23 December 2012


(14th century English)
Translated by Jane Draycott

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 hudred 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 wrings the wires of sadness tighter,
still the song this silence sings 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 the place where such riches lie rotting
a cfarpet of spices will spring up and spread,
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 precious, spotless pear.

So I cam to this very same spot
in the green of an August garden, height
and heart of summer, at Lammas time
when corn is cut 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.

Caught in the chill grasp of grief I stood
in that place clasping my hands, seized
by the grip on my heart of longing and loss.
Though reason told me to 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.
Then the power and perfume of those flowers
filled up my head and felled me, slipped me
into sudden sleep in the place
where she lay beneath me. My girl.

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