The Maiden is Described

Canto IV

More than I wished, my dread arose;
I stood full still and durst not call.
With eyes wide ope and mouth full closed
I stood there heedful as hawke in hall.
I guessed ghostly purpose was proposed
And was in dread what should befall
Lest she escape whom I saw disclosed.
While I, to salute her, was forestalled.
That gracious gay one without gall,
So smooth, so small, so seemly slight,
Rose up in her array royale,
A precious piece in pearls bedight.


Bedight with pearls of royal price,
There could by grace her charm be read
When she, fresh as a fleur-de-lis,
Bent down the bank her steps bestead.
Of virgin white were her vestments,
Open at sides and beautifully spread
With the merriest margarites, to my mind,
On which my eyes had ever fed--
With large laps of linen, too, I ween,
Decked with double pearl so bright.
Her kirtle, in the self-same scheme,
With precious pearls was all bedight.


A coronet yet bedight that girl,
Of margarites and no other stone,
High pinnacled of clear white pearl,
With perfect flower figures thereon;
No ornament else 'bout her head did curl.
Her gracious gaze met all and one,
Her semblance staid as duke or earl's
Her blush more bonny than whale bone.
Like gold shaved sheer her hair then shone,
On her shoulders lying loose and light.
And her deep collar wanted none,
A border 'twas with pearls bedight.


Bedight, too, were cuffs and hem,
At hands, at sides, at aperture,
With pearl of white, no other gem;
And burnished white was her vesture.
Yet a wondrous pearl without weakness
Between her breasts was set so sure;
A man's assay must surely cease
Before his mind masters its measure.
I guess there's no tongue could endure
Not to speak salutary of that sight,
It was so clean and clear and pure
That precious pearl which her bedight.

Notice, here and following, both through imagery and explicit statement, how high a value our poet puts upon purity. "Purity," for him, obviously pertains to things sexual but to much else as well. Then consider that we live in a society where "purity" has become an impossible concept, if not a ridiculous one. For us, "purity" must mean "puritanism" and signifies only that a person has denied himself all sorts of pleasures, with nothing gained in consequence.

Perhaps if we gave more attention to "purity," we would be more successful in finding the "comfort" we so zealously seek. The two concepts are not unrelated--at least not in the revelation of this poet.


Bedight in pearl, that precious piece
Across the water came down the shore.
No one gladder from here to Greece
Than I when toward the brim she bore.
She was nearer me than aunt or niece;
My joy, therefore, was much the more.
She proffered speech, that special grace,
Inclining low, me to implore,
Cast off the crown that she had worn,
And lifted her voice in language light.
Well 'twas for me that I was born
To answer that angel in pearls bedight.

Copyright (c) 1983