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The Hidden Runic Poem
in the Medieval Allegory Pearl
by Roy Neil Graves
Copyright 2005
     

 
     The two textual excerpts below—drawn from other sections of this site named as headings—attempt to show how the Middle English Pearl (ca. 1360-95?) embeds a hidden gem, previously undiscovered. At right is a copy of the top section of the first ms. page of Pearl, which is an allegorical dream vision betraying elaborate craftsmanship.
     The illustration above, a copy of one of several rather naive-looking ms. illustrations, shows the Dreamer asleep.
     The embedded 21-line lyric poem that I call “The Pearl Rune” is, on one allegorical level at least, the title subject of the larger work.
     The first part of the discussion below tries to outline my discovery; the second part reconstitutes the buried text itself and attempts to decipher it, both as a lyric poem and as a gamelike riddle.
     Scholars more skilled than I in Middle English can, I hope, refine what I have tried to carve out.

RNG, 12 September 2005

           From The Discovery of the Runes—a Lost Coterie Genre:

          In l976-77, as a doctoral student in English at Ole Miss enrolled in a seminar focusing on the works of the Pearl/Gawain poet, I undertook a long paper that started out as a structural analysis of the medieval dream vision Pearl, an anonymous, amply developed, puzzling Christian allegory about some “buried gem” that eventually appears as a revived Bride of Christ and thus serves Heaven’s purposes. Perhaps late 14th century and thus roughly of Chaucer’s era, Pearl is uniquely recorded in MS. Cotton Nero A.x., a text that I had access to in facsimile. The poem is elaborately stanzaic and shows sophisticated craftsmanship. In the course of doing this seminar project I found—almost but not totally by accident—a previously unknown 21-verse text embedded in the longer Pearl. This buried lyric comprises the 21 ms. lines that start with large, decorative capital letters (see Graves, Hugh John Massey 20, and John Massey Un-hyd 8-12, 27ff.).

        One reason I got intrigued by the form of the poem was a numerologic conundrum: The full text of Pearl has 21 capital letters but only 20 major stanzaic blocks; scholars have routinely dismissed the “extra” capital and the “confused” placement of several other large initial letters as “scribal error”—the customary explanation for thousands of eccentricities and puzzling bobbles in early ms. texts—and have thus in good conscience often amended and regularized these features, noting their presence in footnotes.

          I began my paper with a plan to test the thesis that the formal and numeric aberrations were purposeful rather than accidental—perhaps some kind of numerologic play (since 21 = 3 x 7, vaguely “mystical” numbers) or else a mea culpa gesture by the author/scribe, incorporated conventionally in medieval art to acknowledge that “only God makes perfect works.” The sly tendency of the Pearl poet to say provocative things like “ever the longer the less, the more” also intrigued me. Could that have been a comment on the “stretched” form of the poem, I wondered. Or maybe a pun on the order of “…the lass, the Moor”—applealing slyly to the prurience that later became a subtle aspect of the lure of Shakespeare’s Othello?

          Searching for a “numbers” scheme in Pearl one winter night in the lower recesses of the Ole Miss Library, seated within yards of the wall inscribed with William Faulkner’s famous remark about “enduring and prevailing” and with no clearer motive than to try to understand what the sequential form of the long text might encase, I copied out, in the order in which they occur, the 21 emphatic lines in Pearl. I remember having the vivid conviction as I watched the lines accumulate that I was reading some sort of slow medieval teletype, with progressive coherence and a lyric voice only partly piercing the mist of my own ignorance about the poet’s dialect and purposes. Whether my sketchy Middle English helped or hurt in the process, I’m still not sure.

          That night I shared with my friend and fellow student David Taylor my first findings. From that night I date my on-going fascination with what I have since come to call literary archaeology—the process of unearthing lost treasures in early texts.

           I soon began to understand that the reconstructed 21-line poem, at least on one level of the much-debated allegory, must be the “lost pearl” that the speaker in Pearl laments—a crafted, secular “gem” whose “burial,” as the poet-dreamer comes to see in the poem, eventually serves God’s greater glory even as its sacrificial entombment, a moving gesture of self-effacement, continues to pain the poet. The description in the text of this lost gem as “small” with “smooth sides”—So rounde, so reken in vche araye, / So smal, so smo[th]e her syde[s] were… (Gordon I.5-6)—led me eventually, after much guesswork manipulation, to restore the poem into a symmetrical form that makes it look like a modern crossword puzzle on an alphabetic grid of squares with the dimensions 2l (lines) x 33 (characters)—the medial caesuras in the marginally-justified lines leaving gaps of varying “spaces” toward the center, except in the longest line, 7, which has no gaps (see John Massey Un-hyd 10). This recomposition, I believe, is an authorized form that recreates what the Pearl poet labored over and then intentionally buried inside his longer text about 600 years ago:

The Pearl Rune Construed as a 21x33 Letterbox with “Smooth Sides ”



           With study I came to see that The Pearl Rune—as I called the buried text—encoded extensive, overlapping messages and wit, including vertical and reverse readings of the alphabetic code. Decipherings will always be incomplete because of the ambiguous, open-ended nature of runic communication, but some messages seemed reasonably clear. For example, the last vertical line (see above) allows “Easy [Ici ], we tease ye” and “Easy wit see” (coded ESEEEEEEEEE WEEEE TS 3EE [3=Y]), reversing to “Is too easy" (coded EE3S TEEEEW EEEEEEEEESE).
           A letter-by-letter reverse from the top right of the rune yields such readings as “Ear and eye toiled in condemnation,” “Forever and always I toiled for Dome [Reason, Truth],” and so on (coded ERE & E Y I [a barred line over the “I” is scribal shorthand for “in”] FOR DEM TYLED… [ME fordeme = condemnation]). “Dame,” too, may mean The Virgin.
          The diagonal lines above, which are conjectural, seem to isolate such possible code forms of the name Massey as M-C-C, M-A-C, and M-H-C-A-E; other clusters made emphatic above seem to align MYSE, MASSU, and MSYH. I suspect that the gameboard might have been constructed so that one could “play” around, linking up strings as in the modern wordgame Scrabble.

           The fuller code, as it continues, admits such self-denigrating messages as “Sire [Lord], may hommes love no sin in the game (or ‘gome,’ man) that cloaks this….” The 21 lines of the Rune can also be read line-by-line from bottom to top, the inverted sequence creating a variant of the original that reminds one of the playful ballade rétrograde described by Deschamps and engaged in by Christine de Pizan (c. 1364-1430) and others of her time (Willard 56). Playfully ambiguous, the puzzle-like text in Pearl, I saw, quite certainly embedded sense and entertainment and was a discovery not of my own crafting, however much I or any reader/player might be involved in creating or recreating its “meaning” once it stood. Here text met game, and a reader/player was at least partly like a player of, say, Monopoly, much controlled by the form, context, and rules of the game, but also—in any one-time pass-through—creating a unique experience not exactly like anybody else’s “controlled” experience. (Of course, any reading of any poem is also this way, too, since “meaning” is subjective.)

          With this “rounde” gem as a paradigm, I began in 1977 to try to reconstruct other such lost compositions in medieval manuscripts, to study them, and to learn how they worked. From them, over several years of experiment and study, I worked backwards, in effect, to rough out the rules for what soon appeared to me to be a widespread coterie activity neither acknowledged nor publicly discussed before, except indirectly in the various speculations about whether medieval writers “hid things in their works” to entertain private readers. Many readers know that some of the early Old English (Anglo-Saxon) compositions are riddles and that, in a cluster of instances, the name Cynewulf—embedded in acrostic and anagrammatic forms in runic (futhark) characters—has been presumed to identify the author of otherwise anonymous works from the Old English or Anglo-Saxon period (i.e., ca. 5th c.-1150 C.E.). But no systematic knowledge of elaborate and predictably patterned coterie gameplaying in early English texts had before 1977 been accumulated, so that what I was finding in Pearl and elsewhere was essentially an unprecedented body of evidence for a startling new discovery about how some early writers, at least, conventionally worked.   RNG 15 May 2003


           From “Backgrounds, Precedents, & Contemporaneous Parallels”:

         The hidden foyer that led me circuitously into the Great Lost Chamber of the Quarto was, almost by happenstance, the medieval poem Pearl (ca. 1360-95 [Gordon]), introduced above. “The Pearl Rune,” the 21-line runic poem that I discovered in 1977 inside the larger ms. of Pearl and restored to what I believe is its authorized form, was for me the key template that helped outline the general patterns of medieval runic practice which Shakespeare eventually inherited as centuries-old conventions. This poem, circulated here for the first time in hard print, is the only instance from the late Middle Ages that I have firsthand knowledge of—uniquely original knowledge, as it happens—and so I use it here as a primary example of runic practice from this period. (The practices already mentioned that occurred in Latin verse and other verse in the early scriptoria can be presumed to have persisted concurrently through the scribal period and until the advent of printing.)

          The instance below also allows a chance to support and clarify my working hypothesis that one Hugh-John Massey of the Royal Hall may be the great lost poet of Chaucer’s era—perhaps a historical truth perpetuated by oral tradition inside the runic coteries, right up until Shakespeare’s own day. I have no absolute sense that Q demonstrates knowledge of Hugh-John and/or John or Hugh Massey, but some patterns of puns (see the index) do suggest that possibility, and so I offer the theory for further study. (See the closing section of this link, below.)

          The runic text as it occurs below comprises in reverse order the 21 emphatic ms. lines in Pearl. It reads, first, as a kind of discrete lyric poem, with features of a dramatic dialogue; when understood, it becomes on one level the “lost pearl” of the poem’s allegory, a carefully crafted “gem”—with layered accretions adding to its luster—that the dreamer/speaker has “buried” in the process of serving God’s higher purpose. Though the reverse sequence seems to me to make more sense that the straightforward string of emphatic lines in the ms., I think it likely that the author intended the string to be playfully “reversible,” line-by-line.


          The modestly edited version below punctuates scribal lines and heightens what I think may be an inherent numerological structure, with a 13-line center section housing the conversation between the dreamer/poet—who denigrates himself as “the jeweler, little to praise”—and his designated auditor, the Queen of Heaven. (In the full text of Pearl she is identified with the “lost pearl” of the main narrative. Various conventional interpretations include the idea that the poem is a lament for a dead daughter who, in the Dreamer/speaker’s vision, becomes a bride of Christ, serving his greater glory.) One notable pattern is the tendency to accumulate and catalog kennings that rename the Maiden listener—”matchless maid,” “His mild,” “Grace enough,” “that damsel,” and so on. Such epithetic decoration, conventional since the age of Homer, occurs in the early OE lyric “Cædmon’s Hymn.” In Q, Shakespeare adapts the pattern by proliferating abusive names for Ann and (to a lesser degree) for other players in his personal drama.

          As we can now see, the “pearl” that has been “buried” and sacrificed to a higher good is, in one important sense, the elaborately crafted poem itself, which we are now observing and hearing; thus all the epithets take on double meaning everywhere they occur by describing what is “made”:


The Pearl Rune

Delyt me drof in y3e & ere,                  [l. 1153]
Ry3t as pe maynful mone con rys.          [l. 1093]
As John hym wryte3 3et more I sy3e,      [l. 1033]
If I pis mote pe schal vn hyde.                   [l. 973]

“Motele3 may, so meke & mylde,                  [l. 961]
Neuer-pe-lese cler I yow by-calle,                  [l. 913]
‘Thys Jerusalem Lonbe hade neuer pechche’.” [l. 841]
“Maskelles,” quod pat myry quene,                [l. 781]
“Ihsuc con calle to hym hys mylde.                   [l. 721]
Grace in-nogh pe mon may haue                      [l. 661]
Of more & lasse in Gode3 ryche.                    [l. 601]
The date of pe daye pe Lorde con knaw        [l. 541]
That cortayse is to fre of dede.”                    [l. 481]
“Blysful,” quod I, “may pys be trwe.”            [l. 421]
Thenne demed I to pat damyselle,                [l. 361]
“I halde pat iueler lyttel to prayse.                [l. 301]
O perle,” quod I, “in perle3 py3t.”               [l. 241]

More pen me lyste, my drede aros.              [l. 181]
The dubbement dere of dou & dale3—         [l. 121]
Fro spot my spyryt per sprang in space,          [l. 61]
Perle plesaute to prynces paye.                        [l. 1]


          An interpretive paraphrase, which necessarily sacrifices interesting ambiguities, shows the hidden poem’s coherence and rhetorical force. The restatement below attempts to retain the sense of the original, along with its connotative flavor, tone, and imagery—and wherever possible, to keep the four-stressed, caesura-marked alliterative line. While “you” in line 4 may be the Maiden auditor who converses in the center part of the poem, the poet also seems to address any reader—including modern auditors who need to have the poet’s “spot,” his hiding place, revealed to us.


     Delight overcame me, eye and ear,
     As powerfully as a rising moon;
     I saw even more than John writes down—
 4  Whether I can disclose this spot to you.

     “Spotless Maiden, so meek and mild,
     Clearly I call to you nevertheless.”
     “This Lamb of Jerusalem had never a flaw—
 8  Was Matchless,” said that Joyful Queen.
     “Jesus can call to himself all his meek.
     There is grace enough for man to partake,
     Great and small, in the Kingdom of God.
12 The Lord can foresee exactly the day
     Such heavenly grace works too lavishly.”
     “Blest One,” I answered, “may all this be true.”
     Then to that Damsel I declared,
16 “I consider the jeweler little to praise,
     O Pearl,” I said, “in pearls adorned.”

     More than I wished, my fears revived.
     The dear adornment of downs and dales,
20 From that spot my spirit sprang up in due time,
     A pleasing pearl, fit for a Prince.

      Glosses: 3) John i.e., [in Revelation]; 4) spot = mote = walled city, debate, flaw(ed work); 11) Great and small = more & lasse, maybe a pun on “Moor and lass”; 14) be trwe may pun on bete rawe, i.e., “amend [the] row [i.e., the verse line]”; 18) my fears revived = my drede aros, maybe the ambig. figurative pun “mid red arrows” (sunrise?); 20) From that spot = Fro spot, maybe the pun “from stain (i.e., sin), from disputation.”

         

Of course, other readings and constructions of these somewhat ambiguously related lines are possible. For example, the “drede” that “arose” (l. 18) may be ironically the “dear adornment” of earthly life (l. 19)—for fear is at once “costly,” “difficult,” and “precious” for being an aspect of earthly existence (see OED).

          Astoundingly, the Pearl Rune seems to be alphabetically “reversible,” in the sense that a letter-by-letter code admits a phonic reading. In this part of the game, the scribe’s shorthand (including superscripts, customary short forms—e.g., for “Jesus” and “Jerusalem”—and the ampersand) help the author find the “right” letters to accomplish alphabetic reversibility. A reader/player becomes a gamester who cooperates with the cipher-maker or Runemaster in trying to find sense in the sequence, so what is below must be regarded as an attempted “playthrough” that incorporates some conjectural details (reading of codestrings as representing certain names and place names) which tend toward the hypothesis that the author of Pearl was one “Massey.”

          In doing so my work ties in with and is partly responsive to various conjectures about “Hugh or John Massey” as the great “missing author” of Chaucer’s era. (See below.)

          The reverse alphabetic code below, in piecemeal units, shows my attempts at medieval decipherings and modern interpretations. Some gamy peripheral side-readings occur along the way:

 

 

ERE & E3Y I FOR DEM           TYLED
Euer & ay I for deme [Dame,The Virgin] tiled.
Euer & ay In. [ = Jn. = John] for deme tiled.
Ere & y3e   in       fordeme                      tiled.

Forever and ever I, John (?), pursued intellectual labors, reason, wisdom—and worked in the Virgin’s service. (The ear and eye [of author and reader/player] toiled in condemnation.)

…SYR NO CEN OM LUF N YAME pS AT3YRE3
Sir, no synne homme luf in gome [gome] pis atire3
Siren [L.] o3te (?) nome [gnome] lufian…

Sire, the man who cloaks this in a game does not exalt sin. (Let man not praise the sinful aspects, or the errors, in the game—or man—that attires this.) (The charmer ought to praise the gnome-like protector of treasure, or the gnomic maxim, that cloaks this.)


…YS I ER OM TE3 3ET Y RWYHN HO J SAED
3ys, I euer homme tech. 3et I rune who [hu, hwo] Jesus saued.
3e, sire, homme tech.
     I, Sir,                         … I rune “Hosea…”

Yes, [Lord,] I am always instructing man; even now I who[m] Jesus saved whisper (…even now I whisper how [that] Jesus saved).

…Y HNVLAHCSE pE TOM SIp I FIED LYM & [AND?] EKE MOSY AM
Y3e vn-loks [vn-lachches] re tom sir’ I fede lym—& eke Massey [?] am.
                             …pe toumbe…
?Johnny lease [i.e., “Lying John”]… fede [“decay”] …mosse [“bog”] I am.
?Johnny lyke3 pe toumbe… fade [“wither”] leman [lemon]-Dick…

Th’ eye unlocks the [burial place housing these] leisure times, long after I fed limb and existed as Massey—or …existed as a slough to sink into. [? I am “False John,,” “Dick the lover,…,” etc. The line seems clearly to play on names: Yhn, Tom, Deke, and perhaps Mosy. Earlier the encoded strings Nom and Nyame signaled that a part of the puzzle is to be to find the poet’s buried name.]

… 3ELE TO M ELLAC Y B WO YI R ELCE SELE pREUEN
3elde to me [?Massey], elle3 I be wo, 3e are elle3 sely, pryuen.
“Yellow Tom” alakay [i.e., soldier] be, warrior—ilke [i.e., the same]. Sely th’ rune!

Give me your leisure, or else I will be grieved. Otherwise (that is, if you do not “yield to me”) you will be blessed and prosperous. (The rune is impoverished, repeating words like “warrior” in different forms to describe a cowardly man, and repeating “rune,” and also resorting to all these bad nameplays.)

… EHCH CEP REUENE DAHE B N OL ME LASURE JSY pE NEU Q Y RYM TA p
Eke keep rune, daye be—in al my lesure—esy pe. Knew quo I rime ta3t…
                                                           null [OF]                  Jesu… Enoch…
                                   …Dobbin…                                            innogh

The rune can embed an addition (like a reinforcement of troops); the day can be full of leisure for me, and easy for thee. Those whom I taught how to versify have known…

…Q SELLEK S A MEDLY MSYH MYHOT ELL AC N OCC US HI EUAH
…quo sely is a medle Massey, my3te hele, ake innogh vus, hi3e euer.
      “Silly Sammy”                    “Sammy”                     JHSU [reversed] EUER

…to whom a “Massey Medley” (cf. “melee,” implying struggle) seems sacred—both vigorous health and ache enough for us, forever to be exalted.

…Y AM NOME pH GO NI EC AR GEH CYR3E D O G
I am (g)nome pat go ne esy or gay, Sire 3e Duke.

I am a name (a spirit guarding a treasure, a maxim) that does not go easy or gay, Milord. [Here DOG reverses to “God.” Possibly Massey (?) plays on “Duke of Ghent/Gaunt,” though the term was not commonly used in Lancaster’s lifetime. The joke “Ye Dog” seems aimed at a primary courtly auditor, in on this civilized game. The reiteration of “Name” emphasizes all the nameplays in the code.]

…NIE S SAL & [DNA, a reverse of AND] ER OM FOW AN KNOC ED ROLE
Nie3 Salden                                                 ar hommes, fo, & knaw      hed       rol.
Nys selden ar…

Men approaching Salden [? Or, Seldom dumb] are the enemy, so they expect to see heads roll. (A possible allusion here to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.)

pEY A DEr FOET A DE pE DED FOERFOT SIES [Y…]
  pey   a dere    fo3t,  aye de pe  did      forfete         siese.
   pe y3e…               …a death…                       Is aisy…

They fought to the death [The eye struggled vainly but was overcome], and death—as usual—did seize the forfeit. (Or, They fought a death, and forfeited a death. Is easy….)

…Y AT ROC TAHTE WRTE B SY p Y AM I Q LUF SYLBELLES
   3et     rokke   to3t    Writ be, syp I am I[ohn?] quo luf sillables.
     I at ROC [a place name?] tau3te…

Even now (as you can witness), my writings (like Holy Writ) are a Solid Rock—like an invulnerable fortress—since I am John (with a pun on the Scripture’s “I am That I Am” and an implicit comparison of the John of Revelation and other Biblical Johns) who might “love syllables.”

…Y MADT A pOT I DEMED ENNEHT [p?]
     I made   aye pat   I  demed   innate,

I always created what I judged to be natural, inherent in my materials and part of my inner nature,

…ESYAR POT LETTYL RELEU   I   TA pE     DLAHIT3   Y    P3EL   REP
Es3er, put littel relef [a pun on “scraps”], y3e [pun: aye] to pe delyt3. Ye pale. R.I.P.

…and included easier bits and pieces; the eye also delights you. I see that you turn pale. Requiescat in Pace. Rest in peace.

…NI I QEL REPOS OR AE DER DYME T SYLEMNE
Ne I quelle repos ouer aye dare, deme to solemne.
Nigh… R.I.P., aye, sore y3e…

(Sarcastically:) Of course I would not dare to come near you and kill your repose forever—much too serious a fate to contemplate.

pER OM 3E LAD & U OD FOERED TEME
per hommes 3e lad & yow at forehed teme
hommes y3e-lyd… ?O, Duke…

There you and the men (whom) you led put your heads together (“team at the foreheads”)

…B BU DEpE CAP SIGNAR PS REp T YR Y
Be but dep escape [cuppe], Seignior, rys rest [erp] to your y3e.

This rest to your eye [This earth you see…] is only a (temporary) escape from death [only the bitter cup of death], My Lord.

…PS YM TO P S OR FEYAP
ps hym to P[earl] is oure fayr.[The reading holds if code “P” = p = “th.”]
P. S. Um(b) top is Oure Fayr.
Passim (OED 1830, from L., “Scatteredly”): Topasye (cf. Pearl, l. 1012)
Piss ye, MetaPisser, Fey Ape.

This hymn to Pearl represents our faith. Note in closing—here at the bottom—that Our Faith is On High (“Around the Top”). Is this a gem (a Topaz) or a doomed wild animal? (Go on and piss, you Big Pisser, you Doomed Monkey.)

…SEC NYR POT ET UASELPE L REP
Sech   ner   pat     it      yourself schal R.I.P. [Requiescat in Pace].
Siese neuer…
Sese…

May you never cease, so that it [this “hymn to our faith”] will eventually bring you eternal rest.

 

          A reasonably focused capsule version of the “hidden message” encoded in the alphabetic reverse of “The Pearl Rune”—one that cuts out some of the static of alternative readings but also pursues alternative possibilities that occur concurrently in the code, yields the following statement from the Pearl Poet to his Lordly auditor, and also to any one of us as a current reader. One senses a recurring “battle” motif: For the Runemaster is in control, and any reader (including, ironically, his “Lord”) is cast in an adversarial role:

 

           Always I, John (?), have pursued intellectual labors and the Doom of Christians. (Both my ears and eyes and yours are condemned to toil.) Sire, the man who cloaks this in a game does not exalt sin. Men should not praise the sinful aspects in the game—or man—that attires this. Yes, My Lord, I am always instructing man; even now I whom Jesus saved whisper the message of salvation. Th’ eye unlocks the burial place housing these leisure times of mine, long after I fed my body and existed as Massey [?]. Though I will be grieved if you do not give me your leisure, you must resist me to be blessed and prosperous.
           My rune can embed an addition—like a reinforcement of troops; the day can be full of leisure for me, and can also seem pleasant for thee. Those whom I taught how to versify have known to whom a challenging “Massey Medley” seems sacred—both vigorous health and ache enough for us, forever to be exalted. I am a name that does not go easy or gay, My Lord. Men approaching Salden, your stronghold, are the enemy, so one can expect to see heads roll. They have fought to the death, and death—as usual—seized the forfeit. Even now you witness that my writings (like Holy Writ) are a Solid Rock—an invulnerable fortress—for I am John who loves syllables, just as the Biblical Johns loved the Word. I have always created what I judged to be natural and inherent in my materials, and a part of my inner nature, but I have also included easier bits and pieces; your own eye adds delight.
           I see that you turn pale. Rest in peace. Would I dare come near you and kill your repose forever? Surely that’s much too serious a fate to contemplate! I see that you and your loyal men have put your heads together, to confront the present challenge. Remember that this rest to your eye—the leisure of this game—is only a temporary escape from death, My Lord. This hymn represents our faith. I remind you in closing that Our Faith in On High. May you never cease your work. May my message, even here, eventually help bring you to eternal rest.

 

         Other acrostic codelines and “gameboard” elements emerge in the gemlike text of “The Pearl Rune” when, following a clue laid in a textual pun about “smooth sides,” a player stretches the lines onto a letterboard grid measuring 21 x 33 characters, using an arrangement with justified margins and medial hiatuses in the lines that vary in width from one to a number of characters (see the monograph).

The Hugh-John Massey Hypothesis and the Quarto

          During 1977-79, variant puns I was unearthing on the name “Massey” in Pearl including those suggested in the decoding above led me to try—in privately published monographs but not in journal articles—to consolidate disparate bits of information and extant scholarly theories with my own observations and deductions so as to generate this hypothesis: One “Hugh-John Massey of the Royal Hall,” the Pearl/Gawain author, is the lost “Huchown” who was once much discussed (e.g., in the Cambridge histories) as the romance writer to whom many unattributed works clustering around 1400 might be credited; he is also “Maister Massy” whom Thomas Hoccleve—a student of Chaucer’s—mentions and praises in a poem ca. 1411-14 as a poet “fructuous…of intelligence,” prudent and benevolent, and mysteriously arcane. Hoccleve says, “For rhetoric hath hid from me the key / Of his treasure, nat deigneth his nobility / To deal with none so ignorant as me” (see my monographs “John Massey Un-hyd” and “Hugh-John Massey of the Royal Hall,” and cf. Greenwood, Nolan and Farley-Hills, and Peterson). The fact that the place name “Salden” (cf. the decoding above) occurs in connection with a “William Massey” in 1426 (see Wilson) helps explain why I “kept” it once it emerged from the code—though Wilson mentions the place name in the context of an argument that runs counter to the Hugh-John theory.

          The names “Hugh” and “John” Massey have both been proposed, then—along with William. Gardner, apparently following others without reinvestigation or clarification, discusses John of Massey as the Pearl/Gawain poet, and his “brother…the muralist Hugo of Massey.” “Huchown of Aule Rial”—i.e., “Hugh-John of the Royal Hall” is a shadowy figure praised in Andrew of Wyntoun’s Original Chronicle (ca. 1420?) as “curyousse in his stille, / Fayr of facunde and subtile, / And ay to pleyssance hade delyte, / Mad in metyr meit his dyte….”

          One original addition of mine to the Massey argument is to note provocative references in the Chaucer Life-Records to Johanni Meise—along with John de Massyngham, Johanne Meysinger, and Hughonis Bast. I’ve also argued that Chaucer’s tribute to the “strange knight” named Gawayne [i.e., John] in “The Squire’s Tale” (ll. 89-109) might be a tribute to Massey, with these italicized words punning on “massey” and on “hugh”: “He with a manly voys seith his message, / After the forme used in his langage, Withouten vice of silable or of lettre [i.e., with ‘letter-perfect’ composition, but with a pun on unheard’]” (lines 99-101). Other puns in the Chaucer passage include “You eyed a man live, O yes, see it, H.I. [cf. Hugh-Ion] is Massey, jester, the ass, our Massey denies language witty, hooting vice of syllable or of letter.” The early part of the pun on the name may encode “Hugh I., the man live…” and “Hugh I. (…eye), th’ M eye inly, oyssei, this Massey jester, this whore mused….”—where M…oyssei and Message may play on “Massey.” Some phallic play on “He with (Hugh ‘eyed’…) a manly 5 [inches], O, yes…” may also be active.

          These admittedly inconclusive materials about the great “missing author” of Chaucer’s era seem at least to merit further exploration, though the question is at best tangential here—introduced to establish the context of discovery in which I first went searching for runic gaminess in Q.

          As to the relevance of this lost arcane poet to Q, I remain unsure about whether Q’s subtextual puns—such as the one above in the epigraph to this section, the ones indexed, and those explored below as examples—are convincing enough collectively to support the conclusion that Will worked with consciousness of the name (in any of its forms) and of Huchown of the Royal Hall (or John Massey) as an antecedent Runemaster (cf. index). The theory deserves exploration, especially because the gap between Will and Huchown would have only been about 200 years and because a famous conundrum in the Sonnets occurs in the perplexing pun “A man in hew all Hews in his controlling” (Sonnet 20.7, the “Master/Mistress” text). Though subject to many analyses, this string may pun “Amen, John, Hugh, all Hugh is John” and “A man, John Hugh, all Hughs in his controlling (…Hall using his cunt, rolling).” Close by is the pun “women’s souls eye Massey, the handy form, aye (…anew)” (Sonnet 20.8-9).

          Q’s routine form Heauen (as above, or, e.g., in Sonnet 29.12) also may encode Hugh-John—as “Heau-en.” Similarly, Q’s routine Muse (e.g., Rune 29.10) may encode “Massey.” And “…in my seeing…” (see, e.g., Rune 121.2) offers a purer pun on “John Massey eying (…in jellies wise, erring oftimes).” I have admittedly approached Q with the assumption that this figure may be the medieval Godfather of the Runes and perhaps am merely finding what I’m looking for.

          Other examples of possibly relevant nameplays may help readers form judgments on this matter:

     1. “How can my Muse want subject to invent, O, Hugh, thy worth, witty man, near as Massey in jet” (Rune 29.10-12), with plays on Hugh (how, hyw, hw) and “Massey, John” (mayIs in) in 11. “O, Hugh, thy worth witty may interest, Massey, John” is a variant (29.11). Construed as below, lines 8-11 are plausibly a covert apostrophe to Hugh John Massey: “As a decrepit father takes delight, / Hugh—seen, my Massey wan—’Tis you, becked to invent. / O, Hugh, thy worth with manners, Massey, John, je/t I….”
      2. Component forms of Hugh John Massey occur as Heaue, ine, w [=IN], and may s in Rune 42.5—a line about “heauens sun” that is “stained” with what may be a mea culpa error.
      3. “Massey, Massey, all see in this (…Hall scents; …lacing this)” (79.2, code may seeme ƒalce in this,).
      4. “Aye fey their antique pen, wood [crazy] Hugh expressed incertainties in O’s rown [rune], the Massey leaves azured (…as you read),” with variants (105A.8-9).
      5. “Wry John Massey eye in gales (galls, gules) wise, erring ofttimes t’ irony” (121.2-3). Concurrent puns include “In Massey aye (I) enjoy loss (…John Massey, aye enjoy loss…), wiser in ghosty ms.’d irony.”
      6. The pun “The Morning Son of Hugh-John Mas., our homme, myself” (131.6-7).
A possible play on “sage Huchown” can be decoded (or perhaps fabricated) from the acrostic preface to Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist.

 

           
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