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Complete Works of the Gawain-Pearl Poet: Pearl; Purity (or Cleanness);…

by Casey Finch

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Of the five poems contained in this book, two are acknowledgedmasterpieces. The plot of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, anArthurian romance, brilliantly interweaves elements of suspense andhigh comedy. Pearl, a dream vision, presents its poignant story of theeducation of a misguided Christian soul in metrically intricate andverbally ornate stanzas that add up to an overarching numericaldesign. Together with these two, Patience, Cleanness, and SaintErkenwald make up the complete works of their anonymous author. Allexhibit the dramatizing powers and metrical virtuosity of amaster-poet. But none became part of the established literary canonuntil the second half of the nineteenth century, when the singlemanuscript copies in which they survive were edited and printed.Taken together, these works offer us a wide-ranging portrait oflife in the late Middle Ages from the point of view of anindependent-minded, learned, and cosmopolitan Englishman, a man asconversant with the conduct of life in great households as withChristian tradition and doctrine. He knew, among other things, howto sail a medieval passenger ship from its mooring to open sea, howto dress the carcass of a deer or a boar at the end of a royalhunt, and how a knight might flatter a noble and beautiful lady inthe most intimate of situations while politely evading herseductive overtures.… (more)
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Of the five poems contained in this book, two are acknowledgedmasterpieces. The plot of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, anArthurian romance, brilliantly interweaves elements of suspense andhigh comedy. Pearl, a dream vision, presents its poignant story of theeducation of a misguided Christian soul in metrically intricate andverbally ornate stanzas that add up to an overarching numericaldesign. Together with these two, Patience, Cleanness, and SaintErkenwald make up the complete works of their anonymous author. Allexhibit the dramatizing powers and metrical virtuosity of amaster-poet. But none became part of the established literary canonuntil the second half of the nineteenth century, when the singlemanuscript copies in which they survive were edited and printed.Taken together, these works offer us a wide-ranging portrait oflife in the late Middle Ages from the point of view of anindependent-minded, learned, and cosmopolitan Englishman, a man asconversant with the conduct of life in great households as withChristian tradition and doctrine. He knew, among other things, howto sail a medieval passenger ship from its mooring to open sea, howto dress the carcass of a deer or a boar at the end of a royalhunt, and how a knight might flatter a noble and beautiful lady inthe most intimate of situations while politely evading herseductive overtures.

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