  I was so ravished by that pure radiance  
  for I say with pure conscience/mind  
  had a mortal body born that boon  
  that all clerks could find no cure  
  for his life were lost beneath the moon.)  

The dreamer is awestruck by the beauty of this place which he is hardly able to describe. Here, true spirituality resides to which man has no entry. The ethereal realm remains closed to him and he is granted only a vision. The Heavenly Paradise and the Heavenly City are the concepts of the spiritual meaning of the garden because there are the same components (trees, flowers, etc) but composed in another differrent manner.

The concept of the author's division is closely connected to the ancient lores of alchemy and magic. One is reminded of illustrations of a triangle surrounding the eye of God. I have used this very image (minus the eye) to illustrate the hierarchal structure of the different spheres of the 'erber' scenes in the dream proper.

The three stages/spheres of the garden
Illustration No. 2

iii. Love: dreamer - Heavenly Prince (Jesus)

Just as the material and the spiritual are reflected in the pearl symbol and the threefold paradise concept, there is a certain ambiguity in the way that the dreamer and the Heavenly Prince mourn respectively courts the pearl-maiden. Both, dreamer and Heavenly Prince, use the conventional language of courtly love. The dreamer, e.g. uses the concept of courtly love as he grieves for his pearl:
  "I dewyne, fordolked of luf-daungere  
  Of žat pryuy perle withouten spot."  
(TP,I, ll.11-12)
  (I pine wounded ba the power of love,  
  for my pearl without a spot.)  

Here, he pines like a young man for a lost loved one. The author uses the courtly love language to create compassion so that the reader/audience can relate to the state of loss the dreamer is in.
Moreover, the dreamer treats the maiden reverently as he encounters her for the first time:

  "To calle hyr lyste con me enchace  
  Bot baysment gef myn hert a brunt;"  
(TP, III, ll.173-174)
  (To call her nearer I desired  
  but my amazement made my heart miss a beat.)  

He desires to call out to her but bewilderment disturbs his heartbeat. Like a lover would with his loved one he describes the maiden until full recognition sets in of what she really is. The courtly love conceptalthough used in medieval times to seduce spiritually , here is the representative of the material world.
It is not surprising that the dreamer would use a concept that is unmistakably bound to his material world but Jesus as the Heavenly Prince woos and marries the maiden with the words of a lover in medieval romance:

  "Cum hyder to me, my lemman sweete,  
  For mote ne spot is non in the."  
(TP, XIII, ll.763-764)
  (Come hither to me, my sweet love  
  for there is not a fault in you.)  

Of course, the meaning of these words are totally spiritual, i.e. the most important moment for Christians when their souls are redeemed. Only the words, not their meaning belong to the material world whereas the act of redemption belongs purely to the realm of spirituality. Here, St. Bonaventure's threefold division of the literal (dreamer mourning his love and child), the symbolic (Jesus wooing the pearl-maiden) and the mystical (redemption of man's soul can be used.

It enhances the duality of the spiritual and the material in the symbol of love, for it explains the three spheres of man's understanding of love, that of the physical love between man and woman, the spiritual love of man to the Lord and the divine love of God and the Lamb towards the soul.

iv. Jerusalem: old and new

The vision of Jerusalem which the dreamer experiences in thelast part of his visio, which is in fact a vision of a vision encountered by St. John, represents the Heavenly Kingdom. The perfect state which cannot be found on Earth. And although it is described as an outlandish sight, it is the symbol for the Jerusalem of the material and the spiritual world as well.

The actual Jerusalem of the late fourteenth century was very much a city like any other in the Western and Far Eastern world. After the decline of the kingdoms of the crusaders in the twelfth and thirteenth century, Egyptian-Turkish nobles took over the supremacy of the city. The Christian influence was only to be found in the Christian quarter of Jerusalem where Franscican monks tended the grave of Christ. The Western World had little to no influence and interest in this city and it seemed as if it existed only in the imagination of people as the Jerusalem of ancient times where David, Herodes and Jesus Christ lived and created mysteries for the Westen and Far Eastern World. Jerusalem was the actual place where Jesus Christ gave his own life to wash away the sins of man:

  " žat is žet cyté žat the Lombe condfonde  
  To soffer inne sor for manez sake,  
  že olde Jerusalem to vnderstonde,  
  for žere že olde gulte watz don slake."  
(TP,XVI, ll 939-942)
  (That is the city in which the Lamb could be found  
  to suffer for man's sake,  
  and it is known as Old Jerusalem,  
  there he took away all sin and guilt.)  

The Jerusalem of the late fourteenth century had little to do with the Jerusalem of the Old and New Testament where it was depicted as the ancient city of David and the martyrdom of Jesus Christ.
People had a somewhat pre-conceived image of Jerusalem which was in a material fashion. They either saw it as the Jerusalem of old which did not exist any longer or as the Jerusalem of their own time which declined more and more.

The dreamer, however, is granted a different sight of Jerusalem, that is the Heavenly City as it is described in the Apocalypse of the apostle John:

  "By onde že brok, fro me warde keued,  
  žat schyrrer žen sunne with schaftez schon.  
  In že Apocalypse is že fasoun preued,  
  As deuysez hit žet apostel John."  
(TP, XVII, ll. 981-984)
  (Beyond the brooke, near a hill's head,  
  that city then shone in the sun.  
  In the Apocalypse is the fashion shown  
  as apostle John described it.)  

Here, the divine Jerusalem emerges from the more material and spiritual Jerusalem of the earthly abode. The author portrays the city of Jerusalem as threefold, meaning the Jerusalem of the late fourteenth century as the material city, the Jerusalem of old as the city belonging to the spiritual and the Heavenly City as the divine.

II. Conclusion

One can say that the 'Pearl' poem portrays beautifully the duality of both spiritual and material.
The author was well aware of the difficulties this might create but nevertheless he shows that the material things are always reflected in the spiritual. The old proverb 'As above, so below' which I mentioned earlier in the introduction was, and from my point of view still is, valid for this poem as well as for the world we live in though the theological aspects of spirituality and materiality have shifted considerably over the last decades.

All four examples from the text show the progression of man and the soul from the secular and material to the spiritual and eventually the divine sphere. Both, secular and divine connotations are made for the pearl, the 'erber', the love concept and Jerusalem. They work parallel to and with each other to roughly equate man's three sources of awareness: material (Earth, body), spiritual (intellect, inspiration)

and divine (Heaven, the Lord). Spirituality and materiality are dynamic forces which are inseparably associated with each other. They reflect each other, if one is missing the world is incomplete like a body lacking the mind and vice versa.
Man can use both aspects, i.e. materiality and spirituality combined with the divine, actively and also interchangably and the author of the poem has done so artistically. By chosing the pearl symbol which is in itself dual, i.e. symbol for the soul, God's grace, purity, innocence and the Heavenly orders on the spiritual side and the symbol of wealth and beauty on the material side, gives the whole existing world above and below an ambigious meaning.

The pearl in the poem is a metaphor for the soul which cannot be seen when residing in a living body below and yet if this body dies it is set free to join the Lord above. Like the real pearl which is hidden deep inside the oyster's flesh, far away from the eyes and the mind of the beholder, it reveals itself when the oyster dies (i.e. is eaten).
The same with the garden symbol. It has the threefold division just like the pearl symbol. The 'erber' of the first part of the poem represents the world, the earthly paradise portrays the spiritual side of man and the world where he is enabled to gain higher awareness of mind and the paradisus coelestis shows the eventual destiny of man's life, i.e. the redemption of the soul.

The threefold division of the material and the spiritual/divine can be found throughout the 'Pearl' poem and it portrays the deeply rooted obsession of the author with the Trinity and by square four (the four examples from this term paper), with the number 'twelve', which occurs everywhere in the poem. In alchemistic lore the number 'twelve' represents the four elements and cardinal points, i.e. Earth-North, Air-East, Fire-South and Water-West, and the basic principles (salt, sulphur and mercury).

Moreover, in Christian lore the number 'twelve' plays also an important role exhibiting the symbol of wholeness and perfection, i.e. the soul. It is depicting the perfection of God's creation, represented in the number 'twelve' and the symbol of the pearl.

Concluding, one can say that the 'Pearl' poem reflects the transition of man and soul to a higher elevated, divine state of being. The very structure of the poem reflects this transition of the worldly view of a lost transitory good in the terms of the material; while during the dream proper it elevates to the spiritual (dialogue with the pearl-maiden) and, last but not least, presents itself (in its closing scene) as the divine, that of the soul.
The pearl never changes its shape or origin; man decides whether it is a small stone enamelled with mother-of-pearl turned into something beautiful which belongs to the material world or the symbol of something ethereal and divine belonging to the spiritual world.

IV. Bibliography

Primary Literature    
1. Anderson, J.J., ed.: 'Sir Gawain And the Green Knight', compl.  
  with Pearl, Cleanness & Purity  
  Everyman Edition, 1991 (re-issue)  
2. Gordon, E.V., ed.: 'Pearl', Oxford University Press, 1953  
Secondary Literature    
1. Aquinas, Thomas: 'Summa Theologica', Vol. One,  
  William Benton Publisher, Encyclopaedia  
  Britannica Inc., London 1972  
2. Blenkner, Louis: 'The Theological Structure Of Pearl', from  
  Traditio, XXIV, Fordham University Press 1968  
3. Bonaventure, St.: 'The Mind's Road To God', Opera Omnia  
  translated by George Boas, New York, 1953  
4. Finch, Casey: 'Incarnational Art', from The Complete  
  Works Of The Pearl Author, 1990  
5. Hillmann, Mary: 'Some Debatable Words In Pearl...', from  
  The Middle English Pearl, ed. by John  
  Conley, University of Notre Dame Press,  
  London, 1972  
6. Stern, Milton: 'An Approach To Pearl', from The Middle  
  English Pearl, ed. by John Conley  
University of Notre Dame Press, London,1972  

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