As we change over to the new syllabus, this is the last year in which our Finalists might write a exam commentary on an extract from the Middle English poem Pearl. In the next couple of weeks I’m therefore saying farewell to Pearl as a commentary text, but at the same time looking at it yet once more, having done a bit more reading and thinking about form, metre and versification. Embarrassingly, several things on my old Pearl handout for Finalists now need what in our house is called a ‘tiny-justment’ (in honour of our daughter’s toddlerish repetition of Mr Stylisticienne the Engineer saying that such and such toy needed ‘a tiny adjustment’ in order to work). This post is really a collection of tiny-justments, for this last year of Pearl commentators (hello Teddy Hall Finalists!), and for me, and for anyone else who’s interested, of ideas about how one might approach Pearl’s metre and stanza-form for Finals commentary.
One of the ever-present temptations when writing about poetics is the urge to classify and produce taxonomies, to label different types of versification as different traditions, opposite categories, or mutually exclusive praxis. This approach tends to value conformity, whilst it implies that poems that don’t ‘fit’ or ‘behave’ are in some way inadequate or failing. This week’s extract (scroll down for text and translation) is part of an apostrophe to Death written by an anonymous fifteenth-century poet. It’s a good example of the poetic mixture that defies categorisation or allocation to a particular tradition.