Pearl is a very complex alliterative poem of 1,212 lines. The poem is divided into twenty sets of five stanzas linked by concatenation, each stanza consists of twelve octosyllabic lines rhyming ab ab ab abb cbc.
Pearl is an allegorical dream-vision with traits of an elegy. The poem is introduced by a grieving narrator who mourns the loss of his singular pearl. He wanders in a garden and falls asleep, dazed by the odour of the spices and flowers. In his dream he follows a shining stream, paved with glistening jewels. On the opposite bank, he perceives a crystal cliff at whose foot he notices a girl all dressed up in white. Her garments are trimmed with pearls and she wears a pearl-decorated crown and a huge pearl on her breast. He recognises her as his lost daughter. When he starts to lament his loss, he is at once scolded by the girl. In a long sermon she explains to him that she is among the blessed virgins in heaven. She tries to comfort the dreamer by granting him a vision of the procession of the 144.000 virgins in the Heavenly Jerusalem. When the dreamer tries to cross the river, he suddenly awakes comforted and reassured of his faith in God.
The poem is generally considered to be one of the greatest medieval allegories, although it has also been interpreted literally.