Cleanness Purity Anonymous 14th

century) Preserved in MS Cotton Nero A.x in the British Library, Cleanness survives along with three other poems (Pearl, Patience, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) assumed to be written by the same poet. It is part of the alliterative revival. While the Gawain-poet's other poems follow strict stanzaic structures, Cleanness is different. It is not divided into evident stanzas (although many editors have done this for clarity), nor does the narration follow a very clear organization.

The poem's homiletic style is clear to all its readers, however. Cleanness consists mainly of exempla (see exemplum), a series of retold biblical stories that, for the most part, illustrate unclean or sinful behavior. There are three major exempla that illustrate God's vengeance on sinners: Noah's flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Belshazzar's feast. These are surrounded by shorter ones, such as the fall of Lucifer and the biblical story of Lot. The exempla are set up chronologically, demonstrating the scope of human sins and God's response to them. The poet leads his readers through these stories as moral guide, teaching about God's abhorrence of uncleanness and the virtues of "purity" (another title given to this poem). Ultimately, the exempla are simply retellings of the biblical stories; however, in the poet's masterful hands they are given shape and emotion absent from their original form and read as if they are original stories, detailed and emotional. They serve their purpose as warnings against sin but also hold the reader's genuine interest in the process.

Cleanness opens with an introductory section praising "clannesse" as a virtue. This state of purity leads to God's greatest rewards: "If thay in clannes be clos, thay cleche gret mede" (l. 12). The introductory section closes with the parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14), in which a noble man finally fills the feast hall but then expels a man dressed in rags for not showing proper respect. Similarly, humans garb themselves in sin instead of purity and cleanness, but they still try to enter the kingdom of heaven. This analogy of the kingdom of heaven to an earthly court is one that the poet also draws on in Pearl.

Next, the first exemplum, the fall of Lucifer, is introduced. This is followed by another short one, the fall of Adam. These two set up the first major story of sin and God's retribution, Noah's flood, showing God's vengeance in chronological order. The exemplum of the flood follows these first two to give context to God's rage at the world and the sins within it. The poet provides a vivid description of the sinful behavior that prompts God's actions, citing the people's reveling in "filth of the flesh," describing how they evily worked contrary to nature to slake their filthy, unnatural lusts. Moreover, devils consorted with them, spurring the people to greater acts of depravity (ll. 265-272). The uncleanness is clearly sexual—immoral acts against nature and devils coupling with human women.

God's flood will exterminate humanity, except for the good Noah and his family. The end of this first major section shows God telling Noah he will not enact the same kind of sweeping vengeance again and the poet reminding the audience that no one is without sin, which should be washed away and cleansed.

Two minor exempla also precede the second major one. First is the old Testament story of God's visit to Abraham and Sarah, which results in the conception of Isaac. This is followed by the second short exemplum, the story of Lot and his disobedient wife, which is interspersed with the section's major exemplum, that of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The poet describes the sexual sinfulness that permeates through the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, resulting in God's decision to destroy them. Some critics have argued that the episode speaks to sexual uncleanness generally, but the passages seem to imply that only homosexual activity is unclean. The poet explains the horrors of Sodom where men couple in "female fashion:" "Uch male mas his mach a man as hymselven, / And fylter folyly in fere on femmales wyse" [tangle sinfully in fear of feminine ways] (ll. 695-696). This is contrary to God's own plan (the poet continues), of mutual heterosexual love as a kind of paradise (ll. 703705). Most surprisingly, the poet continues by saying that this need not be limited to the state of marriage in order to be pure; however, this position underscores

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