Translation is always an act of interpretation; it is nearly inescapable that, at best, some subtle shade of meaning in the original may be lost or, at worst, the sense of the text itself will be altered. This is especially true for a poem like Pearl, which, as Morton Donner and Sylvia Tomasch have shown, is replete with puns and wordplay. To explore the implications a translator’s choice has on the reader’s understanding of the poem, I will examine three translations1 of Pearl’s concluding lines. These lines are vital to a reader’s understanding of the poem in that they recapitulate and resolve the tensions expressed in the poem’s opening stanzas. One of these tensions is the Dreamer’s refusal to reconcile himself to the loss of his “pearl,” pitting his will against God’s. In the Middle English text, lines 1205-06 recall the Dreamer’s position and state of mind at the beginning of the poem, standing lost in his grief and despair before the child’s grave. The obsessive grief the Dreamer expresses at the opening of the poem is evidence of his cupiditas. Yet, though in the final stanza we have come full circle, we have not returned precisely where we began. As we see in lines 1207-08, however, the Dreamer demonstrates his new wisdom, transforming cupiditas into caritas as he apprehends the lessons about divine Providence and free will that the vision of the Pearl maiden has given him.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/alison_langdon/5/