She Bids Him to Submit to God

Canto VI

"I hold that jeweler little to praise
who believeth well that he seeth with eye.
And much to blame and discourteous
Who believeth our Lord would make a lie,
Who loyally promised your life to raise,
Tho fortune destined your flesh to die.
Ye make his words a motley maze
Who nothing believe unless ye it see;
That is a pride unworthy of praise
Which any good man will never indulge--
No tale believing as truth he can trace
Except when his own sense is the judge.

Regarding this stanza, the poet likely thought of John 20:29 before you did. There, upon the Apostle Thomas's becoming convinced through a material manifestation of the risen Lord, Jesus says, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

Of course, there simply is no Christian faith apart from the willingness to take the Lord at his word, in the absence of demonstrable evidence, refusing to believe that he would make a lie. But the principle has particular relevance to the matter of grief, as the poet himself applies it. Concerning the death of a loved one, if the mourner refuses to believe there is life after death until he "seeth with eye," there is little in the way of hope and comfort that can be afforded him. The maiden is correct; for the Jeweler to say, "Now I believe," is not much of a recommendation of his faith or his being a candidate for Christian comfort. And if modern Christians choose to let stand the implication that their Lord made a lie, what comfort can they expect their "faith" to provide?

Yet the principle also applies more broadly. If, in any sort of grief, I refuse to believe that comfort is possible until I actually can see it, I cut myself off from some of the greatest consolations of the gospel. If I refuse to believe that an experience has any meaning until I can spell out that meaning in terms of my own comprehension, I am bound to miss some of the most valuable lessons there. If I refuse to believe that God works in all things for good until I can locate the good, there are many goods that will never be mine. To believe only "when my own sense is the judge" is not to believe at all. And where there is no belief, how is Christian comfort to be found?


"Judge now thyself, whether thou didst not dally,
As tho toward God one's words he should heave.
Thou sayest that thou shalt dwell in this valley;
Methinkest thou first ought to ask leave--
And yet might thou fail in getting the grant.
Thou wishest over this water to weave;
But to other counsel must thou consent.
Thy cold corpse must crumble and to the clody cleave,
For corrupted it was at the Paradise trees,
There where our forefather his life misspent.
Each man must drive thru death's dread disease
Ere crossing this stream upon God's judgment.

Introduced here is an idea soon to be come central. The Jeweler, as a sufferer, has assumed that consolation is his by right. Rather than plead for it as a boon, he proposes to take it--walk right in, as it were. And then, notice in the next stanza, when she tells him "no," he accuses her of being cruel and causing his suffering. Earlier he had admitted that, through grief, he had set himself against reason. Here he's proving it--as do we all.


Quod I, "If thou judgest me, my sweet,
To dole again, then am I deadened.
What I forlost, if I once more greet,
Must I also forego it ere my end?
Why must I it both miss and meet?
My precious pearl with pain doth me rend.
What serves a treasure except as defeat
If it shall later in trauma be taken?
Now reckless am I how far I decline
Or how far of field men do me send.
When parted from thus pearl of mine,
Who can judge that but dole without end."


"Judgest thou naught but of dole-distress?"
Then said that wight, "Why dost thou so?
For din of his dole over lesser losses,
Oft many a man more good doth forego.
Better 'twould be that thou thyself bless
And always love God in weal and in woe,
For anger gaineth thee not a straw;
Who needs must hurt should not be curt.
For tho you're distraught as any doe--
Bellow thy brashest, brandish and bray--
When thou canst no further, to nor fro,
Thou must by his judgement abide anyway.

"Can't you think of anything except yourself and your own pain?" the Pearl Maiden asks. "You accuse me, and you accuse god. Quit fighting it; your anger won't gain you a straw. In any case, we are not tormenting you; you're doing it to yourself.

The poet had the words "thole" and "thro" in place of "hurt" and "curt" (his way fits the rhyme scheme and mine doesn't). But together I think we deserve credit for a real pearl of Christian counsel: "Who needs must hurt should not be curt." Granted, it is hard for us to understand that the manner of our hurting amounts to a being curt with God; but once we do understand and confess it so, there is no doubt but that Christian comfort is at hand.


"Judge God; ever him indict--
He won't place a foot where it doesn't belong.
Thy opinions don't amount to a mite,
Tho thou, for sorrow, ne'er have a song.
Stop then thy strife and finish thy flight
And seek now his favor full swiftly and strong;
Thy prayer may then move him to pity thy plight,
That Mercy may with her power respond.
His comfort may with thy capriciousness cope
That thou thy losses no longer begrudge;
For, be moody or mad, mourn and mope,
All lies with him to juggle and judge."

Copyright (c) 1983