Word, Image, and Vision: Cardiosensory Sight and Cognition in the Work of the Pearl-poet
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This thesis examines vision and visuality in the poems of MS. British Library Cotton Nero A.x art. 3 (Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight). These Middle English poems of the late fourteenth century, commonly attributed to a single unknown author (the Pearl-poet), have long been admired for their evocative visual elements. The present study argues that visuality and vision are essential to earthly contemplation of God and that the Pearl-poet’s representation of visual perception ultimately endorses the utility of material signs and the material body itself. The argument incorporates the medieval discourses of optical science, faculty psychology, and mystical theology to argue that the Pearl-poet employs vision as a mode of spiritual communion. Imagining the heart as the essential organ of sense perception, the poet represents the human body as a medium for recognizing and an index for understanding the signs of spirit suffusing the material world.