Alliterative Poems of Middle English Period: ‘Pearl’, ‘Purity’, ‘Patience’ and ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’


After the Norman Conquest the French Influence rendered great impact on literature and rhymed verse gained ascendancy. It is after the victories of King Edward – III in France a national self consciousness as well as a new enthusiasm for the English tongue becomes prominent. In schools and colleges and law courts English started to displace the French. In 1362 parliament was opened in English language. As the result of all these old English verse form revives again in the Middle English period. Roughly between the year 1350 and 1400 there appears a number of poem which bring an unbroken development of old English all iterative verse. In colossians manuscript we get four remarkable poems written in west midland dialect. They are ‘Pearl’, ‘Purity’, ‘Patience’ and ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’. It is supposed that these poems are written by the same poet.

Pearl:-It is a poem of 1200 lines. The total poem is divided into 110 stanzas of 12 lines each. It is a kind of dream poem. The poet has lost his two years old daughter. One august day the poet falls asleep on the grave and in dream he meets with his dead daughter dressed in white with ornaments of pearl. The poet wants to cross the river in order to unite with her but she says that after the fall of Adam the river only can be crossed after death. His daughter consoles him and asks her to surrender the God. His dream breaks and the poet rises having new spiritual realization. The poem is takes both as an allegory and as an elegy. In symbolize the Christian faith and Eucharist as well as a typical elegy the poem treats the personal loss of the poet and his lamentation. A. C. Rickett – “In its external love lines and ever more in its deeper spiritual beauty and themes sufficient reason for most patient and devoted study of “The vita Nova of our layuage”. 

Patience :-It is a poem of 531 lines. Basically it is a poetical paraphrase of the book of Jonah, and the gourd in the Bible exalting of patience.

Purity :-It is a collection of Bible stories in which the poet shows the impossibility to approach God without purity. It shows how greatly God is displeased at every kind of impurity and how sudden and severe is the punishment meted out for offence against the divine Laws.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:-It comes from ‘colossians manuscript’- poems written in west midland dialect. It supposed that these poems are written by the same poet. It is a poem of 2530 lines. The poem basically belongs to Arthurian romance. The stories of the poem open with the – appearance if a green knight riding a green horse to King Arthur’s court at Camelot. He challenges the knight to strike of his head with the blow of his great are on condition to receive the similar blow after a year from him after finding him out. When hesitation is going on Sir Gawain accepts the challenge and strikes of his head of the Green Knight leaves the court picking up his severed head. After a year according to the promise Gawain sets out in search of the Green Knight and a after a long wandering through wilderness he reaches a castle and he learns that his good is near hand. Each morning the lord of the castle goes off to hunt white the beautiful wife of the lord tries to tempt him but Gawain remains pure resisting all temptation. Finally he receives from her a green girdle. The lord of the castle proves to be the Green Knight and the blow from him only slightly cuts him skin. In shame Gawain throws the Green girdle but green knight presents it as a free gift and Gawain returns to Arthur’s court and tell the Knights the whole story. The poem to remarkable for several reasons –

(I)                 The Romance show’s close acquaintance with the courtly life the epic and combined with a lyrical clement.

(II)              It is remarkable also for the deep and tender love of nature displayed thought out the poem and some of its most delightful passages describe the charms of wild scenery

(III)            It display’s an intimate knowledge of medieval craftsmanship and art.

(IV)       It shows literary power in its treatment of the story of the story of the story avoiding monotony and repetition with great skill.

Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert,      
     2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature
      3. Microsoft Students’ Encarta


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