A Golden Age of English Poetry
Edited By Gerald Morgan
CAROLINE E. JONESA Lesson in Patience 63
Caroline E. Jones A Lesson in Patience This essay will assess the importance of the Matthean Beatitudes in Patience, British Library MS Cotton Nero A.x, Art.3, and will demonstrate how thor- oughly this beatitudinal inf luence governs the didacticism of the poem. It is widely accepted that this poem by the Gawain-poet,1 along with Cleanness,2 uses the Beatitudes to convey meaning. However, a more detailed study of this imperative aspect will unveil an altogether more comprehensive dependence upon the set of blessings and the theology that surrounds them than has hitherto been noticed. I propose that the Old Testament story of Jonah and the layering of moral instruction underpinning it were carefully chosen and reworked by the Gawain-poet to promulgate aspects of the Beatitudes as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew, 5.3–10). His handling of the blessings also reveals his awareness of the thousand years of commentary that had surrounded the subtleties of their meaning by the fourteenth century. And by using the exemplum of Jonah and the Beatitudes in this way the poet has been able to demonstrate unequivocally what Christian patience actually entails. As the Beatitudes and the Gawain-poet’s rendition of them in Patience will be the subject of close scrutiny here I reproduce for convenience below the extended version of the Matthean Beatitudes, both the Vulgate Latin and the Douay Rheims translation, as well as the poet’s interpretation of them as they appear in Patience (9–28): 3. Beati pauperes spiritu: quoniam ipsorum est regnum...
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