The Pearl of Great Price

Canto XIII

"Jesus called to him the mild
And said this realm no wight might win
Unless he came right as a child,
Else never more he'd come therein.
Harmless, true, and undefiled,
No fleck or flaw of soiling sin--
When such knock at the domicile,
Quick for them the gate's unpinned.
There's the bliss that cannot end,
Which the jeweler sought throughout the world,
Sold all his goods, both wool and linen,
To buy himself the flawless pearl.

You will notice that the opening catch line of this stanza fails to catch up the link word, "right." That was the poet's slip-up, not mine-although he obviously knew his salvation would be by grace and not by "right" (whether one he earned or one he missed).

With this stanza a transition is made from the topic of salvation by grace to Jesus' parable about the pearl of great price--thought, truth to tell, I had never before understood that the "all his goods" the merchant sold consisted of wool land linen; but it makes sense. The poet takes the opportunity to return to a theme that he had touched upon earlier, namely that one's highest value should be a pure and innocent relationship to Jesus Christ.


"This matchless pearl, when bought, is dear--
The Jeweler giving all his good.
'Tis like the realm of heaven clear--
So saith the Father of field and flood--
For it is spotless, clean, and clear,
Endlessly round and blithe of mode,
And common to all who righteous were.
Lo, it upon my breast has stood!
My Lord the Lamb who shed his blood
In token of peace did it confer.
Forsake the witless world thou should.
And buy thyself a flawless pearl."


"O flawless pearl in pearls pure,
Who beareth," quod I, "the pearl of price,
He who formed thy fair figure,
Who wrought thy weeds, he was full wise.
Thy beauty came ne'er of nature;
Pygmalion ne'er painted thy visage;
Nor did Aristotle's literature
Describe by kind such properties.
Thy color passes the fleur-de-lis;
Thine angel-manner's so courteous--
Brief me, bright one: what kind of office
Beareth the pearl that's so flawless?"


"My matchless lamb with whom none compete,"
Quod she, "my dearest destiny,
Chase me to make his, through hardly meet
That union earlier seemed to be.
When I went from your world's conceit,
He called me to his felicity,
'Come here to me, my lover sweet,
For mote nor spot there's none in thee.'
He gave me might and yet beauty;
In his blood my wardrobe white he furled
And crowned me, clean in virginity,
And plied me with his flawless pearls."


"Why, flawless bride, who bright doth flame,
Who royalty hath so rich and rife,
What kind of being must be that lamb
That he would thee wed fro his wife?
O'er others all so high dost thou climb
To lead, with him, such ladylike life,
While more comely women under comb
For Christ have lived amongst much strife.
And thou these dears away didst drive
And thru that marriage all others depress--
Thyself alone, so staunch and stiff,
A matchless maid and thus flawless!"

The poor jeweler, he just cannot get through his head an understanding of the divine commonality of honor in the community of grace. For him--as for us--you simply do not have honor except in contrast to the lesser status of others. Yet, surely, this divine commonality lies at the very heart of what Christian comfort is all about.

From this point on, the poem will be largely governed by imagery from the Apocalypse, or what we commonly know as the book of Revelation. And I am of the opinion that the poet displays a surprisingly uncommon understanding of that book. His is a very positive, Christocentric interpretation--as over against the usual emphases on punishment, fear, judgment, monstrosity, and crystal ball calendarizing.

Copyright (c) 1983