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Indeed, few figures are more dominant in any era of literature in any language or cultural tradition, than both Chaucer and the Pearl-Poet are in the way that they tower over the rest of Middle English literature in terms of having crated the most imposing, lasting, and resounding works of literature associated with that time period and that stage of the development of the English language. Indeed, both Chaucer's and the Pearl-Poet's works are indubitably some of the most important and lasting of any works in English literature and without their contributions to the early development of literary style in English, it is difficult to imagine the stage having been properly set for any of the later greats of Modern English, from Shakespeare on down to Joyce. Indeed, for the very fact that their works was so unbelievably influential in even setting the tone for the sort of literature that was later to develop in English, both Chaucer and the Pearl-Poet would be remembered as important contributors to the historical development of English literature, but the reality is that, far from being mere "contributors" to a tradition, both Chaucer and the Pearl-Poet must be considered great writers in and of themselves, and their works rank among the best and most important cultural artifacts ever written in the English language. Nonetheless, given their closeness, chronologically speaking, and the fact that both employ a form of English, being Middle English, which is alien to most modern readers and may cause some difficulty, their may be a tendency on the part of contemporary readers to lump the two in together as if there were no distinction between them and their separate styles. The reality, however, is that their two styles are as separate, unique, and idiosyncratic as the two styles of any two modern writers would be and to lump them together as being the same would be both a fallacy and an error of the gravest type.
Indeed, these two authors both have exceptionally different styles. Chaucer, of course, is best known for his longer work The Canterbury Tales, in which he contrasts episodes all narrated by different characters that are enumerated in the works prologue. All of the works vary quite widely between one another, and, indeed, this fluctuation is not due to some inner or inherent inconsistency in Chaucer's writing and thinking, but rather due to his sensitivity to narrative voice. Indeed, each of Chaucer's tales are told with distinctly different voices that utter forth stories whose content and teachings differ quite wildly depending upon the narrator who is offering the story. Thus, Chaucer's real literary talent and his primary gift lies in his ability to speak through dramatic masks and to change his authorial voice to fit the stature and temperament of the person through whom he is speaking. Indeed, this marked characteristic is largely what delineates his idiosyncratic style. The Pearl-Poet, on the other hand, although he is perhaps best-known for his epic and action-packed Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, is on the other hand a largely more philosophical poet, interested on musing on meanings and connotations in all things. Thus, very much unlike Chaucer, much of his poetry seems a poetry of philosophical and psychological contemplation, and, whereas Chaucer's Canterbury Tales are marked by subtle and deft variations in narrative voice, the Pearl-Poet's poems are affected by a slightly distanced philosophical reasoning and analysis that seems more classical and considered in this sense than Chaucer does. Thus, the distinction between the two lies in the fact that, where Chaucer uses dramatic voices amidst his narrative, the Pearl-Poet prefers a philosophical and meditative distance from his object.
Indeed, even the very opening lines of the poem "The Pearl" effectively gives the reader an intriguing and reasonable insight into the fashion in which the Pearl-Poet's language is more philosophically high-flown and meditatively conscious then Chaucer is. Even in its very beginning, the poem, by its constant play on the trope of the Pearl, which, as a free-floating signifier, suggests a myriad of different interpretations, such that it is clear from the outset, that while the loss of the Pearl is literal at the beginning, it clearly represents a still-unknown metaphorical and metaphysical quantity and this unknown quantity will contain the philosophical resonance that drives the poem:
Perle, pleasaunte to prynces paye
To clanly clos in golde so clere,
Oute of oryent, I hardyly saye,
Ne proued I neuer her precios pere.
So rounde, so reken in vche araye,
So smal, so smo-e her syde3 were,
Quere-so-euer I jugged gemme3 gaye, sette hyr sengeley in synglere.
Allas! I leste hyr in on erbere;
ur3 gresse to grounde hit fro me yot.
A dewyne, fordolked of luf-daungere
Of ?at pryuy perle wythouten spot.
The Pearl" Part 1)
In this section, the poem's unknown author begins by having his speaker, who is clearly a jeweler, discuss a pearl that he had in his possession, which had retrieved from somewhere in the Orient, and which, the jeweler goes on to say was more beautiful and more precious than any Pearl he had ever seen previously in his entire life. Indeed, he goes on and on about the beauty of the pearl, but, unfortunately for him, whether due to some terrible clumsiness or merely due to some bad twist of fate, he has lost the pearl in an herb garden and it was so hidden among the weeds there that, despite his deep searching for the object, he is completely unable to recover it. Indeed, at the outset, this may seem like simple narration, but, in reality, it is a semi-covert philosophical narrative that is being rendered by someone who is clearly in the deep throws of a metaphysical distress that far outweighs the mere loss that someone would feel after the loss of a pearl, no matter how dear. Indeed, this is basically made clear by the narrator's statement that he is "fordolked of luf-daungere" meaning that he is forlorn of a distress that stems from love. While it is an ambiguous and strange phrase, clearly the speakers feelings of being forsaken and his invocation of love suggest that his speech is metaphorical and metaphysical and that what he is talking about is considerably more weighty than the loss of a mere pearl. Indeed, the trope being used here is one that will be oft-repeated in ensuing English literature and was certainly one used in troubadour poetry of the time in which beauty is equated with the rareness and beauty of jewels and the preciousness of a material object is equated with the worth of an object as it coheres to the inner order of the speaker who has placed such a high value on something that whatever the other thing is, it feels as valuable to the speaker as though it were, in fact, a precious jewel. Thus, the Pearl-Poet's employment of iconography here is not exactly groundbreaking, although it is certainly within a specific tradition.
Indeed, it is ultimately the ending of the poem that reveals that the Pearl-poet's writing is definitively marked by a meditative and metaphysical character and that these attributes are his most telling ones. Indeed, the Pearl, which has been a free-floating signifier through much of the poem representing his desires, his love, and his concern, becomes, finally, a literal sacrifice to God. Indeed, he suggest at the end that the only proper course to undertake is one wherein one's desires are yielded to God and all sacrifices are devoted to him:
To pay ?e Prince o-er sete sa3te
Hit is ful e-e to ?e god Krystyin;
For I haf founden hym, bo-e day and na3te,
God, a Lorde, a frende ful fyin.
Ouer ?is hyul ?is lote I la3te,
For pyty of my perle enclyin,
And sy-en to God I hit byta3te
In Kryste3 dere blessyng and myn, at in ?e forme of bred and wyn e preste vus schewe3 vch a daye.
He gef vus to be his homly hyne
Ande precious perle3 vnto his pay.
The Pearl" Section 20)
Here it becomes obvious that the Pearl-Poet's concern is quite literally a metaphysical one, which, aside from being a concern that is overtly philosophical, is even overtly theological as well, and we realize that the poem is largely an allegory for how a good Christian should be have and act in a time of loss. For these reasons, we can see that the Pearl-Poet's writing is marked by a metaphysical, meditative style that leads him to contemplate complex issues and confront them in his literary products rather than to simply narrate high-blown adventures.
Geofeery Chaucer on the other hand, unlike the more studied, stayed, and metaphysical work of the Pearl-Poet, tends to employ the many and dissonant voices of his characters in employing the narratives that arise in his masterwork, The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer allows the voice, tone, and timbre of the character's idiosyncratic personalities as the guide that shapes the narrative and…[continue]
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