Oliver Dennis

Oliver Dennis on Three Recent Releases

Pearl

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Carcanet 80pp £9.95 order from our bookshop

Taller When Prone

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Carcanet 88pp £9.95 order from our bookshop

A Hundred Doors

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Jonathan Cape 51pp £10 order from our bookshop

Thought to have been written by the author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl is one of the glories of Middle English poetry, and counts among the great poems about paternal love in the language. As Bernard O’Donoghue points out in his introduction to Jane Draycott’s fine new translation (Carcanet xxpp £9.95), the poem has struggled to emerge from the long shadow cast by Gawain, despite having had a history of notable translators, including J R R Tolkien. It hasn’t helped matters that Pearl has a remarkably complex metrical system, consisting of groups of five twelve-line alliterative stanzas with interlocking rhymes and a series of ‘link-words’ that generate continuity and a sense of resonance throughout. Sensibly, though she preserves the stanza form, Draycott makes no attempt to reproduce the rhyme scheme, relying instead on alliteration and link-words (pearl, bliss, radiance, jewels, glitter, longing, quarrel and so on) to capture something of the weight and circular allusiveness of the original. The effect – notwithstanding the odd prosaic line – is mesmerising.

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