Monday, June 12, 2006

"To pay the Prince or set Him saught..."

The Angel Shows St. John the Heavenly Jerusalem
(English Gulbenkian Apocalypse, c. 1250)

In his comments to yesterday's post, Eshuneutics mentioned that Enitharmon Press has a new edition of Pearl.

With that information, I found a webpage at Medieval Forum advertising this new translation by Victor Watts (edited by David Fuller and Corinne Saunders). A sample of the traslation is provided, and it just happens to be the passage that I was attempting to make sense of and translate yesterday.

I'll post the online translation here, and since I think that I ought always to contribute something when I borrow, then I'll provide the Watts translation interlinear to the original for ease of comparison:

To pay the Prince other sete saghte
To pay the Prince or set Him saught // propitiate Him

Hit is ful ethe to the god Krystyin;
it is full eath to the good Christine; // easy/Christian

For I haf founden Hym bothe day and naghte
for I have found Him both day and naught // night

A God, a Lorde, a frende ful fyin.
a God, a Lord, a friend full fine. // most true

Over this hyul this lote I laghte,
Over this hile this lote I laught, // upon/mound/fortune/received

For pyty of my Perle enclyin,
for pity of my Pearl incline, // lying prostrate

And sythen to God I hit bytaghte
and sithen to God I it betaught // then/committed

In Krystez dere blessyng and myn,
in Christ's dear blessing and mine,

That in the forme of bred and wyn
that in the form of bread and wine

The preste uus schewez uch a daye.
the priest us shows every day.

He gef uus to be His homly hyne
He gave us to be His homely hine // members of His household

Ande precious perlez unto His pay.
and precious pearls unto His pay. // to His pleasure

Amen. Amen. (1201-13)
Amen. Amen.

Readers will have noted that this doesn't look quite like a translation into Modern English, and they'd be right. Watts has not so much translated as modernized, as the editors explain:
Victor Watts's version preserves as far as possible the original wording and word order but modernises the spelling. This is a limited form of modernization, but the only way in which all the features of the original text's elaborate formal structure, which are so important to its feeling as a poem, can be retained -- the alliteration, patterns of rhyme, and patterns of linked opening and closing lines by which stanzas are grouped. Some archaic spellings remain or have been slightly modified.
The edition, therefore, would be very useful for undergraduate students interested in studying the poem but deterred by its difficulty ... and also for would-be scholars like me whose Middle English skills leave something (call it 'expertise') to be desired.

Interestingly, given his fascination with the poem, Watts asks himself if "the poem is not really a misguided and overwrought failure." As he explains in the introduction:
Depth of feeling, semantic subtlety, didactic force, humanity, humour even, there certainly is. But although he poet subtly varies his style between the didactic and the narrative passages, nevertheless the preciousness and awkwardness of his style has impressed itself upon me more forcibly than hitherto in making this experiment of modernisation.
The editors, however, prefer to understand Watts as attributing the fault not to the poet but to the modern readers:
Although Watts clearly views Pearl as "a jewel of exquisite form and sensitivity," he specifically acknowledges the difficulties presented to a modern audience by the "preciousness and awkwardness" of the Pearl-poet's style and language. If anything, this might be an understatement. Even for readers of Middle English, the dialect used by the Pearl-poet, one usually associated with the North West Midlands around the Cheshire-Derbyshire-Staffordshire border area, presents a challenge.
My Middle English skills would need to be a lot better before I could judge on this issue, but the question is certainly one to note and consider.



At 6:27 AM, Blogger A.H. said...

Well, Pearl is a true mystery. The first structural point is that the poem splits. It is a musical split, which given the importance of sound/ear in medieval poetry, would seem to be correct. Section One is from I-XII. At this point the inter-locking stops. Section Two is from XIII-XX. The split is stressed by a repeating of the without "spot"/immaculate theme which echoes throughout I and XIII.
That means a 12:8 structure. In essence that would be Jerusalem:Baptism, exactly the temptation of the dream-poet who would immerse himself in water to reach the New Jerusalem. His choice to honour the water of life and wait for his resurrection into Jerusalem is another variant on the poem's numerology. And the numbers flow on...

At 4:34 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I must have missed this comment. Thanks, Eshuneutics.

Jeffery Hodges

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