Rethinking the "Corse in clot": Cleanness, Filth, and Bodily Decay in Pearl

Rethinking the "Corse in clot": Cleanness, Filth, and Bodily Decay in Pearl STuDIESINPHILOLOGY volume105 Fall2008 Number4 by EAR the end of the Dreamer's vision in the Pearl, the Pearl Maiden elucidates a crucial, but critically underinterrogated, relationship between two of the poem's central images, the pearlandthecorpse.Explainingherharmoniouscompanionshipwith theotherpearlmaidens,shedeclaresthat Lasseofblyssemaynonvusbryng Þatberenþysperlevponourebereste, Forþayofmotecouþeneuermynge Ofspotlezperlezþatberenþecreste. Alþaourecorsesinclottezclynge, Anderemenforrauþewythoutenreste, Weþuroutlyhauencnawyng; Ofondethefulourehopeisdrest. For the Maiden, the pearl symbolizes spiritual purity and cleanness. She and her companions in heaven--who are chiefly characterized throughtheirassociationwiththepearlanditsattendantvirtues--are AllquotationsfromPearlandtheotherpoemsinthePearlManuscriptrefertoThe Poems of the Pearl Manuscript: Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,ed. Malcolm Andrew and Ronald Waldron (Exeter: university of Exeter Press, 1987), here lines853­60.Allsubsequentcitationsfromthepoemsarefromthiseditionandwillbe citedparentheticallyinthetextbypoemandlinenumber. 429 ©2008TheuniversityofNorthCarolinaPress unableeventothinkof"mote,"ordiscord,andthusarekeptfreeofany "mote,"orblemish,ontheirspiritualpurity.Intokenofthisincorruptibility,theyappropriatelybear"spotlez"pearls.Andalthoughherreferencetothemaidens'corpsesmayappeartocontraststrikinglywith thisimageofpurity,theMaidenclearlyintendstodrawadifferentkind ofcontrast:betweenthemaidens'heavenlyknowledgeandjoyandthe earthlymatters--theirowncorpsesandtheDreamer'sgrief--thatthey have transcended. From her lofty perspective, the Maiden finds both thecorpsesandthegriefequallyirrelevant,andsheseemstobringup thisdetailatallonlytoillustratefortheDreamerthewidedivergence intheirperspectivesondeath.Sheviewsonly"ondethe"ashavinga claimonherattention:thedeathofChrist,withitsimpliedresurrection andconsequentdefianceofbodilycorruption.Meanwhile,theDreamer "remen[s]forrauþe"atherdemise,languishinginagriefperpetuated by his own, radically different, understanding of the images of pearl andcorpse,bothofwhichheappliestothelostinfantbodythatoccupiesthecenterofhismourning. AlthoughtheMaidenandtheDreamerattimesradicallydisagreein theirinterpretationsofthepearlandthecorpse,theybothtendtolink thetwoimagestogetherinarelationshipthatremainscrucialtoboth characters' understanding of their universe. In her beatific stability, theMaidennaturallyunderstandstheproperrelationshipofthingsaccordingtoChristiandoctrineandneverswaysfromthepositionoutlinedabove.ButfortheDreamer,therelationshipofpearltocorpseis agreatlyvexedissue.LiketheMaiden,heusesthepearlimagetosignifypurityandcleanness,yetheappliesthesecharacteristicsprimarily tohisdaughter'scorporealform.Consequently,heviewstheimageof thecorpseasthecorruptionofthatform--asarepresentationoffilthy putrefactionandimpuritythatseemstodegradeherbodilyperfection. Forhim,thetwoimagesembodyatensionbetweennotionsofcleannessandfilththatisfundamentaltohisgrief,andthismisapprehension provestobeoneofthemainstumblingblocksinhisabilitytoaccept comfort.InorderfortheDreamertoprofitfromhisvisionandtobe enabledtoturnhisattention,astheMaidendoes,tothat"ondethe"that offershimhope,theimagesofpearlandcorpsemustbereconciledand theirattendantconnotationsofcleannessandfilth,recontextualized.I NoteveryonewouldagreethattheDreamerprofitsfromhisvision;notably,David Aers doubts that the Dreamer ever loses the "pervasive individualism" that characterizeshisthoughtthroughthemajorityofthepoem,andfindshiseventualconversionto besuperficial("TheSelfMourning:ReflectionsonPearl"Speculum68[1993]:71).Simi- wouldarguethatthepoem'sexaminationofdeath,grief,andChristian consolationhingesuponthistensionanditsresolution. WithinthistensionIseethecorpseandpearlasbearingequalimportance,yetmostPearlcriticismhastendedtoreplicatetheMaiden's heaven-centered viewpoint, preferring to focus on the symbol of the pearlwhilesettingthecorpseasideaslargelyirrelevanttothemeaning ofthepoem.EvenPatriciaKean,whoremarksthat"nointerpretation whichdoesnottakeaccountofthenew-madegraveofthepoemcanbe seriouslyconsidered,"offersonlyabriefdiscussionofthegraveandthe decayingbody.SincethepublicationofKean'sbookin1967,therehas beenlittlecriticalinterestinthecorpse.Itisoccasionallymentionedin passing,butthereisanotablelackofsustaineddiscussionofthisimage thatisattheheartoftheDreamer's,ifnottheMaiden's,concerns. Thedearthofcriticalinterestinthecorpseseemsespeciallystrikingin thecontextofrecentcriticalreevaluationsoftherelativeimportanceof theDreamer'sandtheMaiden'sperspectives.Increasingly,criticshave larly,SandraPiersonPriorarguesthattheDreamerremainsessentiallyunchanged(The "Pearl"-Poet Revisited[NewYork:Twayne,1994],40­44).Buttheprevailingtrendamong criticshasbeentoviewtheDreamerasbeginningthepoeminastateofspiritualdistress,whichisthenatleastpartiallyremediedbythelessonshelearnsfromhisvision. MostrecentlythisviewisrepresentedbyjimRhodes,althoughhedepartsfromcritical tradition by viewing the Dreamer http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Studies in Philology University of North Carolina Press

Rethinking the "Corse in clot": Cleanness, Filth, and Bodily Decay in Pearl

Studies in Philology, Volume 105 (4) – Oct 2, 2008

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Abstract

STuDIESINPHILOLOGY volume105 Fall2008 Number4 by EAR the end of the Dreamer's vision in the Pearl, the Pearl Maiden elucidates a crucial, but critically underinterrogated, relationship between two of the poem's central images, the pearlandthecorpse.Explainingherharmoniouscompanionshipwith theotherpearlmaidens,shedeclaresthat Lasseofblyssemaynonvusbryng Þatberenþysperlevponourebereste, Forþayofmotecouþeneuermynge Ofspotlezperlezþatberenþecreste. Alþaourecorsesinclottezclynge, Anderemenforrauþewythoutenreste, Weþuroutlyhauencnawyng; Ofondethefulourehopeisdrest. For the Maiden, the pearl symbolizes spiritual purity and cleanness. She and her companions in heaven--who are chiefly characterized throughtheirassociationwiththepearlanditsattendantvirtues--are AllquotationsfromPearlandtheotherpoemsinthePearlManuscriptrefertoThe Poems of the Pearl Manuscript: Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,ed. Malcolm Andrew and Ronald Waldron (Exeter: university of Exeter Press, 1987), here lines853­60.Allsubsequentcitationsfromthepoemsarefromthiseditionandwillbe citedparentheticallyinthetextbypoemandlinenumber. 429 ©2008TheuniversityofNorthCarolinaPress unableeventothinkof"mote,"ordiscord,andthusarekeptfreeofany "mote,"orblemish,ontheirspiritualpurity.Intokenofthisincorruptibility,theyappropriatelybear"spotlez"pearls.Andalthoughherreferencetothemaidens'corpsesmayappeartocontraststrikinglywith thisimageofpurity,theMaidenclearlyintendstodrawadifferentkind ofcontrast:betweenthemaidens'heavenlyknowledgeandjoyandthe earthlymatters--theirowncorpsesandtheDreamer'sgrief--thatthey have transcended. From her lofty perspective, the Maiden finds both thecorpsesandthegriefequallyirrelevant,andsheseemstobringup thisdetailatallonlytoillustratefortheDreamerthewidedivergence intheirperspectivesondeath.Sheviewsonly"ondethe"ashavinga claimonherattention:thedeathofChrist,withitsimpliedresurrection andconsequentdefianceofbodilycorruption.Meanwhile,theDreamer "remen[s]forrauþe"atherdemise,languishinginagriefperpetuated by his own, radically different, understanding of the images of pearl andcorpse,bothofwhichheappliestothelostinfantbodythatoccupiesthecenterofhismourning. AlthoughtheMaidenandtheDreamerattimesradicallydisagreein theirinterpretationsofthepearlandthecorpse,theybothtendtolink thetwoimagestogetherinarelationshipthatremainscrucialtoboth characters' understanding of their universe. In her beatific stability, theMaidennaturallyunderstandstheproperrelationshipofthingsaccordingtoChristiandoctrineandneverswaysfromthepositionoutlinedabove.ButfortheDreamer,therelationshipofpearltocorpseis agreatlyvexedissue.LiketheMaiden,heusesthepearlimagetosignifypurityandcleanness,yetheappliesthesecharacteristicsprimarily tohisdaughter'scorporealform.Consequently,heviewstheimageof thecorpseasthecorruptionofthatform--asarepresentationoffilthy putrefactionandimpuritythatseemstodegradeherbodilyperfection. Forhim,thetwoimagesembodyatensionbetweennotionsofcleannessandfilththatisfundamentaltohisgrief,andthismisapprehension provestobeoneofthemainstumblingblocksinhisabilitytoaccept comfort.InorderfortheDreamertoprofitfromhisvisionandtobe enabledtoturnhisattention,astheMaidendoes,tothat"ondethe"that offershimhope,theimagesofpearlandcorpsemustbereconciledand theirattendantconnotationsofcleannessandfilth,recontextualized.I NoteveryonewouldagreethattheDreamerprofitsfromhisvision;notably,David Aers doubts that the Dreamer ever loses the "pervasive individualism" that characterizeshisthoughtthroughthemajorityofthepoem,andfindshiseventualconversionto besuperficial("TheSelfMourning:ReflectionsonPearl"Speculum68[1993]:71).Simi- wouldarguethatthepoem'sexaminationofdeath,grief,andChristian consolationhingesuponthistensionanditsresolution. WithinthistensionIseethecorpseandpearlasbearingequalimportance,yetmostPearlcriticismhastendedtoreplicatetheMaiden's heaven-centered viewpoint, preferring to focus on the symbol of the pearlwhilesettingthecorpseasideaslargelyirrelevanttothemeaning ofthepoem.EvenPatriciaKean,whoremarksthat"nointerpretation whichdoesnottakeaccountofthenew-madegraveofthepoemcanbe seriouslyconsidered,"offersonlyabriefdiscussionofthegraveandthe decayingbody.SincethepublicationofKean'sbookin1967,therehas beenlittlecriticalinterestinthecorpse.Itisoccasionallymentionedin passing,butthereisanotablelackofsustaineddiscussionofthisimage thatisattheheartoftheDreamer's,ifnottheMaiden's,concerns. Thedearthofcriticalinterestinthecorpseseemsespeciallystrikingin thecontextofrecentcriticalreevaluationsoftherelativeimportanceof theDreamer'sandtheMaiden'sperspectives.Increasingly,criticshave larly,SandraPiersonPriorarguesthattheDreamerremainsessentiallyunchanged(The "Pearl"-Poet Revisited[NewYork:Twayne,1994],40­44).Buttheprevailingtrendamong criticshasbeentoviewtheDreamerasbeginningthepoeminastateofspiritualdistress,whichisthenatleastpartiallyremediedbythelessonshelearnsfromhisvision. MostrecentlythisviewisrepresentedbyjimRhodes,althoughhedepartsfromcritical tradition by viewing the Dreamer

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Studies in PhilologyUniversity of North Carolina Press

Published: Oct 2, 2008

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