Researching rhyme and repetition has taken me far into early and mid-fourteenth-century poetry, the stuff that was in fashion before Langland, Gower and Chaucer remodelled poetics, what you might call ‘middle Middle English’. The Gawain-poet, often seen as the fourth member of the Ricardian gang, has many formal affiliations with the poetry of the 1330s, 1340s and 1350s. Here a hat tip is very much in order: I couldn’t have got to grips with this in the last few weeks without the scholarship of Thorlac Turville-Petre, Susanna Fein and Ad Putter.
The theme for this year’s United Kingdom National Poetry Day is LIGHT. What sprung into my mind, thinking of light in Middle English poetry, was an image of jasper walls gleaming like egg white in a city which doesn’t need the light of the sun or the moon because it is lit by divinity itself: ‘The selfe God was her lambe-lyght, / The Lombe her lantyrne’ [God himself was their lamp-light, the Lamb their lantern]. It comes in what might just be the best stanza in Middle English poetry.
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.