You are on page 1of 16

Midwest Modern Language Association

"Never the Less": Gift-Exchange and the Medieval Dream-Vision "Pearl" Author(s): Heather Maring Source: The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association, Vol. 38, No. 2 (Fall, 2005), pp. 1-15 Published by: Midwest Modern Language Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30039317 . Accessed: 19/05/2013 22:56
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

.
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Midwest Modern Language Association is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association.

http://www.jstor.org

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Sun, 19 May 2013 22:56:03 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

"Never the Less": Gift-Exchange and the Medieval Dream-Vision Pearl


Heather Maring
The fourteenth-century Middle English poem Pearl abounds with images of surplus. The liminal, visionary sphere that the Dreamer enters is the ordinary, natural world wrought in lapidary splendor, a mystical treasury of crystal cliffs ("crystal klyffez"; 1. 74); trees bedecked with leaves sliding and shining like burnished silver (11.77-80); river banks like golden filaments and beryl ("fyldor fyn" and "beryl bryst"; 11. 106, 110); a gleaming river whose glassy waters reveal a bottom of emeralds, sapphires, and other jewels (11.114-19); a radiance brighter than the sun suffusing the air (83); and, not least, the pearl-maiden clad in her pearl-studded dress (")at swete in perlez pygte"; 1. 240).1 One also encounters heaven's surfeit of riches in the pearl-maiden's description of the 144,000 virgins who accompany Christ, each bearing the title of "queen." Being a bride of the Lamb ("Lambes vyuez"; 1. 785), each virgin reigns equally.2 The more the merrier, the pearl-maiden explains, since "in great company our love thrives / in honor more and never the less" ("In compayny gret our luf con pryf, / In honour more and neuer belesse"; 11.851-52).3 Heaven's perfection is characterized by such plenitude that no individual queen of heaven could be called "less than" any other.4 The surplus evident in these lines not only displays the Christian God's infinite bounty but also depicts luxuries--namely, gems, beautiful birds, lovely clothes, and fertile orchards-that would have been familiar to members of the aristocracy and to an audience of any class acquainted with tropes of gift-exchange. In a poem presumably by the same author, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the hero Gawain is beholden by his host to exchange prizes with him at the end of the day. While the plot of this poem clearly turns on Sir Gawain's struggle to live up to the conditions of the contract of gift-exchange, my article suggests that the gift-exchange trope also occurs in Pearl, where it is signaled by this poem's opening lines, by the luxurious world the Dreamer explores, and by further incidents to be explored in detail below. Because the rich, sensual images in Pearl have commonly been interpreted as metaphorical-if not allegorical--symbols of the Dreamer's spiritual lesson, their role in the rite of gift-exchange has gone largely unnoticed. The Dreamer begins in a state of mourning and transitions to one of recognition that death-as-loss (of a daughter) fades like a chimera when set within the greater reality of God's infinite surplus, a surplus made Heather Maring 1

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Sun, 19 May 2013 22:56:03 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

"tangible"by the sensual delights that the Dreamer encounters. While at the beginning of Pearl the Dreamer complains of his bereavement, "that does but oppress my heart grievously" (1. 17), he concludes the poem with what he has found: "a God, a Lord, a fully perfect friend" (11.120405). Regretting his "mad striving" (11.1999-1200) to take more than has been granted to him, the Dreamer redirects "pity"from his dead daughter to Christ (11.1205-10).5 A metaphorical interpretation correctly regards the pearl-an image and epithet that recurs frequently in this poem-as, for example, a symbol of the kingdom of heaven ("pereme of heuenesse clere"; 1. 735), i.e., the Pearl of Price in Matthew's parable (13:45-6, recounted in Pearl 11.729-39). While this hermeneutical approach certainly makes sense given the prominence of allegory in the later medieval period, an interpretation of this poem would also benefit from a metonymicanalysis-an analysis that explores how Pearl's emphasis on gift-exchange belongs to a performative paradigm, where ritualistic gestures (as in the rite of gift-exchange) make immanent larger units of meaning; where references in verbal art to giftexchange or other ritualistic activities stand metonymically for the enactment of these processes.6 In order to explore the role of gift-exchange and its metonymic significance in Pearl, this article briefly describes how ritual performance may be metonymically cued in poetry before focusing on the centrality of the gift-exchange trope to Pearl's vision.7 Ritual Performance in Poetry An obvious starting point for a discussion of ritual in medieval poetry is the influence of the Roman Christian Church. Medieval literary works draw upon the Christian liturgy for a wide variety of purposes:8 poems may celebrate special moments in the liturgical year or present hagiographical narratives suffused with liturgical echoes; they may close heroic narratives with prayers, depict their heroes making Eucharistic gestures, or interweave vernacular (and sometimes worldly) sentiments with Latin phrases from hymns and prayers;9 some poems even "appear to have been performed along pilgrimage routes or as part of the devotional activity at the shrines of the saints" (Vitz 511). Liturgical gestures in medieval verse cross boundaries between style, genre, and content; vernacular poems may use familiar ritual phrases for religious and secular purposes, and they may incorporate liturgical hymns into their narratives or be incorporated themselves into medieval rites. One attraction of the liturgy (and sacraments) for poets and authors may have been the economy of expression afforded by incorporating a familiar formula or activity into verse.10 The presence of ritual speech and acts within a medieval poem would have evoked an ambient ritual tradition, whose many instantiations referred to the ongoing, cyclical

2 "Neverthe Less"

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Sun, 19 May 2013 22:56:03 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

recurrence of ritual acts within time. Rituals occur within circumscribed venues, and their specialized "language" takes shape in formulaic or unusual forms of speech, bodily activities, social choreographies, an array of implements, and other sensorial features. Because rituals themselves possess so many different media for communicating their layered significance, any easily recognized feature-whether a phrase, a role, a physical act, a scent, or a structural parallel-could metonymically cue, pars pro toto, the ritual itself. And any familiar ritual activity--Christian liturgy, the sacraments, and other social and civic rites that, depending on context, shade into the secular or sacred-could metonymically be signaled in medieval verse. By merely invoking a part of such a ritual, a poem may suddenly elicit an audience's sense of that ritual's entire performance and its associations. Perhaps for this reason, in the PurgatorioDante mentions just the opening words of hymns, knowing that upon encountering "Salve regina," for instance, the rest of the antiphon will continue resounding in the mind of readers even as they hear the counterpoint of Dante's own poem. Such a "ritual poetics" presupposes an audience's ability to decipher metonymic gestures drawn from actual rituals. The conditions were present for a ritual poetics because many medieval poets and their audiences were familiar with oral traditional communication in verse, a form of communication that works via metonymic referentiality.11 The so-called "digressions"in Beowulf serve as a common example of oral traditionalreferentiality. When the Beowulf-poet describes the Fight at Finnsburg (11. 1068-1159a),12an event that occurred outside the immediate timeframe of Beowulf's adventures, he or she provides little of the "backstory,"the sort of explanatory information a literate reader would expect when a whole new set of characters emerges in a story within a story. The recounting of the Finnsburg episode begins after the battle between the Danes and Frisians-and the battle's circumstances must be pieced together from asides and "The Fight at Finnsburg" fragment unrelated to the Beowulf poem. Why at this juncture in Beowulf's adventures should one hear about two feuding tribes only tangentially related to him? Any perceived "lack of information" here is really our problem-our cultural dissonance-and not the poet's, who would have taken for granted his audience's familiarity with the Finnsburg story. In addition, by not spelling out the reason for telling the tale of Finn and Hnaef, the poet would have been "playing by the rules" of this type of oral-derived poetry, which assumes the audience's competency at deciphering narrative parallels and inversions. The point here is that the Beowulf-poet could render part of the Finnsburg episode in verse, but one should assume that metonymically these some two hundred lines stood for a much lengthier story familiar to the poem's audience.

HeatherMaring 3

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Sun, 19 May 2013 22:56:03 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Because oral traditional and oral-derived verse afforded medieval poets-those working in either literary, oral, or both media-the means to compose poetry using an efficient and specialized poetic language, it would not have required a vast cognitive leap for them to employ the specialized language of ritual as well. Although such poetry may have lain beyond the purview of the Church, it could still belong to a broad continuum of para-liturgical and para-sacramental verse. A Marian praise poem, by using a few liturgical phrases in translation, could recall for its audience the antiphons to Mary filling, and seeming to surpass, a cathedral's walls; such phrasing could recall the ritual power of the Church to invoke the Virgin's listening presence. By transposing ritual features into vernacular verse, poets could compose poems that partook of the institutional power of ritual, while at the same time elaborating upon that ritual, depicting its reverberations in everyday lives, creating erotic parodies, comedically satirizing its inversions, and so on. Now that I have touched on how medieval poems may call upon ritual for their repertoire of poetic strategies, I will turn to an examination of gift-exchange in Pearl. By the end of this article I hope to shed light on this poem's reason for invoking the performative gesture of gift-exchange. Gift-Exchange and Pearl The performance of gift-exchange is enacted on two levels in Pearl: at the narrative level and, self-referentially, in the poem's representation of itself. At both levels these exchanges take place between human beings and also between human and divine realms, thereby demonstrating their hierarchical, reciprocal, and obligatory relationships. David Aers has argued that in comparison to the contemporaneous poem Piers Plowman the Pearl-poet's works do not take into account fourteenth-century shifts in class-relations. He writes that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight "carefully occludes all contemporary conflicts over the extractions and distribution of 'lucrum.' . . . [Objects] are, instead, located in courtly worlds where exchanges (of clothing, food, kisses or blows) are exchanges of gifts, not, carefully and precisely not[,] exchanges of commodities in fourteenth-century commerce" (94). It may be true that Pearl depicts an older, more traditional, or ideal version of the gift-exchange economy at work among members of the aristocracy (or between gentry and artisans), but this mode of regulating social relationships coexisted with nascent forms of capitalism in southern Britain at the time. Rather than interpret the Pearl-poet's seemingly exclusive focus on giftexchange as a sign of pandering to the sensibilities of an elite courtly aristocracy or of an overly conservative (i.e., "nostalgic") mindset, one may examine how the practice of gift-exchange allows the poem's narrator to transform his relationship to death using imagistic and verbal means. The

4 "Neverthe Less"

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Sun, 19 May 2013 22:56:03 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

poem does not just represent (metaphorically) a Christian reality, it invokes and enacts (metonymically) that reality using the performative rite of gift-exchange. The ritual of gift-exchange functioned as part of a medieval cultural habitus oriented toward the establishment and maintenance of inter- and intra-societal relationships.13 Gift-exchange, therefore, does not occupy a category necessarily separate from religion; it is not secular (versus sacred). In fact, Western Christianity reformulates the parameters of giftexchange within its own cosmology: in return for his eternal life in paradise, Adam failed to render the gift of complete obedience to God; Christ became "the Son of Man" in order to repay Adam's debt. More graphically, Jesus was the "sacrificial lamb" in the ritual of exchange between earthly and celestial realms.14 The very materiality of gift-exchange (and thus the ease of its integration into the context of a poem's imagery and ritualistic performance, for instance) may lead one to differentiate it from "real" religion if one strictly associates religion with more abstract features, such as faith, spirituality, a belief system, or devotion. But giftexchange cannot be analyzed by separating its significance-associated with the immaterial realm of ideation-from its practice--associated with materiality or sensuously apprehensible objects and scenarios. Catherine Bell, summarizing Pierre Bourdieu's insights into gift-exchange, remarks that "what is experienced in gift-giving is the voluntary, irreversible, delayed and strategic play of gift and counter-gift; it is the experience of these dimensions that actually establishes the value of the objects and gestures" (82-83). Abstracted from the context of practice (into theory), the items exchanged lose their significance: the value of gifts exchanged (and of the process itself) cannot be established solely in principle, since what is exchanged may appear inordinately "cheap"or "expensive" from the vantage point of a more abstract system's standards for measuring value. Worth emerges only in the living practice of exchange, a practice that may be figured metonymically in words. A Poem is a Pearl In Pearl the performance of exchange appears in the material and situational context of the poem qua poem. During the late fourteenth century, poems could be presented to noble patrons or the Christian God with the intention of honoring them.15 An audience no longer aware of Pearl's original context(s) of composition and performance,16 but familiar with the process of gift-exchange, might still easily imagine that, in return for this carefully wrought poem, the poet or its presenter (not necessarily the same person) receives patronage from either a worldly prince or the Prince Himself. Felicity Riddy has remarked on Pearl's status, noting that it would have

Heather Maring 5

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Sun, 19 May 2013 22:56:03 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

evoked comparison to late-fourteenth-century elegant manuscripts depicting the Book of Revelation, which were considered luxury items. She writes: As a jewel, the poem locates itself among other highly-wrought,prestigious art-objects,religious and secular, of the late fourteenth century: the elaboratereliquaries,caskets, crowns, brooches and cups that were productsof the jeweler's craft.(147-148) Riddy continues: [J]ewelsare . . . objectsof exchange,part of the elaboratesystem of giftgiving and receiving throughwhich networks of power, reciprocityand obligationwere maintained .... Pearlcan be seen as a part of the same system of exchangeas these jewels. (150, 151) To Riddy's observations one could add that Pearl is formally-but not narratively-structured so that the ending leads back to the beginning of the poem, "rounding"it to the shape of a pearl. The first line of Pearl suggests that the poem itself may be a pearl-offering for a prince: "Lovely pearl, to pay [also 'to please' or 'to satisfy'] a prince" ("Perleplesaunte, to prynces paye"). The second line implies that the pearl-poem should be "purely enclosed [or set] in bright gold" ("clanly clos in golde so clere"; 1. 2)-either written in gold ink or adorned with decorative gold leaf-and housed in a prince's library. The written state of Pearl as an art-manuscript adorned in gold and the spoken state of Pearl-its lush acoustic presence-are the "material," sensory features necessary to the experiential performance of gift-exchange. The closing lines cinch the implications of this first line, both formally and thematically: "He granted us [leave] to be His humble servants / And precious pearls unto His payment ['pleasure,' 'satisfaction']" ("He gef vus to be His homly hyne / Ande precious perlez vnto His pay"; 11. 1211-12). The gift has shifted from the poem itself, implicated in the opening lines, to the Dreamer's humble servicea service rendered, at least partially, by the composition of the poem. Exchanges Between the Dreamer and God Pearl's obsession with images of pearls and jewels align it with systems of gift-exchange and obligation that have powerful significance for the representation of the relationships between the dead and the living and between human beings and God. The objectification of the Pearl-poem as an elaborate piece of artistry, productive within the economy of exchange, resonates with its process-oriented narrative, which depicts gift-exchange as a consolatory and healing context for interpreting the death of a loved one. Early concatenating phrases, such as "pearl without spot," "precious ornament," and "adorned by pearls," underscore the narrator's lapidary

6 "Neverthe Less"

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Sun, 19 May 2013 22:56:03 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

obsession and the role of precious luxury items in Pearl. Each concatenating or repeating phrase falls at the end of five stanzas in all.17 The beginning of the next stanza introduces one of the words in the phrase--"spot," "ornament," and "adorned"-thereby linking groups of five stanzas and also each stanzaic section to the next. Taking into account a densely echoic rhyme-scheme and short alliterative lines, one discovers an acoustically elaborate poem where words stud the fabric of the lines like so many gems with rhyming facets. The Dreamer, in fact, refers to himself as a "jeweler"who has lost his pearl. What should strike one as problematic in the Dreamer's self-definition is not just his early lack of recognition that God is the true "Jeweler,"but also that, rather than sending his gem into the ritual circulation of gifts that sustain society, this jeweler wants to hoard his jewel. The primary importance of gift-exchange slowly grows evident to the Dreamer and the audience. One first encounters the Dreamer searching his garden for a lost pearl, an activity that turns out to be a quasimetaphor for his internal distress at having lost his daughter (a "quasimetaphor" because the Dreamer seems, in fact, to have been searching his garden). His loss has yet to be reframed within the rite of giftexchange, but regardless of the Dreamer's inability to see his daughter as a gift-a gift that has already been given (back) to Christ-an experience of heavenly treasures is forthcoming. When the Dreamer first sees his daughter, he is struck by the many pearls that cover her dress, especially the very large and flawless pearl at her breast (11.221-28). Visually, she seems to emerge from a dazzling cliff, a perfect jewel suddenly freed from her entourage of brilliant stones (foreshadowing her later disappearance among the processing virgins). The pearl-maiden's costume and the very manner of her appearance to the Dreamer make her the sacred variation on a motif already running through the poem, linking pearls with gifts just as the poem itself may be likened to a pearl and a gift. She acts as the Dreamer's guide through theological paradoxes and eventually reveals that he has been granted a divine dispensation to see (but not enter) the Holy Jerusalem. One implication is that "in exchange" for the pearl-child, "given" in death to Christ, the Christian God bestows the dreaming father with a vision of his daughter, her teachings, and the New Jerusalem. Therefore, the dead should be deemed gifts, not forgotten or lost beings, for they present an ongoing connection to the eternal. But comprehension of the gift-exchange dynamic only truly dawns on the Dreamer after he awakens and notes that every mortal human has been granted the gift of being "precious pearls for his payment ['pleasure' or 'satisfaction']" (11.1211-12).18 The pearl-maiden becomes one of these precious pearls that God has received for his pleasure and payment; in exchange the Dreamer notes that he may partake of Christ's immanence

Heather Maring 7

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Sun, 19 May 2013 22:56:03 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

daily through the ritual of Mass (11.1205-10). God possesses his daughter, while the Dreamer may encounter His Son "in the form of bread and wine" (1. 1209). This lesson is another implication of gift-exchange in Pearl, that Christians continually have recourse to a Gift no human being may ever fully repay. In the era of Pearl's composition, lavish gifts could earn members of the gentry "prestige."Citing the Historia Walciodorensis Monasterii, Britton J. Harwood observes that "[T]herelation between nobility and the gift becomes a sort of refrain: the gift itself is noble (nobile donum), made by people behaving nobly (ut nobilis faciens donationem), displaying their nobility by adding to others' wealth in noble fashion (ut nobilis, nobiliter ampliaverunt) (Economie 2: 24)" (484). Reputations could be made or lost on the basis of participation in gift-giving (485). But when the most powerful lord to partake in socially "aggressive"gift-exchange is Christ, there is an "original inequality" (491).19The boundless largesse of the Lord, the pearl-maiden makes clear, underlies the logic of the Parable of the Vineyard (Matthew 20.1-16)-and is a marker of his unsurpassable nobility. Thus, the invocation of gift-exchange in the poem's opening and closing lines, and the images of nobility and heavenly treasures, call attention to God's infinite and boundless nobility. The Chain of Pearls In Pearl the properties of jewels may lead the Dreamer both toward and away from an appreciation of the Christian God.20 Like the courtly lover (or the mystical adept), through his appreciation of their beauty he may be led to God. He may travel from desire for a lovely stone to desire for the holy city that rests upon foundations of twelve precious stones (11. 991-94, 997-1016). But he may also encounter the consequences of growing too literal in his attachment to lesser forms of beauty, as when the Dreamer in a surge of over-reaching desire finds himself thrust from the very liminal space that afforded him such optical and acoustic delights. The Pearl poem itself relies on formal aesthetic delights (alliteration, rhyme, concatenation) while it represents a fine edge between two choices in the face of aesthetic pleasure: one choice leads up the interior psychological chain toward God, the other down. The first choice means following the shifting referents for the term "pearl," beginning with the "jewel"itself. A pearl "so rounde" (1. 5) may point, by its humble material existence, to the perfect unbounded atemporality of God. Pearls in medieval culture also could symbolize a cure for heart-break or overwrought love-longing,as the following lapidary instructs: Pearl is chief of all stones that are white and precious, as Isidore says. .... [A]nd some say that they comfort limbs and members, for it cleanses them of the superfluity of humors and [they] strengthen the

8 "Neverthe Less"

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Sun, 19 May 2013 22:56:03 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

limbs, and help against cardiacpain [or disease] and against heart failure. is chef of al stons Pat ben wy6t & preciose, as Ised seyp.... Margarita [A]ndsomme seyne Pat Pey comfortenlymes & membris, for it clensep him of superfluiteof humours & fasten Pe lymes, & helpen agen becordiacle passioun & agens swonyng of hert . .. (Evans and Serjeantson

107-8) Using stock phrases from courtly love poetry, the Dreamer complains at the beginningof the poem, "Thatdoes but oppress my heart grievously,/ My breast in balefulness only swells and burns"("patdotz bot prychmy hert Prange,I My breste in bale bot bolne and bele";11.18-19).The "right pearl" could cure the Dreamer's depression and even the fainting fit (anothertranslationof "swonyngof hert"),which broughton his vision. Frompearl to a maiden adornedin pearls is a leap the Dreamer'smind makes when he enters the dream-vision.The maiden then leads his mind toward more spiritualassociationswhen she recounts the parable of the Pearlof Price. Finally,one perceives the chain of associationsfrom physical stone, to pearl-maiden, to heavenly dwelling place, come to rest on Christ himself.21With tender words the maiden speaks of Christ's Passion, saying in section XIV,"MyLamb,my Lord,my dearJewel, / My Joy, my Bliss, my noble Love- / The prophet Isaiah of Him did speak / Compassionately of His meekness" ("MyLombe, my Lorde, my dereJuelle, I/ My Joy, my Blys, my Lemmanfre- / pe profete Ysaye of Hym con melle 11.795-98, italics mine). Such courtly turns / Pitously of Hys debonertd"; of speech are meant to stir the heart,just as they portraya heart stirred. as a synonym for his lost pearl The poet has often used the term "juelle" In for the and the pearl-maiden. end, apprehendingthe meaningfulness a verbal (Middle it to of the pearl-that belongs many-tiered"language": of Biblical (in parable),and English),ritualistic (the object gift-exchange), one closer to God. courtly (a term of endearment)-draws Hearingthe maiden tell of her wedding to Christ, herJewel, seems to be the mystical apex of the poem: he is the real Gift. As a readeror auditor, one has followed the Dreamer's own train of perceptions. First, it seemed that the lost pearl was a precious tangible object, fit for a prince, that could be set within a ring or could roll from the palm of one's hand into the maze of herbs in a garden. Next, one finds that the pearl the Dreamer mourns is actually the pearl-maiden, his deceased child. By mentioningthe Pearlof Price, the maiden hints at anotherpearl-heaven itself-on which Dreamerought to fix his desire. Finally,when the maiden calls Christher "dereJuelle,"the idea that the "lostpearl equals maiden" or that the pearl figures heavenly salvation is superceded. The "pitous"depiction of Christ's tribulation on the Cross, which fuses the diction of courtly love with Biblicalprophecy,22 would lead the Dreamer
Heather Maring 9

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Sun, 19 May 2013 22:56:03 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

by example toward a realization of what he should truly mourn: "God's Lamb as true [steadfast] as stone" ("Godez Lombe as trwe as ston"; 1. 822)--Christ, the stone or Jewel who repaid Adam's debt.23 Thus, one sees the Dreamer follow a chain of "pearls,"from least true (that is, real, eternal) to most, from a figure of speech signifying his daughter to the spotless Lamb. The other choice, to follow baser desires, drags the Dreamer down the chain, into the terrestrial sphere. This sort of desire is possessive, an attempt to hoard and keep someone or something for oneself (cf. the Dreamer's mistake when he first meets the pearl-maiden: "Now I have found it (pearl), I shall 'make a festival,' / and dwell with it in shining wood-groves" ["Now haf I fonde hyt, I schal ma feste, / And wony with hyt in schyr wod-schawez"; 11.284-85]). Objects that move between two or more beings (as in gift-exchange) continue to bear significance, a significance that, following the chain of associations in Pearl, ultimately derives from the deity. Once drawn outside of this "loop," objects begin to lose their connection to the ultimate font of meaningfulness. Hoarding, possessiveness, and selfishness-these states cut objects from their source of meaning, rendering them mute within the field of social interaction. This muting brings about their symbolic deaths, while physical deaths (at least when a human being is the "object" in question) may actually unbar the threshold of heavenly eternity. Exchanges Between Heaven and Earth In exchange for enunciating the poem-as-pearl, the audience is guided through an extended vision, at multiple sensory levels, of consolation for worldly suffering.24 In this sense the poem does not just represent the Dreamer's process of experiential education concerning the enduring relationship between heaven and earth, a relationship played out in ritual exchange; the audience also may enter the performative paradigm wherein a verbal pearl is re-created and offered to the Prince. Bell observes that in rites of exchange and communion, ritual sacrifice enacts the union of human and divine worlds (109-14). One sees this represented on multiple levels in Pearl, from the procession of the wounded and bleeding lamb representing Christ to what could be considered a psychological sacrifice of the Dreamer's daughter to the Prince of heaven who claims her. One might also say that the poem "to satisfy the Prince" ("to pay )e Prince"; 1. 1201) enacts a virtual communion, bringing a vision of heaven to earth, making that well-known place of spiritual regeneration-Jerusalem-present in exchange for the poem's performance. In exchange for praise of the Christian God and his works, praise embedded in the form of a verse-pearl, the earth-bound man may just possibly reach paradise, which is also likened to a pearl. Since giftexchange has been shown to be one of the most fundamental practices in

10 "Neverthe Less"

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Sun, 19 May 2013 22:56:03 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

traditional societies, its enactment in Pearl highlights the performative possibilities of medieval poetry and Pearl's union of aesthetic and religious practices. Words have more power in this context than is usually attributed to them; rather than abstractly providing information or subjectively evoking concepts and moods, words may be ritually effective in the context of performative poetry.25 For example, specialized registers of language employed in medieval poetry-such as alliterative, stress-based lines of verse-may themselves constitute a "performance-arena" where words have the metonymic force of traditional verse formulas.26 Written medieval verse inhabited a culture where verbal artistry had recourse to performative genres, such as oral traditions and oral-literary hybrids. Verbal cues in such genres could bear the power to invoke, pars pro toto, what they described. Hence a counter-gift for giving voice to this exquisitely crafted poem could truly be a glimpse of the New Jerusalem. Pearl is not just about how the gift-exchange model provides consolation. It presents an "interactive"form of consolation, where one may participate in rites that bind heaven and earth in orderly systems of obligation that mask the messy randomness of death (for what could ever truly "satisfy" or repay a parent for the loss of a child?). While giving voice to the pearl offering called Pearl, one may imaginatively follow the chain of pearls that leads from the ephemeral to the eternal. University of Missouri-Columbia Notes 1. All Pearlcitationscome from MalcolmAndrewand RonaldWaldron,ThePoems
of the Pearl Manuscript: Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Sarah Stanbury's edition of Pearl offers the most recent select bibliography of editions, translations, and criticism (with brief annotations). 2. On parallels between virginity treatises and Pearl, see Nicholas Watson, "The Gawain-Poet as a Vernacular Theologian." 3. Unless otherwise stated, all translations are mine. 4. The maiden does differentiate between the Virgin Mary and Christ's virgin retinue. The pearl-maiden uses the phrase "never the less" (in five of the six stanzas in section XV) as she recounts John's visions of the "Appocalyppece" (1. 866). The concatenating element in this section of Pearl, "never the less," recurs in the maiden's speech as an echo and rebuke to the Dreamer's earlier misdirected hunger for "more and more" (section III). "Never the less" occupies varying semantic roles in these stanzas, reflecting the over-spilling fullness of language (especially when spoken by a heavenly emissary). As long as the Dreamer fails to realize the plenitude promised by heaven, he will remain inconsolable with respect to his daughter's death, which at first he perceives as an irreparable loss. 5. Some may read the plainness and brevity of the Dreamer's final statements as a clue that he has not truly learned from his vision, but I take his words at face

Heather Maring 11

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Sun, 19 May 2013 22:56:03 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

value. In the mystical dream-vision genre, exemplified by Dante's Commedia, the Dreamer undergoes a life-changing process of education. The formal circularity of Pearl, like the Pearl of Price, which the maiden calls "endelez rounde" (1. 738), complements the linearity of the Dreamer's historical experience and growth. 6. This paper uses "metonym" as it is construed in studies of oral tradition and performative verbal art: a part that stands for the whole. See John Miles Foley, The Singer of Tales in Performancechs. 1-3. 7. Marcel Mauss' landmark study on prestation, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies, describes gift-exchange in traditional societies as an obligatory process occurring within and between social groups, a process that varies from culture to culture. Concerning the distributed objects that bind groups together he writes, "What they exchange is not exclusively goods and wealth, real and personal property, and things of economic value. They exchange rather courtesies, entertainments, ritual, military assistance, women, children, dances, and feasts; and fairs in which the market is but one element and the circulation of wealth but one part of a wide and enduring contract" (3). Other significant contributions to the study of gift-exchange include those by Edward B. Tylor, who proposed the "gift theory," Raymond Firth, and Pierre Bourdieu. Britton J. Harwood's "Gawainand the Gift" and Lawrence Besserman's "Gawain's Green Girdle" are of special importance to the study of gift-exchange in Pearl. Harwood's article provides an extensive bibliography for studies of medieval socio-economic relationships and related issues in Sir Gawain. 8. This summary is indebted to Evelyn Birge Vitz's broad survey in "The Liturgy and Vernacular Literature." 9. "Macaronic" poems that mix two languages, one usually being Latin. See Vitz 523-24. 10. On communicative economy in oral verse, including oral-derived medieval poetry, see John Miles Foley, The Singer of Tales in Performance53-59. 11. This comparison of ritual and oral traditional paradigms relies on "traditional referentiality," a concept developed by John Miles Foley to describe the relationship between individual oral poems and their oral traditions (see Immanent Art, ch. 2, and Homer's TraditionalArt, ch. 4). More specifically, "traditional referentiality" explains how each individual oral composition functions metonymically in relationship to a culturally inherited body of traditional poetry whose traditional concepts were never written down, nor needed the assistance of writing. The oral tradition acts as a context that poems metonymically reference, "a context that is enormously larger and more echoic than the text or work itself" (ImmanentArt 7). Although traditional referentiality may sound a bit like "allusion,"Foley maintains a strong distinction between intertextual and oral practices, noting the way in which a seeming fragment of verse or a hero's epithet elicits a host of traditional associations specific to its particular orbit. Traditional referentiality at work in an oral poem actively substitutes pars pro toto; the medium allows the poet to summon with great efficiency an extraordinary amount of information pertaining to narrative structure, characterization, and traditional concepts in a few words or phrases, the way a footprint may tell a trained hunter the kind, size, gender, health, and activity of a creature. To shift metaphors, against the summoned backdrop of traditional associations, an individual poet may "ring out his changes," suggesting creative affiliations with ancient traditional authority and thereby aligning the present with a revered past. My article suggests that "tradi-

12

"Never the Less"

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Sun, 19 May 2013 22:56:03 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

tional referentiality," usually deemed the metonymic relationship between a poem and an oral tradition, could also apply to poetry and ritual. See Mark Amodio's Writingthe Oral Tradition,for a discussion of hybrid oral and written poetics in both Old and Middle English poetry. 12. A shorter oral-derived version of this story appears in the 47-line fragment "The Fight a Finnsburg," but this poem and the Beowulf episode appear to describe different moments in a larger story (see Klaeber 230-38 for commentary; 245-49 for two editions of the poem). Cf. Adrien Bonjour's The Digressions in Beowulf. 13. For more details, see Harwood's analysis of contemporary gift-exchange practices. 14. When John the Baptist recognizes Christ, he cries "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1.29). 15. The role of later medieval gift-poems appears to differ from the Norse model, where poets served their benefactors by weaving them, their relatives, or members of their court into tales that honored their deeds (cf. Richard Bauman 138 and 141-142). In Pearl's case the recipient bears away the poem-prize because of his or her participation in the distribution of wealth, instead of an act of heroism. In both eras a poet's skill with words could further the reputation of a patron's court or household, whether explicitly or implicitly. 16. The pearl-maiden may have been a young girl named Margaret (a name meaning "pearl"), whose death was commemorated by this poem. Felicity Riddy observes: "In trying to imagine an occasion for the composition of Pearl then, we might think of an orbit for a dead child-a commemorative Mass performed each year on the day of her death" (151). For widely varying depictions of the Pearlpoet's identity and his audience, see also Derek Brewer 4-6; Malcolm Andrew 2333; and Michael J. Bennett 71-90. 17. The only stanza section comprising six stanzas instead of five concatenates the phrase "never the less," which the maiden uses to explain the boundless generosity found in heaven. Formally the poem appears to exhibit what the maiden describes. 18. These lines also may be understood as present subjunctive, i.e., "may He grant us . . ." (11.110, 1211f.). 19. Harwood interprets Sir Gawain's acceptance of the girdle as a testament "to fallen humanity's inability to make a gift of itself" (490). 20. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the hero arms himself with diamonds before his quest to face the Green Knight's counter-blow (11.615-18). The diadem of diamonds plays no passive role, since its properties supposedly lent the hero protection from all dangers. In fact, the circlet of diamonds could easily slip one's notice-a detail among a stream of details-when it actually foreshadows the magical girdle and calls attention to Gawain's problematic faith in objects. 21. For an exploration of associated images in Pearl that do not focus so strictly upon pearl figures, see Marie Boroff, "Pearl's 'Maynful Mone': Crux, Simile, and Structure." 22. In nearly every turn of phrase, the maiden invokes the voices of Biblical prophets and seers: Isaiah, John the Baptist, and John the apostle, who was believed to be the author of Revelation. Describing her wedding to Christ, she says, "Asit is seen in the Apocalypse: / Saint John saw them all in a group. / On

Heather Maring

13

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Sun, 19 May 2013 22:56:03 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

the hill of Zion, that seemly mount, / The apostle saw them in a spiritual dream" ("Asin beApocalyppez hit is sene: / Sant John hem sy6 al in a knot. I On be hyl of Syon, bat semly clot, / pe apostel hem segh in gostly drem"; 11.787-90). Furthermore, lines 797-803, 811-15, 819-24, and 823-26 allude to or paraphrase the prophecies of Isaiah 53 (cf. Andrew and Waldron). 23. Christ is also the Jewel in the following line: "All sang to praise that bright Jewel" ("Alsonge to loue Pat gay Juelle"; 1. 1124). 24. Both the poem and the commemorative Mass that may have occasioned it provide opportunities to transform unhealthy or morbid attachment to a dead child into a connection with divinity. 25. The term word-powerdenotes the rich, metonymically referential gestures of oral-traditional art, which rely on the enabling event of performance and the enabling referent of tradition for their meaning (Foley, Singer 27-28). 26. For more on the metonymic power of oral-derived medieval verse, see Alain Renoir, Mark C. Amodio, Nancy Mason Bradbury, and John Zemke. Works Cited Aers, David. "Christianity for Courtly Subjects: Reflections on the Gawain-Poet." Brewer and Gibson 91-101. Amodio, Mark C. Writing the Oral Tradition: Oral Poetics and Literate Culture in Medieval England. Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P, 2004. Andrew, Malcolm. "Theories of Authorship." Brewer and Gibson 23-33. Andrew, Malcolm and Ronald Waldron, eds. The Poems of the Pearl Manuscript: Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. 4th ed. Exeter: U of Exeter P, 2002. Bauman, Richard. "Performance and Honor in 13th-Century Iceland." Journal of American Folklore 99 (1986): 131-50. Bell, Catherine. Ritual: Perspectivesand Dimensions. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. Bennett, Michael J. "The Historical Background." Brewer and Gibson 71-90. Besserman, Lawrence. "Gawain's Green Girdle." Annuale mediaevale 22 (1982): 84-100. Bonjour, Adrien. The Digressions in Beowulf. 1950. Medium IEvum, 5. Oxford: Blackwell, 1965. Boroff, Marie, trans. "Pearl's 'Maynful Mone': Crux, Simile, and Structure." Acts of Interpretation: The Text in Its Contexts, 700-1600: Essays on Medieval and Renaissance Literature in Honor of E. Talbot Donaldson. Eds. Mary J. Carruthers and Elizabeth D. Kirk. Norman: Pilgrim, 1982. 159-72. . Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Patience, Pearl: Verse Translations.3rd rev. ed. New York: Norton, 2001. Bourdieu, Pierre. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Trans. Richard Nice. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1977. Bradbury, Nancy Mason. Writing Aloud: Storytelling in Late Medieval England. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1998. Brewer, Derek. Introduction. Brewer and Gibson 1-21.

14

"Never the Less"

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Sun, 19 May 2013 22:56:03 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Brewer, Derek and Jonathan Gibson, eds. A Companion to the Gawain-Poet. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1997. Evans, Joan and Mary S. Serjeantson. English Mediaeval Lapidaries. EETS, 190. London: Oxford UP, 1933. Firth, Raymond. "Offering and Sacrifice: Problems of Organization."Journal of the RoyalAnthropologicalInstitute 96 (1963): 12-24. Foley, John Miles. Homer's TraditionalArt. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1999. . Immanent Art: From Structure to Meaning in Traditional Oral Epic. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1991. . The Singer of Tales in Performance.Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1995. Harwood, B. J. "Gawainand the Gift." PMLA 106.3 (1991): 483-99. Klaeber, Friederich, ed. Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg. 3rd ed. with 1st and 2nd supplements. Boston: D. C. Heath, 1950. Mauss, Marcel. The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies. New York: Norton, 1967. Renoir, Alain. A Key to Old Poems: The Oral-FormulaicApproach to the Interpretation of West-GermanicVerse.University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1988. Riddy, Felicity. "Jewels in Pearl." Brewer and Gibson 143-55. Stanbury, Sarah, ed. Pearl. TEAMS Middle English Text Series. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2001. Tolkein, J. R. R., trans. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975. Tylor, Edward B. Primitive Cultures. 2 vols. New York: Harper, 1958. Vitz, Evelyn Birge. "The Liturgy and Vernacular Literature." The Liturgy of the Medieval Church. 2nd ed. Ed. Thomas J. Heffernan and E. Ann Matter. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2005. Watson, Nicholas. "The Gawain-Poet as a Vernacular Theologian." Brewer and Gibson. 293-313. Zemke, John. "Improvisation, Inspiration, and Basque Verbal Contest: Identity in Performance." Voicingthe Moment: ImprovisedOral Poetry and Basque Tradition. Ed. Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika. Reno: Center for Basque Studies, U of Nevada P, 2005.

Heather Maring

15

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Sun, 19 May 2013 22:56:03 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions