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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Author Unknown


  • [A fourteenth-century poem; author unknown; modernized by Israel Gollancz. In this poem the author laments the loss of his child, Margaret, a “pearl, fair enow for princes’ pleasance,” and relates the vision which he has of her in Paradise.]

  • PEARL! fair enow for princes’ pleasance,

    so deftly set in gold so pure,

    from orient lands, I durst avouch,—

    ne’er saw I a gem its peer,

    so round, so comely-shaped withal,

    so small, with sides so smooth,—

    where’er I judged of radiant gems,

    I placed my pearl supreme.

    I lost it—in an arbor—alas!

    It passed from me through grass to earth.

    I pine, despoiled of love’s dominion,—

    of mine own, my spotless pearl.

    Sithence how oft have I tarried there,

    where it vanished,—seeking the joy

    that whilom scattered all my woe,

    and raised so high my bliss!

    It doth but pierce my heart with pangs,

    and kindle my breast with sorrow;

    yet ne’er was heard so sweet a song

    as the still hour let steal to me thither.

    Ah me! what thoughts stole there to my mind!

    To think of my fair one o’erlaid with clay!—

    O earth! thou marrest a joyous theme,—

    mine own, my spotless pearl….

    On a day I entered that arbor green,—

    fain would I picture the place in words:

    ’twas August, the year’s high festival,

    when the corn is cut with the keen-edged hook;

    where my pearl had erewhile rolled adown

    was shaded with herbage full beauteous and bright,—

    gillyflowers, ginger, and gromwell-seed,

    and peonies sprent between.

    But fair as was the sight to see,

    fairer the fragrance that wafted thence,

    where dwelleth that glory, I wot and ween,—

    my precious, my spotless pearl.

    I gazed on the sight: my hands I clasped;

    chill sorrow seized my heart:

    wild grief made tumult in my breast,

    though reason whispered “peace.”

    I wailed for my pearl, held fast from me there,—

    dread doubt fought hard with doubt,—

    though Christ’s self shewed whence comfort is,

    my will was bondman to woe.

    I fell upon that flowery plat;

    such fragrance rose to my brain,

    that soon I was lulled in a reverie

    o’er my precious, my spotless pearl.

    My spirit thence sped forth into space,

    my body lay there entranced on that mound,

    my soul, by grace of God, had fared

    in quest of adventure, where marvels be.

    I knew not where that region was;

    I was borne, iwis, where the cliffs rose sheer;

    toward a forest I set my face,

    where rocks so radiant were to see,

    that none can trow how rich was the light,

    the gleaming glory that glinted therefrom,

    for never a web by mortal spun

    was half so wondrous fair.

    The hillsides there were crowned

    with crystal cliffs full clear,

    and holts and woods, all bright with boles

    blue as the blue of Inde,

    and trembling leaves, thick on every branch,

    as burnished silver shone,—

    with shimmering sheen they glistened,

    touched by the gleam of the glades,—

    and the gravel that rolled upon that strand

    was precious orient pearls.

    The sun’s own light had paled before

    that sight so wondrous fair.

    ’Mid the magic charm of those wondrous hills

    my spirit forgot all woe;

    fruit there of such rare flavor grew,

    ’twas food to make one strong:

    birds flew there in peace together,

    of flaming hues, both small and great;

    nor citern-string, nor minstrel,

    can tell their joyous glee,

    for lo! whene’er they beat their wings,

    they sang with sweet accord:

    no rapture could so stir a man

    as their song and that wondrous sight….

    More of such wealth was there withal

    than I might tell, though leisure were mine,

    for earthly spirit cannot grasp

    a tenth part of that fair delight;—

    certes methought that paradise

    lay those broad banks beyond:

    I trowed the stream was some device,—

    a lake in the midst of a pleasance;

    beyond the brook, by glen or glade,

    I trowed to find where the moat was marked:

    but the water was deep,—I durst not pass;

    and ever I longed still more and more.

    More and more, and yet still more

    I longed to see beyond that brook;

    for if ’twas fair where I passed along,

    far fairer was that further land.

    I stayed my steps; I gazed about;

    I sought full hard to find some ford—

    the farther I wended along the strand

    the way grew harder, iwis:

    no peril methought would make me turn

    where such rich treasures were,—

    when fresh delights were nigh at hand,

    that moved my mind still more and more.

    More marvels arose to daunt my soul:

    I saw beyond that gladsome mere

    a crystal cliff that shone full bright,—

    many a noble ray gleamed forth;—

    at the foot thereof there sat a child,

    a gracious maiden, so debonair;

    robed was she in glistening white,—

    I knew her well, I had seen her ere.

    Radiant as refinèd gold

    shone that glory ’neath the cliff;

    long I gazed upon her there,—

    the longer, I knew her more and more….

    More than my longing was now my dread;

    I stood full still; I durst not call;

    with open eyes and fast-closed mouth,

    I stood as a well-trained hawk in a hall;

    twixt hope that it came for my soul’s behoof,

    and fear lest perchance it might so befall,

    that the prize I chose might escape from me,

    ere I held it within my grasp;

    when lo! that spotless creature of grace,

    so gentle, so small, so winsomely lithe,

    riseth up in her royal array,—

    a precious thing with pearls bedight.

    Favored mortal might there see

    choicest pearls of sovereign price,

    when all as fresh as a fleur-de-lys

    she came adown that bank.

    Gleaming white was her tunic rich;

    at its sides ’twas open, and wondrously stitched

    with the winsomest pearls, I trow full well,

    that e’er mine eyes had seen:

    broad were the sleeves, I ween and wot,

    with double braid of pearls bedecked,

    and her bright kirtle followed suit,

    with precious pearls bedight.

    A crown that maiden wore withal,

    bedecked with pearls, with none other stones,

    and pinnacled high with pure white pearls,

    with figured flowers wrought thereon;

    no other gem was on her head;

    her hair, too, hung about her neck;

    her look was grave, as a duke’s or an earl’s;

    whiter than whalebone was her hue.

    Her locks shone then as bright pure gold;

    loose on her shoulders so softly they lay;

    though deep their color, they needed not

    those precious pearls on her robe bedight….

    “O Pearl!” quoth I, “with pearls bedight,

    art thou my Pearl?—of me so lone

    regretted, and through the night bewailed.

    Much longing for thee have I borne concealed,

    since thou glancedst from me into grass;

    pensive, shattered, forlorn, am I,

    but thou hast reached a life of joy

    in the strifeless home of Paradise.

    What chance hath hither brought my jewel,

    and me in dolorous plight hath cast?

    Since we twain were sundered and set apart,

    have I been joyless, so loved I my jewel.”

    That jewel then, so fair begemmed,

    veered up her visage, raised her gray eyes,

    set on her crown of orient pearls,

    and gently thus she spake:—

    “Sir, thou hast misread thy tale,

    to say thy pearl is all perdu,

    that is in a casket so well bestowed,

    yea, in this garden of grace and joy,

    herein for ever to dwell and play,

    where sin nor mourning come ne’er nigh:

    this were thy treasure-hold in sooth,

    didst thou love thy jewel aright.”