Big Books

(Beings March 30) It’s been called “the most intricate poem ever wrought in English” and “one of the most effective verbal melodies in all of literature,” whose “strangeness …magnifies its emotional power,” to quote just three of its many fans. Rhyming, alliterating, AND linking its 101 stanzas with kaleidoscopic wordplay, the fourteenth-century Pearl tells of a man who falls asleep in a lush garden mourning the loss of his precious pearl. Then, in a phantasmagoric dreamscape, he sees her, and we gradually realize that the pearl is his daughter, who died before her second birthday; the garden, the graveyard in which she’s buried, “all clad in clot.” But in this richly layered text, no word or image means just one thing; Pearl insists upon, and performs, the complexity of grief, love, and beauty.

Students won’t write formal essays. Instead, after reading and discussing the poem itself, they will produce a poetic rendering of their favorite stanzas and reflect on the act of translating, which involves forms of loss—of meaning and beauty—eerily similar to what the poem itself describes. No experience withmedieval literature is required or expected, just willingness to enter a strange and gorgeous verbal landscape.