Week 5: “Pearl,” “Princess Mee,” and Other Poems

Dreamer&PearlMaiden

  • How is the symbol of the pearl transformed throughout the poem?
  • What is the nature of the relationship between the Pearl-Maiden and the Dreamer?
  • How might we interpret this poem literally, allegorically, morally, and anagogically?
  • Is the dreamer consoled at the end of the poem? If not, why not? If so, how?
  • What imagery does Tolkien use from “Pearl” in “Princess Mee,” and why is it significant, especially in light of its source?

For more questions to help with close reading, see:
Medieval Pearl – Teaching

24 thoughts on “Week 5: “Pearl,” “Princess Mee,” and Other Poems”

  1. I believe the Dreamer is consoled at the end of the poem, since the Pearl-Maiden’s words allowed him to understand that, much like the wilting of flowers, all beautiful things must pass from this world. He realizes that to see such beauty again, he must reach “the realm of heaven’s sphere,” and he is convinced that, as the lady says, the true jewel is Christ himself. At the end of the poem, his only wish is to carry out the Lord’s will, and become a “precious pearl” for God. The Dreamer is able to let go of the things of this world, knowing there is something far greater beyond it.

    My question is, “Why did the Pearl-Maiden choose to visit the Dreamer?”

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    1. I believe the dreamer is relatively content at the end of the poem. Towards the end he says that “Then happy I, though chained in care, that you that Prince indeed do please”. These lines show the dreamer’s first acceptance of losing the pearl. However, later “in grief for [his] pearl [he] would repine” as he loses his satisfaction with losing the pearl. Finally he gives up his desire of having the pearl for good so that God may “[m]ake precious pearls Himself to please. I believe this back and forth of the poet symbolizes the struggle of humans in giving up their earthly desires. I think the ending also means that to achieve peace it’s necessary to give up what we value most so that others can benefit. My question is what do you think the recurring biblical references have to do with the overall message of the poem? Also what do you think Tolkien would make of these references being a devout catholic?

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      1. The recurring Biblical message and imagery are crucial to what makes “Pearl” a poem. More than references, the Biblical influence pervades every aspect of the poem. The narrator’s dream transports him to an Eden-like paradise, where his pearl shows him the heavenly Jerusalem. Due to his experience in the dream, the dreamer becomes invigorated in his piety and devotion to God, would could only be accomplished by all his religious experience in the dream. As for Tolkien, many of his works set in Middle-earth have subtle, if not overt, religious overtones. For this reason, I believe he would have particularly enjoyed Pearl for its seamless blend of the fantastical and the Biblical.

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    2. I think the Pearl-Maiden chose to visit the Dreamer because she knew how much he was suffering after the loss of his Pearl and she wanted to offer some form of consolation. She wanted to reassure him that she was in a good place, so all his worries about her were for naught. The Pearl-Maiden may have also visited the Dreamer to deliver God’s true desire–for all to become precious jewels in his heaven–so he could live his life trying to fulfill it.

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    3. I believe that the Pearl-Maiden visited the Dreamer because he had lost faith in God’s ways, and was clinging to a materialistic desire that could never leave him truly happy. As you mentioned, she reinforced the idea that all beautiful things must pass. Instead, he must have faith that God had a reason for crowning her, and to not cling too tightly to transient, worldly objects.

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  2. Anna Torres
    Though profoundly changed by his experience, the dreamer is consoled by the end of the poem. Initially the dreamer is unhappy and resigned to have returned to his body; leaving the dream without a choice. He believes that this was Christ’s design, that everything now is as it should be, as He deigned. However, after witnesses New Jerusalem for himself, the dreamer becomes determined to do Christ’s will. He wishes to please Him as successfully and knowingly as the Pearl did, expressing intense displeasure to those who would do otherwise. And so the poem ends with the dreamer full of renewed hope and purpose, eager and committed to carrying out the will of God, so that he to may follow in the Pearl’s example and one day join her in her heavenly role.

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  3. I believe that the Pearl-Maiden chooses to visit the Dreamer so that he may have the epiphany that you describe in your comment. Before her visit, the Dreamer is so caught up in having lost his beautiful pearl in the garden that he has little else on his mind. After he sees her and speaks to her, however, he is able to see the greater purpose of life.

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  4. The relationship between the Pearl-Maiden and the Dreamer can be characterized in two ways: that of a teacher and a student, and that of a heavenly figure and a worshiper. As a teacher, the Pearl-Maiden shows the Dreamer the love of God. She recounts the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard to explain to him that those who begin living the way of God later in life will be rewarded just as grandly as those who worship him their whole lives, provided that their faith is true. Everyone who gives their lives to God, however late in life, will be welcomed into Heaven, according to this parable and the Pearl-Maiden’s words. She also reveals to the Dreamer that she is the bride of Jesus. As such, she is a lofty figure in comparison to him. He acknowledges this once she concludes her speech, and refers to her as “a rich and radiant rose,” and to himself as “but dirt and dust.” My question for the class is: Why did the maiden manifest herself as what the Dreamer believes to be his pearl?

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  5. Throughout the medieval poem “Pearl”, the pearl itself transforms from a symbol of bliss to that of loss and finally to that of spiritual enlightenment and clarity. In the poem’s beginning, the pearl is the Dreamer’s most prized possession. Yet when the Dreamer loses the pearl in the garden, his joy is replaced by a fear that his precious pearl will never be found. Such is his sadness that when he meets the Pearl-Maiden, he confesses to her “for partner you did me pain award on whom was founded all my bliss” (137). However, the pearl, personified by the Pearl-Maiden, soon imparts her wisdom upon him of the loving grace of God and God’s will for all to reach the “Sight of Peace”. At last, the Dreamer is able to reconcile with his loss and discovers a new meaning in the pearl. Rather than focusing on possessing the pearl, he understands that he himself must become a pearl of God. In the last lines of the poem, he states “May He that in form of bread and wine…us inmates of His house divine, make precious pearls himself to please” (168). Although the pearl remains a symbol of purity throughout the poem, its origin changes from something we wish to possess to that which we aim to achieve in ourselves.
    Although “Pearl” is a high medieval religious poem and “Princess Mee” is a quick, light-hearted poem, the two stories can be easily compared by their imagery. To begin, Princess Mee is described as having “pearls in hair, all threaded fair”, recalling the imagery of the Pearl-Maiden “in pearls arrayed”. The description of Mee’s dancing feet as a “glint of glass” is also similar to the image of Jerusalem and its golden roads which “gleamed like glass”. Furthermore, the moon is a recurring image as with Mee’s braid of stars “all moonlit-white” and in such lines of “Pearl” as “neither sun nor moon ever shone so sweet”. Ideals of innocence, purity and light abound in this imagery. While it is definitely linked with spirituality in “Pearl”, I would also argue the same for “Princess Mee”, but in a less dramatic sense. Although “Princess Mee” is not a religious poem, its delicate tone and imagery suggests a certain spirituality. As an elf, the first of Iluvatar’s children on Middle Earth, Princess Mee possesses a greater connection with the divine. Furthermore, the image of Mee dancing on her own reflection and the realization that “only their feet could ever meet” is reminiscent of the Dreamer’s separation from the City of God which lies across the river. In both cases, the other side of the water represents a separate, inverted realm which cannot be reached. The two poems also seem to wind back to where they began. In “Princess Mee” the imagery at the poem’s beginning is repeated in a new sense at its end. Similarly, “Pearl” begins with the Dreamer in his garden and ends with him waking to find himself in the garden once again, yet with a new realization.
    My question is: Why does the lost pearl take the form of a Pearl-Maiden in the man’s Dream? Is this simply to give the pearl a voice, or might this indicate that the pearl which he lost was not simply an object but a symbol of a person he lost, perhaps a daughter.

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    1. That’s a really interesting question, and one that seems really difficult to answer as well. We don’t really know much about the man so it would be almost impossible to guess at the answer without knowing more about his past. This is also a story that mostly occurs in dream-state, so who knows if it is just a crazy dream or something that was actually sent by God, and the pearl represented the holy spirit? I really liked Princess Mee too, as well as the lighthearted nature it has.

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    2. Throughout the poem, the pearl was personified to be a daughter-like character. Without knowing a lot about the man, one could hypothesize that he had lost many things in his life, such as a daughter, and worldly objects like the pearl were all he had left. On the other hand, the pearl could have been LIKE a daughter, which may have been why he require divine intervention in the first place: He may have been too dependent on materialistic, worldly objects.

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  6. I think the beginning of this poem is quite fascinating. At first I viewed “pearl” as a literal object that the writer had lost and is now searching for. I came to realize that the writer, who later falls asleep and becomes the Dreamer of this story, is not searching for an object but for his daughter. When the Dreamer is asleep he is confronted by the Pearl-Maiden, who he believes could be the daughter that was lost; “‘O Pearl’ Isaid, ‘in pearls arrayed, are you my pearl whose loss I mourn?’” (21). The conversation is very interesting as I believe the Pearl-Maiden never confirms the Dreamers allegations of being his daughter, but I would argue that he is quite convinced of this fact; “But my pearl was gone, I knew not where; My sorrow is softened now it I see” (32). I believe this relationship helps the Dreamer get over the loss of his daughter. He seems to be uneasy with the fact that she is no longer with him, but the Pearl-Maiden helps him to understand that she is in a better place—a princess of heaven.

    My question; Is the Pearl-Maiden the Dreamers daughter? Does the answer to that have any implications to the Dreamers understanding of his situation (which is mourning a loss)?

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    1. It is possible that the Pearl-Maiden symbolizes the Dreamer’s daughter, but like Dwhalen15 stated earlier, we really don’t know much about the dreamer so it’s very hard to make conclusions without more knowledge of his past. I was wondering, how did you come to the conclusion that the Dreamer had lost a daughter?

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  7. How is the symbol of the pearl transformed throughout the poem?
    In the beginning, of the poem the pearl is seen as the cause of The Dreamer’s pain and anguish. He lost his pearl, something or someone who had previously provided him with happiness and pride for having it in his possession, and that loss has left a, “…hopeless grief on [his] heart”. But then the Dreamer finds himself in a wondrous land with a beautiful maiden- a maiden whose attire is covered in pearls. The Dreamer makes the connection between his lost pearl and the Pearl-Maiden and, at first, he seems to reproach her for, while he has been grieving her loss, she has been enjoying this wonderful land. The Pearl-Maiden then begins her teachings on what it means to be one of God’s precious jewels–that is when the symbol of the pearl is transformed. The Pearl Maiden explains that God gifts all the same if they truly do want to be worthy or receiving an eternal gift–no matter how late in their lives they start. Though the Dreamer is a bit stubborn and keeps insisting at times that God’s ideal is not fair, eventually e is able to comprehend the Pearl-Maiden’s teachings, and the pearl becomes a glorious item that one wants to obtain. By the time the Dreamer wakes up he no longer feels anger about the pearl he lost, but feels hope at the opportunity he has to be worthy of becoming one of God’s pearls.

    My question is: The Dreamer spends a few lines describing the names of the stones John disclosed in the Apocalypse, what can be the possible significance in doing so?

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  8. I believe the dreamer is consoled at the end of the poem. He is initially distraught, both because he has lost the pearl, and because she has been crowned as a queen even though she lacks “merit.” However, the idea that she has attained a form of otherworldly salvation is consoling to him. Taking on the role of almost a grieving parent, he laments the loss of his daughter. Yet now, the vision alleviates his pain as he discovers the meaning of morality and mankind’s higher place in the afterlife.

    Why would the author choose a pearl for the man to lament symbolically instead of another precious object such as gold?

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    1. I think that because the Pearl-Maiden is supposed to be the Virgin Mary, the author chose a precious object that is often associated with purity and perfection. Gold (or other jewels/metals) often has a negative connotation, and is usually connected with greedy, miserly kings. I also think it has a connection to the “pearl of great price” from the New Testament, and represents an item that is above all other possessions.

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    2. I think the author chose a pearl instead of gold because it is a natural manifestation of beauty instead of gold which is refined and made an object of greed in society. Also with the many biblical references I feel like the Pearl would be an example of the beauty of God’s creation. There is also a heavy nature theme with the garden at the beginning of the poem which also makes the pearl a nice fit for an object of obsession.

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  9. The descriptions of the maidens in the “Princess Mee” and “Pearl” poems create girls who could be used almost interchangeably between the two stories…
    Addressing only a portion of the imagery between Tolkien’s shorter poem and the longer “Pearl”, shows that much of Princess Mee’s description is very similar to, and must have been inspired by, that of the maiden in “Pearl.” Both are seen and described as small and childlike, shown as “Little” Princess Mee, and the Pearl’s maiden as “child… seemly, slight and small.” Tolkien seemed to use the Pearl-Maiden as a mold for creating his elvish Princess Mee, in the ways she is gowned and carries herself.

    Image-ning ( 🙂 ) the Pearl maiden and Princess Mee:
    Pearl Maiden: wore a crown tipped with pearls in her hair with a golden sheen: “shredded gold that glistered bright” (stanza 14) ; “arose in robes majestical, … linen robe of glistening white …her sleeves hung long below her waist adorned with pearls in double braid; her kirtle matched her mantle chaste all about with precious pearls arrayed.” (16, 17)

    Princess Mee: “pearls in her hair all threaded fair; of gossamer shot with gold” (lines 4-6) ; “she wore a woven coat , and round her kirtle was bound a girdle sewn with diamond dew” (12-15)

    I felt like Princess Mee’s dancing pool could be a version of the Tolkien’s Jerusalem in “Pearl”. The way princess Mee dances on her glass-like dancing pool, “as a mist of light in whirling flight… a glint like glass she made… she looked on high to the roofless sky, and she looked to the shadowy shore” (28-36). Jerusalem was “royally arrayed and new, as it was drawn from heaven down. Of gold refined in fire to hue of glittering glass was that shining town” (83). How Mee looked to the heavens then to the shore was interesting when compared with the way Jerusalem was “drawn from heaven down.”
    Princess Mee could be viewed as her poem’s “pearl maiden.”

    I was wondering: Why was Princess Mee’s reflection in the dancing pool characterized as a separate entity in Tolkien’s poem? How could that be interpreted and understood?

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    1. That’s a very interesting question. In my opinion, Princess Mee’s reflection is treated as a separate entity because that is the way Mee is choosing to see it. Despite the light-hearted tone of the poem, there is a suggestion of loneliness. She is alone throughout the poem and has only the companionship of her reflection. Mee could be unaware that Shee is simply her reflection, but more likely she chooses to ignore this fact to escape any feelings of loneliness or dullness. While the image of Mee dancing on her reflection is both charming and beautiful, there is also a certain sadness to it, since she has fooled herself into finding a connection with only herself. One might ask if she will ever care to know another elf. I believe we can all relate to this, sometimes wishing we could find someone exactly like ourselves, but often the excitement of the human experience is realizing that we can connect to people with whom we believed to have nothing in common. I also want to note, if the “e” at the end of Mee and Shee is dropped, “Me” and “She” are left. Clearly, Mee has the intention treating her reflection as though she is her own being.

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    2. I believe that the reflection (or Princess Shee) served to show that even as another image below Princess Mee, she was also her own character, dancing and glowing brightly as her counterpart. I saw it as the “same person but two different worlds” aspect but it was interesting by the end of the poem as it states Princess Shee went off with pearls in her hair.

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  10. I really enjoyed Princess Mee. I thought it was really interesting how the section describing the Pearl Maiden was almost exactly similar to that of Princess Mee. Maybe Tolkien got the idea for the poem from “Pearl” itself. The author used incredible imagery throughout this poem to describe the setting of the Dreamer’s dream- it was filled with crystals, jewels, and magnificent light rays. Princess Mee’s little poem contains mostly specific imagery of her clothes/body rather than the surroundings, however this was just as jewel, pearly white fabric, and fae-filled as the “Pearl”‘s. Tolkien focuses on the main aspect (obviously the pearl itself) and transforms the staunchly religious and Bible-reciting Pearl Maiden into a giddy girlish Princess who might delight people both in action and vision rather than just the latter. Princess Mee wears pearls in her hair, a gold handkerchief, a string of stars, and a diamond encrusted kirtle. In “Pearl”, the Maiden wears a pearl as a focal point of her ensemble because that is what the Dreamer is focused on through the story. Neither character is more glamorous-seeming than the other, but glamour is an aspect of both girls that lends to their fairy or heavenly nature. It is interesting that the “Pearl” occurs in essentially what Paradise is to the Dreaming man because Tolkien was a Catholic, possibly triggering more interest. We see a division of states in both stories as well. The Dreamer was awoken when he tried to swim to Paradise without being called by God, and Shee is a reflection on the floor of Princess Mee, so obviously neither of them will ever encounter each other.

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  11. I thought that the fact that the dreamer contemplated his significance was interesting. I feel like if one had a dream about a heavenly figure, it would lead to a humbling existence. This poem was very hard to read and understand but from what I understand, somebody loses a pearl… which could represent a lover? or family member? and then this leads to him contemplating what he sees in his dream and how this affects his place in the world?

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    1. The way I understood the poem, the man loses a pearl, but it appears to him as the Pearl-Maiden who has been crowned in the heavens. Though the pearl was merely an object, I believe the Pearl-Maiden took the form of a daughter-like figure. The usage of “Maiden” connotes a pure, innocent girl who left the world too soon, like a daughter. Also, the man is indignant to her being crowned in the heavens, as she is “too young,” meaning he likely had a paternal relationship towards her.

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  12. Princess Mee and the Pearl Maiden draw many similarities as they both are described with elegance and beauty. The Pearl Maiden, being an origin to Princess Mee’s depiction, she was described as “fresh as flower-de luces… in linen robe glistening white… adorned with pearls in double braid;” [17]. Princess Mee was said to have “pearls in her hair” “All threaded fair;” “And a silver braid”. In the poem “Little Princess Mee”, Princess Mee is described almost as if a jewel herself, glistening and shining brightly. The syntax in which the poem forms the image of Princess Mee feels delicate, as if she was dancing around to a rhythm of the poem itself. The text in Pearl very much talks about biblical stories and its references to Jesus Christ and Mary. It goes from the interaction between the Pearl Maiden and the Dreamer to the events in Jerusalem and the afterworld thereof. In both these text, the two characters are portrayed as bright figures, both physically and spiritually. I believe they both draw at the idea of parallel worlds, in which the Pearl Maiden appears to the Dreamer, one could take as if an angel coming to the human world to send a message. Princess Mee has that sort of reference as Princess Shee was mirroring Mee even down to her radiance but that they could never stand on the same ground.
    My question is what significance do you believe the pearl itself has in both these stories? Out of everything, why is it a pearl that is chosen in such descriptive matter?

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