Pearl Poet

Unknown medieval poet

The Pearl Poet (or alternatively The Gawain Poet) is a name conventionally given to the 14th century English author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Patience, Cleanness and possibly Saint Erkenwald. He wrote in alliterative metres in a north-west Midland dialect of Middle English. His real name is unknown.





Translations are taken from Brian Stone (trans.) Medieval English Verse (1964).

  • Allas! I leste hyr in on erbere;
    Þurȝ gresse to grounde hit fro me yot.
    I dewyne, fordolked of luf-daungere
    Of þat pryuy perle wythouten spot.
    • Alas! In a garden I lost it, let
      It go to the ground on a grassy plot.
      Bereft of love, I am racked by regret
      For Pearl, my own Pearl without a spot.
    • Line 9.
  • Dubbed wern alle þo downeȝ sydeȝ
    Wyth crystal klyffeȝ so cler of kynde.
    Holtewodeȝ bryȝt aboute hem bydeȝ
    Of bolleȝ as blwe as ble of Ynde;
    As bornyst syluer þe lef on slydeȝ,
    Þat þike con trylle on vch a tynde.
    Quen glem of glodeȝ agaynȝ hem glydeȝ,
    Wyth schymeryng schene ful schrylle þay schynde.
    • Adorned were all the hillsides there
      With crystal cliffs, while down below
      Brilliant woodlands were everywhere.
      The boles were blue as indigo;
      Like burnished silver the leaves swayed,
      Quivering close on the branches spread;
      They shimmered in splendour, glanced and played,
      When glinting gleams from the sky were spread.
    • Line 73.
  • In þe founce þer stonden stoneȝ stepe,
    As glente þurȝ glas þat glowed and glyȝt,
    As stremande sterneȝ, quen stroþe-men slepe,
    Staren in welkyn in wynter nyȝt.
    • Dazzling stones shone in the deep
      Like glint through glass, glowing and bright;
      As streaming stars, when dalesmen sleep,
      Flare in the welkin on winter night.
    • Line 113.
  • The dubbement dere of doun and daleȝ,
    Of wod and water and wlonk playneȝ,
    Bylde in me blys, abated my baleȝ,
    Fordidden my stresse, dystryed my payneȝ.
    Doun after a strem þat dryȝly haleȝ
    I bowed in blys, bredful my brayneȝ;
    Þe fyrre I folȝed þose floty valeȝ,
    Þe more strenghþe of ioye myn herte strayneȝ.
    • The precious adornment of down and dale,
      Of wood and water and noble plain,
      Brought me to bliss, made bitterness fail,
      Allayed my distress, destroyed my pain.
      Down by a stream of steady flow
      I moved in bliss, my mind a-thrill,
      And further along that river-land low,
      The joy of my heart grew stronger still.
    • Line 121.
  • "Moteleȝ may so meke and mylde",
    Þen sayde I to þat lufly flor,
    "Bryng me to þat bygly bylde
    And let me se þy blysful bor."
    Þat schene sayde: "Þat God wyl schylde;
    Þou may not enter wythinne hys tor."
    • "Moteless maiden so meek and mild,"
      Then said I to that fairest flower,
      Bring me to that bountiful pile
      And let me see your blissful bower."
      "God will forbid it," the bright one said.
      "You shall not enter his holy place."
    • Line 961.



The poem is sometimes also known as Purity. Translations are taken from Brian Stone (trans.) The Owl and the Nightingale, Cleanness, St. Erkenwald (1971).

  • Luf lokez to luf & his leue takez,
    For to ende alle at onez & for euer twynne.
    By forty dayez wern faren, on folde no flesch styryed.
    • The lover and his lady looked their last farewell,
      Ending everything for all time, for ever parting.
      When the forty days were finished, no fleshly thing moved.
    • Line 401.
  • Hit waltered on þe wylde flod, went as hit lyste,
    Drof vpon þe depe dam, in daunger hit semed,
    Withouten mast, oþer myke, oþer myry bawelyne,
    Kable, oþer capstan to clyppe to her ankrez,
    Hurrok, oþer hande-helme hasped on roþer,
    Oþer any sweande sayl to seche after hauen.
    • It weltered on the wild waters, went where it would,
      Drove above the depths, in danger as it seemed,
      Without means of mainmast, mizzen or bowline,
      Without cable or capstan for clinging to anchors,
      Or hurrock or hand-helm hoped on the rudder,
      Or any swaying sail for seeking a haven.
    • Line 415.
  • For when þat þe Helle herde þe houndez of heuen,
    He watz ferlyly fayn, vnfolded bylyue;
    Þe grete barrez of þe abyme he barst vp at onez,
    Þat alle þe regioun torof in riftes ful grete,
    & clouen alle in lyttel cloutes þe clyffez aywhere,
    As lauce leuez of þe boke þat lepes in twynne.
    • For when hell heard the hounds of heaven
      It was grisly glad, and grinding apart
      The great bars of the abyss, it burst swiftly upwards,
      Ripping open the region with rifts most terrible.
      Then crags and cliffs were cloven in shreds
      Like loose leaves of a book that flutter about.
    • Line 961.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight


Translations are taken from the 1974 version by Brian Stone, except where otherwise noted.

  • SIÞEN þe sege and þe assaut watz sesed at Troye,
    Þe borȝ brittened and brent to brondeȝ and askez,
    • Since the siege and the assault were ceased at Troy,
      The city ruined and burnt to coals and ashes,
      (alternate translation)
      • Line 1
  • Bot of alle þat here bult, of Bretaygne kynges,
    Ay watz Arthur þe hendest, as I haf herde telle.
    • But of all that here built, of Britain kings,
      It was Arthur the noblest, as I have heard tell.
      (alternate translation)
      • Line 25
  • And also an oþer maner meued him eke,
    Þat he þurȝ nobelay had nomen he wolde neuer ete
    Upon such a dere day er hym deuised were
    Of sum auenturus þyng an vncouþe tale
    Of sum mayn meruayle þat he myȝt trawe
    Of of alderes of armes of oþer auenturus.
    • Still, he was stirred now by something else:
      His noble announcement that he never would eat
      On such a fair feast-day till informed in full
      Of some unusual adventure, as yet untold,
      Of some momentous marvel that he might believe,
      About ancestors, or arms, or other high theme.
    • Line 90.
  • Wheþer hade he no helme ne hawbergh nauþer,
    Ne no pysan ne no plate þat pented to armes,
    Ne no schafte ne no schelde to schwue ne to smyte,
    Bot in his on honde he hade a holyn bobbe,
    Þat is grattest in grene when greuez ar bare,
    And an ax in his oþer, a hoge and vnmete,
    A spetos sparþe to expoun in spelle, quoso myȝt.
    Þe lenkþe of an elnȝerde þe large hede hade.
    • Yet hauberk and helmet had he none,
      Nor plastron nor plate-armour proper to combat,
      Nor shield for shoving, nor sharp spear for lunging;
      But he held a holly cluster in one hand, holly
      That is greenest when groves are gaunt and bare,
      And an axe in his other hand, huge and monstrous,
      A hideous helmet-smasher for anyone to tell of;
      The head of that axe was an ell-rod long.
    • Line 203.
  • What is þis arthures hous quoþ þe haþel þenne
    Þat al þe rous rennes of þurȝ ryalmes so mony
    Where is now your sourquydrye and your conquestes
    Your gry dellayk and your greme and your grete wordes
    Now is þe reuel and þe renoun of þe rounde table
    Ouerwalt wyth a worde of on wyȝes speche
    For al dares for drede withoute dynt schewed
    • What, is this Arthur's house, the honour of which
      Is bruited abroad so abundantly?
      Has your pride disappeared? Your prowess gone?
      Your victory, your valour, your vaunts, where are they?
      The revel and renown of the Round Table
      Is now overwhelmed by a word from one man's voice,
      For all flinch for fear from a fight not begun!
    • Line 309
  • After crystenmasse com þe crabbed lentoun
    Þat fraystez flesch wyth þe fysche and fode more symple.
    Bot þenne þe weder of þe worlde wyth wynter hit þrepez,
    Colde clengez adoun, cloudez vplyften,
    Schyre schedez þe rayn in schowrez ful warme,
    Fallez vpon fayre flat, flowrez þere schewen,
    Boþe groundez and þe greuez grene ar her wedez,
    Bryddez busken to bylde, and bremlych syngen
    For solace of þe softe somer þat sues þerafter
    Bi bonk.
    • After Christmas comes the crabbed Lenten time,
      Which forces on the flesh fish and food yet plainer.
      Then weather more vernal wars with the wintry world,
      The cold ebbs and declines, the clouds lift,
      In shining showers the rain sheds warmth
      And falls upon the fair plain, where flowers appear;
      The grassy lawns and groves alike are garbed in green;
      Birds prepare to build, and brightly sing
      The solace of the ensuing summer that soothes hill
      And dell.
    • Line 502.
  • For werre wrathed hym not so much þat wynter nas wors,
    When þe colde cler water fro þe cloudez schadde,
    And fres er hit falle myȝt to þe fale erþe;
    Ner slayn wyth þe slete he sleped in his yrnes
    Mo nyȝtez þen innoghe in naked rokkez,
    Þer as claterande fro þe crest þe colde borne rennez,
    And henged heȝe ouer his hede in hard iisse-ikkles.
    • Yet the warring little worried him; worse was the winter,
      When the cold clear water cascaded from the clouds
      And froze before it could fall to the fallow earth.
      Half-slain by the sleet, he slept in his armour
      Night after night among the naked rocks,
      Where the cold streams splashed from the steep crests
      Or hung high over his head in hard icicles.
    • Line 726.
  • Bi a mounte on þe morne meryly he rydes
    Into a forest ful dep, þat ferly watz wylde,
    Hiȝe hillez on vche a halue, and holtwodez vnder
    Of hore okez ful hoge a hundreth togeder;
    Þe hasel and þe haȝþorne were harled al samen,
    With roȝe raged mosse rayled aywhere,
    With mony bryddez vnblyþe vpon bare twyges,
    Þat pitosly þer piped for pyne of þe colde.
    • Merrily in the morning by a mountain he rode
      Into a wondrously wild wooded cleft,
      With high hills on each side overpeering a forest
      Of huge hoary oaks, a hundred together.
      The hazel and the hawthorn were intertwined
      With rough ragged moss trailing everywhere,
      And on the bleak branches birds in misery
      Piteously piped away, pinched with cold.
    • Line 740.
  • We lorde quoþ þe gentyle knyȝt
    Wheþer þis be þe grene chapelle?
    He myȝt aboute mydnyȝt
    Þe dele his matynnes telle.
    • "O God, is this the Chapel Green
      This mound?" said the noble knight.
      "At such might Satan be seen
      Saying matins at midnight."
    • Line 2185.
  • I sende hir to asay þe, and sothly me þynkkez
    On þe fautlest freke þat euer on fote ȝede;
    As perle bi þe quite pese is of prys more,
    So is Gawayn, in god fayth, bi oþer gay knyztez.
    • I instructed her to try you, and you truly seem
      To be the most perfect paladin ever to pace the earth.
      As the pearl to the white pea in precious worth,
      So in good faith is Gawain to other gay knights.
    • Line 2362.