Intertextual echoes

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Intertextual echoes

Post by catvanrooyen@yahoo.com on Thu Aug 24, 2017 7:23 pm

The poem, Pearl, is one of four 14th-century Middle English works which survives in a single manuscript, the Cotton Nero A.x. Due to stylistic and thematic similarities, scholars suggest that the poems were written by the same author, dubbed the ‘Pearl poet’.

In this narrative poem, we meet a man who is mourning the loss of a pearl. He falls asleep in a garden and dreams that he is transported to a beautiful ‘other-worldly’ landscape. In his dream, he comes across the ‘Pearl-maiden’ who is standing on the other side of a stream. He asks many questions which she answers with Christian doctrine. He tries crossing the stream but awakens suddenly and reflects on the significance of the dream.

I find the intertextuality of the work interesting. Not only does the poet refer to classical myths, (Orpheus & Eurydice and Pygmalion & Galatea), but he also employs scriptural interpretation to “moralize” these classical myths and relate them to the Christian faith. He draws from the literal and allegorical associations already embedded in these works to convey the literal and allegorical meaning in his.
Even the Christian doctrine that the poet calls on include text from both the Old and the New Testaments – and therefor require knowledge and understanding of both and how they relate to each other. Interpretation of biblical text carried literal and allegorical meaning, which adds even more dimension to the poem, for example, the Pearl-Maiden’s re-telling of Vineyard Parable. By doing so the allegorical implications are activated and projected onto the poem. A worker that has toiled in the field all day can be projected onto the narrator of the poem and an agrarian, who received more for less work, onto the maiden. In her paper, The Signifying Power of Pearl, Jane Beal (2012) says that this “intertextual echo of other texts” can be activated in order to facilitate an ongoing construction interpretive perspective”.

As for the Ovidian love stories, there are clear parallels to the love story of Orpheus and Eurydice, even though they are only implied. Yet the two mythological figures are not mentioned directly in the poem; instead, their presence in the Pearl-Poet’s memory, creating parallels in his poem, remains implied rather than overt. Picking up on these parallels require readers to know the story of Orpheus and learn about medieval allegorical interpretations of it in and infer the meaning of the poem. The Pearl-Poet does name Pygmalion and alludes to Galatea, two figures from another Ovidian love story.

catvanrooyen@yahoo.com

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