Featured Poem

Pearl (extract)

1

One thing I know for certain: that she
was peerless, pearl who would have added
light to any prince's life,
however bright with gold. None
could touch the way she shone
in any light, so smooth, so small –
she was a jewel above all others.
So pity me the day I lost her
in this garden where she fell
beneath the grass into the earth.
I stand bereft, struck to the heart
with love and loss. My spotless pearl.

I've gazed a hundred times at the place
she left me, grieving for that gift
which swept away all shadow, that face
which was the antidote to sorrow.
And though this watching sears my heart
and winds the wires of sadness tighter,
still the song this silence sings
to me is the sweetest I have heard –
the countless quiet hours in which
her pale face floats before me, mired
in mud and soil, a perfect jewel
spoiled, my spotless pearl.

In a place where such riches lie rotting
what will grow is a spreading of spices,
blossoms of blue and white and red
which fire in the full light, facing the sun.
Where a pearl is planted deep in the dark
no fruit or flower could ever fade:
all grasscorn grows from dying grain
so new wheat can be carried home.
From goodness other goodness grows –
so beautiful a seed can't fail
to fruit, or spices fail to flower
fed by a spotless, faultless pearl.

So I came to this very same spot
in the green of an August garden, height
and heart of the summer, at Lammas
when corn is cut down with curving scythes.
And I saw that the little hill where she fell
was a shaded place showered with spices:
pink gillyflower, ginger and purple gromwell
powdered with peonies scattered like stars.
But more than their loveliness to the eye,
the sweetest fragrance seemed to float
in the air there also – I knew beyond doubt
that's where she lay, my spotless pearl.

I stood, caught in the chill grasp of grief
in that place, clasping my hands there, seized
by the grip on my heart of longing and loss .
Though reason told me I should be still,
I mourned for my poor imprisoned pearl
with all the fury and force of a quarrel:
the comfort of Christ called out to me
but still I wrestled in wilful sorrow.
The power and perfume of those flowers
now filled my head and felled me, slipped me
into sudden sleep on the spot
where she lay beneath me. My girl.

2

In a while my spirit left the place
where my body slept and dreamed below
and by the grace of God began
its journey to a landscape of marvels.
Who knows where in the world it was,
but I know there were cliffs that cleavered the sky
and facing me a forest, studded
with stones and rocks that seemed to the eye
to be loaded with light, of a brightness beyond
belief, a glitter like nothing I'd ever
encountered – no human hand ever made
a fabric half so finely arrayed.

All the hillsides around were adorned
with cliffs formed from crystal, clear as morning,
which towered over trees with trunks of a blue
that was deeper and bluer than indigo,
trees thick with shivering foliage that slid
and shifted like high-polished silver or ice –
as sunlight fell through partings of cloud
they shone and flared like shimmering foil.
On the ground the gravel that peppered the paths
was all precious pearls from the orient:
even the sun seemed grey and spent
beside such glittering adornment.

At the sight of those hills arrayed in light
the weight of grief lifted from me like air.
A delicate fragrance of fruit drifted
toward me, renewed me, filled me like food.
In the forest, birds with feathers the colour
of flame flew together – the woodland rang
with the beating wind-rush of their wings,
and sweet-sounding harmony of their song.
No instrument could imitate
the miraculous music that they made:
no one could ask for more who'd heard it,
or seen the adornment of those birds.

That landscape's rich array and the path
through a forest where Fortune now led the way,
were beautiful beyond telling, far past
my powers of human speech to describe.
As if transported, I walked without stopping –
no slope was too steep or hillside too high.
The further I wandered into that wood
the finer the fields and fruit trees seemed,
the spices and hedgerows, meadows where streams
ran steeply down in threads of gold,
till I reached the curving shore of a river –
a river of, Lord! such shining adornment.

What blazed most brightly were the banks,
arrayed with beryl, a channel of light
where echoing water circled and swirled,
an eddying flood that seemed almost like words.
The stream-bed also was bright with stones
that glowed with the glint of sunlight through glass
or the streaming of stars from deep in the sky
in winter, when men of this world are asleep.
Every pebble that lay in the lap of that pool
was an emerald or sapphire, a storehouse of jewels,
so the length of the river seemed lit from within
adorned with such glitter and glistening.

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About the translation:
» Read translator's notes
Translator:
Jane Draycott
Original language:
Middle English
Issue:
Series 3 No.8 - Getting it Across

About the author

Jane Draycott

Translator

Jane Draycott

Jane Draycott's new translation of the medieval dream-elegy 'Pearl', an extract from which was a Stephen Spender Prize-winner...

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