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London: J. M. DENT & SONS, Ltd. 
New York: E. P. DUTTON & CO. 




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Weepies Qirist/ty 
William J&ng£md. 
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In bringing before the reader a version of this amazing 
book, I wish, as in the case of my edition of the Canterbury 
Tales, to disarm, if I can, the criticism of the scholar. My 
version is not intended in any sense for those who can 
read with ease the alliterative poems of the fourteenth or 
earlier centuries. Knowing, however, that it requires 
very careful study to read Piers Plowman with ease and 
pleasure, I have occasionally omitted and always simplified. 
I have tried to preserve and bring out the meaning, the 
careless alliteration, and the elusive rhythm. I have 
regularly modernised the spelling, and have indeed followed 
the example set by the most learned editor of the poem, 
who has himself published a modernised text: indeed there 
are several of such texts in the market. This, as in the 
case of the Chaucer, is the whole of my offence. The 
specialist will find echoes from M. Jusserand and Professor 
Skeat everywhere. 

Piers Plowman is regarded as the poor mans book. But, 
though I hope the spirit is preserved, I have resolutely 
avoided by any phrase reading into it a special message 
for to-day. A comment with notes inwoven has indeed 
called attention to singular survivals, parallels in social 
life, but these parallels would, even without the reference 
to them, force themselves upon the attention of any one. 

Much has been made about the confusion in the poem; 
but the main scheme is perfectly clear. Under the favourite 
form of a vision, it is a picture and an arraignment of 
the England of Edward III. and Richard II. As the first 
Isaiah, said to have been a young aristocrat, listened to the 
call in the Temple, and left a life of ease to act for thirty 
years as the unsparing critic of the Jerusalem and Judah 
of his day, so per contra our author, a man of humble 
extraction, it would seem, and of no social pretension, 
hurled his invective, his satire, and his grim fun at the 
London and the England of Chaucers time. He is an Old 


viii Piers Plowman 

Testament prophet with English humour added to Hebrew 
seriousness. We are, whatever we think of the question 
of authorship, in the presence of one who when in earnest 
is terribly in earnest, whether he is describing the great 
plain which lies below Malvern Hills, or the marriage of 
Jobbery to Falsehood, or the shriving of Gluttony and 
Wrath, or the iniquities of the hated lawyers at West- 
minster, or the beauty of Charity, or the triumphant march 
on Hell by Piers Plowman, the man Christ Jesus. Picture 
after picture paints the same story, preaches the same 
sermon; and the story and the sermon are these. The 
world is good enough if man were not so bad; the birds 
sing blissfully enough if underneath there droned not on 
the note of misery; life is sweet and jolly enough if men 
were not so bitter; Malvern Hills are fair enough if only 
in the plain, in the great Field Full of Folk, there were 
more charity, more honesty, more simplicity, more useful 
work, and a greater wish to set forth on the great pilgrimage. 
This pilgrimage is not to Canterbury or Walsingham or 
Compostella or Rome ; it is a pilgrimage to Truth, the saint 
whom men so regularly disregard. 

" Knowest thou a holy saint that men call Truth? 

Canst thou tell us of the way where that saint dwelleth? " 

" God bless me, nay," quoth this fellow then. 

" Never saw I palmer with pike-staff and with scrip, 

That asked after Truth till ye now in this place." 

Instead of seeking Truth, men seek money; instead of 
honouring Love, they honour Wrath; instead of dealing 
honestly, they bow down before Pride, Flattery, Bribery, 
Corruption, and Jobbery, branded under the title of Lady 
Meed, who is the thin disguise of Alice Perrers, the in- 
famous mistress of Edward III. Kings are weak, barons 
are cats that seize and poss about the people of the realm, 
knights are idle hunters, lawyers are thieves; monks and 
nuns are no better than they should be, merchants are 
swindlers, bankers are coin-clippers, and all the wonderful 
array of papal officers and English churchmen are mere 
plunderers of the land, pocket-fillers, and cheaters of the 
people. As for Friars, " there was one good Friar, in the 
days of Francis, but that was long ago." Neither Wit nor 
Learning, Scripture nor Imagination, helps the seeker one 

Introduction ix 

jot in his pilgrimage; words, words, words, are the end 
of them. The working man, God save the mark, is an 
idler, a drinker, a spoil-work, a wastrel, a loafer, and an 
unemployable; the professional beggar, with limbs pro- 
fessionally broken for his trade, is no worse than he; and 
ruffling Regulars, covetous lords, cheating shopmen, idle 
priests, lying pilgrims, and fine-furred harlots, jostle one 
another in the chaos of the scene. Through all, warning 
all, and at times tearing and punishing all, stalk the shadow 
forms of Plague and Storm and Famine, regularly visiting 
England, God's messengers to the generation that have 
clean forgotten Him; and though Piers Plowman may go 
down to Hell and fetch Humanity from Satan's grip, yet 
there rises the dread shape of Antichrist and sweeps that 
sweet and gentle figure from the scene; " and it was night." 
This is the first impression that one gets of the book 
known as Piers Plowman ; but it is a first impression only. 
Another reading shows another side. Kings may be weak, 
but they are resolved to deal sharply with Lady Meed. 
Reason and Conscience have by no means left the land; 
they plead passionately for the punishment of Wrong 
(the king's officer). Barons and knights are not all wicked; 
they can rule far better than the people could who would 
try their hand at government; and it is they who will, 
when the time comes, bring the Church to the bar of judg- 
ment. Gentlemen are willing and even anxious, though 
almost impotent, to help against the disorders of the day; 
some lawyers here and there will plead for God's poor and 
take no fee for it; some monks and nuns stay in their 
convents, some hermits in their cells, and there they work 
or pray; some honesty is still left in trade; and a bishop 
here and there knows his business, and parish priests here 
and there do not skip away to London, but stay in their 
parishes and comfort and feed their people. Unity and Peace 
and Conscience and Charity never cease to do their work 
in the human heart, and they raise the banner of the Christ 
in the field of Armageddon. The working man, the real, 
true, leal, honest, uncomplaining, working man, is up early 
and hard at work for very few pence; the cottage woman 
holds her head up and " puts a good face on it; " some of the 
beggars are Christ's poor who can perforce do nothing but 
lie as Lazarus did at Dives' door ; and in the mob that fill 

x Piers Plowman 

the Malvern plain, stretching to Worcester roofs, are 
honest traders, good ancres, and a stray woman of the 
streets, eager for the great pilgrimage. Through all, 
warning all, encouraging all, comes at length, though fore- 
shadowed throughout the former scenes, an ordinary man. 
Piers Plowman 1 , the people's man, the people's Christ, poor 
humanity adorned with love, hardworking humanity armed 
with indignation, sympathetic humanity clad in the intelli- 
gence that knows all and — makes allowances; at one time 
setting high-born ladies to work, at another passionately 
attacking the insolent priest, at another calling upon 
Famine to help him against the loafing, growling wastrel 
of the streets; but always encouraging the penitent sinful, 
helping the weak, leading the way in the great journey; 
a strange figure, Christ in humanity, humanity Christ- 
clothed, neither all a poor man, nor all a ploughman, nor all 
a Jesus, but fading and vanishing and reappearing in all 
forms of his humanised divinity, and ending as the Christ 
conqueror that from the Cross went down and burst the 
doors and defied the brazen guns of hell, and brought 
Piers Plowmans Fruit home with victory ; yet, even in this 
majestic battle with Lucifer and Belial, Ragamuffin and 
Goblin, no omnipotent God far removed from the cares and 
sorrows of fourteenth-century England, but — 

One like the Good Samaritan and somewhat like Piers Plowman, 

Barefoot, bootless, without spur or spear, 

Riding on an asses back, brightly he looked 

Like one that cometh to be dubbed knight, 

To get him his gilt spurs and his slashed shoon. 

This is the general picture of the poem, or of such parts 
as are here wholly or partly transcribed. 

The teaching of the book is negative in that, in face of 
the tremendous issues, it counsels no opposition to King, 
Church, Barons, or Knights. It is not inflammatory ; it is 
no harbinger of the Reformation, though it contains a 
startling prophecy of that great event. It cannot be looked 
upon as anti-papal, though it was written in the time of 
the Great Schism ; it distinctly disbelieves in the extremes 
of what the modern world calls democracy, although moral 
collectivism is its watchword; and it nowhere gives any 
support to the notion that it foresaw the coming of the 
great revolt of 1381, or approved of that revolt when it 

Introduction xi 

came. It seems, notwithstanding a few political allusions, 
to be as remote from politics as are the Gospels themselves, 
and for the same reason. No form of government, it would 
say, is in itself bad, if men have the religious spirit; every 
form of government is bad if they have it not. 

On the other hand, the teaching of the book is positive 
enough, in that it puts its finger on the abuses of the time, 
lawlessness, falseness, dishonesty, jobbery, money-grubbing, 
luxury, and idleness. Idleness of all things it cannot away 
with; the idle rich are scourged as much as the idle poor; 
idleness, with all its accompanying evils — begging, gluttony, 
dishonourable dealing, simony, neglect of plain duty, 
luxury senseless and unbridled, idleness is the unpardonable 
sin; and Professor Minto has sketched a curious parallel 
between this poem and the teaching of Thomas Carlyle, who 
possibly never had the book in his hands. If the undecided 
king is the victim of his circumstances, the wasters among 
the rich are what they are because they have not enough 
true work to do. The same may be said of the unworthy 
prelate — he does not do his true work. It may equally 
be said of pardoner, merchant, knight, lady, hermit, 
pilgrim, huckster and hewer, ditcher and delver. Truth 
(who stands confusedly for God the Father) rules that each 
man should have his work and do it well ; and the heaviest 
condemnation of Truth is for those in all ranks of life who 
instead of working go a-hunting or sit by the road and 
sing " Hey Trolly Lolly " and " God save you, Lady Em." 
Piers Plowman himself preaches work ; he puts his mittens 
on and hangs a basket round his neck, a mock pilgrim, and 
off he goes to plough his half-acre. Indeed, the motto of the 
poem might be E\cr M\n must Plough hi^ Half-Acre; 
but it must be ploughed without the thought of self- 
enrichment at the cost of others. Work is not enough; 
Pride and Flattery work, traitors work, lechers work, 
disers and minstrels work, thieves work, Liar works for the 
Friars, the Friars themselves work, merchants and their 
'prentices work, the Pardoner works hard — they are all 
Judas children. It is not enough to work; a man must 
work honestly for himself and for his fellows; he must 
work for his religion, for his king, and for his country. 

In the humorous section dealing with his own life, the 
writer condemns himself for idleness; and we in our day 

xii Piers Plowman 

should say he condemns himself with justice. His definite 
teaching is that of the Gospel, " The poor ye have always 
with you: more shame to you. Your rich England should 
have no poor: it is your bounden duty to rid the world of 
the miserably poor, and you can do it if you will, by 
making all work for all." " The poor ye shall have always 
with you " is a text he never refers to, because he knows 
that he cannot find it in the Gospels. No autocrat can be 
more severe than he upon those who will not work. He 
has one word for the able-bodied loafer, and one alone: 
"Starve him; " and he knows that such an heroic remedy 
had not been tried in his own day, any more than it has 
been tried since. 

Along with this gospel of true work for self and others, 
for home and country, is his definite preaching of home 
sympathy. England for England is his cry throughout the 
poem. He hates to see the Pope meddle in the appoint- 
ment of foreigners to livings that have not fallen vacant; 
he hates to see men carry good English money to Avignon 
or Rome; he hates to see men make pilgrimages to St. 
James and St. Peter, when the pilgrimages they should 
make are to jails and hospitals, and to their poorer neigh- 
bours cottages. If Englishmen go to Sinai and Bethlehem 
to seek the saints, for Gods sake let them stay there, he 
says; we want no such pilgrims here. You can find your 
true pilgrimage by going the round of your own parish. 

Again, he is definite enough, as we should expect, in his 
demand for a clean life. The King has his Alice Perrers; 
she must go; the bishops have their lemans, the hermits 
and pilgrims their girls; the beggars breed like rabbits, 
and are never married. Luxury, lust, and lechery spell the 
same thing for him, and with unnecessary wealth comes 
unnecessary wantonness. In passage after passage he 
declaims against the fatal gift of Constantine and legacies 
to the Church: religion goes a-hunting with a pack of hounds 
at his tail, and with this wealth in money and lands comes 
the ill life, the life of wantonness. Stained windows and 
gorgeous churches, fine vestments and full church pockets, 
are as much anathema to him as are the evil deeds of 
Richard II. and of the king's officers who pay the poor in 
receipts instead of in money, and who rob the honest worker 
of his horse, of his wife's honour, and his maid's innocence. 

Introduction xiii 

He pleads too for a saner education and for wholesome 
correction. The working man is told to go and get two 
sticks and beat his idle wife; another is blamed because 
his wife's bonnet costs three pounds and his own cost five 
shillings. The gentleman cockers his children because he 
is afraid of their catching the plague; he never takes a 
stick to them. " Spare the switch and spill the son " is 
to him a maxim equally true if it be applied to idler, wife, 
thief, beggar, or child. He praises the good school, and 
laments that not enough money is spent in what we should 
call scholarships. 

Finally, he devoutly prays that the Church will reform 
herself, and prophesies that if she will not do so the king 
and the barons will reform her in a way she will not like: 
and for the idler he begs that Famine will return to England, 
for only in the sharp correction of drought and hunger will 
England learn her lesson. That she will learn it finally he 
cannot hope ; for after Calvary comes Antichrist, and Pride 
and Flattery regain their places ; and with this his indignant 
spirit passes sadly into the dark. 

No one can quite tell how far the author represents the 
true picture of his time. He is in general agreement with 
Chaucer, who was as earnest as he: any one will see this 
who cares to look below the surface of the Canterbury Tales. 
It is the custom to say Chaucer is the poet of the rich and 
Langland of the poor; that Chaucer laughed at and 
tolerated with Horatian sang-froid the foibles, the vices, 
and even the miseries of his day. Nothing, to my mind, 
can be further from the truth; and the plain fact is that 
while Langland is sardonic, indignant, fierce, you never 
know when you turn a page of Chaucer how near you are 
to tears; and it must be remembered by those who con- 
sider Chaucer an aristocrat and Langland a democrat, that 
Chaucers poems include the figures of the Parson, Janicula, 
Griselda, the old man of the Pardoners Tale, and the 
numberless pictures of the good and charitable rich. 

The questions that surround this poem as a text are 
most difficult. The reader may be referred to Professor 
Skeats monumental edition, of which it is needless to say 
I have made the fullest use; to Professor Manlys chapter 
in the second volume of the Cambridge History of English 
Literature ; to Jusserands beautiful and loving studies of the 

xiv Piers Plowman 

poem; and to the bibliography given in the Cambridge 
History. Any one, however, who would feel the poem as it 
ought to be felt must have in his hands, if only for an 
hour, two books, first a black letter copy of the poem which 
in these days of reprints cries aloud for publicity, and 
secondly the volume in which Bishop Stubbs in a fine 
spirit of recognition has written of our author, Christ in 
English Literature. 

We do not know for certain what was the original form 
of the poem; nor do we know when, how, or with what 
object the great additions to this form were made. The 
criterion of allusion will not fully serve as a means for 
settling dates; for when a work written before the days of 
printing is being, through forty years or more, constantly 
altered, contemporary allusion may creep in at any time. 
The utmost that can, at the present moment, be asserted 
without fear of contradiction is that the poem was written 
between 1360 and 1400; that it was constantly and in 
many cases carelessly revised, and large additions were 
made; that it was known well in some form by 1381, 
when a part at least of its teaching and the name of its 
central figure, Piers Plowman, were made free use of by 
the leaders of the mob which broke into London, hung the 
archbishop, killed the lawyers, and dragged the Flemings 
out of the churches to butcher them in the streets, and that 
traditionally it has thus been, most unfairly, regarded as 
the herald and literary expression of that mysterious, ill- 
timed, and unsuccessful movement. The reader will do 
well to bear in mind that though the temptation to enlarge 
upon such an unprecedented event as the sack of part of 
London must have been great, there is no word in the latest 
recension of this poem to describe, praise or condemn the 
movement of Wat Tyler, John Straw, or the Rev. John Ball. 
Most editors explain this allusion-silence of the last recension 
by saying the poet was afraid, in consequence of the re- 
action following, to refer to the uprising of the people; I 
would rather see in his abjuration of revolt, in his failure to 
describe the revolt, a continuation of the attitude always 
adopted by him, that what England needed was a change 
of heart and not an exchange of purses. The hateful 
relapses into savagery which marked the Jacquerie, the 
French Revolution, and the lynching states of to-day 

Introduction xv 

would be to him the negation of the spirit of Piers Plowman, 
and the throwing away of all that men of all classes have 
laboriously acquired in the domain of legislation, self- 
government, and self-control. Thus I hold, while admiring 
greatly the historical novel called Long Will, that the 
talented authoress, Miss Florence Converse, has erred in 
her interpretation of the part played by the author and his 
poem in the troublesome days and awful scenes which 
marked the year 1381. 

And if one is uncertain about the exact date of com- 
position, we are still more in doubt as to the authorship. 
The poem is attributed variously to Robert or William 
Langland of Cleobury Mortimer and to William Langley; 
but no outside allusion of any importance save that of 
tradition tells us who the writer was. We gather his 
biography, if it can so be called, from his work. The 
humorous description of himself occurring only in one 
text may have been added at any date and by any chantry 
priest or other person, and it is impossible to say what he 
means by it; and this section, the fable of the rats, the 
long additions which follow Gods bull of pardon, and the 
interludes of the Harrowing of Hell and the Coming of 
Antichrist, seem to the present editor to point to the 
composite character of the authorship, a composite character 
strongly maintained by Professor Manly and denied by 
Jusserand. It is often forgotten that when a poem dealing 
with social miseries is produced it may be made a vehicle to 
represent the feelings and aspirations of thousands more 
than the author; and that when in addition it becomes 
popular and is written in an easily imitable form, many 
hands, authorised and unauthorised, set to work to help, 
alter, continue, strengthen, weaken, and enlarge. One 
thinks instinctively of the Book of Psalms, the prophecies 
of Isaiah, the plays of Shakespeare, the Sonnets of Shake- 
speare, the Wiclif Bible, the Anglo-Saxon Gospels, the 
Iliad and the Odyssey, all of which were (and some of 
which are still) assigned to one individual author or editor, 
though criticism has in nearly every case disputed the 
absolute claims set up for David, Isaiah, Shakespeare, 
Wiclif, Alfred, and Homer respectively. Such a composite 
authorship, I think, is the only thing that will account 
for the almost senseless " improvements " which we con- 

xvi Piers Plowman 

tinually meet with in the latest text: and I believe that a 
careful comparative study of the texts themselves will do 
more to clear up difficulties than any reasoning from 
history or allusion. Such study the poem has not yet 
received. The metre and dialect have received fullest 
attention; but they yield more information about the 
•scribes than about the author. Yet the scribes themselves 
may have been the chief offenders. 

If we try to reconstruct from a careful reading what 
manner of man or men penned these visions, we might 
arrive at some picture like the following. They were or he 
was a man who loved the country for its birds and flowers, 
but loved London better for its people; who had been to 
school and read and remembered eagerly and lovingly, 
with greater intelligence than care, the Latin Bible and the 
Latin Fathers; who lived a precarious, poor, tramping 
life of mass or chantry priest, earning little and continually 
consorting, partly by choice and partly by necessity, in 
the most intimate way, with friars, theologians, merchants, 
pilgrims, beggars, drunkards, loose women, and with the 
honest and hard-working poor; who knew all the tricks 
of shop and cheaping, of mendicancy and mendacity ; who 
was not averse from honest idleness, and who was stung 
to penitence and indignation by what he saw, heard, and 
felt in himself and in those around him; who hated the 
trickery, the aristocracy, and intricacies of law which he 
did not understand, and who loved the scenes in the 
gentleman's dining-hall and in the taverns, where he was 
quite at home; who abhorred — perhaps with envy — the 
easy life of the rich noble and the fat priest; who by his 
reading, his monastic training, and his own poverty 
imagined that the saviour of society would come from and 
belong to the only class he thoroughly understood; who 
wrote roughly the rough alliterative verse, indigenous to the 
land and very pedestrian, but who in his inspired hours, 
which were many, almost rose, notwithstanding his awkward 
tools, to the spiritual heights of Bunyan and Shelley and 
to the poetic heights of the Old Testament prophets. Like 
Bunyan and Shelley, he lived in stormy times; like them, 
he had, as an individual, been through some of the moral 
cataclysms of which he spoke; like them, he was prone to 
fall, but ready to rise; but he did not use the nervous 

Introduction xvii 

beauty of Bunyans prose or the metaphysical wings of 
Shelleys scholarship, strengthened by his unearthly and 
Titanic force. This, however, was his advantage, for his 
work was capable of being enlarged and successfully 
imitated. For he wrote for the ordinary man, who, 
whether he be king or baron, bishop or pardoner, merchant 
or Lombard, hermit or pilgrim, knight or knave, may, if 
his heart counsel him, echo the last words: 

" I will become a pilgrim. 
And wend as wide as the world lasteth 

To seek — Piers Plowman." 
Isleworth, January i, 19 12. 



Professor Skeat's edition of Piers Plowman. 2 vols. 

J. Jusserand, V epopee Mystique (the book has been translated). 

Professor Manly's chapter and bibliography in the Cambridge History 

of English Literature. 
Black Letter editions of the Poem (British Museum). 
Trevelyan's England in the Times of Wyclif. 
Cutts' Scenes of the Middle Ages. 
Florence Converse, historical novel, Long Will. 
Riley's Illustrations of London Life from Original Documents. 
Bishop Stubbs' Christ in English Literature. 

Much interesting matter will be found in pamphlets and magazines. 
These can be identified s.v. Langland or Plowman, or in the biblio- 
graphies of Periodical Literature in the British Museum. 


Piers the Plowman. Printed by R. Crowley, 1550; by Owen Rogers, 
1561; Edited with notes, glossary, etc., by T. D. Whitaker, 1813; by 
T. Wright (with the Crede), 1842, 1856, 1895 ; by W. W. Skeat, E.E.T.S., 
1867, etc.; with Richard the Redeless, 1873; for Clarendon Press 
Series, 1869, 6th ed., revised, 1891; three parallel texts, with Richard 
the Redeless, notes, glossary, etc. (Clarendon Press), 1886. 

Parallel extracts from 29 MSS. of Piers the Plowman, W. W. Skeat, 
E.E.T.S., 1866; In Modern Prose, with introduction by K. Warren, 
1895, 1899; by W. W. Skeat (King's Classics), 1905. 

See J. M. Manly, Piers the Plowman and its Sequence, Cambridge 
History of Literature, vol. ii.; and E.E.T.S., 1908; and Jusserand, 
Piers the Plowman, the work of one or of five, 1909., 


Preface ....••• 

The Vision of the Field Full of Folk 

The Vision of Holy Church . 

The Vision of Lady Meed and her Marriag 

The Vision of Lady Meed before the King 

The Vision of Conscience, Reason, and the 

The Writers Life ..... 

The Vision of the Sermon of Reason . 

The Shriving of the Seven Deadly Sins 

The Vision of the Search for Truth . 

The Coming of Piers Plowman 

The Vision of Piers Counsel to the Pilgrims 

The Vision of Gods Bull of Pardon 

An Abstract of Intervening Books 

The Vision of the Harrowing of Hell 

An Abstract of the Last Books . 

A Comment on the Poem 

Index •••••■• 






Go all wbo understand or would understand 


5 saw mgself, a goutb, almost a bog, in a low^ 
pttcbed wooden cburcb* Gbe slim wag candles 
gleamed, spots ot red, before tbe old pictures ot 
tbe saints* CTere stood betore me mang people, 
all tairgbatred peasant beads* jfrom time to time 
tbeg began swaging, tailing, rising again, like tbe 
ripe ears ot wbeat wben tbe wind in summer 
passes over tbem* Bll at once a man came up 
from bebind and stood beside me, 3- did not turn 
to wards b im, but 3 fel t t bat tbe man was Cbrist * 
Am otion, curtositg, awe , overmastered me* 5 made 
an effort and looked at mg neigbbour* B face like 
e vergones, a face like all mens face s* ffb e eges 
looked a little upward, quietlg and intentlg; tbe 
lips closed, not compr e ssed; tbe upper lip as it 
were res ting on tbe otber ; a small beard pa r ted in 
two; tbe bands f olded and still; and tbe clotbe s 
on bim like evergones. 

"TIClbat sort of Cbrist is tbis?" 3 tbougbt* "Su cb 
an ordinarg, ordinarg man* 3* cannot be/' 5 turned 
awag, but 3 bad bardlg turned mg eges from tb is 
ordinarg man wben 3 f elt again tba t it was r eallg 
none otber tban Cbrist standing beside me* Sud= 
denlg m g bea r t sank and 3 came to mgs elf* ®nlg 
tben fr realis ed tbat just sucb a face is tbe face o f 
Cbrist— a face like all mens faces* 



I wente forth wyde-where walkynge myn one 
In a wyde wyldernesse. 







In a summer season, when soft was the sun, 

In rough cloth I robed me, as I a shepherd were, 

In habit like a hermit in his works unholy, 

And through the wide world I went, wonders to hear. 

But on a May morning, 

A marvel befel me 

I had wandered me weary, 

On a broad bank 

And as I lay and leaned 

I slumbered in a sleeping, 

And I dreamed — marvellously. 

All the worlds weal, 
Truth and trickery, 
All I saw, sleeping. 

I was in a wilderness, 

And eastward I looked 

I saw a Tower on an hill, 

Beneath it a Dell, 

With deep ditches and dark 

And Death and wicked spirits 

And all between, 

on Malvern hills, 

— sure from Faery it came — 

so weary, I rested me 

by a merry-sounding burn; 

and looked into the waters 

it rippled so merrily, 

all the worlds woe, 
treason and guile, 

wist I not where, 

against the sun. 

fairly fashioned, 

and in the Dell a dungeon, 

and dreadful to see, 

dwelt therein, 

between the Hill and Dungeon, 


1 Readers are referred to the Comment (p. 179) and to the Index for 
further explanatory matter regarding the poem. 


Piers Plowman 

Rich and poor, 
Working and wandering 

. Some were for ploughing, 
Set their seed and sowed their 

To win what wastrels 

Some were for pride, 

Some were for prayers and 

Living strait lives 
In hope of heavenly bliss, 
Anchorites, hermits, 
And coveted not to roam 
Nor with dainty living 

Some chose merchandise; 

And some were for music, 
Gold getting, gleeful, 

But jesters and j anglers, 
Feigning their fancies, 
With wit enough to work, 
Paul preacheth about them 
1be tbat speafcetb mtbilE 

all manner of men, 

as in the world we must. 

and played full seldom, 

and sweated hard, 
with gluttony destroy. 

in parade of apparel. 

ay, many a one, 
for love of our Lord 

that held in their cells, 
the country side and beg, 
their body to please. 

they throve the best. 

the music of minstrels, 
in an innocent heart. 

Judas children, 
and fooling the crowds, 
if work they would, 
— no more will I say — 
is the Devils man. 

There were tramps and beggars fast about flitting, 

Crammed with bread 
Lying for their food, 
Going to bed in gluttony, 
Gangs of mean thieves. 
Sleep and sorry sloth 

in wallet and belly, 

and fighting in the taverns, 

rising from bed in ribaldry, 

pursue them ever. 

Pilgrims and palmers 

plighted together, 

Vision of the Field Full of Folk 

To seek S. James in Spain, 
They went upon their way 
And had leave to lie 
I saw some of them, 

Each told a different tale 
Their tongues tuned to lying, 

Hermits, a heap of them, 
Were walking to Walsingham 

Great long lubbers, 

Clad in copes 

To pass for hermits, 

Friars? All the four orders, 
Preaching to the people, 
For their own profit. 

Many of these masters 
Money and their preaching 
Gods love has turned trader, 
And we in few years 
If Gods love and the Church 
The greatest mischief in the 

Look there, a Pardoner, 
A papal bull he brought, 
He can assoil them all, 

and S. Peter in Rome; 
with many a wise tale, 
all their life after. 
O, they had gone the 

— every one a lie — 
and not to truth. 


with hooked staves, 

— each had his wench with 

him — 
that loth were to work, 
to be known for hermits, 
and have an easy life. 

I found them there, 
and glosing the gospel 

may dress as they will, 
soon meet one another, 
and the rich pay high, 
have seen wonderful things, 
do not cut down such Friars, 

will mount up full fast. 

preaching like a priest, 
sealed by the bishop, 
of fasting, falsehood, and of 
broken vows. 

The simple fools believed him, loved his words, 
Came and knelt and kissed his bull, 

He bunched his " letters " in 

their faces and blinded their eyes, 

And his parchment roll robbed 

them of rings and brooches. 

Piers Plowman 

Thus, men, ye give your gold to keep gluttons going, 
And lend it to loafers that follow lechery. 

If the bishop were holy 

He would not send his seal 

But against the bishop 

For the parson and the Par- 

Which the parish poor would 

Some parish priests 
The parish was poor 
Praying for licence 
And sing masses for souls 

Bishops and deacons. 
With cures under Christ 
Who ought to shrive their 

They lie in London, 

Some serve the king, 

In the Court of Chancery, 

They claim his debts, 

Conscience accused them, 

" Ye suffer idolatry 

" And bring your iron-bound 

" Many a wax candle hangs 
" But all the world knows well, 
" It profiteth your purses 
" That men should live and die 

" And all the world is worse 

and worth both his ears, 

to deceive the people, 

your Pardoner preaches not, 

share the sermon-silver, 

if the Pardoner were away. 

complained to the bishop, 
since the Great Pestilence, 
in London to dwell, 
for silver is sweet. 

masters and doctors, 
and tonsured to show it, 

and pray and feed their flocks, 
in Lent, ay, all the year; 

collecting his moneys, 

in the wards and ward-motes, 

his dues of waifs and strays. 

and the commons heard it, 
in many sundry places, 

to take the untrue tolls, 
as record of a miracle, 
that miracle is none, 
and ye prelates suffer it 
and believe — in their ignor- 
for this your covetise. M 

Vision of the Field Full of Folk 


{The writer digresses) 
What trouble and mischance 
Through two false priests, 
They were discomfited 
And for Eli saw them sin 
And chastened them not 
As it was prophesied, 
And Elis sons were slain. 
From his chair where he sat 
And brake his neck a-two. 
All this was Gods vengeance, 
And, since they were priests 
God was the angrier 

Therefore ye priests and 

Ye who should their fathers be 
God shall take vengeance, 
Than ever on Eli, 
For your wicked tolerance, 
Your mass and your mattins 
Are done undevoutly; 
Christ in his consistory 

fell on free Israel, 

Ophni and Phineas. 

and lost the ark of God, 

and suffered their evil, 

and would not rebuke them, 

— the ark of God was lost, 

he fell, for sorrow 

he beat not his children, 
and men of Holy Church, 
and sooner took his vengeance. 

who let men worship idols, 

and teach them better, 

harder and greater 

on Ophni and on Phineas, 

and your own sins. 

and many of your Hours 

I dread me at the last 

will curse many of you. 

I know well the power that Peter had to keep, 

To bind and unbind, as the Book telleth. 

He left the power, with love, to the four virtues 

Cardinal virtues, for they close the gates, 

Heavens gates, where Christ dwelleth. 

But of court cardinals taking the name of cardinal, 

Presuming of themselves a Pope to make, 

And holding the power that Peter had, 

I will not deny it them, for in love and learning 

Lieth the great election of a Pope. 

Speak not against it," saith 

" for Holy Church sake." 


Piers Plowman 

( The narrative proceeds) 
Then came a king 
The power of the people 

Then came Common Sense 

That Common Sense and 

Should see that the people 

knighthood went before him, 
made him to reign. 

and made clerks and learned 

and the king together, 
might gain a living. 

With Common Sense the people contrived every craft, 

And for profit of all men set apart plowmen, 

To till and work, as true life asketh, 
To live their day with loyal 

work while life and land remain. 

Then looked up a lean lunatic 
" Christ keep thee, sir king, 
" And grant thee so to rule, 
" And thou, for thy righteous 

and knelt and said, 
thee and thy kingdom, 
that loyalty may love thee 

find thy reward in heaven." 

Then bent an angel down, and spake for the poors sake, 

Who cannot jangle in the courts and plead their cause aright, 
But they must serve and^suff er, for their sakes he said it, 
He spake to the clergy and the king. 

" Ifting ano a prince art tbou, 
" Go-morrow notbfng ; 
" Cbou tbat of Cbrist tbe 1Kina 
" 2>ost keep tbe wag, 
" JBe just, sbow mercg, 
" Bno earn? out Ibis will. 
" dfcercE is justice still, 
" Sow ano reap mercg." 

Then rose a buffoon, a glutton of words 

5f tbe Iking keep not tbe 3Law 
1be is tbe name— but not tbe tbing. 

Vision of the Field Full of Folk 

And all the people cried to the Council in Latin 

£be precepts ot tbe Ikfng 
XLbcsc be our bono ot law. 

Then ran a rout of rats 

And came to a council 

For a Court Cat 

Leapt among them lightly, 

Perilously played with them 

" We dare not look up," said 

" And if we grumble at his 

" Scratch us and claw us 
" We loathe our life 
" If we with any wit 
" We might be lords on earth 

A rat of renown 

Told them a sovran cure. 

1 1 have seen great dogs 

1 Wearing collars, brigh' gold, 

1 Necklaces of crafty work. 

' Uncoupled they wend, 

1 Were a bell on the collar 

1 Therefore," the rat says, 

1 We should buy a brass bell 

' And set it on a collar 

' And hang it on the cats neck. 

1 When he rides, when he rests, 

1 And if he list to play 

' And appear in his presence 

' And if he be wroth, 

and small mice with them, 
for profit of them all. 
came when he would 
caught them as he would, 
and possed them about. 

" for dread of divers fears, 

he will grieve us all, 
and take us in his paws, 
until he let us be. 
his power might withstand, 
and live as we would." 

ready of tongue 

in cities and in towns 
all about their necks, 
They go where they will, 
through warren and waste; 
men might know them — and 

" reason showeth me 
or of bright silver, 
for profit of us all, 
Then can we hear 
or when he runs to play, 
then we may look 
while he will play, 
beware and shun his paths." 

All this rout of rats to this reason assented, 

But when the bell was bought and on a collar hung, 


Piers Plowman 

Was no rat in the rout 

That durst have bound the bell 

And they held themselves 

And their labour lost. 

for all the realm of France, 
about the cats neck. 

and their counsel feeble 

stood forth and said: 

yet another should come 

though we crept under benches. 


to show him the bell, 

seven years ago, 

the Court is full ailing 

A mouse that knew much 

" Though we kill the Cat 

" To snatch us and our kind, 

" Therefore my counsel is, 

" And be never so bold 

" For I heard my sire say, 

" Where the cat is a kitten 

" Holy Writ witnesseth. 

Wo to tbee tbou lano wboee fcinc* is a cbilo,— Solomon. 

" For me," quoth the mouse, " I see so much to come 

" Never shall cat or kitten by my counsel be hurt 

" Nor should men prate of 

" For though it cost me dear, 
" And suffer the Cat 
" Mischief that chastens many 
" Were the Cat and his kittens 
" We mice would eat up 

I would never buy collar 
I would hold my counsel 
to do as he will, 
will teach the Cat better, 
not ready to spring on us, 
many a mans malt, 

" Ye rats would waken men that rest; 

" If ye had your will yourselves ye could not rule.' 

What this rat-dream meaneth ye merry men, 

Divine it — I dare not — by dear God in heaven. 

There wandered a hundred, 
Serjeants they seemed, 
Pleading the Law, 
Unlocking their lips never 
Thou mightest better mete the 

Than get a mutter from their mouths — save thou show thy 


in hoods of silk, 

and served at the Bar, 

for pennies and for pounds, 

for love of our Lord. 

on Malvern hills 

Vision of the Field Full of Folk 1 1 

I saw bold bishops 
Made clerks of accounts 
Deacons and archdeacons, 
Who should preach to the 

They leapt away to London 
To be clerks of the Kings 


and bachelors of divinity 
to serve the king, 
men full of dignity, 

and feed the poor, 

(their bishops gave them leave 

and to despoil the land. 

Yet I dreamed more, of mean men and of rich, 

Barons and burgesses, bondmen of villages ; 

I saw in this assembly, as ye shall hear after, 

Many a butcher, baker, brewer, tailors and tinkers, 

Woolweavers, linenweavers, 
Masons and miners 
Ditchers and delvers, 
And spend the livelong day in 


Cooks and their men were crying, " Pies hot, all hot, 
" Good pork, good goose; Come, come and dine." 

Taverners told the same tale, " A drink of wine for nothing, 
:< White wine, red wine, to wash the roast meat down." 

toll-takers in the markets, 
and many another craft, 
that do their work ill, 

" God save you, Lady Em." 

All this I saw sleeping, 

nay, seven times more. 



What this mountain meaneth 

and the dark dale 

fairly I shall show, 
all in linen clad, 

A lady lovely to look on, 

Came from that castle down; 

' Will, sleepest thou? " she cried, " Seest thou this people, 

' How busy they be in the medley and the maze ? 

1 The greater part that pass upon this earth 

' Have their heaven here, they wish no other; 

' Of other heaven but this keep they no reckoning." 

I was afeard of her face, 
' My lady," said I, 

' The Tower on the hill, 

1 would that ye wrought 

1 He is Faiths father, 

' He gave you five senses 

; Therefore he biddeth earth 

' With wool, with linen, 

' In moderate measure 

' He of his courtesy 

' Things three, no more ; 

' The one is clothing, 

1 The one is meat, 

' The third is drink when thou 

' Lest thou be the worse 

1 Lot in his lifeday 
{ Wickedly wrought 

fair though she was; 

" what meaneth it all? " 

Truth liveth therein, 
as his word teacheth you. 
he formed you all; 
wherewith to serve him. 
to help you each one 
with needful livelihood, 
that ye may be at ease, 
set for common use 
but three are needful, 
to save thee from chill, 
for thy health sake, 

but none out of reason 
when thou shouldst work. 

did a lecherous deed, 

and wrathed God Almighty, 

J 5 


Piers Plowman 

" And all that wicked deed 
" Through wine and women 
" Dread the delight of drink 
" Though thou long for more, 
" What the belly asketh 
" What the soul loveth 

" Trust not thy body, 
" The lying wretched world 
" The Fiend and thy flesh 
" This one and that 
" And whisper evil to thy 

" My lady, thanks," quoth I, 
" But tell me, my lady, 
" That men so closely love, 

" Go to the Gospel, 

" When with a penny 

" Should they with the penny 

" And God them asked 

" And the image also 

" ' Of Caesar,' said they, 

" ( Render to Caesar,' quoth he, 

" ' And what is Gods to God; 

he laid — on wine; 

was Lot snared. 

and thou shalt do the better. 

Measure is Medicine. 

is not all good for the ghost, 

is not all food for the body. 

a liar is his teacher, 
that would thee betray, 
follow hard after thee, 
pursue thy soul, 

Therefore, beware." 

" thy teaching I like well, 
of the money of this world 
to whom belongeth it? " 

hear what God said, 

they posed him in the Temple. 

honour King Caesar? 

of whom the letters spake 

that stood upon the coin. 

* we know that well enough.' 

1 that that Caesars is, 

else ye do ill.' 

" Right fully reason should rule you all, 
" And Common Sense your 

warden be your wealth to keep, 

" To be banker of your treasure and give it you at need. 
" Reason, Thrift and Common 

Sense all go together." 

Then I would know of her, 

" The deep dark val 

" Beseech thee, my lady, 

for His bdke that made her, 
so dreadful to see, 
what may this mean? " 

The Vision of Holy Church 

J 7 

Care Castle/' said she, 

May curse that he was born 

Therein one dwelleth, 

Father of falseness, 

He egged to evil 

He counselled Cain 

" he that cometh therein 
a body and a soul; 
whose name is Wrong, 
he framed it himself; 
Adam and Eve, 
to kill his brother, 
with Jewish silver, 

He cheated Judas 

And hung him on the elder tree. 

He is a love-hinderer, he lieth to all 

Who trust in earthly treasure, where Truth is not." 

Then I wondered in my wit 
That such wise words 
And by the High Name I asked 
Who she was certainly 

what woman she might be, 
from Holy Writ showed me, 
to tell me ere she went, 
that counselled me, that taught 

Holy Church am I," quoth 

she, " thou oughtest me to know 

I took thee in my arms first I made thee free. 
To me thou broughtest 

sureties to do all my bidding 

All thy life long to love me, to believe me." 

Then I kneeled down 
And prayed her piteously 
And eek to teach me kindly 
That I might work His will 
' Teach me no treasure-gaining 
' Thou that art called a saint, 

and cried her grace, 

to pray for my sins, 

on Christ to believe, 

who made me man: 

but tell me this, 

how may I save my soul? " 

" When all treasures are tried, TRUTH IS THE BEST. 


It is as dear a treasure 
" This tells thee Truth. 
;r For he who is True with his 

To this text I appeal, 
as dear God himself; 

True with his hands, 



Piers Plowman 

Working True works there- 
He is a god, the gospel says. 
And by S. Lukes words 
The learned know it 

For Christians 

and un- 

Kings and knights 

Righteously roaming 

Taking transgressors, 

Till Truth determine 

David in his day 

And made them swear on 

the sword 
That is the plain profession 
And not to' fast on Friday 
But to serve him or her 
And never to leave them 
The knight that doth it not 
His duty is not to fast 
But faithfully defend 

and wishing ill to none, 
in earth and heaven, 
like to our Lord, 
and should teach it every- 

claim to be taught the Truth. 

should keep the Truth, 
the realm around, 
tying them fast, 
their trespass to the end. 
dubbed his knights 

to serve Truth ever; 
belonging unto knights, 
for a hundred years, 
that asketh for the Truth, 
for money or for favour, 
is traitor to his order; 
and not to doff his shirt, 
and fight for Truth. 

When God began heaven in the great bliss of it, 

He made knights in his courts, creatures ten, 

Cherubim, Seraphim, 

Lucifer loveliest, 

He was an archangel, 

But he brake his obedience 

And from that fellowship, 

Fell to deep hell 

More thousands with him 

Leapt with Lucifer 

seven more and one other, 
next to our Lord, 
one of Gods knights, 
and lost his bliss, 
in a Fiends likeness, 
to dwell evermore, 
than man could number 
in loathly form 

For they believed him and his lying words: 

sball sit in tbe eioea of tbe nortb : like $ 6ball be to 
tbe Ibigbeet." 

The Vision of Holy Church 

l 9 

(The writer speaks) 
Lord, why should he then 
Leap to the north 
Were it not for northern folk 
But I blame none. 
Safer by far is it 

And where the fiend flew 

Where he is hell is 

And over against him — Christ. 

(The narrative proceeds) 
" Then fell he and his fellows, 
" Out of heaven into hell 
" Some in air are, some on 

" And all that work wrong 
" Shall wend to him 
" But they that work well, 
" Eastward to heaven shall go, 
" Where is the throne of Truth. 
" Teach it to the simple 

the wretched Lucifer 
and abide not in the sun? 
I could you tell 

where the sun reigneth. 

he failed and fell 
and he there bound 

they turned to fiends, 
fast they hobbled, 

some in deep hell, 
after their death-day 
and dwell with that shrew, 
as Holy Writ telleth, 
there to abide 

the learned know it well, 
the best tried on earth." 

Nay, but I know not," 

quoth I, 
How doth Truth grow in me ? 

" ye must teach me better. 
is it beyond my ken ? " 

" Thou doted daff, dull is thy wit, 

" Little Latin hast thou learnt in the days of thy youth." 
WLoe tor mg barren goutb bags spent in vain. 
' Thou knowest, well enough. To love the Lord 
" And rather than do deadly sin to die. 
JSettet Die tban live ilL 

' This is Truth, I trow, 
" Suffer htm to tell thee 

whoso can teach thee better 
and learn his lesson; 


Piers Plowman 

Truth telleth thee that Love 
A sovran salve 
Love is the plant of Peace, 
Heaven could not hold it, 
Till it had of this earth 
Then never lighter was a 

Than Love was when it took 
Fluttering, piercing 
No armour may it stay, 

is the treacle of sin, 

for body and soul. 

most precious of the virtues, 

so heavy was Love, 

eaten its fill; 

upon a linden tree, 

the flesh and blood of man. 

as a needles point, 

nor no high walls. 

of the Lords folk in heaven 
between the king and people. 

Therefore is Love the leader 
And, as a mayor, a mediator 
Right so Love shapes the 

law on man for his misdeeds, 

Love lays on man the payment due. 
In thy hearts conscience, in the deep well of thee, 

In thy heart and in thy head the mighty Truth is born; 
That was the Fathers deed, 
And looked on us with love, 
Meekly for our misdeeds. 
And yet Christ willed no woe 

that formed us all, 
and let his Son die 

With his meek mouth 
For pity on the people 

on them that wrought him 

he prayed (or mercy, 
that pained him to his death. 

Therefore I counsel you, ye 

rich, have pity on the poor, 

Though ye be mighty at the 

law be ye meek in your deeds; 

The same measure ye mete, wrong or right, 

Ye shall be weighed there- 
with when ye go hence. 

" Though thou be true tongued, though thou trade honestly, 
" And be innocent as a wean that weepeth at its christening, 
" Save thou love loyally, and lend to the poor, 

1 James the gentle 
1 Faith without fact 
' As dead as a door-tree 
ffaitb wftbout worfce is oeao. 

The Vision of Holy Church 

' And share with him in godly 

wise Gods gifts to thee, 

' Your Masses and your Hours bring you no more merit 

' Than slut Malkyns maiden- 
head that none desireth. 


said in his writings, 
is nothing worth, 
unless deeds follow. 

' Chastity without charity lies chained in hell, 

1 It is but as an unlighted lamp. 

1 Many chaplains are chaste, 
1 There are no harder, hungrier 

1 None more avarous than they 
' Unkind to kinsmen 
c They eat up their ' charity ' 

1 Many parish priests 
1 But, cumbered with covetise, 
' So close hath avarice 
c Avarice is no virtue, 
1 It teaches the lay people 
1 Therefore in the gospel 
<5ive ano it sball be given to 

' This is the key of love, 
1 To comfort the sorrowful 
1 Love is the leech of life, 
' It is the graft of grace, 

1 Therefore I say to thee, 

1 All treasures tried, 

1 Love it," quoth she, 

' Learning thee what Love is," 

but where is their charity? 

than men of Holy Church, 
when they are set on high, 
and to all Christian souls, 
and grumble for more. 

are clean in body, 
they cannot drive it forth, 
clasped them together, 
it is hell treachery, 
ungenerously to give, 
these words be written, 
£0U ; I gave you all. 

it openeth Gods grace, 
that are with sin entangled, 
next to our Lord, 
it is the nearest road to 

" no longer may I stay 
and with that she left me. 





Yet kneeled I on my knees, 
" Mercy, my lady, 
" That bare the blissful Child, 
" By some craft teach me 

and cried her grace, 
for Marys love of heaven, 
who bought us on the Rood, 
to know the False." 

" Look on thy left hand, 
" Falsehood and Flattery, 

lo, where he standeth, 
and many of their friends.'" 

I looked on my left hand, 
And was ware of a woman, 
Her robe fur-edged, 
Crowned with a crown, 
Fairly her fingers 
And in the rings red rubies, 
And diamonds of dearest price, 
Sapphires and beryls 

as the Lady told me, 
wonderly clad, 
the finest on earth, 
the king hath no better, 
were fretted with rings, 
as red as a furnace, 
and double sapphires, 
poison to destroy. 

Her rich robe 
Her ribbons set with gold, 
Her array ravished me ; 
I wondered who she was, 

of scarlet dve, 
red gold, rare stones; 
such riches saw I never; 
and whose wife she were. 

" What is this woman," said I, " so wonderly clad? " 

Quoth she, " That is Meed the 

maid; she oft hath harmed me, 

11 She hath slandered my love that is named Loyalty, 

" And belied her to lords that have the laws to keep. 

" In the Popes palace, she is private as I, 



Piers Plowman 

" But Truth would not have 

it so, 
" Falsehood her father is 
" That, since he came to earth, 
" And Meed is mannered after 


for Meed is a bastard, 
with fickle tongue, 
never said sooth, 

as nature will. 

%ike fatber, like son : Bver£ gooo tree maketb gooo fruits. 

" I should be higher than she, of better stock I came, 

" My father, the Great God, ground of all grace, 

" One God without beginning, and I his good daughter. 

" He gave me Mercy 

" Any man that is merciful 

" Shall be my lord and I his 

" And he that taketh Meed to 

" Shall lose for love of her 
" How speaketh David King 
" And of men on the earth 
" And of the way to safety? 

that I might marry him. 
and loves me true 

in the high heaven; 

I wager my head, 
a heap of Gods charity, 
of men that take Meed, 
who maintain the truth, 
The Psalter beareth witness : 

OLoro, wbo sball Dwell in ftbg tabernacle? etc. 

And now will Meed be 

False Fickle-Tongue, 
Flattery with his fair speech 
And Liar brought it about, 
There shalt thou know 
That belong to the lordship 
Blame them not, let them be, 
Till Honesty punish; 
I leave thee to Christ, 
Be thou but good 

Then my lady left me 
And dreaming I beheld 

all to a cursed shrew, 

begotten of a fiend. 

this people hath enchanted 

and to-morrow is the bridal. 

the small and the great 

of Flattery and Meed. 

keep thy tongue still, 

then say thy say. 

and his clean mother, 

and save thee from Covetise." 

hang there asleep 

The Vision of Lady Meed 

2 7 


When she had gone from me 
All the rich retinue, 
Were bidden to the bridal, 
Knights, clerks and commons, 
Sheriffs and sheriffs men, 
Middlemen, brokers, 
No reckoning the rout 

I looked and beheld 
whose root is false-living, 
poor and rich, 
jurymen and summoners, 
beadles and bailiffs, 
victuallers, pleaders; 
that ran at Meeds heels. 

They sent Simony to seal the papers, 

That Falsehood and Flattery for their fines held, 

To make them over Meeds dowry for ever. 

There was no hall nor house that could harbour the people, 


On a mountain, in midst of it, at mid-morning tide, 

They pitched a proud pavilion, 
For knights from afar 
For jurors, for summoners, 
For the flattering Friars, 
That all might witness 

and ten thousand tents, 
and for strange comers, 
for labourers on farms, 
all the Four Orders, 
what the writing said, 

When Meed was married to Falsehood. 

Simony, Law and Juryman 
But Flattery was the first 
To give her away 
When Simony and Lawyer 
They assented thereto 

were Meeds nearest friends, 
to fetch her from her bower, 
and join her to Falsehood, 
saw their desire, 
— at Silvers prayer. 

Then leaped out Liar, 

" That Guile with great oaths 

And Simony and Lawyer 

Unfolding the deed 

Thus they began, 

fmow all men bg tbese presents . . . 

" Witness all men dwelling on the earth, 

" A charter, a charter, 
hath given them both." 
stood forth both of them 
that Falsehood had writ; 
and loud they cried: 


Piers Plowman 

' Meed is here married, 

' But — for her goods. 

' Falsehood loveth her, 

1 Flattery Fickle-speech 

' To be princes in pride, 

1 To backbite, to boast, 

' To scorn men, to scold 

' To be bold to disobey, 
1 With the kingdom of Covetise 
With the island of Usury, 
' Gluttony and Oaths 
1 To serve the devil 
' I grant possession 
' Of the earldom of Envy 
' I grant them all. 

' Bargain and brokerage, 
' All that lordship of Lechery, 
' In its words, its works, 
' In its raiment, its longings, 
' When lust willeth, 

Gluttony gave them, 
To drink the long day 
To jangle and jest, 

To eat on fast-days, 

And sit and sup 

To breed like town swine 

To wake in despair 

" (They shall think they be 

" To have and to hold 
" A home with the devil, 
" With all the appurtenance 
' To dwell in woe with Satan 

not for virtue nor rank, 

for he knoweth her riches, 
granteth the pair — 
to despise poverty, 
to bear false witness, 

to beget slanders, 

to break the Commandments, 

and all the coasts about, 

I crown these two. 

I give them as their own, 

with all delights and lusts. 

in Sloths service 

and the Castle of Strife; 

and the borough of Theft, 

its length and breadth, 

its watching eyes, 

its idle thoughts, 

and flesh at last faileth." 

and swore it with oaths, 
at divers taverns, 
and judge their fellow- 
to feast before the hour, 
till sleep came over them, 
to be slothful and sleek, 
with no will to do better: 

this is the end of them;) 
and their heirs after them 
and be damned for ever, 
of purgatory and hell, 
while God is in heaven." 

The Vision of Lady Meed 


In witness of this, 
Peter the Pardoner 
Bett the Bucks beadle, 
Mund the Miller, 
Dated — the Devil, 
Witness Parson Simony, 

Wrong signed first, 
of Crutched Friars, 
Reynold the reeve, 
and many another, 
this deed I seal, 
Lawyer agreeing. 


Then answered Theology 

" Sorrow upon thee, 

" For Meed is a lady, 

" Though Falsehood her father 

" And save Amends consent 
" God granteth Meed to Truth, 
" Thou hast given her to Guile, 
" The text telleth not so; 
£be labourer is wottbg of bie /Ifceeo. 

and said to Lawyer: 

to bring about such wedding, 

daughter of Amends, 

Amends was her mother, 
she may not be wedded. 

God give thee sorrow, 
Truth knoweth sooth 

1 1, Theology, know 

' Lying on the gridiron 

' Looked up and cried to God, 

' ' For I, man, of thy mercy 

1 And since a man may in 

1 It seemeth right on earth 

1 All by lies thou livest 
1 Simony and thou 
' The lawyers and ye 
' Ye shall abide it dear 
' Well ye know, ye liars, 
' That Falsehood is faithless 
' Beelzebubs bastard, 
1 And might kiss the king 
1 Work ye by wisdom 

how Laurence the Levite 
near unto death, 
1 Open heavens gates, 
have deserved MEED; ' 

merit MEED of God 

to wed MEED to Truth. 

and lecherous works. 

shame Holy Church; 

hurt the people; 

by God that made me; 

if your wits are worth aught, 

and fickle in works, 

and Meed a high-born maiden 

as his cousin if she would. 

and by common sense, 


" And lead her to London 
" If any law will let them 
" Ay, though any judges judge 

" Yet beware of wedding them, 
" And Conscience is with him 
" If he find you at fault 
" It shall at the last 

To this Civil Law agreed 
Nor yet the lawyers 

Then Flattery fetched florins, 
And bade Guile give 
To the lawyers in special, 
And bade him fee Falsewitness 
" He can win Meed over 

When this gold was given 
To Falsehood and Flattery 
And men came and comforted 
" Sure, sir, we shall not cease 
" For we have mastered Meed 
" She is ready to go 
" To see if Law will join you 

Then was Falsehood merry 
And every man summoned 
And bid them be ready, 
To wend with them to West- 

Piers Plowman 

where law is given, 
lie together; 

she may be joined to False- 
— Wise is the Truth; 
and knoweth each one of you, 
and by falsehood holden, 
press sore on your souls." 

but not Sir Simony, 

— till silver had changed hands. 

florins in heaps, 

gold all about, 

" that none of them fail us," 

with florins enow; 

and bring her to my will." 

great thankings were made 
for their fair gifts, 
till Meed be thy wedded wife, 
by our merry talk, 
with a good will to London, 

in joy for evermore." 
and Flattery blithe, 
in all shires about, 
poor and rich, 

to witness this deed. 


Then looked they for horses 
Yet hacks had they none 
But Guile began to borrow 

to carry them thither, 
save hacks that were hired, 
from many a great lord, 


The Vision of Lady Meed 

3 1 

And Flattery brought out 
He set Meed on a sheriff, 
Falsehood on a juryman, 
Flattery on a flatterer, 

The lawyers had no horses, 
For Simony and Civil Law 
And Simony and Civil swore 
And Provisors be apparelled 

" Deans and subdeans," quoth 

" Archdeacons, officials, 
" Saddle them with silver 

" Adultery, divorce, 
" They shall carry the bishops 
" Paulines people shall serve me 
" Harness the Bishops officer, 
" And buy us victuals 
" And get from Liar a long cart 
" Friars and beggars 

Thus Falsehood and Flattery 
And Meed in the midst of all 
I have no time to tell 
Of many manner of men 
Guile went ahead 

True-talk looked well at Guile 
But spurred his palfrey, 
And came to the kings Court, 
And Conscience told the king. 

Now," says the king, 

Falsehood or Flattery 


foals of the best; 
shod all new, 
trotting softly, 
with fair trappings. 

angry men were they, 
must needs go a foot; 
summoners should be saddled, 
in palfrey wise. 

" come you together, 
and all you registrars, 

to make sins the lighter, 
and the dark ways of usury, 
to do their visitations, 
to complain in the courts, 
he shall draw us in a cart, 
from his fines for fornication; 
to carry all the lot of them, 
that are running on their feet.' r 

fared forth together, 

and all the household after. 

the rag-tag that followed th m, 

that live upon earth; 

and guided them all. 

and said but little, 
and passed them all, 
and told it Conscience, 

if I can catch 

or any of their fellows, 


Piers Plowman 

" I would wreak vengeance 
" And hang them by the neck, 
" Never in this world shall man 
" But as the Law looketh on 

on wretches that do so, 
and all that maintain them; 
go bail for any one, 

shall sentence fall on all. 

" Attach those traitors," 
" Tether Falsehood fast 
" And roll off Guiles head, 
" And bring Meed before me 

he commands a constable, 
in spite of all his gifts, 
let him go no further, 
in face of them all. 

For Simony and Civil Law, I send you to warn them 
For fear the Church be 

" And if ye catch Liar 
" Till he be set in the pillory 
" Watch for them well, 

Dread stood at the door 

And went and bade Falsehood 

Falsehood for fear then 
And Guile hurried aghast 
But the merchants met him 
And shut him in their shops 
And dressed him as a 'prentice 

Lightly Liar 
Lurking in by-ways, 
He was nowhere welcome 
Hooted everywhere, 

But the Pardoners had pity 
They washed him and wiped 

And sent him out on Sundays 
To give pardons by the pound 

by them for ever, 
let him not scape, 
for all his prayers, 
let none evade thee." 

and heard the kings judgment,- 

and all his fellows. 

flew to the friars, 

at thought of death, 

and made him stay with them, 

to show men their wares, 

to serve the people. 

leapt away thence, 
lugged here and there, 
for his many tales, 
bad pack and go. 

and pulled him in to them, 

and wound him in a gown, 
with bishops seals to churches, 
to all people — for pence. 

The Vision of Lady Meed 33 

Then the doctors heard of this and wrote Liar letters 
To come and stay with them, and study mens water. 

Spicers spoke with him to look at their ware, 

For he was learned in their 

craft and knew many a gum. 

Minstrels and messengers met Liar once, 
And maintained him half a 

year and eleven days. 

But Friars with their fair 

speech fetched him off thence, 

And coped him like a Friar, that none who came should 

know him, 

Yet hath he leave to leap out as often as he will, 
And is welcome when he 

cometh and oft with them dwelleth. 

Simony and Civil Law sent messages to Rome 
And put them in the Popes 

hands and appealed against the king, 
But Conscience accused them; 

" Sir King," says he, " save clerks amend, 
" Thy kingdom through their 

avarice will wholly change, 

" And Holy Church be harmed for ever." 

All fled for fear and flew to hiding places, 

None durst abide save Meed the maid, 

And truth to tell, she shook for fear, 

And when she was attached she wrung her hands and wept. 



Now is Meed the maid, by bedels and bailiffs, 

None other with her, brought before the king. 

Then the king called a clerk, his name I know not, 
To take her and set her at ease. 

" I will assay her, myself will question her, 

" What man upon earth she loveth best, 

" And if she doth wisely and followeth my will, 

" I will forgive her this guilt, so God help me." 

The clerk took Meed and led her to the chamber; 

Mirth was made and minstrelsy Meed to please withal; 

They that dwell at Westminster all honour her. 

Joyfully, gently, came the Justices 

Where this beauty dwelt; they hurried to her bower, 

Gat leave of the clerk and offered her comfort: 

" Mourn not, Meed, make thou no sorrow, 

:c We will counsel the king, we will shape thy path, 

;< Thou shalt wed as thou wilt, and whom thou wilt, 
" For all that Conscience may plot or do. 

" Might and mastery shall be 

thine and to do thine own pleasure 

" With King, with Commons, and with Court." 
Meed thanked them mildly and gave to each 

A cup of gold, or a goblet of silver, 

Or a ruby ring, or other rich gift; 

The least man of her crew had a golden piece, 

And with that they took their leave. 



Piers Plowman 

Then came the Clerks to comfort her; 

" Be blithe, we be thy men, 

" To work thy will while life endureth." 

And Meed sweetly 

" I will love you loyally, 

" And get livings for you, 

" And buy you benefices; 

" And your names be called 

" If I love a clerk, 
" I am well known, 
" And cunning clerks that 

know me not 

promised the same: 
and make lords of you, 
— while your silver lasteth — 
ye shall be pluralists, 

in the Bishops courts. 

no ignorance shall stay him, 

he shall go forward, 

shall couch behind." 

Then came a Confessor, 
And whispered soft 
" Though gentle and simple 
" And Falsehood kept thee 

" For a load of wheats price 
" And will be thy beadsman 
" Among clerks and knights 

gowned like a Friar, 
as though in shrift: 
have lain by thy side, 

this forty year, 

I will assoil thee, 

and will do thine errands 

and Conscience defeat." 

Then Meed kneeled to the man 
And shrove her of her sins, 
Told him a tale 
To be her beadsman 

for all her evil deeds, 
the shameless one; 
and gave him a guinea, 
and her go-between. 

And he assoiled her of her sins, and said: 

" We have a window a-making, 'twill cost us high, 
" Wilt thou glaze the gable, 

" Sure shall thy soul be 
" At mass and at mattins 
" In thine honour solemnlv 

and grave thy name thereon? 
to see heaven; 
we will sing for thy soul, 
as Sister of our Order." 

The Vision of Lady Meed 


Lovely she laughed and said: 

" If that I wist 

" I would not make or mend 

" I will be your friend, Friar, 

" While ye show love to lords 

" And blame not those ladies 

" 'Tis but frailty of flesh 

" If one scape the slander, 

" 'Tis but one of the seven sins, 

" Be merciful, Friar, 

" And I will cover your kirk, 

" I will whiten and glaze 

11 1 will paint the picture 

there is no window nor altar 

and write MEED thereon; 

I will never fail you, 

that follow lechery, 

that love the same, 

— from it we all come — 

soon the harm is mended; 

none sooner shriven. 

to them that follow it, 

and I will build your cloister, 

your walls and your windows, 

of her that paid for the making, 

Every wight shall see and say: ' MEED — Sister of the Order.'" 
( The writer speaks to his generation) 

But God defend all good folk 
Or to write in church windows 
For with your name is painted 
God knoweth your conscience 
And what you spend and what 

you hoard 
Lords, leave such work 
Or to call the priest to help you 
Perchance here only is your 

Xet not tb£ left bano know 
Thus, says the Gospel, 

Give it so privily 

In mens sight, or in your soul; 

Who is courteous, who kind, 

{He turns to speak of corruption in small trade and of adulteration) 

Women that bake and brew, butchers and cooks, 
They are the people that harm the poor, 

They harm the poor who can but buy in penny- 


such graving of your names, 
your well-done deeds, 
Pride and worldly pomp, 
and your own heart, 
and whose was the spent 

to write your names in windows, 
when you give your charity, 

and here your heaven. 

should good men do their 

that no pride be seen 
God himself knoweth 
who covetous, who free. 


Piers Plowman 

And secretly and oft 
They grow rich on their retail 
They buy houses. 
If they sold honestly 
Nor buy their tenures. 
Mayors and their officers 
Between the king and commons 
They should punish these 

And the poor kneel and cry 
Here on earth 

they poison them; 
with what the poor should eat, 
they become landlords, 
they would not build so high, 

the kings go-betweens 

to keep the laws, 

in pillories and stocks. 

to Christ to avenge them 
or else in hell. 

But Meed the maiden 

To take a bribe 

" Or take you presents, 

" Silver cups and rings, 

" For love of me 

" And suffer them to sell 

5n wbose banfc wickednesses be ; 
fillet) wftb sifts. 

Solomon the sage he made a sermon, 

To amend mayors and them that carry out the laws, 

He witnesseth what cometh when men take Meed : 

iFire sball Destroy tbetr tabernacles tbat olafclE take gifts* 

besought the mayor 
of all these hucksters: 
(the coin avoiding), 
and uphold their ways, 
love them all, 

somewhat against the law." 
tbeir risbt bano is ful* 

" Fire shall fall and burn 
" The houses and the homes 
" Presents and yearly gifts, 

(The narrative proceeds) 
Then came the king from his 

Council house 
And sent for her to see him, 
Courteously as became a king 
Blamed her a little 
And for wishing to be wedded 
Till Truth had brought her 
" Foolishly, woman, 

all to blue ashes 

of them that ask for gifts, 

because of their office." 

and called for Meed, 

I saw not who brought her. 

the king blamed her, 

for loving Guile, 

without his will, 

a token from himself. 

hast thou often done; 

The Vision of Lady Meed 


" I have forgiven thee many 

a time 
' Thee and thine, 
1 But the longer I let thee go 
1 And never hast thou worse 

1 Hence to thy death-day 
1 God forbid that any more 
' If thou shalt so do 

{ Or in a place far worse 

1 And hurt thee and harm thee 

I Shall be ware by thy case 

' I will teach thee to love truth 

I I have a knight named Con- 

' If he will wed thee, 

' Yea, my lord," saith she, 
1 If I be not at thy bidding, 
Then was Conscience called 
Before the king and his 

To wit the kings will 

1 Wilt thou wed this woman 
' She is fain to be 

and granted thee my grace, 
in hope thou shouldst amend, 
the less truth is with thee, 

than to take to thee Falsehood ; 
do so no more; 
thou trouble Truth and me. 
in Corfe Castle I shall shut 

to live there as a nun, 
that all wanton women 
and shall ban thee and thine, 
and take counsel of Reason. 

he came from afar; 
wilt thou have him ? " 

" God forbid it me 
hang me at once." 
to come and appear 

Conscience kneeled low 
and what he must do. 

if I assent? 

thy fellow and thy mate." 

1 Christ forbid," quoth Conscience, 

1 Woe betide me, 
' She is frail of her faith, 
1 She maketh men sin 
1 Trust in her treasure 
1 To wives and widows 
1 Your father she killed 
1 She poisoneth Popes 

if such a wife I wed, 
fickle in her speech, 
many score times, 
betrayeth many, 
she teacheth wantonness, 
through her false behests, 
and harmeth the Church: 


Piers Plowman 

Chattering in her tongue, 
As common as the pavement 
Monks and minstrels, 
Gentle and simple, 
Jurymen and summoners 
Sheriffs in shires 
She taketh mens life and 

She payeth the gaolers gold 
And taketh true men by the 

For hatred she hangeth them 
For excommunication 
She giveth the bishops man 

a cope 
When she will she is assoiled 

of sin 
What the kings secret seal 
For she is in the Popes 

Simony and she 

She consecrateth bishops, 
She giveth parsons prebends, 
With their mistresses and 

To bring forth children 
Woe to the realm 

With her jewels, by Jesus, 
And fighteth against Law 
He may not get forth, 
She leadeth Law where she 

And maketh men through 

love of her 

lustful of her body, 

to every man that walketh, 

lepers in hedges, 

are her lovers when they will; 

are the men that praise her, 

were lost if MEED were gone; 

setteth laws prisoners free, 
to let the false go far and wide, 

and bindeth and hangeth them, 
who never did her harm, 
she careth not a rush, 

and his clerk a coat, 

and in one month can do 
can do in three, 

— foreign priests know it — 
seal the Popes letters. 

ignorant though they be, 
she abetteth priests 

all their life long, 
against the Church law. 
when MEED is well with the 

she shameth your justices, 
and stoppeth Faith at the gate, 
her florins fly so thickly; 

and holdeth her courts 

lose what justice oweth. 

The Vision of Lady Meed 


" To the poor the courts are a 

" Law is so lordly 
" Without money paid in 


" Barons and burgesses 

" And all that are care-worn 

if he plead there all his life, 
and loth to end his case; 

Law listeneth to few. 

she bringeth to sorrow, 
and would live in truth. 

" Clergy and avarice 
11 This is that ladys life, 
" And all that uphold her, 
" Poor men have no chance 
" No, though they be in pain, 

Then Meed wept 

To give her grace to speak; 
1 Excuse thee if thou canst, 
' For Conscience accuseth thee 

1 Nay, my lord," quoth she, 
' When ye wot truly 

' Wherever great mischief is 
1 And Conscience knoweth 
' Nor to deprave him, 
1 Well knowest thou, false one, 
' Thou hast hung on my side 

I Hast had thy grip on my 

' It maketh me wonder 

I I can crown thee with gifts, 

Foully thou defamest me 

I never killed no king, 

Not for me was the king hurt 

she coupleth together; 
God give her sorrow, 
mischance betide them, 
to plead their cause, 
so strong is MEED." 

and prayed the king 

and the king granted it: 

I can say but that, 

and would exile thee for ever." 

" believe him not a whit, 
with whom the wrong lieth. 

there MEED can help, 
I came not to chide 
with a proud heart, 
unless thou wilt lie, 
ten times and more 

to give it where pleased thee, 
why thou art wroth with me. 
help thee more than thou 

here before the king, 
no, nor counselled it, 
that time in Normandy; 


Piers Plowman 

Thou, Conscience, shamedst 

Thou thoughtest winter 
Thou fearedst death 
Hurriedst to England 

creptest into tents for cold, 
never would cease, 
for the dim cloud, 
for thy hungry belly. 

" Thou, robber pitiless, robbest the poor; 

" Poor mens money hadst thou Calais to sell. 

" I stayed there with my lord 
" I made his men merry 
" I patted their backs, 
" I made them hop for hope 
"Had I been marshal of his men, 
'' I durst have wagered my life/ 
'' He should have had France 
: ' And been king of that nation 
u The least bairn of his blood 

his life to save, 

and stopped all mourning, 

I boldened their hearts, 

to get MEED when they would ; 

by Mary of Heaven, 

no less wager, 

in length and in breadth, 

his own kin to help; 

a barons peer had been. 

Then Conscience like a coward counselled him thence, 
To leave his lordship for a little silver, 

The richest realm the clouds hang over. 

It becometh a king 
To give MEED to men 
To aliens, to all men, 
MEED maketh him loved, 
Emperors, earls, 
By MEED get yeomen 
The Pope and his prelates 
Give MEED to men 
Servants for their service 
Beggars for their prayers 
Minstrels for their mirth 
The king MEEDETH his men 
Men that teach children 
Priests that preach 

who keepeth his realm 

who humbly serve him, 

to honour them with gifts, 

MEED maketh him a man; 

all manner of lords, 

to run and ride; 

take gifts and MEED, 

to uphold their laws; 

take MEED of their masters; 

get MEED that they pray for; 

ask men for MEED ; 

to keep peace in his land ; 

crave of them MEED ; 

and teach the people 

The Vision of Lady Meed 


11 Ask MEED and mass-pence 
" Men of all crafts 
" Merchants and MEED 
" No wight I ween 

and their food also; 
crave MEED for their 'prentices ; 
go the road together, 
without MEED can live." 

Saith the king to Conscience, " By Christ, methinketh, 
" Meed is right worthy to have the mastery." 

Nay," quoth Conscience, " clerks know the truth, 

That Meed is evermore maintainer of Guile; 

There are two manner of MEEDS, my lord; 
One is given by Gods grace in the bliss of heaven 
To them that well work while they be here, 

The prophet preached of it and in the Psalter put it; 
XorD, wbo sball Dwell in Gbg tabernacle? 
Take no Meed, my lord, of men that be true, 

Love them, believe them, for our Lords love in heaven, 

Gods Meed and Gods mercy therewith shalt thou win. 

But there is Meed and Wage 

Desert for a deed, 

Meed many a time 

And that is neither right nor 

For man to take wage 
The man is overbold 
That before work is done 
Harlots and whores, 
They ask their hire-money 
The guileful give before 
When the deed is done 
That is no Meed but wage 
And if it be not paid 
As in the Book that bids 
The hirelings hire 

Cbe work of tbine bireo man 
tbe morrowsttoe. 

and both men think 

open or secretly, 

is given before the deed, 

and no nations law 

save he deserves it. 

or else he is not true, 

is paid or pay asketh. 

and false physicians, 

ere they have deserved it. 

and good men after, 

and the day ended. 

a due debt for the doing, 

the payer is to blame 

none should withhold 

until the morning : 

sball not Dwell witb tbee till 


Piers Plowman 

" Priests and parsons that would please men 

" That take Meed and money for masses that they sing: 
Ibere tbeg bave tbeir rewarfc. 

' What labourers and low men 
1 Is no manner of Meed, 

take from their masters 
it is measurable hire. 

In merchandise is no Meed, I well avow it, 

It is an open change, one pennyworth for another, 

And though the king of his courtesy, or Kaiser or Pope. 

' Give men land or lordship, 
' To their leal liege subjects; 
' And if the leal liege men 
' Then may King and Kaiser 
' Disavow that they did 
1 And take it away anon ; 
' May the men nor their heirs 
* What King or Kaiser gave 

' God gave Solomon 

' Riches and reason, 

1 And as soon as God saw 

1 He robbed him of his riches 

' And let him live in unbelief. 

' So God giveth nothing 

' And King and Pope 

' And take it again 

' Whoso readeth Kings 

1 She brought Absalom 

' And since King Saul saved a 

' Against Gods orders; 

' That Saul for that sin 

' God sent to Saul 

' That Agag of Amalek 

' Should die for a deed 

or other large gifts, 

love is the reason, 

be unloyal after, 

and the crowned Pope 

and others endow with it, 

never more after 

be bold to claim 

in property or rent. 

grace upon earth, 
while he lived rightly, 
he wrought not His will, 
and of his right mind, 
I think he be in hell. 

but with, If thou dost well, 
may give and grant 
from them that do ill, 
may read of MEED, 
to hang on the tree, 
king for MEED 
God took such vengeance 
and his sons died, 
by Samuel the prophet 
and all his liege people 
their fathers had done: 

" ' Therefore/ said Samuel, 
" ' Be obedient and ready 
" c Wend with thy host 
" ' Children and churls, 
" ' Look thou kill the king, 
" ' For millions of money; 
" ' Children and cattle 

The Vision of Lady Meed 47 

1 God himself biddeth thee 
his bidding to do, 
women to kill, 
chop them to death; 
covet not his goods, 
murder them each, 
burn all to ashes.' 

" And for he killed not 

" Coveted fair cattle, 

" God sent to say 

11 And all his seed for that 

" Such mischief MEED 
" God hated him ever 

as God himself bad 

and killed not his beasts, 

that Saul should die 

shamefully end. 
brought on the king, 
and his heirs after him. 

" The end of this story 
" For fear I offend 
" For so goes the world 
" If a man tell them truths 

I care not to show; 
no end will I make; 
with them that have power 
he the sooner is blamed. 

" Right as Agag had 
" Samuel shall slay him, 
" David be diademed 
" And one Christian king 
" MEED shall no more 
" But Love and Lowliness 

it shall happen to — some; 
Saul shall be blamed, 
and defy them all, 
shall keep us his people, 
be master on earth, 
and Loyalty together. 

" And he that trespasseth 
11 Loyalty shall teach him law 

" And no sergeant wear silk 
" Nor fur on his cloak 
" MEED paid by misdoers 
;< That Law is waxed a proud 

;< Unkindness is in power, 

against the Truth, 
or lose his life. 

for service that he doth, 
for pleading at the Bar. 
so rich men maketh 

and Loyalty is poor; 
Kindness is banished, 

48 Piers Plowman 

" But human love shall yet 

come, and Conscience with him, 

" And make lawyers labourers; such love shall arise; 

" And such peace among the 

people and such perfect truth 

" That Jews shall wax glad and ween indeed 

" Their King be come from Heaven, 

" Moses or the Messiah, 

" And all that wear daggers, 

" Axes and hatchets, 

" Shall be doomed to the death 

" To scythe or sickle, 

(men be so true) 
or bright swords or lances, 
and any other weapon, 
unless he do smithy it 
share or coulter: 

Bno tbe# sball beat togetber tbeir sworos into sbares ano 
tbeir spears into scgtbes. 

Each man shall play with a 

Shall spin or spread dung, 
Priests and parsons 
Their psalters and their 

Seven Psalms, 
If any of them use 
He shall lose his livelihood, 
Neither king nor constable, 
Shall trouble the people, 
Nor put them on a jury-list 
But as a deed is done 
Mercy or no mercy. 

pickaxe or spade, 

or spoil his life with sloth; 

shall hunt — their masses, 

and pray for sinful men. 
hawking or hunting, 
perchance his life; 
knight nor mayor, 
nor summon them to court, 
to make them take an oath, 
it shall be judged, 

" Kings court, commons 

courts, consistory and chapter, 

" All shall be one court, and one judge — Justice; 

" His name is tidy True- tongue, he never harmed me yet; 

" Battles shall be none, nor none wear an edge-tool, 

" And if a smith smithy one it shall smite him to death. 
ftben sball not rear folk against folk a sworo. 

The Vision of Lady Meed 49 

And see this good fortune fall men shall find worse fortune, 
Six suns and a ship be seen, and half a sheaf of arrows, 

And mid-moon shall make fews to be converted, 

And Saracens shall see and sing Glory to God in the highest, 
And on Mahomet and Meed mishap shall come. 
JBetter is a gooD name tban mans ricbes. 
As wroth as the wind was Meed at that, 

1 See what Solomon saith, in the Book of Wisdom, 

' They that give gifts win the victory, 

' And have much honour withal." 

' I believe thee, lady, thy text is true, 

' Thou art like the lady that a verse read 

' Try all things — that pleased her heart, — 

' The leaf ended at those words, 

1 Had she looked on the left and turned the leaf over, 

1 She would have found: Holdfast to that which is true, 

' So he that readeth Wisdom shall find a text of woe, 

1 A full sad text to them that take this MEED. 

' There was no cunning clerk to turn your leaf for you, 

1be tbat gtvetb gifts wfnnetb tbe victory 

BnD batb mucb bonour witbal, bnt be tafcetb awas tbe soul 
of bim tbat receivetb tbem. 

" Worship he winneth who will give MEED, 

" But the soul that taketh the 

gift by that gift is bound." 




" Cease/' quoth the king, 
" Ye shall be friends 
" Kiss her, Conscience, 

" Nay, by Christ," says he, 
" Save Reason bid me 

" I sutler it no longer, 
and serve me both of you; 
I bid thee kiss her." 

" congee me for ever, 
I would rather die." 

" Then," quoth the king, 
" And fetch me Reason 
" And he shall rule my realm 
" Of thee, Conscience, 

" haste thee and ride, 
and bid him come 
and take account of thee, 
so Christ help me, 

" How thou leadest my people, learned and lowly." 

" I am glad of that covenant," said Conscience, " ifaith," 
And rode forth to Reason and rounded in his ear. 

" I am ready," says Reason, 

And called Cato his man, 

And Tommy True-Tongue- 


" Set my saddle 

" Fasten it well 

" And hang the heavy bridle on 

" He will wince and kick 

" Rest thou a while," 

courteous of speech, 

Tell-me-no- Tales- 


on Suffer-till-I-see-my-time, 

with Wise-word girths 

to hold his head low, 

ere he comes to the Court." 

Then Conscience on his way 
And Reason with him 
" What a Queen Meed is, 

One Waryn Wisdom 
Followed them fast, 

set forth to ride, 
whispering together, 
among rich and poor." 

and his mate Wily-man 
which had to do 



Piers Plowman 

With Exchequer, chancery, 
And rode fast, that Reason 
And save them, for silver, 

" Here come they," quoth 

" Ride on, Sir Reason, 

" Where wrath is and wrang- 

" Where love is and loyalty, 

and discharges of debts; 
should counsel them well 
from shame and from harm. 

" slaves of covetise, 
and reck not of either 

there will they bide, 
their hearts are not. 

Sorrow ano curseoness is in tbe wags of tbem. 

" They give of their goods, not a goose wing, 

Gbe oreao of <5oo is not before tbeir eges. 

" They would do more 
"Ora dozen capons, 
" Than for love of our Lord 
" Let them ride on, Reason, 
" I, Conscience, know them 

On rode Reason 
Conscience guiding, 

for a dozen chickens, 

or a seam of oats, 

or all his dear Saints; 

— rich folks — by themselves, 

nay, nor doth Christ." 

by the strait high gate, 
till they came to the king. 

Courteously the king met him and set him on a bench 
Between himself and the Prince and talked long together. 

Then came Peace to Parlia- 
" Wrong has taken my wife 
" He has ravished Rose, 
" And Margarets maidenhead 
" My geese and pigs 
" I dare not for dread of him 
" Borrowed my horse of me, 

and put forth a bill: 
against my will, 
Reginalds love, 
— when he met her late; 
his fellows fetch, 
fight nor chide; 
brought him home never, 

The Vision of Reason 


And never a farthing, 

To S. Giles fair 

He watcheth me well 

Which way I go 

He maintaineth his men 

He forestalleth my goods 

He breaketh up my barn 

And giveth me a tally 
Me and mine he threateneth, 
Nor am I strong enough 

The king knew he said truth, 
Wrong was a wicked wretch 

Then was Wrong afeard, 

Offered him pence: 

" I would not reck if Peace 

Then Wisdom and Waryn 

" He that worketh by lust 

" I say it of thee 

" If Meed will not help thee 

" Thy life and thy land 

Then vowed Wrong 

To make peace with his pence, 

Wisdom and Wit then 
And took Meed with them 

Peace put his head forth, 
" Guiltless, God wot, 
" Conscience knoweth it 

But Wisdom and Wit 

To win the king with bribes. 

The king swore, by Christ, 
Wrong for his evil deeds 

for all I cared plead; 

I dare not take money, 

when I take silver with me, 

to rifle and rob me; 

to murder my labourers, 

and fighteth when I sell; 

and carrieth off my wheat, 
for ten quarters of oats, 
lieth with my maid, 
even to look on him." 

Conscience told him, 

and wrought much sorrow. 

begged Wisdom make his peace, 

" Had I the kings love 

railed for ever." 

warned Wrong wisely, 

oft maketh wrath. 

thou shalt it well find 

thy harm is sure, 

lie in her grace." 

to Wisdom full eagerly 

and paid " handy dandy." 

went together, 
mercy to win.- 

his scalp all bloody; 

gat I this scathe, 

and the true commons." 

went their ways 

and by his crown, 
should suffer woe, 


Piers Plowman 

Commanded the constable 
" Let him not see his feet 

" God wot/' saith Wisdom, 
" If he will make amends 
" And he shall give sureties 
" Amend what is mis-done 

to cast him in irons; 
for this seven year." 

" this is not the best way, 
let him have bail, 
and buy him his remedy, 
and evermore be better." 

Wit agreed : 

" Than for ill to be beaten, 

Then Meed bethought her 
Proferred Peace a present 
" Take this, man, from me, 
" And I will wager Wrong 

Then Peace pitifully 

To have mercy on the man 

" He hath paid me well, 
" So that the king assent, 
" Meed hath made amends, 

" Nay," quoth the king, 
" Wrong goeth not so away, 
" If he slip lightly off 
" And be the bolder 
" If Reason hath not pity 
" As long as he liveth, 

" Better is a remedy 
and remedy no better/' 

and begged for him mercy, 
all of pure gold: 
to heal thy hurt, 
shall do so no more." 

prayed to the king 

that had so often wronged 

and — I forgive him, 
I can no more say, 
I ask no more." 

" Christ help me, 

I will learn more of this; 

then will he laugh at me, 

to beat my servants ; 

he shall stay in my stocks 

till lowliness be bail." 

Some men counselled Reason: " Have thou pity, 
" Advise the king, advise Conscience, 

" To let Meed go bail for Wrong." 

" Counsel me no pity," says Reason, 

" Till lords and ladies love the truth, 

The Vision of Reason 


Till they hate the loose word 
Till the harlots kirtle 
Till children be cherished 
Till holiness of the wicked 
Till the clergy be covetous 
Till the rambling monks 
Till preachers preaching 
Till the kings Council 
Till bishops horses 
Their hawks and their hounds 
Till men go on pilgrimage 
In prisons and in humble cots 
And if men go a pilgriming, 
To Rome or Spain 

Till Rome-runners carry 
Graven or ungraven, 
On forfeiture of it 
(Saving it be merchant, 
Or appointed priests 

By the rood of Christ 
While Meed is mistress 
If I were crowned king 
Never should Wrong 
Nor get my mercy by bribes, 
No, not unless penitence 
The man EVIL shall ever 
The man GOOD shall ever 

to hear it or speak it, 

be hidden away, 

with the stroke of the rod, 

be taken at its worth, 

to clothe the poor, 

be kept to their cloister, 

be proved by their lives, 

be the profit of the people, 

be sold for houses, 

to help Gods poor, 

to where the sick lie, 

save where I send them, 
let them stay there for ever. 

no silver over sea, 

for the robber Pope of France, 

if it be found at Dover, 

or messenger with letters, 

returning to the Pope.) 

no pity will I have 

in this Council hall; 

to keep a realm 

go unpunished, 

God save my soul, 

went with the fine. 

meet the man PUNISHMENT, 

meet REWARD. 

If thou, king, wilt do this, I wager my hands 
Lawyers shall turn labourers, and lead the dung a-field, 
And Love shall be the leader in thy land." 

I saw Meed in the Council hall 
And they laughed and went 
to her, 

wink at the lawyers, 
and many left Reason* 


Piers Plowman 

All the righteous knew that Reason spoke truth, 

And Kind-Wit and Conscience courteously thanked him, 
And rich and poor loved him. 

" We see well," they said, " by thy words, Sir Reason, 

" Meekness is master of Meed at the last." 

Love made light of Meed, 
And they cried to Conscience 
" If a man take Meed to wife 
" Cut off my nose 

Meed mourned then 

Loyalty made lighter, 
— the king might well hear it- 
for her wealth and her goods 
if he be not cuckolded." 

and her countenance was 
For the commons called her " quaint, common whore." 

A juror and a summoner 

And a sheriffs clerk 

" Full oft have I 

" And yet you never gave me 

Neither Wisdom 
Could frame a word 
They stared and studied 

followed her fast, 
cursed before the company: 
helped you at the Bar, 
the worth of a rush." 

nor Witty his mate 
to withsay Reason; 
and stood like cows. 

The king agreed, by Christ, to Reasons cunning, 

And rehearsed all that Reason had rightfully shown: 

" But, by my head, 'tis hard to bring things to this, 

" All my liege people to lead to honesty." 

" By him that stretched 

" If I rule not thy realm thus 

" If so be obedience 

" And bring all men to bow 

to me 
" Without fines, without 


on the Rood," quoth Reason, 
rend out my ribs ; 
is at one with me, 

amending the kingdom, 

without bitter wounds." 

The Vision of Reason 
" I would it were well/' 


quoth the king, " the world 
" Therefore, Reason, indeed thou shalt not ride hence, 
" But be my chief chancellor in Exchequer and in Parlia- 
" And Conscience Justice in all my courts." 

I assent if thou, king, 
Hear the other side. 

wilt hear causes too. 

Among aldermen and com- 
" No sufferance of wrong shall seal your secret letters, 

" Nor shall there be stay of proceedings. 
; ' Then I wager my life that Love will lend thee silver 

" To pay thy wages and help to win thee gold 

" More than all thy merchants, or thy mitred bishops, 
" Or Lombards of Italy, that live by Jews usury." 

The king commanded Conscience to congee his officers 
And take those whom Reason 

loved, and with that I woke. 



Thus I woke, God wot, 
Kit my wife and I, 
And among the London lollers 
And among the hermits 
For I made verses on them 

Once when I had my health, 
And my limbs to labour with, 
And nothing in life to do, 
In health of body and mind, 
I came on Conscience, 
He met and questioned me, 
And Reason reproved me. 

" Canst thou serve as a priest 
" Make a haycock in the field 
" Canst mow or stock 
" Canst reap or guide the 

reapers ? 
" Canst blow the horn, 
" Lie out o' nights, 

" Make shoes or clothes, 
' Trim hedge, use harrow, 
" Or do any other work 
' To win some living 

where I dwelt in Cornhill. 
dressed like a loller, 
little was I set by, 
(trust me for that), 
as my wit taught me. 

in hot harvest time, 
and loved good fare, 
but drink and sleep, 

and Reason met me, 

and my memory roamed back, 

or sing in church? 
or pitch the hay ? 
or bind the sheaves ? 

Canst rise early ? 

and keep the kine together, 

and save my corn from thieves ? 

or herd the sheep ? 

or drive the swine and geese, 

that the people need 

for them that be bedridden? " 

" Nay," said I, " God help me, 

' I am too weak to work with sickle or with scythe. 

" I am too long, believe me, to stoop low down, 

" Or to last for any time as a true working man." 


6 4 

"Then hast 
live by 

Piers Plowman 

thou lands to 

That findeth thee thy food ? 
Thou art a spender and canst 

spend ; 
Or thou beggest thy living 
Thou art a Friday-beggar, 

or rich lineage 

An idle man thou seemest : 

thou art a spill-time, 

at mens buttery hatches; 

a feast-day beggar in 

little to be praised. 


" A lollers life is thine, 
" Righteousness rewardeth men as they deserve. 
ftbon sbalt gielo to eacb man after bis works. 
" Thou art maybe broken in body or limb, 

" Maimed maybe through 

mishap, therefore art thou excused? 

" When I was young," quoth I, 
" My father and my friends 
" Till I knew throughly 
" What is best for the body, 
" Yet never did I find 
" A life that pleased me 
" If I must live by labour 
" I must needs labour 
jEacb man in wbat calling be 

" I live in London 

" The tools I labour with, 

" Are the Lords Prayer, my 

" And sometimes my Psalter 
" I sing masses for the souls 
" And they that find me food 
" Man or woman, once a month, 
" No bag have I nor bottle, 

" Moreover, my lord Reason, 
" Constrain no cleric 

many a year ago, 
set me to school 
what Holy Scripture said, 
what is safest for the soul, 
since my friends died 
save in these long clothes, 
and earn my living 
at the work I learned. 
is calleb tbere owell be. 

and I live on London, 
to get my living by, 

my Dirges and my Vespers, 
and the Seven Psalms; 
of those that give me help, 
welcome me when I come, 
into their houses ; 
only my belly. 

men should, methinks, 
to do common work, 

The Writers Life 

" The tonsured clerk, a man of understanding, 

" Should neither sweat nor toil, nor swear at inquests, 
" Nor fight in the van of battle, nor hurt his foe. 
"Kenoer not evil foe evil. 

" They be the heirs of heaven, all that are ordained, 
" And in choir and church Christs own ministers. 

Gbe Xoro is tbe portion ot mine inberftance. 
" Clerks it becometh for to serve Christ, 

" And for folk unordained to cart and work, 

" And no clerk should be 

" Of frankleyns and free men 
" Bondmen and bastards 
11 These are the sons of labour, 
" To serve God and the good 


save he be the son 
and of wedded folk; 
and beggars children, 
these are to serve lords, 
as their station asketh. 

But since bondmens sons 

And bastard bairns 

And soap-makers and their 

And lords sons be their 

And to support this realm 
To comfort the Commons 
And monks and nuns 
Have made their own kin 

Popes and patrons 
And take the sons of Mammon 
Holiness of life and Love 
And will be till these things 

wear out, 

are made into bishops, 
are made archdeacons, 

are knights for silvers sake, 

and have mortgaged their rents 
have ridden against our foes 
and honour the king, 
that should support the poor 

and paid the fees for it, 
refuse poor gentle blood, 
to keep the Sanctuary; 
have long to us been strangers, 

or they be somehow changed. 

1 Therefore, rebuke me not, 
w For in my conscience I know 
" Prayers of a perfect man 
" These be the dearest work 

Reason, I pray thee, 
what Christ would have me do. 
and his discreet penance, 
that our Lord loveth." 



Piers Plowman 

Quoth Conscience, " By Christ, I see not where this tendeth, 
" But to beg your life in cities is not the perfect life, 
" Save you be in obedience to Prior or to Minster." 

" That's truth," said I, 

" That I have lost my time, 

" And yet I hope that even 

as one 
" And always lost and lost 
" To buy him such a bargain 
" And all his loss is at the last 
" Such a winning is his, 
Hbe Rinaoom of beaven is like treasure 
% woman wbo founo a piece of silver . 

" I do acknowledge it, 
mis-spent my time, 

who oft hath bought and sold 
and at the last hath happened 
that he is better for ever 
only as a leaf, 
under Gods grace, 

, . etcetera, 
► etcetera. 

" Even so hope I to have 
" A gobbet of His grace; 
" That shall turn to profit 

" I counsel thee," quoth 

" The life that is commendable 
" Aye, and continue in it" 

So to the kirk I went 
Before the Cross upon 

Sighing for my sins, 
Weeping and wailing 


of Him that is Almighty 
and then begin a time 
all the days of my life." 

" hurry to begin 

and dear to the soul; " 

quoth Conscience. 

to honour my Lord; 

I knocked my breast, 
saying my prayer, 
till again I was asleep. 




The king and his knights 
To hear the days mattins 
Then I waked from my slumber 
That I had not slept sounder 
But ere I fared a furlong 
I could go no foot further 
And sat me softly down, 
Babbled my prayers, 

to the kirk went, 
and the mass after, 
and woe it was to me 
and seen the more, 
faintness took me; 
for want of sleep, 
and said my creed, 
they brought me sleep. 

Then I saw much more than I have told before, 


Reason arrayed himself and preached to all the king- 

And held a cross before the 

king and thus began: 

He prayed the people 

He proved these Pestilences 

The South-West hurricane 

Was openly for pride, 

Pear trees, plum trees, 

An example, ye men, 

Beeches and broad oaks 

Their roots up-turned 

That deadly sin at Doomsday 

He bade wasters go work 
And with some kind of craft 

He prayed Parnel the gay 
And keep it in her coffer 

have pity on themselves, 
were for pure sin. 
on Saturday even, 
for nothing else, 
purled to earth, 
ye should live better lives, 
blown to the ground, 
in token of dread, 
shall ruin us all. 

at what they best knew, 
earn what they wasted now. 

put by her broidered robe, 
to serve her at her need. 

6 9 


Piers Plowman 

Tom Stowe he told 
And bring home Felice 

Watt he warned 

Her bonnet cost a half-mark, 

Batt he bad go and cut 
And beat Betty with it 

to take two sticks, 
from the scolding-stool. 

his wife was in the wrong, 
his hood a groat. 

a bough or two, 

if she would not work. 

to chasten their children 

Merchants he charged 

And let no money pamper 

them while they be young, 

And not to cocker them for any plague that comes. 

" My sire told me and my dame 

" That the dearer the child is the more he must learn 
" Solomon that wrote Wisdom said the same : 
(SUri parcit virgae oDit ftltum. 

" The English of this Latin is, if any one would know it, 
" Spare the switch, spill the son." 

And then he prayed prelates: 
" Live as ye teach us, 

" What ye preach, do, 

we shall trust you the better." 

Then he bade Religion keep to her Rule, 

" Lest the king and the 

commons take your wealth 

" And be stewards in your 

places till ye be better governed." 

wrote the Rule down — 
die for water, 
rotteth and starveth 
it coveteth to dwell: 

" Gregory that great clerk 

" As fishes in drought 

" Even so Religion 

" When out of cloister 

" For if there be heaven on 


"It is in the cloister or the school. 
" To the cloister man cometh not to chide nor fight, 

or ease to any soul, 

The Vision of Reasons Sermon 

1 All is book and obedience, reading and learning; 
' In the school the clerk is 

scorned if he will not learn; 

1 Great love and liking there; each loveth other. 

7 1 

' But now is Religion a rider, 

1 A leader at the love-day, 

1 Pricking on a palfrey 

c A heap of hounds at his back 

1 And if his servant kneel not 

c He loureth on him asking 

1 Badly have lords done 

1 Away to the Orders 

1 Money rains upon their altars 

1 There where such parsons be 

1 They have no pity on the 

1 Ye hold you as lords ; 
1 But there shall come a king 
' And beat you as the Bible 
He shall mend you monks 
And put you to your penance 
And barons and their sons 

Gbese in cbariots an& tbese 
and fell Down. 

1 Friars in their begging 
' To Constantines coffers 
1 That Gregorys godchildren 
1 For the Abbot of Abingdon 
' Shall be knocked on their 

1 But ere that king come, 
' The church and the clergy 

a roamer through the streets, 
a buyer of the land, 
from manor to manor, 
as tho he were a lord, 
when he brings his cup, 
who taught him courtesy. 
to give their heirs lands 
that have no pity; 

living at ease 

that is their ' charity.' 
your lands are too broad, 
and he shall shrive you all 

for breaking of your Rule, 
you canons and you nuns, 
and make you walk in old paths 
shall blame and reprove you. 
In borses . . . tbeg be bound 

shall find the key 
in which is the money 
wickedly wasted, 
and his niece the abbess 

and the wound shall be mortal, 
so chronicles tell me, 
shall be clothed new." 

Then he counselled the king 
" Where treason is not 

the commons to love 
they are thy treasure," 

7 2 

Piers Plowman 

" And treacle in thy need. 

" Rich and commons should 

" Let no manner of counsel 
" But in sense and good will 
" In heaven on high 
" Till liar Lucifer 
" Worthier and wittier 

" Hold ye then in unity 

in all kind of truth. 

nor covetise part you, 

guard ye your trust. 

was such a holy commonweal 

believed himself 

than his Master was. 

and he who would teach you 
Is cause of all that cumbers and confounds a realm." 

Then he prayed the pope 

And grant no grace 

Among all kings 

" And all confessors 

" Give Peace as your penance 

" For all manner deeds 

have pity on the church, 

till good love comes 

over their Christian peoples; 

that shrive any king 

and perpetual pardon 

and for each to love others. 

" And ye that seek S. James, and saints of Rome, 
" Seek ye Saint Truth, for he shall save you all, 

TObo witb tbe afatber anfc tbe Son . . ♦ 
" Fair befall them that follow my sermon," 

So ended Reason. 

(Here begin the Repentance and Shriving of the Seven Deadly Sins) 

Then ran Repentance 

And made me, William, weep. 

and repeated Reasons words 


Parnel proud-hearted 
Long she lay ere she looked 
Promised to Him 
She would unsew her shift 
To tame her flesh 

lay flat upon the earth, 
" God, have mercy." 
that made us all 
and set a hair shirt there, 
so fierce to sin: 

The Vision of the Seven Sins 


" Pride shall not draw me, 
" I will let me be slandered, 
" Now I will meek me, 
" All this till now 

"Repent thee/' quoth Re- 
" Shrive thee and sharply 

I will hold me low, 
that did I never; 
mercy beseeching; 
have I hated in my heart. 5 

" as Reason hath taught thee, 
and shake off thy pride." 


" I, Pride, patiently, 

" First to father and mother 

" Unabashed to offend 

" Inobedient to the Church 

" I judged her for her vices; 

" With word and wit 

Scorning them and others 
That simple folk should 

think me 
Proud of my apparel; 
Other than I was 
Willing men to think me, 
Rich and eloquent, 
A boaster, a braggart, I, 
Vaunting my vainglory 
Singular, alone, 
Some time in one faith, 
Wishing men should think 
My craft the cleverest, 
My strength the stiffest, 
My love the sweetest, 
Proud of my fair features, 

ask for penance, 

was I inobedient, 

God and the good, 

and to them that serve her, 

I urged on others, 

the churchmens evil works to 

when I saw my time 

witty and wise, 
appearing among men 
in mind or in wealth; 
for the goods I had, 
righteous in my life; 
full of bold oaths, 
in face of all reproof; 
for none was like to me; 
some time in another, 
my work was the best, 
my riding the strongest, 
my face the handsomest, 
my crimes the boldest, 
proud of my shrill song. 

' What I gave for Gods love I told my gossips all about it 
11 For them to think me holy, holy and free of alms ; 


Piers Plowman 

" None so bold a beggar 

" A teller of tales 

" Things that none had thought 

" Them that sat beside me 
" ' Lo, if ye believe me not 
" ' Ask him, ask her, 
" What / suffered, what / saw, 
" What / once could do, 
" I would men knew it all 
" To be praised among the people." 
5t 5 pleased men 5 coulo not be Gbrists servant, 
Ifto man can serve two masters, 

" Now God of his goodness give thee grace to amend," 

Quoth Repentance. 

to ask what I craved ; 

in inns and at street corners ; 

I swore I saw them done; 

I took to witness : 

or if ye ween I lie 

for they can tell you all.' 

what / had, what / knew, 

what kin / came of, 

if it but helped my pride 


Then said Lechery, " Alas, 
Lady, to thy dear Son, 
To have pity on me lustful 
I will drink with the duck 
I am guilty in spirit, 
In words, in dress, 
Every maid I met 
Some would I kiss and handle 
On fast days, on Fridays, 
In Lent and out of Lent, 
Such work with me and them 
Merry tales we had 
Clever songs we made; 
To win with guile 
Some I won by sorcery, 
I took the loveliest 
When I was old and hoar 

our Lady, 
pray for me now; 

of his pure mercy and grace ; 
and dine but once on Saturday. 

1 am guilty in body, 
in watching for eyes. 
I made her a sin-sign, 
till our lust was one ; 
on feast-day vigils, 

all times were one to me; 
was never out of season, 
of lust and paramours, 
we sent out bawds, 
women to my will, 
some I won by strength; 
and never loved them after, 
and had lost my nature 

Then would I laugh at lecherous tales. 

Now, Lord, of thy grace, on Lechers have mercy." 

The Vision of the Seven Sins 



Envy with heavy heart 

" My fault/' says he, 

His clothes were of cursing 

He was pale as a stone; 

And like a leek that had lain 

So looked he with long cheeks 

His body was all swollen with 

And went wringing his fists ; 
With word or deed 
Every word he threw 
Of chiding and of challenging 
Backbiting and calumny 
This was his courtesy 

asked for his shrift, 
cursing all his enemies, 
and of keen words; 
in a palsy he seemed, 
long in the sun 
foully louring. 

he bit his lips, 

he would wreak vengeance 

when his time he saw. 

was of an adders tongue; 

all his living was; 

and bearing of false witness, 

where'er he showed his face. 

" I would be shriven," quoth 

this shrew, 
" 1 would be gladder, by God, 
" Than if I this week had won 
" I have a neighbour near me, 
" Blamed him behind his back, 
" Lied to lords about him, 
" Made his friends his foes, 
" His weal and his good chances 
' Between him and his servants 
" His life and his limbs 

; ' When at market I meet 

11 1 hail him kindly 

' I dare do no other, 

" Had I mastery and might 

' When I come to the kirk 
" And pray for the people 

" if for shame I durst. 

if Gilbert had a hurt 

a wey of Essex cheese. 

I have envied him often, 

to bring slander on him, 

to make him lose his silver, 

through my false tongue; 

grieve me full sore, 

have I made strife, 

were lost through my speech. 

him I most hate, 

as I his friend were; 

he is stronger than I. 

God knows what I would do. 

and should kneel to the Rood, 
as the priest preacheth, 

7 6 

Piers Plowman 

" Then I cry on my knees: 
" ' That took away my bowl 

" Then from the altar 
" Heyne hath a new coat, 
" I wish it were mine 

' Christ give them sorrow, 
and my torn sheet/ 

I turn my eyes and see — 

and his wife another, 

and all the piece it came from. 

" When men lose I laugh, 
" When they win I weep, 
" I deem that they do ill 
" And if any rebuke me 
" I would that each man 
" If one hath more than I 
" Thus I live loveless 
" And all my body swelleth 

my heart loveth that, 
and wail to think of it, 
when I do far worse, 
I hate him deadly evermore, 
were my servant, 
that angrieth me sore, 
like a vicious dog, 
so bitter is my gall. 

" I blame men behind them 
" What I hear from Will, 
" All I know from Watkin, 
" I make foes of friends 

" I burn myself within me 
" Through my power of talk, 
" I take my vengeance 
" Against Christs counsel. 

and pray for their mischance; 
I tell it to Watkin, 
Will hears it after, 
through a false and fickle 

as with a tailors shears, 
through many a trick, 
and curse my fellow-Christians 

And when I cannot master 

That I catch cramp, 
Ague or fever, 
The leechcraft of our Lord 
No clerk can help me 
Like the cobbler of South- 

God and His words 
Like a chance charm I have; 

I take such melancholy, 
and sometimes spasms, 
till I forget 

and believe in the wizards. 
no, nor Christ, 

or Dame Em of Shoreditch. 
give me no help 
that chiefly cured me. 

The Vision of the Seven Sins 


" For many a year I could not 

" For envy and ill-will 
" No sugar nor sweet thing 
" Nor any remedy on earth 
" No, neither shrift nor shame, 

as a man should, 
be hard things to digest; 
may assuage my swelling, 
drive it from my heart, 
save one should scrape my 

" Yes, there is remedy," quoth and gave him counsel of the 

Repentance, best, 

" Sorrow for sin is salvation of soul." 

"I am sorry," says he, 
" That makes me meagre, 

" I am a broker of backbiting, 
" When he sold and I did not 
" To lie and to glower 
1 Their works and their words, 
" Now it grieves me in my 

11 Ere I my life leave, 

" Grant me, good Lord, 

" seldom am I not; 
for I cannot avenge me. 

I blame mens wares, 
then was I ready 
and blame my neighbours, 
wherever I was. 

that ever I did so; 

grant me of thy love, 
grace of amendment." 


Now awoke Wrath 

With snivelling nose, 

"lam Wrath," quoth he, 

11 With stone or staff 

" Bethinking me of sleights 

" Though I sat here seven 

' The harm I have done 
" Impatient of all penances, 
" And grumbling at His sending 

with his two white eyes, 

and bitten lips. 

" I will gladly smite 

or steal upon my enemy, 

to slay them slyly, 

I could not well tell 
with hand and tongue, 
complaining of God, 
when aught grieved me, 


Piers Plowman 

Sometimes in summer, and sometimes in harvest, 

If weather were not as I 

wished then I blamed God. 

Mid all kinds of men 
With gentle and simple 

I am Wrath. 

Gardener in the convent, 

I grafted lies 

And the lies bare leaves 

And entered my ladys bower 

Now comes the fruit. — 

To preachers and visitors 

Parsons soon see 

Then parsons preach 

And Friars blame parsons; 

I, Wrath, walk mid all, 

Both vaunt their spiritual 

Each contemns the other, 
Or else ride about rich, 

I, Wrath, never rest 

I have an aunt, a Nun, 
They would sooner faint or 

I was cook in their kitchen, 
Many months with them, 
Broth for the prioress I made 
Broth and soup made out of 

' Sister Joan was a bastard. 
' Sister Clarice a knights 


my dwelling is, 

that love to hear harm. 

Once I was a Friar, 
grafting slips; 
on preachers and visitors, 
and blossomed abroad, 
to hear confessions. 
Men will go shrive them 
and not to their parsons, 
these share their shrift-money, 
and defame the Friars, 
all men know it. 
I teach them from the book of 

their spiritual power is Wrath, 

and all come "to poverty, 

and their spiritual power is 

from following these wicked. 

another an Abbess, 

than suffer any penance. 
I served the convent, 
and many with the monks, 
and for other poor ladies, 

Thus it went. 

her father a cuckold ; 

The Vision of the Seven Sins 79 

* ' ' Sister Pernell a priests wench, no t fit to be prioress ; 
" ' She bore a child in cherry- 
time; all the chapter knew it, 
" ' They challenged her with it at her election day.' 

" I, Wrath, their pottage made all out of wicked words. 

" ' Liar thou art," cries one, ' Liar, liar,' cries the other, 

" Each hit the other under the cheekbone, 

" Had they had knives, by Christ, each had killed the other. 

All ladies loathe me 

that love honourable ways. 

" Among wives and widows I am wont to sit, 
" High fenced in the high pews in church, 

11 The parson knoweth well how I hate Lettice; 
" She took the Sacrament 

before me and she and I met and chid, 

" Each called the other whore. Off with our clothes, 

" Heads were bare, and cheeks bloody. 

" Among the monks I might be 
' There be so many cruel men 
" The Prior, the sub-prior, 
" If there I tell my angry tales 
" And make me fast on Fridays 
" I am challenged in the chapter 
" Birched on the bare back- 

but often I shun it, 
my doings to espy, 
and Father abbot, 
they meet and take me 
on bread and water, 
as though I were a child, 

and never a shirt between. 

" I have no liking 
11 They eat more fish than flesh ; 
" And once when wine cometh 
: ' I have a flux of foul words 
11 All the wickedness I know 
" I cough it up in our cloisters 

to live among the monks, 
they drink feeble ale, 
and I sit and drink late 
for five days after, 
of any in our convent 
and all the world hears it." 


that thou 

" Repent ye, 

" The counsel 

" Nor drink delicate drink, 
" Lest thy will and thy wit 
" Be thou sober," says he, 
And bad him pray to God 

Piers Plowman 
quoth Repent- 

" and never more repeat 

by thy look or by thy speech, 
nor drink deep at all, 
should turn to wrath, 
and gave him absolution 
to be his prospering help. 


Then came Covetise, 

So hungry and hollow 

Beetle-browed, babber-lipped, 

And, like a leather purse, 

Below his chin 

A hood upon his head, 

A tawny cloak upon him, 

All torn and rotten 

But, if a louse could leap away, 

So threadbare was the cloth of 

" I have been covetous," quoth 
this caitiff, 

" Once I served Sim At-stile, 
" First I learnt to lie, 
" Then to weigh false 
" To Winchester and Weyhill 
" With all kinds of merchandise 
" But had not grace of Guile 
" They had been unsold seven 

him cannot I describe, 
Sir Harveys self he looked ; 
with his bleared eyes, 
his cheeks lolled down 
and shivered with age. 
and a lousy hat on top, 
twelve winters old, 
and full of creeping lice; 
she had not been there 


" I do acknowledge it, 

and was his 'prentice bound, 

a page or two of lies, 

was my second lesson, 

I went to the fair 

as my master bad, 

gone with me and my goods, 

Gods my witness. 

Then I passed to the drapers, to learn my other lessons, 
To draw the edges out that the flannel might seem 


The Vision of the Seven Sins 


' Among the rich striped cloths I learned another lesson, 
' Threaded them with pack- 
needles, fastened them together, 
1 Put them in a press, pinned them down therein, 
' Till ten yards or twelve made out — thirteen. 

: My wife was a weaver, 
1 She spake to her spinners 
' But the pound-weight she 

paid by 
1 Than my own balance did, 
' I used to buy her barley, 
' Penny ale and thick ale, 
1 For labourers and poor folk. 
' The best ale in my bower, 
' Any man that boozed of that 
' Fourpence a gallon, 
' When it was served in cups. 
' Rose of the Small Shop 
1 She has been a huckster 

' But now I swear, so may I 

1 Nevermore will I weigh false, 
1 But I will wend me to Wal- 

' And pray to Bromholm cross, 

1 Didst ever repent ? 

I Yes, once I was in an inn, 

I I rose when they were sleep- 


1 That was no restitution, 
1 Thou hadst deserved hanging 
for that 

woollen cloth she made, 
to spin it soft, 

weighed a quarter more 

when I weighed fair. 

she brewed it to sell, 

she mixed it together, 

It lay by itself; 

or in my bedchamber; 

never bought other, 

and no good measure either 

In that wife was cunninp : 

was her true name, 

these eleven winters. 

this cheating I will stop, 
nor cheat in selling, 

and my wife with me, 
to save me from my sins." 

didst never restitution make ? " 

with a heap of travellers, 

and rifled their packs." 

that was a robbers theft; 
more than for all thy cheating 


82 Piers Plowman 

" I thought rifling was restitu- 
tion/' says he, " I never learned my book; 
" I know no French i'faith, only from far Norfolk." 

" Didst ever use usury, in all thy lifetime? " 

" Nay, saving in my youth, with Lombards and Jews, 
" I weighed pence with a 

weight, I pared the heaviest, 

" And lent money on pledge, the pledge was worth more 

than the loan. 

" I wrote me out agreements; if the borrower failed his day, 

" I gat me more wealth than through merciful lending. 

" I have lent to lords and and myself redeemed the 
ladies, pledge; 

" I lent to folk that were will- 
ing to lose a bit from every coin. 

" I had bankers letters and took my coin to Rome, 

" I counted it right here, but there it was less." 

" Didst ever lend to lords in return for their protection ? " 

" Ay, I have lent to lords; they never loved me after; 

" I have made many a knight into mercer and draper, 

" They gave me colours to wear, thus they were my 'prentices, 

" Never a pair of gloves did they pay me for the same." 

" Hast thou pitied the poor, who sometimes needs must 

borrow? " 

" Ay, as much pity as pedlars have on cats, 
" Would kill them an they 

catch them, for the sake of their skins." 

Art thou free among thy 

neighbours with thy meat and drink? 

■ i 

The Vision of the Seven Sins 

" I am held as courteous as a dog is in a kitchen; 

" That is the name I have among them." 


" God grant thee never 
" Save thou repent thee soon 
" God grant thy sons after thee 
" And thine executors no profit 
" That which was won by- 
" For neither Pope nor Par- 
" To pardon thee thy sins, 
Gbe sin is not remittee save 

his grace through all thy life, 
and use well thy goods, 
no joy of that thou winnest, 
in that thou leavest them; 

shall be spent by the wicked, 

hath ever power 
save thou make reparation." 
restitution be ntaoe* 

" Ay, I have won my goods with false word and wit, 

' I have gathered what I have with glosing and with guile ; 

" I mixed my merchandise, I made a fine array, 
" But the best was outside the 

shop and the worst inside — 
" There was wit in that. 

And if my neighbour had 

man or beast better at all than mine, 

I tried many a trick to get it for mine own, 

And, save I got it otherwise, at the last I stole it; 

I shook his purse out or I picked his locks. 

" If I went to the plough, 

" A foot or a furrow 

" If I reaped I would reach 

" Seize with their sickles 

I pinched of his half-acre, 
of my neighbours land, 

or bad them that reaped for me 
what I never sowed. 

" In holy-days at church, 
" I had no will 

" Nay, I mourned my loss of 

when I heard mass, 
to weep my sins ; 

and not my bodys guilt. 

8 4 

Piers Plowman 

" When I did deadly sin, I feared it not so much, 

" As when I lent and thought 

it lost when payment was delayed. 

" If I sent my servant 

" To do traffic with money 

" No man could comfort me, 

" Nor penance done, 

" My mind was on my goods, 

to Bruges or Prussia-land, 
and to make exchange, 
nor mass nor mattins, 
nor paternoster prayed; 
not on Gods grace. 

Wbere gour treasure is tbere sball sour beart be also. 

" In sooth," Repentance said, " I have pity on thy life, 

" Were I a Friar, in good faith, for all the gold in earth, 
" I would take no money of 

thine, nor robe me in goods of thine, 

" Nor mend our church with nor take a dinners cost from 

gold of thine, thee; 

"By my souls health I would not a penny pittance of thee 
" For the best book in our 

House, tho the leaves were burnt gold; 
" If I knew thee to be what 

thou say est I would sooner starve. 
better Me tban live ill, 

" I counsel any faithful Friar never to sit at board of thine, 
" I would liever, by our Lord, live upon watercress 
" Than have food and finding from a false mans fortune. 
Wben tbou eatest ricb fooo tbou art anotbers slave ; 
tfeeo on tbine own loat ano be free;; 

" Thou art unnatural; 

" Make reparation, 

" All that take of thy goods, 

" Are bound at the High Judg- 

" The priest that taketh tithe 
of thee, 

" Shall share thy purgatory 

I cannot pardon thee, 
and reckon with them all. 
God is my witness, 

to help thee to restore. 

if he know thee what thou art, 
and help to pay thy debt. 

The Vision of the Seven Sins 85 

" Never workman in this world shall thrive on thy winnings; 

" Look in the Psalter: 

3for lo tbou fcestreDst trutb, 

" Then thou shall know fully what usury doth mean, 

" And what the priests penance 

is who is proud of thine offerings ; 

" For a harlot of her body hire may more boldly pay church 

" And shall sooner come to 

heaven than an arrant usurer like thee, 
" God be my witness." 

Then that shrew waxed des- 
pairing and would have hanged himself, 

Had not Repentance comforted him thus : 

" Have mercy in thy thoughts, and in thy prayers pray for it, 

" For Gods mercy is more than all His other works, 

" And all this worlds wicked- 
ness, that man can work or think, 

"Is no more to the mercy of God than is a spark in Thames. 

" Thou hast not good enough 

in thee to buy thee a wastel cake, 

" Saving by penitence, or work of thy two hands. 

" The goods thou hast gotten began in falsehood, 

" And long as thou livest on thou payest not but borrowest 
them more; 

" And if thou know not to whom to make thy repara- 

" Take thy money to the 

Bishop, bid' him use it for thy soul; 

" He shall answer for thee at the High Judgment day, 

" For thee — and many more." 


Now beginneth Gluttony to go to shrive him, 

And fare to churchward his sins to show. 


Piers Plowman 

Forth he went upon his way fasting, on a Friday, 
But Betty the brewster bad him good morrow, 

And asked of him withal whitherward he went. 

I go to church," says he, 
And then will I be shriven, 

Gossip," says she, 
good ale; 

I have 

" for to hear mass, 

and I shall no more sin." 

wilt taste it, Glutton ? 

" What hast thou? " says he, " any hot spice? " 

" Pepper and peony seeds," 

says she, " and a pound of garlic, 

" And a farthings worth of 

fennel, for your fasting day." 

Then in goes Glutton 

Cis the shoemaker 

Watt the gamekeeper 

Tom the tinker 

Hick the hackneyman, 

Clarice of Cock Lane 

Parson Piers of Pray-to-God 

Daw the ditcher 

A fiddler, a ratter, 

A ropemaker, a trooper, 

A watchman and a hermit, 

Godfrey the garlic seller, 

All early in the morning 

To try the new good ale. 

Then cobbler Clement 
And said it was for sale 
Hick the hackneyman 
And bad Bet the butcher 
Two then were chosen 

and great oaths welcomed him. 

sat on the bench, 
and his wife — drunk ; 
and two of his 'prentices, 
Hogg the needier, 
and the parish clerk; 
and Pernel the Flemish woman, 
and a dozen more of them; 
and a Cheapside scavenger, 
and Rose of the Small Shop, 
and the Tyburn hangman; 
Griffin the Welshman, 
welcomed Glutton gladly 

threw down his cloak, 
at the New Fair Change, 
threw down his hood, 
be speaker on his side ; 
the exchange to value — 

The Vision of the Seven Sins 


He that had the hood 
The two rose readily, 
And went aside 
They could not in their con- 
Till Robin the ropemaker 
And named an umpire 
Hick the ostler 

And Clement took Hicks hood 
And held him satisfied; 
Sir Glutton should be treated 

should havesomewhatwithit.- 
and whispered together, 
and valued the goods, 

truly agree; 

was bidden to arise, 

that quarrel should be none. 

took the cloak, 

and a cup of ale, 

for if one should repent of it 

to a gallon of ale. 

There was laughing and chat- 
tering, and, " Pass the cup round," 
Bargains and toasts and songs, and so they sat — till evensong, 
And Glutton had gulped down a gallon and a gill. 

He could neither step nor stand 
Then gan he walk 
Now to this side, now to that, 
Like a man who lays lines 
And when he drew to the 

He stumbled on the threshold 
Then Cobbler Clement 
To lift him up on high 
But Glutton was a heavy churl 
And coughed up his drink 

With all the trouble in the 

Bore him home to his bed 
And after all this surfeit 
All Saturday and Sunday slept 
Then waked he from his 


till he had his staff, 
like a blind singers dog, 
and sometimes backward, 
to catch wild birds ; 

then his eyes grew dim, 
and fell flat on the floor ; 
caught him by the waist 
and get him to his knees; 
and groaned as he lifted him, 
in Clements lap. 

his wife and his wench 
and laid him therein; 
he had a sleeping fit; 
till the sun went to rest. 

and wiped his eyes, 

And the firstword he threw was, " Where's the tankard ? 


Piers Plowman 

His wife and his conscience rebuked him for his sin, 

He waxed ashamed, that shrew, and swiftly asked for shrift, 

And to Repentance cried, " Have pity on me, 

" Thou, Lord, that art on high and all lives didst shape, 

" To thee, God, I, Glutton, confess me guilty, 

" Guilty of trespass with my 

tongue, how oft I cannot tell, 

" ' By Gods soul, By Gods sides, So help me God Almighty/ 

" When there was no need of oath. 

" I have over eaten at supper- 

" More than my body 

" And then I, Glutton, cast 
it up 

" And spoilt what might have 
well been 

" Over daintily on fasting days 

" Sitting so long at table, 

" Hereof, good God, 

" Of all my vicious living 

sometimes at breakfast-time, 
might well digest; 

ere I had walked a mile, 

spent upon the hungry. 

I have eaten and have drunken ; 

I slept and ate at once. 

grant me forgiveness 

all my life long.'' 

Then gan Glutton weep 
And vowed to fast: 

" Never shall fish on Friday 
" Till Aunt Abstinence allows 

" This showing shrift," says 

and made great dole, 

" Hungry and thirsty though 

I be, 
be eaten or swallowed 
whom all my life I hated." 

" shall be of merit to thee." 


Then came Sloth, beslabbered, 
" I must sit down," says he, 
" I cannot stand or stoop, 
" Once I am in bed, 
" Till I am ripe for dinner." 

with two slimy eyes, 

" or I shall nap, 

or kneel without a footstool, 

no bell-ringing can rouse me 

The Vision of the Seven Sins 

8 9 

He began with a belch and beat his breast in penitence 

And stretched him out and 

yawned — and then he snored. 

" What, wake, man, wake," 

cried Repentance, " and haste thee to shrift." 

' Should I die, by this day, I dread me sore, 

' I know not my paternoster, as the priest sings it, 
1 1 know rhymes of Robin 

Hood and Randolph Earl of Chester, 
' But of our Lord and of our 

Lady — none, not the shortest ever made. 

c I have made forty vows and forgot them in the 


1 Never penance have I done as the priest bade me, 

1 And never was I sorry for my sins. 

(unless I be in wrath), 
from the words of my mouth; 
holy days and others, 
and idle tales in church, 
on that I think seldom. 

' If I tell my beads 

1 My heart is two miles away 

' Each day am I busy, 

I With idle tales at the ale, 
' Gods passion and pain 

' I never visited the weak 

I I had liever hear loose talk 

I Or laugh at lying tales, 

' Than all that ever they 

' Vigils and fast days 

I I lie abed in Lent 

1 Till mattins and mass be 

1 If I hear the last word 

1 Save sickness makes me 
1 Do I confession make, 

or fettered men in prisons, 
at a cobblers merrymaking, 
or slander my neighbour, 
Matthew, Mark, or Luke or 

I can clean forget them all, 
with my leman in my arms, 

Then I go to the Friars 
I hold myself satisfied. 

not twice in ten years 

and then I tell not half my sins. 

90 Piers Plowman 

" I have been priest and parson for thirty winters past, 

" But I cannot solfa or sing, or read a Latin life of saints; 

" But I can find a hare, in a field or in a furrow, 
" Better than construe the 

first Psalm or explain it to the parish. 

" I can hold a friendly meeting, I can cast a shires accounts, 
" But in mass book or Popes 

edict I cannot read a line. 

" If I buy or borrow, unless the score be up against 


" I forget it as soon as bought; and if a man ask me 

" Six times or seven I deny it with oaths. 

" Thus have I served true men ten hundred times. 

" My servants wages go un- 
paid, it is sad on settling-day, 

" When with wrath and wicked 

wish my workmen I pay. 

" If a man do me service, or help me in my need, 

" I am unkind when he is 

courteous, I cannot understand him. 

" I have and always had the manners of a hawk, 

" I am not lured with love; there must be meat under the 


" The kindness my brother- 
Christian, showed me of old, 
" I, Sloth, have forgotten it, ay, sixty times have I, 
" By what I said and what I left unsaid. 

" Many a time have I spoilt fish, flesh, and other food, 

" Bread, ale, butter, milk and cheese, 
" All wasted by my keeping 

them ; and I have set my house a-fire. 

" In my youth I ran about, I gave me not to service, 

The Vision of the Seven Sins 91 

" And ever since have been a 

beggar, all for my foul sloth, 

" me, my barren, barren days." 

" Repent thee," quoth Re- 
pentance, and with that Sloth swooned, 
Till Wake the watchman threw water in his eyes 
And flapped it on his face and said : 

" Beware thee of Despair for he would betray thee, 

" Say, ' I am sorry for my sin,' pray God for grace and beat 

thy breast; 
" No guilt so great that His goodness is not 


Then sat Sloth up 

And vowed before God : 

" (Save I be sick), 

" To the dear church 

" Nor shall ale after dinner 

" Till I have heard evensong: 

" Ay and I will pay again 
" All that I made wickedly 
" And though my living fail 
" Every man shall have his 

" And with the remnant, 
" Before I pilgrim it to Rome, 

and signed him ever and again, 
" No Sunday shall go by 
that I shall not early go 
and hear mass and mattins ; 
keep me thence, 
by the Cross I swear it. 

(if I the money have), 
since I had art to make it; 
yet I will not cease; 

ere I go hence. 

by the Chester Rood, 

I will seek— Saint Truth." 



Then had Repentance pity 
" For all sinful souls 
1 To mend you your misdeeds, 
11 God who of Thy goodness 

and bad them all kneel: 
I pray our Saviour, 
to be merciful to all. 
of old made the world, 

92 Piers Plowman 

' Making all out of nothing, and making man like Thee, 
1 And suffered man to do sin and brought sickness on us 

' All for the best as I believe as the Book telleth — 
S> blesseo fault © necessary sin of Boam, 
' For through that sin thy Son down to this earth was sent 
' And became man, son of a 

maid, mankind to save, 

' Thou that madest Thyself Thy Son like us in body and soul, 

3- am in tbe jfatber ano tbe 3fatber in me ano be tbat seetb 
me seetb mp. 3F atber, 

' Thou that with thy Son in our flesh didst die, 

1 For mans sake on Good 

Friday and felt our sorrow, 

1be leb captivity captive, 

' When the sun for sorrow lost for a time his light, 

' When most light is at mid- 
day; feeding our forefathers 
1 At midday mealtime of thy 

saints with thy fresh blood, 

Zhc people tbat walfceD in oarfcness bave seen a great ligbt. 
1 The light that leapt from 

out thee blinded Lucifer, 

1 And brought thy blessed 

from his power into the bliss of heaven; 

' Thou that on the third day 

after in our mortal flesh didst go 

' Where the sinner Mary saw 

thee, before Mary thy mother, 

' For comfort of the sinful thou sufferedst her to see thee 

3 bave not come to call tbe riabteous but sinners to re* 

" All that Mark hath written, Matthew, Luke and John 
" Of thy doughtiest deeds all was done by thee as man; 

£be Woro was maDe flesb, 

The Vision of the Seven Sins 93 

" Thou to whom therefore we may more surely pray, 

" Thou that wert first our 

Father and in thy flesh our Brother, 

" And above all our Saviour: BE MERCIFUL TO US. 
" Thou that hast told us when we be sorry 

" For our deeds done ill, if we acknowledge them and 

" Damned we shall be never: 
$ will not remember bis iniquities am? more, 
" Because of this Thy mercy, for the love of Mary Thy 

" Have pity on these wicked 

men that repent them sore 

" That ever they have angered 

thee, in word, or thought, or deed." 

Then seized Hope a horn Lord - thou - shall - turn - and - 


And blew it to the sound of Messeo are tbe$ vvbose 

iniquity is forgiven, 

And all the saints in heaven together sang the hymn, 
A thousand men crowded and 

cried to Christ and his dear mother 

For grace to go to Truth, — God grant they may. 






But no wight was so wise 
They blustered forth like 

Long was the way and late 
In pilgrims dress apparelled; 
Bound with broad list 
A bowl and bag, 
And on his hat a hundred flasks 
Many a cross from Sinai, 
Cross-keys from Rome, 
Signs of his pilgrimage, 

This folk required of him 

1 From Sinai," says he, 

1 Bethlehem, Babylon, 

1 Ye may see by my signs, 
1 Good saints have I sought 
1 Walking full wide 

' Knowest thou a holy saint 
1 Canst thou tell us the way 

' Nay, God bless me," 
' Never saw I palmer 
' That asked after Truth 

that knew the way to Truth; 

over the valleys and the hills ; 
when they met a palmer, 
he had a staff in hand, 
like bindweed twisted round it, 
he bare at his side, 
of lead, 
scallop-shells of Spain, 
and the portraiture of Christ, 
that men might know his 

whence he had come; 

" and from our Lords Sepul- 

Alexandria, Armenia, and 
Damascus ; 

that be upon my hat, 

for my souls health, 

in wet and dry." 

that men call TRUTH? 
where that saint dwelleth? " 

said the fellow then, 
with pike-staff or with scrip 
till ye now in this place." 
97 g 

9 8 

Piers Plowman 


By Peter," quoth a plowman, 

I know Truth as well 

Conscience and my own wit 

Made me his man 

I have been his follower 

Sown his seed, 

Cared for his corn, 

In his house, outside his 

I ditch, I dig, I do, 
Now I sow, and now I thresh, 
I am his tailor and his tinker, 
And, though I myself do 

say it, 
And I have good wage from 

He is the readiest paymaster 
Never withholds mans hire 
He is gentle as a lamb, 
If ye will know 
I will show you the way home. 

and forward put his head, 
as scholar does his book, 
led me to his place, 
to serve him evermore; 
all this fifty winter, 
herded his beasts, 
carried it home, 

watching his profit; 
all that Truth biddeth me, 
now I weave, now I wind ; 
he put me to learn all; 

I am his good servant, 

sometimes more than good; 
that poor man can know, 
past the evening time, 
lovely in speech; 
where Truth dwelleth 

Yea, dear Piers," quoth they, and offered him money. 

Nay, by my souls health, 
I would not touch a farthing, 
He would love me less 
But if ye will to go right, 

for all S. Thomas shrine, 
for were it told to Truth 
a long time after. 
this is the way thither. 

Ye must go through meek- 
ness, all, men and women, 
Till ye come to Conscience-Love-jirst-our-Lord-God 
Bend by a brook, Be-sweet-of-speech 

The Vision of the Search for Truth 99 

And find a ford Honour-your-falher 

Wade in the water, wash you well there, 

And ye shall leap the nimbler all your life after. 

Then shalt thou see Swear-not-save-it-be-for-need. 

Swear ye not idly by the name of God Almighty < 

Then shall ye come by a croft, enter not therein, 

It is called Covet-not-mens-goods-or-wives-or-servants. 

Break no branch there, save it be thine own. 

Two stocks stand there, Steal-not, Slay-not, 

Strike forth by both and leave them on thy left. 

Turn at a hill, 

It is closed in with florins 

Pluck no plant there 

and many another fee: 
on peril of thy soul. 

" Then shalt thou see Say-sooth- and-nothing-else-for-any-man. 

" Thou shalt come to a court 
" The moat around is mercy, 

" The walls of Wit 

" The Creed its buttress, 

" Halls and chambers 

" The drawbridge of prayer, 

" The door-hooks are of alms. 

" The gatekeeper is Grace, 

" Give him this token 




as bright as the sun, 
the battlements of Christen- 
to hold Lust out, 
and all the house is roofed, 
not with lead but with Love; 
the pillars of penance, 

his man is Amendment; 



" Bid Amendment ask his Lord to lift the wicket up 
" To open and undo the high gate of heaven 

" That Adam and Eve against us all shut. 

JBs JEve tbe Door was sbut to all, ant) b£ tbc IDicain /iBacg 
it a^atn was opened. 


Piers Plowman 

" A full loyal lady unlocked it by her grace, 

" She hath the key of the lock, tho the king slept, 
" And may lead in whom she 

will as her love pleaseth her. 

And if God grant thee 

Thou shalt find Truth 

In a chain of charity 

But beware of Wrath, 

For he curseth him 

And poketh in pride 

Thy good deeds make thee 

Then shalt thou be driven 

Keyed and locked, 
Haply a hundred winter 
Think well of thyself 

But there are seven sisters 

Porters of the Posterns ; 

Humility, Charity, Chastity 

Patience and Peace 

Lady Almsgiving 
" She hath helped a thousand 
" Whoso is akin 
" Wondrous welcome is he 
" Who is not akin 
" It is full hard for you 

" By Christ," says a cut-purse, 
" Nor I," says a monkey-man, 
" God help me," says a cake- 
" No foot further would I go 

" Yea," says Piers, " go ye on," 
" Mercy is a maiden there, 

to go in in this wise, 
resting in thine heart, 
as tho thou wert a child; 
he is a wicked one, 
that in thy heart is sealed, 
to make thee praise thyself. 

thine eyes are blinded, 

and the door closed, 

to keep thee out. 

ere thou shalt enter; 

and thou mayst lose his love. 

ever serving Truth 

one called Abstinence, 

be the chief maidens there ; 

help many a one, 

lets in full many; 

from the devils pinfold; 

to these sisters seven 

and received well; 

to some of them 

to get entrance at the gate." 

" no kin have I there," 
" for aught I know." 

" if I knew this for true 
for any friars sermon." 

and pushed all the right way: 
mightiest of them all; 





The Vision of the Search for Truth 101 

" She is akin to all the sinful, she and her son, 

" And through their help — hope thou none other — 

: ' Thou may st get her grace if thou go but in time." 

" Yea, I have bought a house," 

quoth one, " and I must hie me thither 

' To see how it pleaseth me." He took his leave of Piers. 

Another needs must follow five yoke of oxen, 

" And I must go at once and drive them straight; 

* Therefore, I pray you, Piers, if perchance ye meet him 
" Tell Truth I am excused." 
" And I have wedded a wife," 

says one, " wanton in her ways, 
" Were I a sevennight from 

her sight she would fall into sin, 
" And lour on me and lightly 

chide and say I love another : 

" Therefore, Piers Plowman, I pray thee tell Truth 

" I cannot come for Kits sake, she cleaveth so to me." 

Quoth Contemplation, " Though I suffer woe, 

" Famine and trouble, I will follow Piers, 

" But the way is so bad unless we had a guide 

" To follow us each foot for dread of mis-turnings." 

" By S. Paul," says a Pardoner, " perchance I am not known 

" I will go fetch my box of 

writing and my bishops letters." 

" By Christ," says a woman of 

the streets, " I will come in thy company; 
(: Thou shalt say I am sister of 


(She looks round and sees they two are alone) 

" 1 know not where they be 



Then says Perkin Plowman: " By S. Peter of Rome 

' I have half-an-acre to plough by the high way; 

I Had I ploughed my half-acre and sown it afterward, 

I I would wend with you, I would show you the way.' 

That were a long waiting 
1 What should we women 

c Some shall sew the sacks, 
' And ye wives that have wool, 
' And spin it speedily, 
1 Save it be holiday 
' Look forth your linen, 
' See the needy and the naked, 
* Throw clothes upon them, 
1 For I shall give the poor a 

1 For the Lords love in heaven, 

' And ye lovely ladies, 
' Take silk and sendal, 
' Chasubles for chaplains 

1 Wives and widows, 
' Make cloth, I counsel you, 
: Conscience biddeth you 
' For the profit of the poor 
' And for all manner men 
' Help them to work well, 

said a veiled lady, 
work meanwhile? " 

for fear the wheat be spilt, 
work it fast, 
spare not your fingers, 
or a saints vigil, 
labour ye hard on it, 
take thought how they lie ; 
Truth would love that, 

as long as I live 
unless the land fail. 

with your long fingers, 
and sew while there be time 
the churches to honour. 

spin your flax and wool, 
and teach your daughters so, 
to make the cloth 
and for pleasure to yourselves, 
that live by meat and drink 
who win your food for you." 

I0 5 


Piers Plowman 

' By Christ/' says a gentle- 
1 But on this theme truly 
' But lead me/' says he, 
' I will help thee labour 

' Surely, Sir Knight, 

' And all my life 

' If thou wilt keep 

' From the wasters and the 

' Go thou and hunt 
' The boars and badgers, 
1 And tame thy falcons 
' That come to my croft 
Courteously the knight replied : 
1 By my power, Piers, 
1 To fulfil the covenant 

' But yet one point," says 

' Trouble not thy tenants, 
1 And though ye be right to 

' And let meekness be your 

' And though the poor proffer 

1 Take them not; perchance 
' Thou shall pay it all again 
' In the full perilous place 

' Do no harm to thy bondman, 
' He is here thine underling, 
1 He may be better set 
' Save thou do work 
africnD, go up bfgber. 

" he teacheth us the best, 
never was I taught, 
" and I will learn to plough 
while my life lasteth." 

I shall toil for both of us, 
will labour for love of thee, 
my church and me 

that would us destroy, 
the hares and foxes, 
that break my hedges down; 
wild birds to kill, 
and crop my wheat." 

I plight thee my troth, 
while I may stand." 

" I ask thee more; 
save Truth assenteth, 

let mercy be your tax-master, 

for all that Meed may do; 

presents and gifts 
ye do not them deserve : 
at the years end, 
named Purgatory, 

that it be well with thee, 
but it may hap in heaven 
and happier too than thou, 
and live as thou shouldst. 

The Vision of Piers Counsel 107 

" At church and in the charnel 

vault churls be hard to tell 
" Or whether one be Queen or 

quean knight or knave. 

" Be thou true of thy tongue, and hate all tales, 

" Save of wisdom and sense to chasten thy workmen, 

" Tales of kindness of battles or of Truth. 

" Hold not with the loose 

storiers, they are the devils talkers; 
" Avoid then* at thy meat 

time. Dost thou understand? " 

" I assent/ says the knight, 

while my life dureth. 5 

And I," says Piers, " shall 

apparel me 
And wend with you I will 
I will cast clothes on me, 
My stockings, my cuffs, 
And hang my basket round 

my neck, 
And a bushel of bread-corn within. 

in pilgrims wise, 
till we find Truth, 
mended and clouted, 
for the cold of my nails, 

by way of pilgrims scrip, 

I will sow it myself, 
On pilgrimage, as palmers do, 
My ploughfoot shall my pike- 
staff be, 
And help my hoe to cut 

and then with you will wend 
my pardon to win. 

to pick the roots in two, 
and cleanse the furrows. 

And all that help me plough and weed 

Shall have leave by our Lord to come and glean after me, 

And make merry with their 

winning, let him grudge who will. 

" And all kind of craftsmen 
" I will find them food 
" Saving Jack the Juggler, 

that can live by Truth, 
who live faithfully, — 
and Janet of the Stews, 


Piers Plowman 

" And the ribald Robert for his filthy words, 

" And Friar the beggar, and Daniel the dicer, 

" Truth told me once and bad me tell it after him." 

Ghey sball be blotteo from tbe book of life. 

<c No tithe shall be taken, no tithe be asked of them 

ftbe£ eball not be written witb tbe rigbteous. 

" They are in luck; they need 

not pay; God mend them. 

" Now am I old and hoar, I have goods of my own, 

" On pilgrimage and in penance will I pass with all these others 
" And, ere I wend, will write my will and testa- 


" In the name of God, amen, I make this testament myself. 

" He shall have my soul, that all souls made, 

" And defend it from the Fiend, for so is my faith, 

" Till I come to his account, as my Creed telleth me, 
" And gain forgiveness of my 

debts and remission of my sins ; 
" On that remission I believe. 

" The Church shall have my 

" Of my corn and of my sub- 

" I paid her readily, 

" She is bound, I hope, 

and shall keep my bones, 

I paid her my tithes, 
for peril of my soul ; 
to bear me in mind, 

" And keep me in her memory with all Christian souls. 

" My wife shall have that I 

earned, earned with truth and no more, 

" And share it with my friends, and my dear children. 

" Though I should die to-day, my debts are paid; 

The Vision of Piers Counsel 1 09 

" I bare back all I borrowed 
" And with the residue, 
" I will honour Truth with it 
'' For poor mens sake.'*' 

Now are Piers and the pilgrims 
To plough his half-acre; 
Ditchers and delvers 
Thereat was Piers pleased 
Others there were 
Each man in his way 
And some to please Perkin 

At high prime Piers 

And himself looked over all 

He should be hired again 

Some did their work thus; 
And helped to plough the half- 

"Now by the prince of 

' If ye rise not straightway 
:< No grain that groweth here 
'' Nay though ye die for dole 

Then were idlers afeard, 
Some crooked their legs beneath 

And made their moan to Piers 

' But, Piers, we will pray for 

That God in His grace 
"And pay you back for all 

your alms 
1 We, we can neither toil nor 

ere I went home to bed, 

by Chester Rood, 

and be his pilgrim at the plough, 

to the ploughing gone, 
many a one helped him, 
dug up the ridges, 
and paid their full wages, 
that worked full willingly, 
found him work to do, 
picked away the weeds. 

let the plough stand 

to see who best had wrought, 

in harvest time. 

they sat and sang and drank, 

with, " Hey trolly lolly." 

says Piers in his wrath, 
and haste you to work, 
shall gladden you at need, 
—devil take him that cares." 

and feigned them to be blind, 

as such beggars can, 

how that they could not work. 

for you and for your plough, 
will multiply your grain, 

that you have given us here; 

such sickness aileth us.*' 

1 1 o Piers Plowman 

" If ye were good/' says Piers, " your prayers might help me 


" But high Truth will have no 

tr i c k s in folk that go a-begging. 

" Ye be wastrels, I know well, wasting and devouring 

" All that good land-tilling men lawfully toil for. 

" But Truth shall teach you how to drive his team:— 
" Or barley bread shall be your 

f 00( i and the brook give you drink. 

" But if any be blind, broken-shanked, iron-bolted, 

" He shall eat wheaten bread, and drink as well as 1,^ 
" Till God in his goodness send him better days." 

" But ye, ye could work as Truth would; ye could earn meat 

and drink, 
" Keeping kine in the field, keeping beasts from the corn, 

" Ditching and delving, threshing the sheaves, 

" Helping to make mortar, or bearing muck afield. 

" In lechery, in lying, and in sloth ye live, 

" And only through sufferance doth Vengeance pass you by. 

" Hermits and anchorites, that keep them in their cells, 

" They shall have of my alms all the while I live, 

" And friars that flatter not, and poor sick folks, 

" What ! I and mine shall find 

t hem all that they need. 

" But Robert Gadabout he shall have nought of me 

"Nor preachers, saving they 

can preach and have the bishops leave, 

"They shall have bread and 

pottage and make themselves at ease, 

" Religion is unreasonable that hath no certain pay." 

Then gan a wastrel rise in and would have fought with 
wrath Piers > 

The Vision of Piers Counsel 1 1 1 

Threw down his glove, a Breton man, a braggart, 

Bad Piers go with his plough for a cursed starveling. 

' Wilt thou or wilt thou not, we will have our will 
" Of thy flour and of thy flesh, will take it when we please, 
" Ay and make merry with it for all thy grudging.'* 

Then PIERS PLOWMAN complained him to the knight, 

To keep him as his covenant 

was from the wolfish wastrels: 

J 1 Avenge me of these wastrels that make the world so dear, 
"There be no plenty in the 

^ nd and the plough lieth still." 

Courteously the knight, as his manner was, 

Warned wastrels all and bad them do better: 

" Or thou shalt dear aby it, by my knightly order, 

" I shall beat thee by the law and bring thee to the stocks." 
" I was not wont to work," 

says Wastrel, " and I will not begin." 

Made light of the law, set less by the knight, 

Piers was worth a peascod, he and his plough, 
And threatened Piers and his 

men when next they met* 

" By my souls peril," says PIERS PLOWMAN, 

' I will repay you all for your proud words," 

And shouted after Hunger, (Hunger heard him soon) 
" Take vengeance on these 

wastrels > for the knight wiU not." 

Hunger came in haste, took Wastrel by the mouth 

Wrung him by the womb, brought water to his eyes. * 

He buffeted the Breton man about both his cheeks, 

That he looked like a lantern all his life after. 

He beat both the boys, he near burst their ribs 

I 12 

Piers Plowman 

Had not Piers with a pease loaf prayed Hunger cease 
They had like been in their graves. 

" Have mercy on them, Hunger, and let me boil them beans, 
" Suffer them to live, and let them eat with hogs; 

"What was baked for my horses shall be their food." 

Idlers for fear of this 
Flapped away with flails, 
That Hunger was not bold 

For a potful of peases 
A heap of hermits 
Cut their copes away, 
Went out as workmen 
Digging and ditching; 
Spaded, spread dung, 

Blind and bedridden 
Lame men he cured 
They that lay broken legged, 
On soft warm Sundays 
Them Hunger healed 

Lame mens limbs 
They became servants 
And prayed for charity 
For the sake of his bread 
For what was baked for the 

And many a beggar ready 
And every poor man well paid 
Ready as a sparrowhawk 

Piers was proud of that 
Daubing and delving, 
Gave them meat and money 
Then had Piers pity 

fled into barns, 

from morning to evening, 

to cast an eye on them 
that Piers wife made them, 
took them spades, 
made them short coats, 
to weed and mow, 

to drive Hunger away. 

were healed by the thousand, 
with lungs of beasts; 
sitting to beg silver, 
by the high way, 
with a red-hot cake. 

were loosened and lithe; 
to keep Piers beasts, 
to dwell with him, 
to drive Hunger away. 

was food for the hungry, 
to sweat for beans, 
to take pease for his hire, 
to do Piers bidding. 

and put them all to work, 
whittling wooden pins, 
as they might deserve; 
on all poor people, 

The Vision of Piers Counsel 


And bade Hunger in haste 

Home to his own place 

" I am well avenged/' says he, 

{ Yet I pray thee 

' What is best to be done 

* For well I wot when thou 

art gone 
' Mischief it maketh, 
' For default of food, 
' Not for love do they work 

1 There is no final love in them 
1 Yet be they my brethren, 
1 Truth taught me once 
1 And help them in all things 
' Now would I know of thee 
' How I may master them 

1 Hear now," quoth Hunger, 

1 Bold and big beggars 

' Thin them down with beans 

1 And if the men grumble 
' The sweeter shall their 
supper be 

1 And if thou find any folk 

1 Or fire or evil men, 

1 Comfort them with thy 

' Love them, lend to them, 

hie out of the land, 

and keep him ever there, 

" on wastrels through thy 

ere thou wend 
with bidders and beggars 

ill will they work, 
for now they be so weak, 
this folk is at my will, 
but for fear of famine. 

for all their fair speeches, 
God bought us all. 
to love each one of them 
after their need, 
what were the best, 
and make them work." 

" and hold my words for 

that well can work 
with horse bread and hounds 

bid them to work 

when they have earned it. 

that ill fortune hath harmed, 
try such to know; 

for Christs love in heaven, 
Gods law teacheth so. 

JBear $e one anotbers buroens. 

' And all kind of men 
1 Love them and blame them 

in mischief and disease, 

— let God take vengeance — 

1 1 4 Piers Plowman 

" Though they have evil done — let God alone for that — 
Wengeance is mine, ano $ will repag. 
" And if thou wilt be dear to 

God do as the Gospel teacheth. 

" Make thee loved among the 

lowly so shalt thou get grace; 

tfftafce to yourselves ftienos of tbe mammon of unrigbteous* 

" God I would not grieve/' said Piers, " for all the gold in earth, 
" May I do as thou sayest and yet sinless be? " 

" Yea, I bid thee/' says Hunger, " or else the Bible lieth, 

" Go to Genesis the beginning the father of us all." 

TiXHitb sw^nk anD swot ano sweating face 

ftoil tbou ano travel ano trulv. win tbv. living. 

" And Wisdom saith the same I saw it in the Bible. 
£be sluggaro woulo not plougb for slotb ; be sball beg in 
winter ano it sball not be given bim. 

" Matthew with a mans face tells of one that lent, 

" To three manner of men to traffick with, to profit by, 

" And he that best laboured was best allowed, 

" And for his labouring was lord of his lords goods, 

" The wicked servant had a 

talent but as he would not work 

" Nothing had he of his master ever more after. 

" Common sense wills that every wight should work 

" In ditching or in digging, in teaching or in prayer, 

" Life active or life contemplative. 

" The man that feedeth him- 
self in faithful labour 

" He is blessed by the Book in body and in soul." 

3for tbou sbalt eat tbe labour of tbv. banos, etcetera. 

" By Christ," quoth Piers the 

Plowman, " these sentences will I show 

The Vision of Piers Counsel 


" To the beggars and the boys 
" But yet I pray you of your 

" Teach it me, my dear, 
" Work not for a whole week 

" Ye have eaten over much," 

quoth Hunger, 
" I bid thee drink no day 
" And eat not I bid thee 
" And send thee his sauce 
" Keep some till supper time, 
" Arise ere appetite 

" Let not lord surfeit 
" For he is lecherous 
"And after many kinds of meat 

" Dives for his delicate life 

" And Lazarus the lean 

" (And yet he gat them not, 

" Yet, since, I saw him sit, 

" In all manner of ease, 

" And if thou be a man of 

" To all that cry at thy gate 
" Give them of thy bread, 
" Give them of thy loaf, 

" And though liars and latch- 
" Let them bide till the board 
" But bear no crumbs to them, 
" Till thy needy neighbours 
" If thus thou diet thee 
" Physick shall sell his furred 

that are so loth to work; 

if ye know any leechcraft, 
for some of my servants 
so much our body acheth." 

" that maketh you groan* 
ere thou have somewhat eaten, 
ere hunger take thee; 
to taste with thy lips.: 
sit not too long, 
hath gotten his filL 

sit down at thy table, 
and of lickerish tongue, 
he is an-hungerd still* 

to the devil went, 

that longed for the crumbs, 

for I, Hunger, killed him), 

as he a Lord were, 

in Abrahams lap ; 

Piers, I counsel thee, 
for food for love of God, 
thy pottage and thy sauce, 
yea, though thou have less to 

and lollers go on knocking 
be put aside, 

have made their meal. 

I will wager both mine ears 

to get him food withal, 

1 1 6 Piers Plowman 

" And shall pawn for his dinner his Italian cloak, 

" And be fain to let his physick 

go and labour with his hands; 

" For many doctors be mur- 
derers (God mend them) 

" And men die through their 

drinks ere destiny would have it." 

" By S. Paul/' quoth Piers, " thou pointest nigh the truth, 
" Wend thy way when thou 

wilt and be it well with thee; 

" This is a lovely lesson, Lord grant thee recompence." 

" I will not hence," says 

Hunger, " ere I have dined and drunk." 

Says Piers " I have no penny pullets for to buy, 

" No, neither goose nor pig, but only two green cheeses, 

" A few curds, a little cream, and a haver-cake, 

" And two loaves of beans and 

bran baked for my little ones; 

" And, by my soul, I say I have no salt bacon, 

" No nor a cookboy collops to make, 
" But I have parsley, cabbage, 

leeks and a cow and a calf, 
" And a mare to draw the dung 

afield while the drought lasteth ; 
" And on this living we must 

live till Lammas time, 

" By then I hope to have harvest in my croft, 
" Then may I do thee thy 

dinner as I fain would do." 

But all the poor people fetched their peascods, 

Their beans and baken apples, they brought them in their 


Onions and salads, and many ripe cherries, 

And prepared Piers this present to please Hunger withal. 

The Vision of Piers Counsel 


Hunger ate it all in haste, 
Then poor people for fear 
With pease and green onions 

and asked for more, 

fed Hunger gladly; 

they thought to poison him. 

By this it came near harvest 

time, new corn was in the market, 

Then folk were fain feed Hunger with the best, 

With good ale as Glutton bad, and made Hunger go sleep. 

Then would not the wastrels 

Nor would beggars eat 
But stamped bread, fine bread, 
They would no halfpenny ale, 

but wandered about, 
bread with beans in it, 
clean wheaten bread ; 
but of the best and brownest. 

Labourers with no land 
Deigned not to dine 
No penny a gallon did for them 
But pork, fish or fresh flesh, 
And that chaud, plus chaud, 

but only their hands work 
on day-old vegetables; 
nor a piece of bacon, 
fried or baked, 
for the chill of their maw. 

And but he has high wages 
And bewail the day 

Curses the king with a will, 
That make such laws 


else will he chide, 
he ever became 

and all his Parliament, 
to keep the labourer down. 

But while Hunger here was 

Nor strive against the statute 

But I warn you all ye workmen 
Hunger is fast coming 
Hunger shall wake and come 

with floods 
Ere few years are fulfilled 

none then would chide, 

so stern did Hunger look. 
earn while ye can, 
hitherward again, 

to chasten the wastrel, 
famine shall arise. 

1 1 8 Piers Plowman 

So saith Saturn and sent me to warn you 














Truth heard tell of all 
And bid him take his team 
And brought him a Pardon, 
For Piers and for Piers heirs 
" Bide thou at home/' said 

And all that should help Piers 
Or do aught else, 
To them Truth granted; 

Kings and knights 
Who rule the people 
They have Pardon too, 
And fellowship in paradise 

And consecrated bishops, 
If they preach to the people 

And, if they can, amend 

And dread no lords, 

And are bitter on bad men, 

And fear not to put down, 

Lechery among lords 

They are one with the apostles ; 

And they sit on the high 

he sent to Piers 
and till the earth 
Pardon and forgiveness, 
for evermore. 

" and plough thy field; " 
to set or sow 
Pardon perpetual 

that Holy Church defend, 
in their realms righteously, 
light purgatory, 
with patriarchs and prophets. 

if their lives be holy, 

to love God and their neigh- 

all sinful souls, 

and are mild to the good, 

unless they repent, 

as far as they may, 

and their evil ways, 


at the Judgment Day. 

And merchants — in the margin 

-had many a year remitted,, 



But no full pardon 

Piers Plowman 

(the Pope granted them not 
And why ? They keep not holy 

days as they are bidden, 

They swear, " By my soul, God help me it is so," 

And sell their goods with oaths and their clean consciences 


But under secret seal 

" Buy your goods boldly, 

" And sell when ye will, 

" But use ye your winnings 

" To maintain the scholar, 

" To dower girls 

" To build the broken bridge, 

" To help the monks, 

" And I will send you 

" And never a fiend shall 

frighten you 
" For I will save you 
" And bring your souls in 


Then were merchants merry 
And praised Piers Plowman 

The least pardon of all 
Who pleaded for bribes 

Truth sent them a letter: 
buy when ye will, 
and take your winnings, 
to rebuild almshouses, 
to help the stricken, 
or make them nuns, 
and mend the bad road, 
and make rents reasonable, 
Michael my archangel, 

or harm you at your death; 
from all despair, 

to my saints in joy." 

and wept for gladness, 

for the Pardon he had gotten. 

had the Men of Law, 

and condemned the innocent. 

Lawyers should take pains to 

plead for the innocent and help them 

And princes and bishops should pay the lawyers fee. 

ftbou sbalt not take gifts upon tbe innocent. 

But many a magistrate, 
Will do more for John 
But a lawyer that spendeth his 

and many a jury, 
than for Gods love, 

and speaketh for the poor 

The Vision of Gods Bull of Pardon 123 

The innocent and needy poor 
Who comforteth the poor 
And declareth law 
No devil on his deathbed 
The Psalter beareth witness , 
Xoro, wbo sball Dwell . . . 

that never hath harmed any, 
and taketh no fee, 
for our Lords love, 
shall have him a whit, 
he and his soul are safe. 

For who would buy or sell water, wind, or wit, or fire, 

These four our Heavenly Father gave to his sheep for common 


Treasures of Truth 
And never shall they wax or 

Ye who plead for the poor 
Ye lawyers, ye advocates, 
When ye draw near to death, 
Your pardon at your parting 

S. Matthew bids me tell you 

IRHbatever ge vvoulo tbat men sbonlo 00 to $ou, 00 £e 

also unto tbem. 

But for all that labour for their lives, 
Fair work, fair wages, humbly living, 

These have the Pardon per- PIERS PLOWMANS PAR- 
petual DON. 

the true to help, 

save by Gods will. 

and take money at their hands, 
be sure of this; 
and pray for pardon, 

will be but small; 

and if I lie blame him. 

Tramps and beggars, 

Except their beggary be true, 
Else they be false as hell, 
And beguile the giver, 
Would give to the poor indeed 
Cato knoweth these men well 
See to wbom tbou gtvest. 

nay, their names are not 

and their plea fair, 
and they defraud the needy, 
who, if he knew the truth, 
and help the neediest of all. 
and the master of stories 


Piers Plowman 

And again 

Ifceep tbfne alms in tbine banc anD watcb to wbom tbou 

But yet Gregory the good bad us give to all 

To all that ask for Him that gave us all. 

Cboose not wbom tbou sbalt pits. 

Ye know not who is worthy, 
The treason is in him that 

For the giver giveth, 
Beggars are ever borrowers, 
Who giveth to them that gave 

God knoweth who hath need; 

if treason be, 

and the beggar borroweth, 
their surety is almighty God, 
— and their interest — 

WLhv fcffcst tbou not give mv. monev to tbe bank 

Beg not, beggars, 
Whoso hath money to buy him 

The neediest are our neighbours 

Prisoners in the dungeon, 

Charged with a crew of children 

What they win by their spin- 

Milk and meal, 

The babes that continually 

This they must spend 

Ay and themselves 

With woe in winter 

In the narrow room 

Carding, combing, clouting, 

Pitiful is it to read 

Ay and many another 

Ashamed to beg, 

save ye have great need, 

he hath enough. 

if we give heed to them, 
the poor in the cottage, 
and with a landlords rent. 

to make their porridge with, 

to satisfy the babes, — 

cry for food — 

on the rent of their houses, 

suffer with hunger, 

rising a-nights, 

to rock the cradle, 

rubbing, winding and peeling 

of rushes, 
the cottage-womens woe, 
that puts a good face on it, 
ashamed to let neighbours 


The Vision of Gods Bull of Pardon 125 

All that they need, 
Many the children, 
To clothe and feed them; 
And many mouths 

Bread and thin ale 

Cold flesh and cold fish 

A farthings worth of mussels, 

Were a feast for them 

It were charity to help these 

To comfort the cottager, 

noontide and evening, 
and nought but a mans hands 
and few pennies come in, 
to eat the pennies up. 

for them are a banquet, 
are like roast venison, 
a farthings worth of cockles 
on Friday or fast-days, 
that be at heavy charges, 
the crooked and the blind. 

But for beggars with their bags, whose churches are the taverns, 
Save they be blind or broken, or else sick, 
Reck not, ye rich, but let such wastrels starve; 

For ever} 7 man that hath his health, his eyes and his limbs 
If he useth a lollers life he liveth against Gods law. 

Yet are there other beggars, 
But they want wit, 
Lunatic lollers, 
Mad as the moon changes, 
Caring for neither cold nor 

As Peter and Paul wandered 
But many a time prophesying, 
Yet since God is strong enough 
To give to each man 
And lets them go, these lunatics, 
His apostles, 
He sent them silverless, 
With neither bread nor baggage. 
Barefoot go these disciples, 
If they meet the mayor 
They reverence him not, 
Such men we should have 


in health enow, 
men and women, 
leaping around, 
witless, moneyless, 

wandering walkers, 

yet preaching not, 

to please themselves it seems* 

wit, wealth and health, 
they are, I think, 
his private disciples; 
in summer raiment clad, 

begging of men, 

amidst the street, 

no, no more than another. 

and help them when they come. 


Piers Plowman 

They are merry singers, heavens minstrels, 

Gods bo)^s, jesters, as the Bible saith; 

$t ang man is seen to be wise let bim be maDe a tool tbat 
be be wise. 

It is the way of the rich 

For the lords and ladies sake 

Men suffer all they say 

Ay and give them gifts and 

Right so, ye rich, 

Gods minstrels, Gods mes- 

These lunatic lollers 

For under Gods secret seal 

to keep all manner of minstrels, 
in whose house they stay, 
and take it in good part, 

ere they go thence, 

ye should welcome and honour 

and Gods merry jesters, 
that leap around you 
hidden are their sins. 

They carry no bags, 
They are not like the lollers 
Slyly lurking 
Hoping to sit at eventide 
Uncross their legs 
Resting them, roasting them, 
Drinking to the last drop, 
And when they will and please, 
And, when they rise, roam out, 
Where they may get a break- 
Silver or sod meat 
A loaf, half a loaf, 
And home they carry it 
And live in idleness 
Every fellow of their flock 
Bag at his back, 
And yet knows some kind of 

Could get him bread and ale 
And yet lives like a loller 

they hide no bottles, 
and the hermits false, 
to catch mens alms, 
by the house fire, 
and lie at their ease, 
turning round to the fire, 
slowly turning to bed, 
in morning to arise, 
and easily espy 

first a round of bacon, 
and sometimes both, 
a lump of cheese, 
to their hovels 
while others work, 
that wanders about, 

which, if he would, 
and a suit of raiment 
— Gods law damns him. 

The Vision of Gods Bull of Pardon 127 

" Lollers living in sloth, 
" Are not in my Pardon 
"The Book blameth all beg- 
$ bave been young ano now 
tbe ngbteons forsaken or 
It needeth none 
And tell these lollers 
It blameth all beggars, 
They live in no love, 
They wed no women 
They bring forth bastards, 
They break a childs back, 
And go a-begging with infants 
There are more mis-shapen 
Than in all other trades 

They that live this life 
In penance or in prayer. 

But old white-headed men, 
And women with child, 
The blind, the bed-ridden, 
And all poor sufferers, 
Lepers and the truly poor, 
Prisoners, pilgrims, 
Men slandered on the sly 
Men brought to poverty 
Who take their mischief meekly, 
For their humility 
Penance and purgatory 

And all holy hermits 

But hermits that dwell 
And in inns among brewers, 

and country stalkers, 
till they be amended. 

it banneth it thus ; 

am olo #et bave $ not seen 

bis seeb begging tbetc bceao. 

to preach anon 

what the Bible meaneth; 

be ye full certain, 

they keep no law, 

with whom they have to do, 

beggars like themselves, 

they break his bones, 

for evermore after; 

among such beggars, 

that walk this world. 

have no part in Pardon 

that be helpless and needy, 
that cannot work, 
the halt and lame, 
quiet under Gods sending, 
and men fallen on evil days, 
and robbed men, 
and their goods lost, 
by fire or flood, 
and mildly at heart, 
our Lord hath granted 
here on earth, 

shall have the same. 

by the roadside, 
that beg in churches, 


Piers Plowman 

Seeking all that holy hermits 
Such as riches, reverence, 
(These lollers and latchlifters 
Now, naturally, by Christ, 
For by English of elders 
He that lolleth is lame, 
Is maimed in some member, 
Even so truly 
Loll against the Creed 
Where see ye them on Sundays 
As at mattins in the morning 
Or labouring for their living 
But at midday mealtime 
Coming in a cope, 
And for the cloth upon him 
He washeth and wipeth 
When he worked in this world 
He sat at the side-bench 
No wine came then his way 
Nor blanket on his bed 
The cause of all this caitiffry 
Who suffer such sloth 

hate and despise, 

and rich mens alms, 

covet it all) 

be such called lollers, 

and old mens teaching 

his leg out of joint, 

it meaneth some mischief; 

such manner of hermits 

and the Law of Holy Church. 

the service to hear, 

till mass begin? 

as the law would ? 

I meet with them oft, 

as if they clergy were, 

he is called Friar; 

and sitteth with the best. 

and won his meat honestly, 

and at the second table; 

through the long week, 

nor white bread before him. 

cometh from many bishops 

and other sins to reign. 

" Piers," quoth a priest then, " thy Pardon I must read, 
" I will construe each clause 

for thee and teach it thee in English." 

Piers at his prayer unfolded his Pardon, 

And I stood behind them 

both and beheld all the bull, 

All in two lines it lay, not a letter more. 

£beg tbat bave oone gooo sball go to life eternal 
38ut tbep. tbat bave oone evil to everlasting fire 
" In sooth," says the priest 

then, " I can see no Pardon here, 

" Only — ' Do well and fare 

well — and — God shall save thy soul — 

The Vision of Gods Bull of Pardon 129 

— ' Do evil and fare 

evil — 
— ' Hope for nought 
else — 
And Piers for pure anger 
And, says he, 
3f 5 walk in tbe miost of tbe sbaoow of oeatb, 3- will fear 

no evil for Zhou art witb me. 
" I shall cease my sowing," quoth Piers, " and work not so hard, 
" And I shall not be so busy about by belly and its joys, 

to hell shalt thou wend — 

after thy death day.' " — 
pulled the Pardon in two 

" I will weep, not sleep, 

" The prophet ate his bread 

" And many another 

" That loveth God loyally 

d&g tears bave been nig meat Das ano ni^bt. 

by the fowls of the air, 

though I eat no wheaten bread, 
in penance and in sorrow, 
as the psalter saith, 
his living is simple. 

" And Luke teacheth us 
" Not to be too busy 
" And showeth us by example 
' The fowls in the field, 
" No garner to go to have they, 

about the worlds bliss, 
how to teach ourselves; 
who finds them meat in winter ? 
God findeth for them all." 

' What," quoth the priest, " thou art learned then. 

11 Who taught thee, Perkyn, to read thy book? " 

" Abbess Abstinence," says 

Piers, " taught me a.b.c* 

" Conscience followed, and taught me much more." 

" Wert thou only a priest, 

Piers, thoumightest preach anywhere, 

" Doctor of Divinity and for thy text 
Gbe fool batb saio. 

" Ignorant loon," says Piers, " little lookest thou on thy 

" Seldom hast thou beheld King Solomons saws " 

Cast out tbe scorner ano bis scorning witb bim. 

i 3 o 

Piers Plowman 

The priest and Piers 
I through their words awoke, 
And saw the sun in the south 
Meatless and moneyless, 
I mused upon this dream, 

jangled of the Pardon, 
and waited about, 
sinking at even, 
on Malvern Hills, 
and went upon my way. 

Many a time hath this dream made me to study, 
For love of PIERS PLOW- 
MAN pensive in my heart, 
And for his Pardon, for the comfort of all people, 

And how the priest reviled it with " The fool hath said " 

But I have no care of dreams ; oft I see them fail, 

Cato and Church lawyers 

Care not for oreams. 

Yet the Bible, the Book, 

How Daniel divined 

To Nebuchadnezzar, 

And Daniel said, " Sir king, 

" Strange knights shall come 

" And among humbler lords 

" And as he divined 

" The king lost his lordship, 

" Ay, and Joseph dreamed 
" And the eleven stars 
" Then Jacob judged him: 
" ' In famine we all 

So befel it 

Joseph was justice 

As his father had said, 

All this maketh me think 

Many a time at midnight 

I think on PIERS THE 

And how the priest attacked it 
But I deem that Do-well 

bid us to leave them. 

it beareth witness, 

for a king his dream, 

so named by the learned; 

the dream is this; 

and cleave thy kingdom, 

thy land be parted; " 

it fell out indeed 

and humbler men took it. 

— the sun and moon 
bowed all to him, — 
' Beau fils,' quoth he, 
shall seek thee in our need.' " 

in Pharaohs time, 
and governed Egypt, 
his friends sought Joseph, 
somewhat of dreams, 
when men should sleep, 

and the Pardon that he had, 
and reasoned it away, 
had need of no indulgence, 

The Vision of Gods Bull of Pardon 1 3 1 

Nor of pardon for two years, pardon for three years, 

Or Bishops letters. 

Do-well at Doomsday is worthily received 

And doth without any pardon of S. Peters church, 

The pope hath no power to grant a pardon, 

For men without penance to pass to Paradise, 

This is a leaf out of my creed as learned men teach me. 

IKttbatever tbou sbalt tnnfc on eartb . . ♦ 

And so I believe with fealty, God forbid otherwise, 

That pardon and penance 

Souls that have sinned 

But for your three-years 

It is not so certain for a soul 

and prayer do save 
seven times and deadly; 

truly, methinks, 
as Do-well is. 

Therefore, I counsel you, 
Who trust for your treasure 

Be ye not bold enough 

And specially, ye masters, 
Ye that have the worlds 

When ye purchase pardon, 
At the dreadful Doomsday, 
And all come before Christ 
How did we lead our lives, 
How did we day by day, 
Though ye be a Brother 
Though ye have a pocket full, 
And Doublefold Indulgences, 
Your patents and your pardons 

Therefore I counsel Christian 

And Mary his mother 
That God give us grace, 

ye rich upon this earth, 

to have your three-years 

to break the Ten Command- 

ye mayors and judges, 

and be holden wise, 

and papal bulls, 

when the dead shall rise, 

to give account, 

how did we keep the laws, 

this the judgment will rehearse. 

of all the Orders Five, 

Pardons and Absolutions, 

unless Do-well can help you, 

will be worth — a piecrust. 

Cry God mercy 

to be our go-between 

ere we go hence, 


! o 2 Piers Plowman 

Such works to work, while we be here, 

That after our death day Do-well may say 

At the day of doom, we did as he taught. 


Here endeth Williams Vision of Piers Plowman. 

(A brief abstract follows of the books not fully transcribed.) 




Thus robed in russet 

All a summer season 

And oft I asked 

Where Do-well was 

Never wight as I went 

Till on a Friday 

For they be men 

Through countries, courts, 

Princes palaces, 

And know Do-well — and Do-evil. 

I roamed about, 
Do-well to seek, 
the folk I met 
and what man he might be. 
could tell me where, 
two Friars I saw; 
that walk most widely 
and many kinds of places, 
and poor mens cots, 

' Among us," quoth they, 
1 And ever hath been 

" that man is dwelling 
and ever shall be." 

1 Nay," said I, " man sins seven times a day, 

1 Therefore he is not alway among you Friars, 

' He is elsewhere now and then and teacheth the people." 

1 My son," said the Friar, 
1 How the good man sinneth 

' Set a man in a boat 

1 The wind and the water 

' Make him stumble, if he 

1 Through steering the boat 
1 Yet is he safe and sound 

" I shall soon show thee 
seven times a day. 

on a broad water; 
and boat wagging 

never so stiffly; 

he bendeth and boweth, 

so is it with the righteous ; 




Piers Plowman 

Though he fall he falleth not, 
And he is safe and sound* 
Thus is it with men; 
Goods are the great waves, 
The boat is our body; 
And thro the fiend and the 

The just man sinneth 

But deadly sin he doth not, 
He strengtheneth man to 

And though thy body bow 
Yet is thy soul safe." 

— he is in the boat — 

the water is the world, 
wallowing about, 

and the frail world 
seven times a day. 

Do-well him guardeth, 

and steereth his soul, 

as boat doth in the water, 

Nay I cannot understand all your wise words, 
But if I live and look about 

me I shall go learn better." 

Christ keep thee," quoth he; and I said, " Christ keep you 

And give you grace good men to be." 

Thus I went wide-where, 
In a wide wilderness, 
Bliss of the birds song 
And on a lawn under a linden 
To listen to their lays, 
The mirth of their mouths 
And mid that bliss 

walking alone, 

by a wood side. 

made me abide there, 

I leaned awhile 

their lovely notes ; 

made me to sleep, 

I dreamed — marvellously. 

Thought came and gave me over to Wit to tell me where 
dwelt Do- well. And Wit told me, " In a castle near, watched 
by Sense, and the Castles name is Flesh; " and Wit spoke 
much to me on the foolishness of man. But Wits wife came, 
named Study, lean of body, and wondrous wroth with him. 

Quoth she, 

" Wise art thou, Wit, wisdom to tell 

" To fools or flatterers or frantic folk." 

The Vision of Do- Well 

J 37 

She blamed him, she banned 

" Cast not your pearls to hogs; 
" Wisdom and Wit now 
" Save when carded with 

" Whoso can contrive deceit, 
" Lead a merry meeting 
" His counsel is called for." 

she bad him be still, 
they have their haws, 
are not worth a cress 

as clothiers comb their wool; 
conspire to wrong, 
and Truth beguile, 

It was so in Jobs time, it is so to-day, said she. They that 
preach the truth are little cared for. You find men arguing 
of Christ, arguing of the Trinity, drivelling about the Deity 
when their belly is full. 

' But the careful cry 

' Hungry, thirsty, 

' None calls him nearer 

' They shoo him off as a 

1 God is not in that house 

and call at their gates, 
chilly quaking, 
his woes to amend, 

and bid him go, 
nor His help neither. 

' The learned talk of God, and His name is on their lips 

' But the poor have Him in their heart. 

' God is deaf now-a-days 
1 And prayers have no power 
' Yet the wretches of this 

1 Nor for dread of death 
' Nor share their plenty with the poor; 
' But in gaiety, in gluttony they glut themselves with 

1 And the more they win, wealth and riches, 

' And lord it over lands the less they part with. 

and deigneth not hear us, 
the Plague to stay, 

take no heed of it, 
withdraw them from pride, 

Hast thou much, spend 
generously ; 

so says the Book, 


Piers Plowman 

" Whoso hath little spend as he may. 
" We have no warrant of our 

" These lessons lords 
" And not to fare 
" From one feast to another 
" And hate abiding at home; 
" Miserable is the hall 

how long they be, 
should love to hear, 
like fiddlers or Friars 
at other mens houses 

where lord and lady will not 

to eat by themselves, 
or in a chamber with a chimney 

" Now have the rich a rule 

" In a private parlour 

" Because of the poor in the hall." 

Thus Study railed at her husband and at me. 

what the dame said, 
and drew him back, 
and looked at Study, 
her grace beseech. 

And when Wit was ware 
He was dumb as death 
And smiled and louted 
In sign I should 

" Mercy," said I, " madame, 

" To work your will 

" Tell me what is Do-well." 

your man I am, 
while my life lasteth. 

" For thy meekness, man, and thy mild speech, 

" I will send thee to my 

cousins Clergy and Scripture. 

Give Clergy this sign; 

And greet his wife Scripture, 

Logic I taught her, 

Grammar for boys 

And would they learn not 

I made tools 

For carpenters, carvers, 

Taught them level and line, 

But Theology wearied me 

The more I muse thereon 

I set him to school 

I taught her all, 

music I taught her, 

I bad men write, 

I beat them with a broom ; 

for every craft, 

and the compass for masons; 

though now I look blind. 

ten score times, 

the mistier it seemeth." 

The Vision of Do- Well 

x 39 

Then I thanked her and went on my way to Learning 
(Clergy) and got his words. He told me Do- well was to believe 
the articles of the faith; but his talk was long. 

" This is a long lesson/' quoth I, " and little am I the wiser, 

Ye show me but darkly 
Many tales ye tell me, 
That I was made man 
In the Legend of Life 
Or else un-entered in 


where Do- well or Do-better is; 
taught by Theology, 
and my name entered 
long ere I was born, 

for some wickedness of mine.' , 

But, I said, I find the unexpected in heaven and the builders 
of holy church in danger of being lost, as were the carpenters 
of Noahs ark who never got inside. 

" On Good Friday I find 
" That all his life had lived 
" Yet for he repented him 
" He was sooner saved 
" Or than Adam or Isaiah 
" That had lain with Lucifer 
" A robber was ransomed 
" Without purgatory penance 

a felon was saved, 
with lying and with theft; 
and shrove him to Christ 
than S. John the Baptist 
or any of the Prophets 
many long years ; 
rather than they 
to perpetual bliss. 

" Then, Mary Magdalen, 

" Who worse than David 

" Or Paul the Apostle 

" The doughtiest doctor 

" Said thus in a sermon, 

Xo, vexy toiots set3e beaven, 

" None sooner ravished 
" Than cunning clerks 
11 None sooner saved, 
' Than plowmen, shepherds, 
" Cobblers and labourers, 
" Pierce with a prayer 

what woman lived worse? 

that Uriah destroyed, 

that had no pity; 

Augustine the old 

I saw it once, 

anD we wtee are plunge© In 

from the right creed 
that con most books, 
none surer in creed, 
and poor common people, 
land-tilling folk, 
the palace of heaven. 

140 Piers Plowman 

" Ye men know clerks that curse the day 

" That ever they learnt more than this, 
5 believe in <5oD tbe jfatber. 

Then Scripture scorned me and gave reasons, 

And blamed me — in Latin and set light by me, 

And I wept for woe and wrath at her speech 

And in a winking I was brought away. 

I met then with Fortune and, with her, two damsels, Lust of 
the Eyes and Lust of the Flesh and Recklessness, who praised 
poverty to me; 

" Although it be sore to suffer there cometh sweet after, 

" As without a walnut is a bitter bark, 

" And after that, the shell being gone, 

" Is a kernel of comfort; so is it with poverty. 
" It maketh man have mind 

on God and his mercy crave, 

" And safer he sleepeth, the man that is poor, 

" And dreadeth death less, or the thief in the dark, 

" Than the right rich man — reason beareth witness — 

5 am poor anfc plas anfc tbou art ricb ant) art beav^. 

" Lo, lo, lords, lo, and ladies, take heed, 

" Not so long doth it last, your liquor sweet, 

" As peascods and pears, as cherries and plums, 
" Worldly wealth is a wicked 

thing to them that keep it." 

He went on to speak to me of Abraham and Job — both poor 
men once; and told me of the merchant and the messenger. 
No one stayeth the messenger upon his message (even though 
he go through the standing corn), for it is urgent and he is but 
poor; but the merchant is stayed and pays money on his goods 
and is in fear of robbery to boot; 

" Ye wit well, ye wise, what this meaneth, 

" The merchants are the rich, to Christ accountable, 

The Vision of Do- Well 


" They must hold the high way and the ten Commandments 
" And have pity and help men out of their riches, 
" Tithe their goods truly and Christ is their toll-taker; " 

:f3ear #e one anotbers buroens ano so fulfil tbe law of Gbrtet 

Then after Recklessness had spoken, Nature came near and 
complained that all animals excepting man follow Reason, and 
I saw it was so ; 

I bowed my body, 
Saw sun and sea, 
Where birds and beasts 
Wild serpents in the woods 

beholding all about me, 
and the sand of the shore, 
with their mates wandered, 
and wonderful birds, 

Flecked with many a coloured feather; 

Man and his mate, 
Poverty and plenty, 
And I saw all beasts 
In eating and drinking 
Man and his mate 
Birds I beheld 
I wondered from whom 
To lay the sticks 
Hiding and covering 
In marshes on moors 
Divers dived. 

Peace and War, 
bliss and bitter bale; 
following Reason, 
and gendering their kind; 
alone were Reason-less, 
making nests in the bushes, 
and where the pie learnt 
that lie in her nest, 
that no fool should find; 
in mire and in water 
" Dear God," said I, 

" Where gat these wild things wit? " 

But that which most moved me changing my mood, 

Was that I saw all beasts 
Save man and mankind; 
" Wherefore," said I, 
" Dost thou not rule 
" None surfeit as he does 
" In meat and in drink, 

following Reason, 

" so widely thou reignest 
man and his mate? 
and keep not measure, 
in dress and in women, 

' They overdo it day and night and only they — none other." 

But Reason reasoned me; " Reck thou never 
" Why I suffer or surfer not. 
" Who suffereth more than 

God?" " No man, by my life, 


Piers Plowman 

" He might amend in a minute all that is amiss, 

" But He suffereth to show us that we should all suffer." 

Then I saw one near me called Imagination. He rebuked me 
for my ignorance and for my presumption in that I thought I 
knew how God ruled the world of man and bird and beast. 
Nature understandeth more than man. Man knoweth little; 
no, he knoweth not why Adam ate the apple, nor why the 
homely lark is sweeter than the rich peacock, nor whether 
Saracens shall come to heaven, where the pagan Trajan is. 
" Had st thou held thy tongue," said he, " thou hadst been 

And therewith I awaked 
And forth gan walk 
And my dreams I pondered. 
Fortune had failed me 
Age had threatened me 

Friars had shown me 

And no corpse in their kirkyard 

If he had not bequeathed them 

And Nature had told me 

And Imagination had spoken and vanished 

And I lay down and slept again. 
Then came Conscience to comfort me, 

all but witless, 
in mendicant wise, 

at my most need, 
that all my power 

they followed the rich, 
would they bury, 
to quit their debts, 
his love for beasts, 


And bad me come to his court 

There saw I a master, 

That louted low to Scripture, 

They washed and wiped 

But Patience in the palace 

And prayed for meat for 


with Learning to dine, 
his name I knew not, 
and Conscience knew him, 
and went to dinner, 

in pilgrims clothes, 

as he a palmer were, 

The master was made sit 

as one that was most worthy 

The Vision of Do- Well 

r 43 

And Learning and Conscience 
Patience and I 
At a side-table. 

and Patience — came after, 
were put to be mates 

They served us with simple food; but the master and his 
man on the high dais would eat nothing but the daintiest food, 
the sins of men. 

of that proper service, 
but I mourned ever, 
drank wine so fast; 
minces and puddings, 
and eggs in grease fried, 
and Patience heard it, 
before the Dean of S. Pauls, 
of the penance of Paul; 
with his great cheeks 
evil he performeth, 

and I wished well 
were molten in his maw 

Patience was proud 

And made mirth at his meat 

For the doctor on the dais 

He ate sundry meats, 

Wild boar and tripe, 

Then said I to myself, 

" 'Tis not four days since, 

" This fellow preached 

" Why, this Gods glutton 

" Hath no pity on us poor; 

" What he preacheth he liveth 

not; " 
That the dishes and the plates 
And Mahomet the devil with them. 
But I sat still as Patience 

bad and soon the doctor 

Rubbed his cheeks as ruddy as a rose; 

:e What is Do-well, Sir Doctor, does Do-better do penance? 

" Do-well," quoth the doctor, — and took the cup and 

drank — 
" Do thy neighbour no harm, nor thyself neither." 

" By this day, Sir Doctor, ye do not well, 

1 Ye have harmed us two, ye ate the pudding, 

" Minces and other meat, no morsel had we, 

" I would change my penance with yours." 

Now, Learning," said Con- 

tell us what is Do- well." 

Piers Plowman 

" serving in a castle, 
to teach them Do-well, 
have me excused, 
hath impugned us all, 
save only Love, 
to maintain his cause 


" I have seven sons," said he, 

" Where liveth the lord of Life 

" Till I see those seven 


" And set all sciences at naught 

" And no text he taketh 

" But these two, 

%ovc (5o& anD tbE neigbbour. 

Xorfc who sball Dwell in Zhv tabernacle, etc. 

" And saith that Do- well and 

Do-better are two imperfect things, 

" And they imperfects, with 

faith, find out Do-best, 

" And he shall save mens souls, saith PIERS PLOWMAN." 

Conscience then with Patience 

And Patience in his pocket 
Sobriety and simple-speech 
To care for him and Conscience, 
Where are Unkindness and 


pilgrims as it were, 

took victuals pilgrim-wise, 

and true-belief, 

if they came anywhere 

two hungry countries 8 

As we went on talking we met a minstrel and we asked him 
of his craft. He was, he said, a waferer and his name Active 
Life. " I am hater of idleness," says he, "I am no singer or 
fiddler, jester or dancer. From Michaelmas to Michaelmas I 
sell my wafers : all London knows me. 

" They grumble when my cakes come not to town, 
" With baked bread from 

" When the commons were full 

of care 
" In the date of our drought 
" One thousand three hundred 
" My cakes were scarce 

'Tis not long since 

and workmen were aghast, 
in a dry April, 
twice thirty and ten 
when Chichester was mayor." 

I looked at him. His coat was Christian, it is true; but full 

The Vision of Do-Well 145 

of spots; a spot of pride, a spot of rough speech, of scorn, of 
careless bearing, boasting and bragging; he belonged to an order 
of hermits and he the only person in the order; he was religious 
without rule and blamed all men. " By Christ, Hankyn," said 
Conscience, " thy coat must be washed." " Ay," said he, " it 
has many stains." 

And Hankyn asked and Patience told him of Poverty and of 
Riches, and of the nine blessings of Poverty; and Poverty 
avoideth the Seven Deadly Sins. " It is," said Patience, " a 
hateful blessing, it judges none (for it is too poor to be made a 
judge); it is wealth without calumny; it is the gift of God; it is 
mother of health; it is a road of peace; it is a well of wisdom; 
it is business without loss; and it is happiness without care." 

When Hankyn heard this he wept and wailed and with that 
I waked. 



But after my waking 

Ere I could know Do-well; 

And some blamed my life 

And set me for a lazy wretch 

Lords or ladies, 

Or persons in fine fur 

I never onced said 

And never louted low 

Till Reason had ruth on me 

it was wondrous long 
and all my wits waned, 
and few allowed it, 
that would not reverence 
or any others lives, 
with pendants of silver; 
" God save you, lords," 
and men held me a fool, 
and rocked me to sleep. 

Then I met with Free Will and he told me of Charity, the 
beautiful story of Charity. 

' Charity," quoth I, 

' I have lived in London 

' I have lived in land, 

1 Yet never found I Charity 

' Never saw I a man, 

1 But would ask for his own, 

1 Things that he needed not 

' Clerks tell me that Christ 

1 But never saw I Him truly 

" Where may that be found? 

many long years, 

my name is Long Will, 

before or behind, 

so God help me, 

and other times covet 

and take them if he could. 

is in all places, 

save in a mirror," 

H-low darfclg, then face to tace. 

' He is proud of a penny 

' As glad of a gown 

' As of a Tartar tunic 

' Glad with the glad, 

' Sorry when he seeth men sorry 

1 When one sweareth 'tis true 

as of a pound of gold, 
made of grey russet, 
or of dyed scarlet; 
good to all wicked, 
even as children are. 
for truth he trusteth it, 
would swear and lie 

' He weeneth no man 
' Nor any guile or grieve his fellow. 
' All sickness and sorrow he taketh as solace, 

' And all manner mischief as ministry from heaven ; 


Do- Better 


adread he was never, 

or lent to the man 

in the place when he borrowed." 

or any rich friends ? " 

recketh he never, 

and fails him never, 
feeds him evermore, 
and paint it with Aves, 
to wend in pilgrimage, 

his pardon to have. 

his help is sweeter, 

and looketh how they fare. 

then will he often 

for half an hour, 

and roundly will speak 

and pack it together, 
with his eyes warm water, 

and often weepeth 
&n bumble ano a contrite beart XorD tbou wilt not Despise, 

" Of death and of dearth 
" Nor wept though he lost 
" That never paid penny 

" Hath he rents or riches 

" Of rents and of riches 
" A friend he hath that finds 

"ftbg will be oone 

" He can write Paternoster 

" And often his wont is 

" Where lie poor men and 

" Tho he bear them no bread 
" He loveth them 

And when he is weary 
Labour in a laundry 
Run back to his youth 
To his pride and its purte- 

And wash it clean 
And then singeth he at the 


" By Christ I would I knew 

"Without help of PIERS 

" Do not clerks know him 

" Clerks have no knowledge 
(5oo seetb tbeir tbougbts. 

no creature sooner." 

thou seest him never." 
that keep holy church? " 
but by works and by words 

perceiveth far deeper. 

i 4 8 

Piers Plowman 

" For there be proud-hearted 

" And sweet in their bearing 
" But to the poor 
" And look as a lion 
" And there are beggars 
" Looking like lambs 
" But all to have their meat 
" Not for penance or perfect- 

" Therefore not by colour, 
" Nor by words nor by works 

" I have seen him in silk 

" In grey and in fur 

" And gladly he gave it 

" Edmund and Edward 

" Each was a saint 

" I have seen him singing 

" But in rich robes 

" With cap and oiled hair 

" And cleanly clothed 

" In a Friars frock 

" In Saint Francis time 

patient of tongue, 
to lords and to burgesses, 
they have pepper in the nose, 
when men blame their deeds, 
bidders and bedesmen, 
and seeming life-holy, 
with such an easy face; 

do they follow poverty, 
no nor by learning, 
shalt thou know Charity, 
and that is CHRIST. 

I have seen him in russet, 

and in gilt armour, 

to men that it needed, 

each was a king, 

and theirs too was Charity. 

in ragged weeds, 

often he walketh 

and his crown shaven, 

in black and Tartar silk. 

once was he found 

— but it is long ago." 

Then Free Will told me of the lives of the hermits, the lives 
of the Saints and of the bringing of heathen England to Christ ; 
of the life of Mahomet and of the days of Constantine when 
lands and rents and lordships were first showered upon the 
church, and when from heaven came the angels voice con- 
demning the gifts to the churches; 

This gift to-day hath poison drunk 

And those that have S. Peters 

power are poisoned all. 

And he went on to tell of Christs miracles and how Saracens 
may yet be saved. 

Do-Better 1 49 

Pharisees and Saracens , Scribes and Greeks, 

Are folk of one faith God the Father they honour, 

And since they know the Creeds first line, 

3- believe in (Soft tbe jfatber Blmigbtg 
Prelates of provinces should try if they would 

Little by little to teach them the next, 

Sno in 5esus Cbrist Ibis Son 
Till they could speak and spell the third, 
Sno in tbe Ibolv. (Bbost, 
And say it and set it down with 

tbe remission of sins, tbe resurrection of tbe fceaD an& tbe 
life everlasting. 

Then I met with PIERS PLOWMAN and he showed me the 
tree of Charity and the three props of it to keep it from the 
World, the Flesh, and the Devil : and he went on to tell me the 
story of the Cross. 

And I awaked therewith and wiped mine eyes, 

And after PIERS PLOWMAN I looked and stared, 

Eastward and westward I watched well, 

And went forth as a fool in the lands to espy 

And anon I saw Abraham with Lazarus and he told me his 
story; and I met the Good Samaritan going to a tournament 
at Jerusalem and heard of his help to the man upon the Jericho 
Road when Hope and Faith fled away and would not help. 
And he talked with me; but at the last, 

" I may no longer stay," said 

He, and pricked his grey steed 

And went away like the wind. 

(Here follows the Harrowing of Hell fully transcribed.) 


Woe-weary, wetshod, went I forth afterwards, 

Like a reckless man that recketh not of sorrow, 

Like a beggar went I, all the days of my life, 

Till I waxed weary of this 

world and wished that I could sleep. 

I rested me till Lent came, and long time I slept, 

I dreamed of maidens singing " GLORY LAUD AND 

And old folk sang Hosanna to the organs. 

One like the Good Samaritan, and somewhat like PIERS 

Came barefoot, bootless, without spur or spear, 

Riding on an asses back, brightly he looked, 

Like one that cometh to be dubbed knight, 
To get him his gilt spurs and his slashed shoes. 

Faith sat in a window high, cried " Hosanna, Son of 

As a herald crieth when the 

adventurous come unto the tourney, 

And Jews sang for joy. 
JBlessefc 16 be tbat cometb in tbe name of tbe %oxt>. 

Then I asked Faith what might this to-do all mean, 

And who should fight the 

tourney in Jerusalem. 

" Jesus," says he, " and he 

shall fetch what the Fiend claimeth 



The Triumph of Piers Plowman 151 

" Is Piers then in this place? " said I, and Faith stared upon me: 

" This Jesus of his nobility for love hath undertaken, 

11 Not to be known as Perfect but in Piers Plowmans arms 

God to joust, 
" His helmet and his breast- 
plate — the nature of mankind. 
" In Piers plate-armour this armed knight shall ride, 
" No dinting blow shall harm him." 

"And who shall joust with 

Jesus? Shall the scribes? the Jews? " 

" Nay, but the Fiend, False Judgment, Death. 

" Death saith he will bring down and spoil 

" All that liveth and lurketh, on land or sea. 

"' Life saith he lieth, and hath laid his life on it, 

" That for all that Death can 

do in three days time 

" Jesus from the Fiend shall 


" And put them where he will and bind King Lucifer, 

" And beat and burn for ever- 
more all bale and death." 

2>eatb, 5 will be tbc fceatb of tbee. 

Then came Pilate and much and sat upon the judgment- 
people seat, 

To see how doughtily Death and to judge betwixt them 
should do twain , 

The Jews and justices were against Jesus, 
And all the court cried loud 

on him " Crucify." 

Then stood out a robber before Pilate and said : 
" This Jesus jested at our 

temple, he would destroy it in a day, 

1 5 2 Piers Plowman 

" And build it in three days 

again, here he stands that said it, 

" Build it as long and large, as high and deep, 

" As broad as e'er it was. We all can witness it." 

" Crucify him," cries a catch- 
" Away, away," says another, 
And began to make a garland 
And set it sore upon his head. 
" Ave, Rabbi," quoth the 

And nailed him with nails 
And set poison on a pole 

" I wan-ant he is a witch, " 
and took keen thorns 
out of a green tree, 

and shot reeds in his eyes, 
all naked on the rood, 
and put it to his lips 

And bid him drink his death draught; " Your day is done. 

" And if thou subtle be, 
" If thou be Christ, 
" Come adown from this rood, 
" We will believe Life loveth 

help now thyself; 
Gods son of Heaven, 
we will believe thee then, 

and will not let thee die." 

It is finished," quoth Christ, and began to swoon, 

Piteous and pale 

The Lord of life and light 

as a prisoner that dieth. 
laid his eyes together, 
and dark became the sun, 

The day for dread withdrew, 
The temple-wall wagged and 

The hard rock was riven, 
The earth shook and quaked, 
And from their deep graves came the dead, 
And told why that tempest for so long time endured 

and all the world quivered, 
right dark night it seemed, 
as though life it had, 

Life and Death in this 

darkness are fighting one the other, 

And none shall know in very 

truth who shall have the mastery, 

The Triumph of Piers Plowman 153 

" Till Sunday about dawn." 
Some said he was Gods son 
Some said, " He knoweth 

" Ere he be taken down 

With that they sank to earth, 
that had so beautifully died; 

and well is it to try 
if he be dead or no.' 

Two thieves suffered on the 

Quickly came a catchpole 
And their arms after 
But nobody was so bold 
For he was Knight and Kings 

That none should be so hardy 

But then came forth a blind 

Longeus was his name, 
And before Pilate and the rest 
And whether he would or no 
All they that waited 
To touch him or to handle him 

But this blind Bachelor 

The blood sprang down his 

Then fell he on his knees 
" Against my will it was," says 

He sighed and said: 
" The deed that I have done; 
" My lands, my body, 
" And have mercy on me, 

righteous Jesu," 

Then gan Faith foully 

And called them cursed caitiffs : 

beside him at that time, 
and cracked their legs a-two, 
of either of these thieves, 
to touch Gods body, 

— Nature would have it thus, 
to lay a hand upon him. 

with keen-ground spear, 

his sight had he long lost, 

he stood and waited, 

they made him strike at Jesus. 

were not bold enough 

or take him down and grave 

thrust him through the heart. 

and opened the knights eyes, 
and cried, " Jesu, mercy, 

" I wounded thee so sore." 
" Sorely it troubleth me 
I put me in thy hands, 
take all at thy will, 

and with that he wept. 

the false Jews to despise, 
" This was vile villainy, 


Piers Plowman 

" Vengeance on you all, 

" One that is dead; 

" Cursed caitiffs, 

" With any bright weapon 

" Yet for all his grievous 

" For your champion chevalier, chief knight of you all, 

" Yields himself vanquished 
in the tilt, 

" And when this darkness is 
past by 

" And ye lordings have lost 
the day 

" Your freedom shall be thral- 

" Them shall ye never 

" But ye shall be barren men, 

" The life which our Lord God in all your laws forbade. 

" Now are your good days 

done, as David told of you, 

" When Christ overcame your kingdom should depart." 

liXIlben tbe IbolP of Ibottes cometb £Our anointing sball 


that made blind man beat 
'tis a boys deed, 
it was never knighthood, 
to strike a body bound; 

hath Jesus won the prize, 

and is at Jesus will. 

Death will be vanquished, 

for Life shall have the mastery, 

your children shall be churls, 
make lords of land to till it, 
ye shall live by usury, 

All for fear of this 

I moved me in that darkness 

and of the false Jews 
towards Hell where He 


Then saw I walking from the 

Mercy her name, mild and kind, 
Her sister comely and clean 
Truth was her name and strong 
And when these maidens met, 
Each asked the other 
Of the darkness and the din 
And of the light and gleam 

a maiden looking hell-ward, 
a maiden lovely in speech, 
softly walking from the east, 
is the power that went with her. 
Mercy and Truth, 
of the great wonder, 
and of the dawning light, 
which lay before Hell gate. 

The Triumph of Piers Plowman 155 

I marvel at this/' said Truth, 
Marvel not," saith Mercy, 
A maid named Mary, 
Conceived and was with 

And without childbirth taint 
And since this child was born 
He died and suffered 
That is the cause of this 

Meaning that man shall be 
While this light and gleam 
thou seest 

" and go to know its meaning." 
" it meaneth mirth, 
mother immaculate, 

through the Holy Ghost, 
into this world brought him, 
have thirty winters gone ; 
this day about noon; 

that closeth now the sunlight, 
drawn from the murk of hell 

shall blind Lucifer." 

Patriarchs and prophets have preached it oft, 

The thing that through a tree 

was lost shall by a tree be won, 

And that which death brought 

down to hell death shall relieve." 

That thou tellest," says 

For Adam, Eve and Abraham, 
" All that lie in pain, 

" Or have them out of hell? 
" It is but trifling talk; 
' The thing that once was in 

" Job, the perfect patriarch, 
3n bell Is no reoemption. 

" is but a tale of Walterot; 

patriarchs and prophets, 

shall yon light bring them 

Hold thy tongue, Mercy, 
I, Truth, know it, 

out of it cometh never, 
reproveth thy saying: 

' Through what I have learnt," says Mercy, " I hope they shall 

be saved; 
" Venom cureth venom, 
" And Adam and Eve 

" Of all biting venoms 

for that I have proof, 

shall have remedy. 

the vilest is the scorpions; 


Piers Plowman 

" No medicine may amend 

" Till he be dead and put upon 

" The first poison, 

" So shall this Death destroy, 

" All that Death did first 

" And even as thro' guile 

" So shall Grace that began all 

" And beguile Guile 
art sbal! Deceive art. 

the place where he stingeth, 
the spot; and then he destroyeth 
through power of himself, 
I dare lay my life, 
thro' the devils enticements; 
man was beguiled, 

make a good end, 

and that is good cunning." 

" Stay," said Truth, 
" From out the nipping north, 
" Righteousness running; 
" He knoweth more than we, 

" That is Truth," quoth Mercy, 
" Peace comes playing 
" Love hath long coveted her; 
" He hath sent her some letter 

" I see, methinketh, 
not far from hence, 
rest we a while, 
of old he was before us." 

" and I see from the south 
and in patience clothed, 
nay, I believe, 
to say what this light meaneth, 

" That thus hangeth over Hell, and she shall tell us all." 

When Peace in patience clad 
Righteousness saluted her 
And prayed Peace tell 
In her gay garments 

" My will is to wend," says she, 

" Adam and Eve 

" Moses and many more 

" And I shall dance and thou, 

" For Jesus jousted well 

at morning time tbere sball 

" Love, my dear one, 

" That my sister Mercy and I 

" And that God hath forgiven 

approached the two, 
in her rich clothing, 
to what place she wended 
and whom she thought 

" and welcome them all, 
and many more in hell, 
shall sing the Song of Mary, 
sister, shalt dance to it, 
and joy beginneth to dawn. 
be jog. 

such letters sent me, 

mankind should save, 

and granted to all mankind, 


The Triumph of Piers Plowman 157 

That Mercy and I 
Christ hath changed 
To fear and pity, 

shall go bail for all. 

the nature of righteousness 

of his pure grace.'' 

" Lo here the patent and the 

token that the deed shall endure. 

5n peace $ sball sleep anD tafee rest 

" Ravest thou/' saith Right- 
eousness, " or art thou right drunk ? 

" Believest thou yon light may unlock hell, 

And save mans soul? Sister, believe it never. 

At the beginning 

Adam and Eve, 

Should die downright 

If they touched the tree 

And Adam afterwards, 

Ate of the fruit 

The loyal love of our Lord 

And followed the teaching of 

the Fiend 
Against reason I, Righteous- 
Their pain is perpetual, 
Let them chew as they chose 
It is a bootless bale, 

And I shall pray," says 

Their woe change into weal. 

Had they known no woe 

No wight knoweth weal 

No man knoweth hunger 

Who could by nature 

If all the world were swan- 

Who could tell clearly 

God gave the doom himself 
and their issue all, 
and dwell in pain eternal, 
and of its fruit did eat, 
against the warning, 
and, as it were, forsook 
and his teaching, 

and the will of his flesh. 

remember this in truth; 
no prayers may them help, 
and let us not chide, 
the bit which they once ate. 

" their pain may have an end 

they had not known their weal. 
that never suffered woe; 
that never felt want; 
tell me what colour is, 

and if no night were 
what means the day ? 


Piers Plowman 

' Had God never suffered 

' Never had He clearly known 

' So God that made all 

' And suffered himself 

' Death that unknitteth every 

' For till famine come on us 
' Therefore God of his goodness 
1 In solace and in sovran mirth, 
' And then suffered him to sin, 
' To know what weal was. 
1 And afterwards adventured, 
' To know what Adam suffered 
' In heaven, in earth, 
' To know what all woe is 
' So shall it fare with this 

' Shall teach them what love is 
' For no wight knoweth what 

war is 
" Nor what is ' well ' 

There was one there 
Father Book was his name 
" By Gods body," says this 

" When this child was born 
" That all the wise of this 

" That in Bethlehem city 
" To save mans soul 
" And all the elements 
" The welkin first showed 
" Those that were in heaven 
" And lighted it as a torch 
" That light followed the Lord 

at other hands than his 
if death were sour or sweet. 

became man of a maiden, 
to see death-sorrow; 

and is the beginning of rest; 
none knoweth what is enough, 
set the first man Adam 

to feel sorrow, 

and took Adams nature 
in three sundry places, 
and now he goeth into hell, 
— God that knew all joy. 

their folly and their sin 
and endless joy; 

when peace reigneth, 

till ' well-a-day ' teach him." 

with two broad eyes, 
a bold man of speech; 

" I will bear witness 
there blazed a star, 

in one word agreed 

a child was born 

and sin destroy. 

bare witness unto that. 

that he was God Almighty, 

took a star-comet, 

to reverence his birth, 

to the earth below. 

The Triumph of Piers Plowman 

" The water witnessed he was 

God, for he walked on it. 

" Peter the apostle perceived his going, 

" And as he went upon the 

water knew him well and said, 

Xoro, bio me come to £bee upon tbe waters. 


" Lo, how the sun gan lock 
:c When she saw him suffer 

" Lo, the earth for sorrow 
" Quaked like a quick thing 
" Hell could not hold, 
" And let out Simeons sons 

1be sball not see oeatb . . . 

her light up in herself 

who made the sun and sea. 
that he should suffer death 
and cracked the rocks in pieces, 
it opened when God suffered, 
to see him hang upon the 

" Now shall Lucifer believe it 
" For Jesus, like a giant, 
" To beat and break down 
" And to have out all he will. 
"I, Father Book, will be 

" And comfort all his kinsmen 
" And disjoin and destroy 
" And save they reverence his 

" And on a new law believe 
" Stay we," said Truth, 
" Speaking to hell." 
Xttt up sour gates. 
And in the Light a voice 
' Ye Princes of this palace, 
' Here cometh unto his crown 

Then sighed Satan and said : 
" Such a light against our will 

tho loth he be, 

cometh yonder with an engine 

all that be against him 

if Jesus rise not unto life, 
and bring them out of care, 
the joy of all the Jews, 

and honour the Rood 

they shall be lost life and soul." 

" I hear and see a spirit 

cried loud to Lucifer; 
unpin, unlock the gates; 
the King of all glory." 

Lazarus once fetched, 


Piers Plowman 

" Cold care and trouble 
" If this king come in to us 
:; And lead them all where 

Lazarus is 
; ' Patriarchs and prophets 
!( That such a lord and such a 


H Rise up, Ragamuffin, 
" That Belial thy grandfather 
u And I shall stay this lord 
' Ere through brightness we be 

' Check him and chain all up, 
' That no light may leap in, 
i( Ashtaroth, cry thou loud, 
" Colting and all his kin, 
' Cast upon their heads 
' Brimstone burning, boiling. 
' Set bows with levers, 
' Shoot out shot enough 
' Set Mahomet at the catapults 
' With crooks and calthrops 

is come upon us all. 
mankind he will fetch too 

and lightly will he bind me. 
have spoken of this thing 

shall lead them all hence. 

and bring us all the bars 
and thy dam hammered out, 
and stop his light, 

bar we our gates, 
and each chink stop, 
at loover or at loophole; 
and have out all our knaves, 
and save all we own; 
who come anigh the walls 

and brazen guns, 
their squadrons to blind; 
and hurl millstones on them, 
harass them all." 

Listen," quoth Lucifer, " I know this lord well, 

Both this lord and this light long time I have known them, 

No death can harm him, 
And where he will he takes 

his way 
If he rob me of my right 
For by right and reason 
Be mine body and soul 
For he himself hath said, 
Adam and Eve and all their 

If that they touched the tree 

nor no devils craft, 

but beware him of the peril, 
he robbeth me by strength, 
the men that be in hell 
good and evil; 
who is the father of hell, 
should die and dwell with us 

for ever, 
or took an apple of the fruit, 

Thus this Lord of Light allowed. 

The Triumph of Piers Plowman 161 

" And, since he be so true a 

lord, I ween he will not rob us ; 
" We have been possessed of 

them seven thousand winters; 
" Never was word against it 

said, and if he now began 

" He were a traitor to his word — and he, the Witness of 


" That is true," saith Satan, " but I sore doubt me 
11 For we gat these men with 

guile, and we his garden entered 
" Against his love, against his 

leave and went upon his land, 

" Not in fiendly fashion but in a serpents form, 

" And sat up in the apple-tree, and egged Eve to eat. 

" And we promised her and him that after they should know 

" As the gods do, as God him- 
self, both good and ill, 

With treason and with 

treachery we deceived them both, 

" And made them break 

obedience through our false behest; 

" Thus gat we them as ours and brought them hither at 

the last; 

" Yet where guile is at the root what is gotten is ill gotten." 

" And God will not be guiled," says Goblin, " nor be tricked; 

" We have no true title to though our treasures they 

them; were judged, 

" Therefore I dread me, lest Truth will fetch them. 
" As thou didst cheat Gods 

image in going like a snake, 

14 So hath he cheated us in coming like a Man. 

1 Thirty winters hath he come in a mans likeness, 



Piers Plowman 

1 And gone about and 

' I have assailed him with sin; 
Short answer made he me. 
And when I saw that it was 

What kind of man he was 
I would have lengthened his 

And his soul came hitherward 
This body, while it went alive, 
To teach men to be true 
The which life and custom 
He will undo us devils 

says the fiend Goblim 
I have asked if he be God, 

" And now I see his soul, 
" With glory and great light; 
" I counsel that we flee, 
" It were better not to be 
" Through thy lies, Lucifer, 
" And out of heaven hither 
" We believed in thy lies, 
" And now, for thy last lying, 
" We have lost our lordship 
mow sball tbe vvince of tbts 

I warned Pilates wife, 
for the Jews hated him. 

I knew that if he died 

he would despoil us all. 

ever it went about 

and each to love the other, 

he used long. 

and bring us all down. 

sailing hitherwards, 
'tis God, I know well; 
flee fast all of us, 
than abide in his sight, 
we first lost our joy, 
thy pride made us to fall; 
and thus we lost our bliss, 
we have lost Adam, 
on water and in hell." 
worlD be cast fortb. 

(The writer speaks) 

As Satan rebuked Lucifer 

I believe our Lord 

And requite them the wretched 

Be ye ware, ye wise clerks, 
Ye deceive not the simple; 
What is the liars end; 
Ubou sbalt Destroy all tbat speak l^ma. 
A little have I overleapt, because of lying, 

And have not said what I saw and followed my story. 

then for his lying 
will rebuke liars here, 

that on earth is wrought, 
ye witty men of law, 
David witnesseth 

The Triumph of Piers Plowman 163 

{The narrative proceeds) 

When Light bad unlock the gates, 
"What lord art thou?" says 

Lucifer, and a voice said aloud, 

" The Lord of Might and Main, that made all things, 
" Thou duke of this dim place, anon undo thy gates, 
" That Christ may enter in the Kings Son of heaven." 

With that word hell brake and all Belials bars, 

For aught that any wight could 

do, or porter of the gate. 

Wide the gates opened. Patriarchs and prophets 

The people that sat in darkness sang with S. John 
;fiSebolo, tbe Xamb of <3oo. 
Lucifer could not look up, 
And those whom our Lord had 

" Lo, I am here," saith He, 
" For all sinful souls, 

the light so blinded him, 

with that light departed forth ; 
*' life and soul both 
to save the rights of them and 

I may the better claim them* 

and my own right too, 
all should die, 

" Mine were they; of me they 

" Although reason may re- 

" That, if they ate the apple, 

" I declared for them no hell for ever. 

" The deadly sin they did by thy deceit was done; 

" With guile thou gainedst 

them, against all reason, 

" For in my palace Paradise, in form of an adder, 

" Falsely thou fetchedst thence things that I loved. 

" Thou like a lizard with a ladys face 

" Trappedst them, beguiledst 

them, breaking my garden through, 

" Against my love, against my leave; 
' The old law teacheth beguilers are beguiled, 


Piers Plowman 

" And in their cunning fall; 
" And whoso hitteth out mans 

TSye fov eye, tootb for tootb. 

" So life shall be lost 
" Life for a life, 
" Soul for a soul, 
" Adam and his issue 

" I, that am lord of life, 
" And, for that drink to-day, I 
" I will drink of no ditch, 
" But from the Common Cups 
" But thy drink is death, 
" I fought so for mans sake 
3 tbirst 

" No nectar and no cyder 
" Shall moisten me, 
" Until the vintage fall 
" And I drink ripe wine, 
" Then shall I as king 

" And have out of Hell 

" Fiends and fiendlings 
" And at my bidding be 
" But I am merciful to men, 
" For men and I be blood 

" All that be wholly brothers 

of mine 
" Shall not be damned 

the same pain shall he have. 

when life hath taken life, 
the old Law asketh so, 
and by that Law I claim it, 
at my will for evermore. 

love is my drink, 
of no deep knowledge, 
— all Christian souls — 
and deep hell thy bowl, 
that yet, 

and no costly drink 

or slake my thirst, 

in the valley of Josaphat, 

the resurrection of the dead. 

come with angels and with 

all mens souls. 

before me shall stand, 
for bliss or pain, 
my nature asketh it, 
though not all brothers in 

in baptism and blood 
to the death everlasting. 

Bgainst tbee onl£ bave 5 sinnefc. 

" It is not mens wont to hang a felon more than once; 

" And if the king of the kingdom come 

" When a thief should suffer death or punishment 

The Triumph of Piers Plowman 165 

"Law willeth that the king 

give life if the felon look on himg 

" I that am king of kings shall come at such a time 

" Where the death-doom condemneth 11 the wicked, 

"And if Law will I look on them it lieth in my grace, 
"Whether they die or do not die did they never so ill; 
" And if their sins be bold I may do mercy, 

" Though Holy Writ will I be 

avenged on them that did ill. 

IRo evil oeeo unpunisbeD, etcetera* 

" They shall be cleansed clearly and washed from all their sins, 
" In my prison purgatory till pardon suffer it. 

" For blood may see blood a-hungered and a-cold, 

" But blood may not see blood 

bleed without ruth and pity. 

" But my righteousness and my right shall reign in Hell, 
" And mercy and mankind shall stand before me in 

heaven ; 
" I were an unkind king if I helped not my kin 

" At such a time of need. 
jEnter not into judgment witb Gbv. servant, © Xoro. 

" Thus, by right of Law, I lead away hence 

" All that loved me and believed in my coming; 

" But, for the lie, Lucifer, that thou didst lie to Eve, 

" Thou shalt abide it bitterly " (quoth God), and bound him 

with chains. 

Astrot and all others hid themselves in darkness, 
They durst not look upon our 

Lord the least of them all, 
But let him lead forth what he 

list and leave there whom he would, 

And many hundred angels harped and sang; 

Gbe flcsb sfnnetb, tbe flesb reDeemetb, tbe flesb reignetb, 

(Boo of (3oo\ 

Then piped Peace a note of poetry and sang ; 

" After sharpest showers, most shining is the sun; 

1 66 Piers Plowman 

" There is no warmer weather than after watery clouds, 

" Nor is love sweeter, nor are friends dearer, 

" Than after war and wrack when Love and Peace have 

gotten the victory. 

" War never was in this world, nor wicked envy, 

" Which Love if he would could not to laughter bring, 

" And Peace through patience all perils end." 

" A truce," quoth Truth, " thou tellest truth, 

" Embrace we in covenant of it; each of us kiss the other; " 

" And let no people," quoth 

Peace, " see that we chide 

" For nothing is impossible to him that is almighty." 

" Thou sayest sooth," says Righteousness, and kissed Peace 

And Peace kissed her world without end. 

/IfeercE ano trutb ba\>e met together ; rfgbteousness ano 

peace bavc fcfeseo eacb otber. 
Truth then trumpeted and sang; 
me praise Cbee, © ©00. 
And Love luted in a loud note ; 
See bow goofc ant) joyful a thing it is . . . 
Till the day dawned these damsels danced, 

And men rang in the resurrection morning. 

With that I woke and called to Kitty my wife 

And to Kalot my daughter and said: 

" Arise, do reverence to Gods resurrection, 
" Creep on your knees to the 

cross and kiss it for a jewel, 

" And the most righteous relic, none richer on the earth, 

" For for our redemption it bare Gods blessed body, 

" And so great is its power it frighteneth every fiend, 

" That where its shadow falls no grisly ghost may glide." 

(An abstract of the concluding books follows.) 


Thus I waked and wrote all I had dreamed, 

And dight me ready and went me to church. 

To hear the mass and be housled after. 

In midst of the mass when men went to offerings 

I fell soon asleep and suddenly — a dream, 
MAN was painted all bloody 

And came in with a cross before the common people, 

Like in all his limbs to our Lord Jesu, 

And then I called Conscience to tell me the truth; 

" Is this Jesus the Jouster that the Jews did to death, 

" Or is it PIERS PLOWMAN ; who painted him so red? " 

And Conscience kneeled, " These be Piers arms, 

" His colours, his coat-armour, but He that cometh so bloody 

" It is Christ with his Cross conqueror of Christendom." 

Then Conscience told me of Christs resurrection and how He 
gave his power to PIERS PLOWMAN, and anon departed into 
heaven and sent the Holy Ghost to Piers and to his fellows and 
gave them many gifts, the four gospels and the four fathers, 
Austin, Ambrose, Gregory and Jerome, and four seeds j and Piers 
sowed them all, cardinal virtues, Prudence and Temperance and 
Justice and Bravery. 

Then came Pride and gathered his host together against 
Piers and against Grace and against Conscience and all Chris- 
tians, and sent out Spill-love mounted on his horse Speak-ill- 
behind. And Piers and his people gathered to Fort Unity and 
dug a trench about it, and Conscience called Piers army to the 

,: Come," cries Conscience, " Christians and dine 

1 Ye that laboured loyally all this Lent time 

II Here is bread blessed and Gods body there-under." 


1 68 Piers Plowman 

" How/' quoth the common 


" All that we owe 

" That is my counsel, 
" Then be forgiven, 

" and must we needs pay 
ere we go to hou sling? " 

each forgive other, 
and then — the altar." 

" Yea, baw," cries a brewer, " I will not be ruled 

" By fear, for all your jangling with your spirit of justice, 

" Nor follow Conscience while I can sell 

" Dregs and draff and draw it at one tap 

" Thick ale and thin ale, that is my trade 

" Not to toil after holiness." 

" I am a curate of the church," cries a fool vicar, 

" Never man told me of cardinal virtues, 

" I never knew Cardinal that came not from the Pope, 

" And we parsons pay for them, their furs and their palfreys, 

" And the robbers that ride with them. 

" Therefore," says this vicar, 
" No Cardinal should come 
" Let them and their holiness 
" With the Jews at Avignon." 
Wftb tbe bol£ tbou sbalt be 
" Or in Rome as their rule bids 

" And thou Conscience, thy 

" And Grace that thou pratest 

" And Piers with his new 

" Should be Emperor of all the 

" Imperfect is the Pope 

" by very God, I would 
among the common people, 
hold them still 


to keep relics there. 

is in the Kings courts 
should guide all clerks 

and eke with his old 

and make it all Christian, 
that should all people help, 

The Vision of Do-Best 169 

those he should save, 

And sendeth men to slay 
And God bless Piers Plow 

As well for wastrels 
As for his servants and him 

And travaileth and tilleth 
As for a true tidy man 
As for the commons 
The counsel of Conscience 

Then out laughed a lord, 
11 1 hold it right and reason 
" All that my auditors 
" Counsel me by their books 
" With the spirit of under- 
" With the spirit of bravery 

Then there came a king 
" I am king 

" And holy church and learning 
" And if me lacketh aught 
" Where soonest I find it. 
" And what I take of you 
" Of the spirit of justice, 
" I may be safely housled 

who tilleth for all, 

and wenches in the brothel 

though he serves himself first, 

as hard for a traitor 

all times alike. 

they heed but little 

and his cardinal virtues." 

" By this light," says he, 
to take of my steward 
or else my agents 
and by my clerks accounts 

they made the account roll, 
willy nilly I take it." 

and, " By my crown," he said, 
the commons to rule, 
from the cursed to defend, 
Law wills that I take it 
I am above the Law. 
I take it at the teaching 
for I judge you all, 
for I never borrow." 

" In condition," quoth Con- 
science " that thou canst defend 
" And rule thy realm in reason right well and in truth 
" Then shalt thou have thine asking." 
Bll is tbfne to oefenD, but not tbine to rob. 
The vicars home was far off and he bowed and took leave 
And I awaked and wrote my dream. 

Then for the last time I went upon my way and I met Need. 
He reviled me for meekly listening when the lord and the king 


Piers Plowman 

had spoken so boldly. " Couldst thou not excuse thyself? " says 
he. "The king steals, the lord steals; and thy need, thy 
necessity may well steal too. Need hath no Law." 

He sinneth not 

And if he seeth a cloth 

Need anon taketh it 

And if he list to drink 

He should drink at any ditch 

So Need at greed need 

Without counsel of Conscience 

Save the spirit of temperance. 

Wise men forsook wealth 

And dwelt in deserts 

And God all his great joy 

And came and took mankind 

in him 
Both fox and fowl 
Fishes have fins 
Need hath taken hold on me 
And suffer sorrows sour. 
Be not abashed 
Since He that wrought all the 

Never a one so needy 

that winneth his food thus, 
and can make no better bargain 
and keepeth it for surety, 
the law of nature would 
ere he for thirst died ; 
may take as for his own 
or any cardinal virtues 

for they would be needy, 
and would not be rich, 
spiritually left 

and became needy; 
may flee to holes and creep, 
to fleet therewith to rest, 
and I must needs stay 

to beg and to be needy, 

was willingly needy, 
nor none died so poor. 


When Need left me 

And dreamed marvellously 

Antichrist came, 

Turned upside down 

And made the false spring and 

In every country where he 

And made guile grow there 

anon I fell asleep 
that in mans form 
and all the crop of truth 
and overset the root 

increasing mens needs. 

he cut truth away, 
as though he were God. 

The Vision of Antichrist 


Friars followed that fiend 
Convents reverenced hirr 
And all the house came forth 
To welcome his, to welcome 

And they would rather die than 


Antichrist had thus soon 
Pride bare it boldly 

" I counsel you/' says Con- 

" Into the Fort of Unity 
" Cry we to Nature 
" From the hurts of the fiend 

" Cry we to all the commons 
" And there abide and fight 

Nature heard Conscience 

And sent forth his foragers, 

Coughs and heart-catches 

Rheums and red eyes 

Boils and botches 

Frenzies and foul ills 

Pricked and preyed 

That a legion lost their lives. 

" Harrow and help," they cried, 

" With dreadful Death 

The lecherous lord 

To a knight called Comfort 

" To arms," cried Comfort, 

Then met the battle 

Or heralds of arms 

Old Age hoary 

Bare the banner before Death, 

for he gave them copes, 
and rang their bells, 
to welcome the tyrant 

save fools alone, 

since loyalty was blamed. 

hundreds at his banner, 
and a lecherous lord. 

" come with me, ye fools, 

and hold we us there, 

to come and defend us 

for love of PIERS PLOW 

to come into Unity 
gainst Belials children." 

and from the planets came, 
fevers and fluxes, 
cramps and toothaches, 
and running scabs, 
and burning ague, 
the foragers of Nature, 
on peoples heads 

" here cometh Nature 

to undo us all." 

then cried aloud 

to bear his banner. 

" each keep his own life." 

ere minstrels could pipe 

had named the knights. 

went in the vanward, 
by right he claimed it; 


Piers Plowman 

Nature came after 
Pocks and pestilence, 
Death drove down after him 
Kings and Knights, 
Learned and foolish, 
Whom he hit straight 
Many a lovely lady, 
Swooned and died 

with many keen sores, 
and slew much people; 
and pashed all to dust, 
Kaisers and Popes, 
let no man stand, 
never stirred after; 
many a knights leman 
for sorrow of Deaths dints. 

Conscience of his courtesy 
To cease and suffer them 
Leave Pride privily 
And Nature ceased 

Fortune gan flatter 
Long life he promised them 
Among all manner men 
And gathered a great host 
Lechery did his will 
With privy speech 
Armed him in idleness 
A bow he bare in hand 
Feathered with fair promise 
And his untidy tales 
Conscience and his company 

Then came Covetise 

Overcome Conscience 

Armed him in avarice 

His weapons all wiles 

And with glosing and with 

Simony sent him 
To hold with Antichrist 
And bid them come 
Made Good Faith flee 
And boldly brought down 

Nature besought 
and see if they would 
and be perfect Christian; 
to see the people mend. 

the few that lived, 

and sent out Lechery 

unwedded and wedded, 

all against Conscience. 

with a laughing face, 

and painted word, 

and in high looks, 

and many broad arrows, 

and many a false truth, 

troubled full oft 

of holy church the teachers. 

casting how he might 
and the cardinal virtues, 
and lived hungerly, 
to win and to hide, 

he guiled the people, 
to preach to the prelates 
and save their stipends 
to Court to Conscience 
and Falsehood stay, 
with many a bright bribe 

The Vision of Antichrist 

l 73 

The wit and wisdom 
Rode at a judge 
And overset his truth 
Then to the Court of Arches 
And with a miniver mantle 
Matrimony went his way 
And devised divorce. 

of Westminster Hall; 

and tilted at his ear 

with " Take-this-and-help-us ;' 

and turned Law to Simony, 

bribed its officers, 

ere death departed them 

" A," cried Conscience, 

" So keen a fighter 

Then laughed Life 
And armed him in haste 
Held Holiness for a jest 

And Loyalty a churl 
Conscience and Counsel 

Thus Life boasted 

And pricked forth with Pride 

Cared not how many Nature 

And kill all earthly creatures 

Life leapt aside 
" Health and I," cried he, 
" Shall keep thee from dread 
" We will forget sorrow 

This pleased Life 
And they gloried and begat 
One that wrought much woe, 
And Sloth waxed wondrously 
And wedded Wanhope 
Her sire was a juryman 
One Tommy Two-tongues 

" would Covetise were Chris- 
so bold and biding." 

and slashed his clothes, 
in ribald words, 
and Kindness for a spend- 
and Liar a gentleman, 
he counted it folly. 

when things seemed better, 
and praised no virtue, 

who at the last shall come 
save Conscience alone. 

and caught a leman to him, 

" and an high heart 

of Death or Eld, 

and care naught for sin." 

and Fortune his leman, 
a gaddling at last, 
— Sloth was his name — 
and soon was of age, 
a wench from a brothel ; 
that never swore true, 
tainted in every court, 


Then Sloth spied war 
And threw dread of despair 
And Conscience cried on Eld 
Bad him light for the right 

Then Eld took heart 
And waved away Wanhope 
And Life fled away- 
Besought him succour 
Gave gold, good measure 
The doctors gave him 
Life believed that leechcraft 
And with drinks and drugs 

Sloth with his sling 

Proud priests came with him 

With cloaks and pointed shoes 

They came on Conscience, 

" By Mary," quoth a cursed 

" I count Conscience not a whit 
" No not so much as 

Piers Plowman 

and made a sling ready 
twelve mile around him, 

and frighten Despair. 

and was hastily shriven 
and fought with Life, 
to Physic for help, 
and used his salves, 
that gladdened his heart 
a glass house to live in. 
should stay the steps of Eld 
drive away Death. 

an hard assault he made, 
more than a thousand, 
and long blades dangling; 
they fought for Covetise, 

(was of the Irish border), 
if so be I get silver, 
a draught of good ale." 

So said sixty of the same country, 

And shot their shots against us, many a sheaf of oaths, 
Broad-hooked arrows " By-Gods-heart, by-Gods- 

And almost brought down Holiness and Unity. 

Then came the Friars to help Conscience; but they knew 
not how to fight. Yet Need pleaded for them and at last 
Conscience smiled and took them in to the Castle of Unity. 

" Keep you in Unity, 
" Learned or simple 
" I will be your surety 

" If ye leave Logic 

and envy none, 

but live by your rule 

for your bread and for your 

and learn instead to Love." 

The Vision of Antichrist 


Conscience held him 
And made Peace porter 
All tale tellers 
Hypocrisy and envy 
Conscience called a leech 
Salve those that sick be 
Shrift shaped sharp salve 
" Pay that thou owest." 

in holy church Unity, 

to pin the gates; 

and idle titterers, 

an hard assault made; 

that well could shrive, 

and by sin wounded; 

and made men do penance, 

Some liked not this leech and sent up letters 

;c Was any surgeon in the fort with softer plasters? " 

Love-to-live-in-Lechery lay there and groaned, 

He had fasted on a Friday and fared as he would die, 

" One Friar Flattery," says he, " is surgeon and physician." 

" We have no need," says Con- 

" Parson or parish priest, 

"Than one PIERS PLOW- 

" Yet will I suffer 

" Friar Flattery be fetched 

Friar Flattery heard of it, 

To a lord for a letter 

As though he were curate, 

Boldly to the bishop 

Came there where Conscience 

Peace unpinned it, 
And in haste asked him 

" Ifaith," quoth this Friar, 
:< For his profit and health, 

' He is sick," quoth Peace, 
" Hypocrisy hath hurt them, 

" I wot no better leech 
penitencer or bishop, 

that ruleth them all. 

since ye desire it 

to physic all you sick." 

hied him fast 
to have leave to cure 
and came with his letters 
and gat his brief; 

and knocked at the gate, 
porter of Fort Unity, 
what was his wish. 

' I would talk with Contrition 
for this I came hither." 

" and many another, 
hardly will they recover." 


" But I am surgeon, 

" I pray thee then/' saith 

" Who art thou then? 
" Certes," says he, 
" Yea, go thy gate," says 

" I knew one like thee 
" Came in a cope 
" Was my lords leech 
" This preacher salved the 

" Till some were with child." 

Piers Plowman 

Conscience knoweth me." 

" ere thou pass in, 

Hide not thy name." 

" I am, Sir Enter-houses." 

" thou comest not herein, 
eight winter gone, 
at a court where I dwelt, 
and leech to my lady, 

When the lord was away, 

But Kind-speech bid Peace open the gates, 

" Let in the Friar; he may here see 

" Life by his teaching leave all Covetise 

" And dread Death and withdraw from Pride 

" And be at one with Conscience." 

Thou art welcome," quoth 

Here is Contrition 
Comfort him 
The parsons plaster 
He left it on him overlong, 

" canst heal the sick? 
my cousin wounded, 
and care for his sores 
biteth him deep, 
from one Lent to another. 

" I shall amend it," said the Preacher, 

And goes and grips Contrition 
Made of a private payment; 
" I shall pray for you 
To another, " I shall make you 
" At mass and mattins, my 

and gave him a plaster 
and to one he says, 
and for all your friends/ 
Sister of an Order, 

for a little silver." 

Thus he goeth and gathered and flattereth 
gold, shriveth, 

when he 

The Vision of Antichrist 177 

Till Contrition clean forgot to cry and weep, 

And lie awake for his wicked 

deeds as once he was wont, 

And Contrition left contrition that is the sovran salve, 
And took his comfort from the Friar. 

Conscience cried aloud and bad Learning help him 

And called upon Contrition to help and keep the gate; 
Saith Peace, " He lieth and 

dreameth and so doth many another, 

' The Friar with his physic this folk hath enchanted, 

" And plastered them so 

pleasantly they dread no sin." 

" By Christ," quoth Conscience, " I will become a pilgrim 
" And walk as wide as the world lasteth 

" To seek— PIERS PLOWMAN." 

(Here endeth PIERS PLOWMAN.) 




Comfort the poor, protect and shelter the weak, and with all thy might 
right that which is wrong. Then shall the Lord love thee and God 
Himself shall be thy great reward. — Attributed to King Alfred. 

Every literature has its dreamers. It is so simple to sit 
down, fall asleep, and then assail your enemies and support 
yourself by dreaming your opinions. If any objection be taken, 
well, it was a dream. Plato dreamed his beautiful myths; the 
wonderful relation of Er at the close of the Republic was but 
the dream of one who had been dead; the moody tinker of 
Bedford dreamed the Pilgrims Progress ; Roman literature has 
its Somnium Scipionis ; Chaucer dreamed Scipios dream again 
in the Parlement of Foules; Dantes vision was but a vision 
when sleep came on him in the wood; the whole of the Faerie 
Queene may be said to be a dream. The dream is as common 
to poet and prose writer as is the invisible cap or the impossible 
task to the folk and fairy lorist. 

It must be admitted at the outset that some dreams — what- 
ever the machinery may be for their production — are artistic, 
finished, jointed, logical. We recall them in the morning; 
beyond their incongruity, their horror or their fun, we can find 
no fault with them. Indeed we are amazed at their cleverness. 
All is in order; every incident proceeds from what has gone 
before; they are admirably prepared; and good dreamers will 
certainly support and believe R. L. Stevensons statement that 
the dreaming brain can make excellent plots. The well-known 
essay on Dreams gives, apparently in good faith, an illustration 
of this, and Stevensons dream-plot, if unmarketable, is, at least, 
most striking. 

But other dreams, literary or no, are as confused as the welter 
of waves on a rocky shore. You make out the general movements 
but no more. New waves are continually breaking from all 
sides; and it is to this order of dream that the vision of Pier, 
Plowman belongs. As I said in the Preface, the general scheme 
is clear; but the detailed pictures are inconsistent, detached, 
and in some instances apparently useless for the main purpose. 


1 82 Piers Plowman 

The writer is always falling asleep; half-way through the book 
he is dead and buried ; the vision finishes and begins again; the 
end is no end; the Plowman himself is an elusive dream-figure 
with many shades of meaning in him; apparently, though it 
was twice revised, the work had no final revision. It is of a 
piece with its chaotic century. We should not be surprised to 
find that the book was based on a dream. 

But the confusion of the dream is nothing to the confusion 
of the allegory. Even the sexes of the various figures seem 
indeterminate; and Wit, Wisdom, Clergy, Scripture, Imagina- 
tion, the Active Man, Peace, Mercy, Reason, Righteousness, 
Repentance, must not be driven hard towards consistency. It 
will be well for the reader, if he wishes to get a clear picture of 
the dream, not to insist upon its details. That such a clear 
picture may be obtained I hope I have shown in my Preface; 
but few allegories may be pushed roughly to their conclusions. 
Even Professor Saintsbury, that eulogist of the Faerie Queene, 
is constrained to admit that you may if you like leave the 
allegory alone; it " won't hurt you." 

The book definitely promises a picture of England between 
1350 and 1400. The dates of course are not given, but these 
are supplied by the evidence of its contents. We are to see the 
Field full of Folk. We are not going to look on any Dutch 
interiors, or mere portraiture of a few saints and a few sinners; 
there are to be no " nine and twenty in a company of sundry 
folk by aventure ifalle; " something wider, bigger is promised 
us, nothing short of a birds-eye view of the English world with 
London for its centre, while the dreamers body lies on the 
Malvern Hills, and over him sing the birds of early summer, and 
the brook runs babbling by and mingles its sound with the noise 
of a great multitude. You shall see the Pope, titular head of 
Christendom, finding it hard as the King does to guide men as 
he would; cardinals against whose election you and I may not 
speak, for we are no Lollards, not we; bishops running freely 
through all sorts of offices and doing all kinds of work as William 
of Wykeham and Bishop Spencer of Norwich did; unable, for 
all their cleverness, to rule their dioceses and to keep the robber 
pardoner and the meddling friar away; priests, deacons and 
subdeacons, acolytes, exorcists, readers and doorkeepers, all 
the seven " minor orders " of the Church; you shall see abbots 
men of business, Priors men of management, and all the people 
under their rule; monks and professed brethren, clerks and 

Comment 183 

novices ; you shall see the hard- working parish priest, passably 
ignorant, miserably poor and made poorer by his mortal enemy 
the friar; the friars, all the four orders, Franciscans, Dominicans, 
Carmelites and Austins, pledged to poverty and pursuing wealth; 
the chantry priest and the gild priest each bent on making an 
income and filling a soft place; and with them the good and 
bad accompaniments of a great Church, hermits, anchorites, 
pilgrims and palmers. But there are more to be seen than these ; 
and in the great plain are officials of every kind, sheriffs and 
bedels, assizers and jurymen, whose business it seems to be to 
prey upon humanity. Turn your eyes in another direction and 
Edward III. is slowly dying (alas for the Black Prince who 
might have done so much — he is gone) and Lady Meed is strip- 
ping off his ring; the kitten Richard II., so helpless at first, so 
foolish afterwards, is in the hands of Parliament or nobles; the 
nobles are quarrelling, the Commons are curbing them; dis- 
order, disorganisation and attempted reform can all be seen 
from Malvern Hills. As for the lawyers, you shall see enough 
of them, all dressed in furs, all pleading for pence, all open to 
bribery, and juries and witnesses, judges and pleaders are on 
the look-out for florins. Then the merchants pass by and the 
moneylenders, the big and little traders, till we come to the very 
dregs and find ourselves face to face with the Seven Deadly 
Sins of London. London itself and its narrow ways, its bridges, 
its palaces, its convents, its hovels, its brothels, you shall see 
them all and almost catch the conversations as the people pass 
by us. You can be present at the great Stourbridge fair and 
there see Venetian glass, Bruges linen, Spanish iron, Norwegian 
tar, Hanse fur, Cornish tin and Cretan wine, all for sale in the 
half of a square mile which was occupied for three whole weeks. 
Then you shall come forth into the country and watch the misery 
of the country poor, hear of their work, their food, their dress; 
and so along the roads past the crowds of beggars and wastrels, 
till perhaps you shall get a dinner in some great mans house and 
take part, from a side-bench, in a discussion of some useless 
point of theology. Nothing shall escape you by the way, the 
burial-places of the Great Pestilence, the stocks, the pillory, the 
cucking-stool, the alehouse, the hospital, the prison, the recluse 
in his cell, the doctor murdering his patients, the minstrel 
telling his love stories, the juggler and the monkey-man, the 
farmer and his stots, the poor priest preaching, the lunatic loller 
prophesying, and the train of Lady Meed. Nay, you may, if 

1 84 

Piers Plowman 

you be fortunate, see Piers himself, sowing his seed and preach- 
ing to the pilgrims of Truth, and may dream of him, as Jesus, 
leaving the world with Piers Plowmans fruit — poor humanity — 
in his arms, the only Saviour of the world. This world-wide 
"landscape with figures " is the promise of William Langland — 
a promise more than fulfilled, for not half the scenes have been 
enumerated, not a quarter of the characters named. Could 
any one to-day, in Langlands social position, dream, promise 
and perform so great an undertaking as this ? 

We take the story from the writers standpoint. It is not, 
as some histories tell us, that the kings wars were unimportant; 
but they were to the writer and to the people whom he repre- 
sents the least important of his visions. No one in editing a 
peoples book to-day should begin with discussing the European 
position, or the change of an Indian capital; but the price of 
sugar, the picture palace, the emptiness of churches, the six- 
penny doctor, the schools, the football field, the public-house 
and the district nurse would attract the Langland of to-day 
first. By the Langland of to-day I mean Mr. Masterman, Miss 
Loane, Mr. Lysons, Mr. Pett Ridge, Mr. H. G. Wells, Mr. 
Harold Begbie and Mr. Stephen Reynolds. I begin then with 
the book picture of the writer himself, always premising that in 
this work the writer set himself an enormous task, that his view 
may be one-sided and extreme, and that, even in his self-revela- 
tions, we may be on ground as treacherous as when we try to 
recover Charles Lamb from the hints of Elia. 

" Long Will," as he calls himself, in one memorable line, was 
set to school in early days and learned to love the school and 
cloister; for one who afterwards was so severe a critic of this 
world, he speaks kindly of these early days. It may have been 
at Malvern ; and he may have gained then his vague and rather 
intellectual love of the country and its sights. But in this he 
never approached Chaucer, who is filled through and through 
with the outdoor Englishmans appreciation of field and forest 
and stream; for Langland was as much a town man as Dr. 

His learning is remarkable. The Bible is, if roughly quoted, 
at his fingers ends; but he never uses the Wycliffite version, 
though it must have been accessible in some form before the 
last recension of the manuscript. In this however he is not 
singular; for Wyclif never quotes from what is called his own 
translation. The usual reading of the Fathers supplies Langland 

Comment 185 

with a few texts and a few illustrations; Gregory, Jerome, 
Austin and of course Cato are among the writers he has heard 
most of; indeed to the medievalist Cato may be regarded as 
a Church Father. The apocryphal gospel of Nicodemus may 
have helped him in that tremendous section of his poem in 
which Piers Plowmans fruit, i.e. humanity, is brought from 
Hell; but it is unsafe to dogmatise, for so much was known by 
being heard and repeated orally that before Caxtons time a 
man might possess a very liberal education and yet have never 
seen a book at all; so much did the writer of that day rely upon 
his memory. A few French sentences prove little; Chaucer 
himself, who must have spoken French well, avoids French 
speech more than Shakespeare does; and there is no hint of 
Langlands knowing any Greek. It is interesting to think he 
may have read Chaucers Prologue; let us hope, for the sake of 
his own peace of mind, that he did not; for he would, I fear, 
have reckoned Chaucer among the minstrels. 

He must have drifted to London for he knows it well: he 
certainly represents himself as preferring the easy life of a 
chantry priest to that of a hard-working man. Cornhill and 
S. Pauls are the most respectable parts of London mentioned 
by him; but the poorer or disreputable parts mentioned, such 
as Cocks Lane, Shoreditch, with their stews and their quacks, 
are many, and their characters are drawn to the life. He says 
he was married and had a daughter; but he is careful to give 
wife and daughter equivocal names, which he need not have 
done. He convicts himself of lax practice in regard to honesty 
in work. He is extremely careful to point out that whatever 
may be thought of his opinions in the poem, he is not a loller; 
indeed, he made verses on the lollers when he lived in Cornhill. 
He was always poor, always welcome, always critical; but in 
London his opinions developed and he became one with the 
mass which new ideas were slowly moving. He found himself 
the apostle of the poor, the honest quiet poor, whom he came 
to love passionately. Their poverty, grinding and unceasing, 
he ascribed to want of philanthropy, robbery, jobbery and bad 
government. He never ascribed it to simony at Avignon — the 
sinful city — nor to the French wars, as he might have done had 
he been writing to-day of his own work; nor, of course, did he 
understand that there may be a dozen causes for misery, some 
of the causes being directly attributable to the miserable them- 
selves. He is not in the least ashamed of begging for the poor 

1 86 Piers Plowman 

or for himself; and indeed the magnificent philanthropy of the 
medieval Church in its best days had encouraged begging, and 
perhaps produced the poverty it strove to alleviate. In all 
centuries (at any rate in England) the condition of the poor has 
been watched over and alleviated by the rich and the moderately 
rich in a way that shows, gainsay it who may, that the teaching 
of Christ in regard to individual responsibility has up to now 
permeated the country; and though poverty may have over- 
taken benevolence, and though benevolence itself may be a 
mistake and philanthropy a crime, no friend of the poor would 
care to imagine an England denuded instantly of all that has 
been given and is being freely and gladly given to the poor 
from definitely religious and Christian sources. This is more 
true even of pre-Reformation than of post - Reformation 
England, for in Lan glands day the state assumed no responsi- 
bility. It must be remembered that he wrote a quarter of a 
century after the Black Death and England had not in any 
sense recovered; and it must be further remembered that in 
his day the alleged enmities of class and class, sex and sex, 
capital and labour, had not been felt. The rich and the poor, 
notwithstanding the Peasants Revolt, were nearer one another 
than they are to-day. The enmities in Langlands day were those 
of king and nobles, nobles and the middle class; neither the 
king nor the rich merchant was in theory or practice unfriendly 
to the people. 

Yet, whether he understood the problems or no, his book is 
more valuable than any contemporary writing: for he wrote 
from the inside. He tells us what the poor wanted; and only 
lately, notwithstanding the fact that his book and his teaching- 
have been accessible for five hundred years, has this lesson been 
learnt. It is a new discovery to us, that the poor have opinions 
regarding their betterment. It comes almost as a shock to us 
to read in his pages that his poor required lower rents, better 
and less adulterated food, warm clothes, and above all the kindly 
sympathy of people who lived among them and tried to under- 
stand them. We can almost hear him saying to us: " Give us 
these first, and then, if you like, you can go on to model villages 
and sterilised milk." I respectfully wonder if Mr. Stephen 
Reynolds and Miss M. Loane, who write with knowledge of our 
poor, have carefully looked through Piers Plowman; if they 
have they must have been startled. 

Besides loving the poor and hating the wastrel, Langland loved 

Comment 187 

the Church and hated its household enemies. It is true that 
(considering his century) a minimum of dogma satisfied him: 
but with this he combined a maximum of Christ. The Pope, 
as such, is a legitimate ruler; he seems to know nothing of the 
rottenness of Rome and Avignon; even the Church machinery 
was good ; but it was worked ill. We who live in a time when 
the clergy (I use the word of the ministers of all denominations) 
work hard, are not over-dressed, do not carry forbidden re- 
volvers, do not rob the poor, do not pay money out of the 
country, do not plead in papal courts, are not absentees or 
pluralists, and certainly are not rich, can hardly understand that 
a man of Langlands sympathies should have been, as he certainly 
was, so strong a defender of the fourteenth-century Church. In 
it he sees the only bulwark against Antichrist; and he cannot 
even see this bulwark raised unless the friars and monks and 
parish priests and bishops come with Piers Plowman into the 
Castle of Unity. 

And if he loves the Church, he is at least respectful to the 
king. Beyond a sharp word now and again to Edward III. and 
a remonstrance to Richard II., Langland is a kings man; it 
seems to me that he even has some insight into the difficulties 
of both sovereigns when he writes that pathetic line : 

" But it is hard," quoth the king, " to guide my people to honesty." 

Even the great and rich he does not attack indiscriminately; 
and he certainly believed in those class distinctions which every 
society and every section of society makes, though it hides 
them as decently as it can and professes to abhor them. 

But lawyers, theologians, most minstrels, physicians and 
unemployables he cannot away with; and here we see for the 
first time the narrowness of one who did not understand law 
or theology, and who could not fiddle or cure the sick. For 
there must have been, and indeed he allows it, many lawyers 
who were not bribable, many theologians who knew what they 
were talking about, some decent-mouthed minstrels and a few 
satisfactory doctors ; but his lines about the unemployable might 
have been written in 191 2. 

Here then is the man ; a reformer of Church and State and a 
defender of the poor; failing perhaps from the very immensity 
of his canvas to paint all his pictures equally well, yet contriving 
even in his bitterest moments to follow his own advice to the 
king, " Hear the other side." Again and again he pleads against 

1 88 Piers Plowman 

his own writing, and you may seek in vain through all the book 
for one word of self-praise. 

His humour is not Chaucers; his coarse passages may be 
numbered on the ringers of one hand, and they are then very 
brief and blunt; while Chaucer, like Shakespeare and all the 
Elizabethans, is crammed with passages which Langland would 
never have tolerated. He is too much in earnest to waste his 
time in loose talk; though, if he had wished to do so, the 
sardonic writer of the Seven Deadly Sins could have put to 
shame Skelton, Dryden and Wycherley in their own peculiar 
mistles. Fun there is, satire there is, in abundance; but there 
is no filth, nor, alas, except in one passage, are there any tears. 
He is dry-eyed, staring at Antichrist. England is hurrying to 
the precipice and Piers Plowman is gone. 

His choice of metre, if metre it can be called, was no doubt 
intentional; he meant to get to the ears of the people and this 
he could only do by alliteration or by ballad. The Chaucerian 
line would have stamped him as a dilettante in social reform. 
The result is that the book is not a poem; no juggling will 
reduce it to rules; no whitewashing will make it all interesting; 
but it stands crammed with living pictures and full of a terrible 
anger. Whether he did gain the peoples ear is very doubtful; 
the one quotation in the trumpet-calls of the 1381 revolt is not 
at all conclusive; apart from ballad, song and folk-tale, 
literature has never been thoroughly assimilated by the 
English people; the people have no time to read. The Bible 
alone and a certain amount of economic prophecy have sunk 

I cannot understand why his book has never been seized on 
by artists and illustrators; and I venture to call the readers 
attention particularly to the following descriptions which are 
full of the power of a poet who carelessly let the poetry go — 
the ride to Westminster, the Vision of the Sins, the description 
of Piers service to Truth, the description of the cottager, the 
character of Charity, and the descent into Hell. 

This then was the man and this the book which set out to 
describe fourteenth-century England: for whom was the book 
intended and why was it written? what were the real pictures 
as we have them from other sources? is Piers Plowmans 
indictment true? 

Langland was born into a world the great fact of which was 
the Church. It was everywhere. It possessed nearly, not 

Comment 189 

quite, all the learning of his day; it filled offices which have 
long since been handed to the laity. Its courts controlled Church 
affairs and a good deal more than Church affairs — personal 
morality (save the mark) came largely under its lash and its 
fine. It was wealthy, national, proud at heart; as the Good 
Parliament showed, it hated Roman aggression; but it was 
waiting for a chance of burning heretics — which soon came. 
Its buildings filled the streets of London and Oxford ; the parish 
church, the cathedral church, the friars convent, the monks 
abbey, the chantry, the anchorites cell, the mesondieux, and 
even the schools, all were — the Church. It was as impossible 
for a reformer to write a poem and not to fill it with the Church 
as it would seem absurd for a modern reformer to regard the 
Church as the centre of all. It is the custom to deride the 
fourteenth-century Church. Langland and Wyclif, so different 
in other matters, denounce the wholesale simony, the traffic in 
pardons, the whole institution of the friars, the power of foreign 
priests, the misused wealth of the Church and the misspent 
time of her sons; and Chaucer, who could not rise to these 
heights of indignation, never loses a chance of satire. Even the 
modern Catholic historian Lingard cannot point to the four- 
teenth century with satisfaction; and the French Jusserand 
admits fully the charges of the poets. It is well therefore to 
realise that if there is no other side to the question, in two respects 
at least the Church of the fourteenth century has had scanty 
justice done to it. And first of all, it was not blind to its own 
defects. The abuses noted in Chaucer and Langland are con- 
demned strongly in a papal letter of the time. In 1340 the 
Bishop of Durham, in 1378 the Archbishop of Canterbury, 
pleaded for reform. " Nothing can give a better idea of the 
wickedness of Pardoners than the actual letters of Popes and 
Bishops " (Jusserand). Again, the Church was democratic in 
this, that by it and by it alone the poor mans son saw and took 
his chance. A long list of archbishops and bishops might easily 
be written out, all of whom came from the homes of the poor. 
It was no uncommon thing for a promising serf to receive 
freedom and to be trained in the service of Church and State; 
and it is precisely this carelessness as regards the birth or even 
the legitimacy of its clergy that draws down Langlands strong 
criticism: for Langland, apostle of the poor, believed in gentle 
birth. The knightly Chaucer, who had been about the world 
and fought, thinks nothing of the fact that his parson, the 

190 Piers Plowman 

gentlest, sweetest saint in all his writings, was own brother to 
a ploughman who had " ilad of donge ful many a f other," but 
Langland wishes that the Church would keep the poor in their 
places. The following paragraph quoted freely is worth con- 
sideration: " The most striking feature of the centuries to the 
sixteenth is the way in which the Church opened up a career to 
all ranks and classes of the people. There was of course always 
a strong aristocratical element among the clergy . . . the middle 
classes supplied a great number of parish chaplains, assistant 
curates, chantry priests, gild priests ; young men born and bred 
as serfs were not infrequently educated and ordained. Among 
archbishops only, Richard came from humble parents; E. Rich 
was son of a merchant, R. Kilwardby was a Dominican friar; 
W. Reynolds was son of a baker; Chichele was a shepherd boy 
picked up and educated by William of Wykeham; Cranmers 
people were small squires; R. Flambard, the great justiciar of 
Henry I., was the son of a poor Norman priest; Richard of 
Wych, the saintly bishop of Winchester, was son of a decayed 
farmer at Droitwich, and for several years worked as a labourer; 
the famous Grosseteste was of a poor family at Stradbrooke in 
Suffolk " (Cutts, Parish Priests, 133). Sir Robert Sale, who died 
so heroically in 138 1, fighting against the insurgents, was himself 
a serf who had risen to knighthood, and was captain-general of 
Norwich. Only through the theory and practice of the medieval 
Church did poor mens sons become lawyers, architects, sheriffs, 
scribes, physicians and teachers. 

Chaucer understands the theory of the Church Catholic, a 
theory which has never changed, that all men before it are 
equal. In this Eastern and Western religions are alike. The 
practice of the Church has indeed varied; but the curious 
anomaly may be noted that the world has invariably taken a 
view which is at variance with that of the Church. The worlds 
practice is to treat men as equal, as far as it can, and not to hurt 
their feelings; that they are equal in any sense it never will 

In another matter the medieval Church demands the respect 
of its modern critic. It aided education; indeed, it was the 
only educator, and, directly by its teaching, indirectly by its 
encouragement of benevolence, it founded places of education 
which flourished till the Reformation. Writers as diverse as 
Mr. A. F. Leach, Mr. Bass Mullinger, Professor Thorold Rogers, 
relying on statutes, sermons, charters, and quoting freely from 

Comment 1 9 1 

contemporary authors, come to the same conclusion, that the 
pre-Reformation Church was the friend, not the enemy, of the 
education of the poor; for the rich man either derided all 
education or had his own peculiar way of obtaining it. If Church 
advice had been followed, the battle of and for modem education, 
especially primary education, would have been infinitely easier 
to fight. Richard II. rejected a proposal to forbid villeins to 
send their children to school to learn clergee (knowledge): 
" Every man or woman, of what state or condition he be, shall 
be free to set their son or daughter to take learning at any school 
that please th them within the realm." 

The Church then, full of mistakes, crammed with internecine 
and often unpatriotic quarrels, but still in theory, and to a great 
extent in practice, the poor mans Church, filled the picture. 
Its spiritual pretensions were high — its ecclesiastical pretensions 
were enormous — but its social pretensions were not those of some 
of the later centuries. The world will always yield (or has till 
now always yielded) to spiritual pretensions when adequately 
supported by the consistent life. It clings even now to the 
legend of S. Francis, whose spiritual pretensions, under the 
guise of humility, were an unconscious travesty of those of his 
master; even ecclesiastical pretensions it will listen to, though 
with a smile, when based on what it loves — sympathy, charity, 
humanity; but the social pretension which grew from wealth 
and from an ill-defined class feeling, it cannot reconcile with the 
teaching of the poor parson of the Canterbury Tales. Classes 
there must always be; man is not happy without them, and 
they exist in every station of society ; but society knows at heart 
that they should be decently covered, and the truest mark of a 
"gentleman" is to hide his " gentlemanliness." Castes there 
must always be; Piers Plowman himself belonged to the very 
highest, whether we look at him in his mittens or as riding 
to the gates of Hell; and of all the characters in the poem his 
spiritual pretensions are the greatest. Yet, by virtue of his 
freedom from social pretensions, he is intensely democratic. 

The Church of any country, any century, can hope to recover 
lost ground among what are called the masses, not by a whittling 
down of dogma, nor by a renunciation of claims to denounce 
the sins of society — for the human society is the Church — but by 
a frank abjuration of all social and economic pretensions. The 
history of the friars, as well as that of the Salvation Army, 
point alike to the right road and to the parting of the ways. 

192 Piers Plowman 

The parish church was the special property of the people who 
lived round it. When small, it still had some gild window, some 
long-remembered connection with the great or small village 
names. It rose, as it often rises to-day, the only building of the 
human souls ambition, above the meaner roofs ; it was the centre 
of village life and the meeting-place of the dead. When large, 
it served for examination room, playhouse, even dancing floor; 
it was open every day and all day; it had its daily services. It 
was the rally ing-point of the English villages. Parsons might be 
and were absentees; it might be served by the unworthy; but 
it and its services were there. Langland points clearly to abuses. 
Once a fortnight perhaps some interfering friar of one of the 
four orders (Cain they were pleasantly nicknamed by Wyclif) 
would come preaching in the churchyard; and sometimes the 
pardoner or limiter would invade even the church itself, when 
the priest was not strong enough to prevent it. It is difficult 
to escape the conclusion that a most worldly acquisitiveness 
was the secret of the friars activity and of the parsons hatred 
of them; they laid their hands on shrift money and on the 
widows mite, and they persuaded the richer people to ask for 
and to pay for letters of fraternity. The beautiful descrip- 
tion of a friars church in Piers Plowmans creed might without 
change of a word be written of any well-preserved Gothic church; 
it must be remembered that all this wealth of stone and carving 
and gold was then new, burnished, shining, not toned down to 
melancholy beauty by the lapse of centuries. 

Friar and parson were, it is probable, unlearned; the parsons 
charged the friars with interference, the friars charged the 
parsons with ignorance and neglect of their parishes. The 
terrible picture of Parson Sloth in Langland must of course apply 
only to a few, but comic instances of parsonic ignorance are 
many. "Robert de Umfraville, clerk, was instituted in 131 7 
by Bishop Stapledon to the rectory of Lapford, but the bishop 
required he should go to grammar school and should come to 
the bishop once a year, that the bishop might know what progress 
he was making. The young man sent in his resignation in 
1320." Against such a picture may always be quoted the poor 
parson of the Prologue. The friar, however, was the better 
speaker, for it was his metier to speak; and the occasional visitor 
gets more credit than the preacher to whom the parish is accus- 
tomed. The friar was ready, polite, pleasant, popular; and his 
ways with women were so successful as to become proverbial. 

Comment 193 

Nothing in Langland said against the friars comes near the bitter 
satire of Chaucers laugh; and the praise of the friar by the wife 
of Bath would have shamed any one but a friar. 

If the parson objected to the friar he must in many cases have 
objected to the chantry priest also. Rarely could a man, a paid 
cleric, go on singing masses every day without interfering with 
the parish. It was a lucrative and easy life. Sometimes the 
church itself was turned into a chantry, sometimes the chantry 
priest kept a little school. In S. Pauls alone there were 70 
chantries and in obits (for occasional masses), and in 1378 the 
weak Archbishop Sudbury, who was murdered by the 1381 mob, 
speaks of the lives of these mass-singers as tending to the detest- 
able scandal of churchmen (Besant, 2, 134). It could not have 
been satisfactory for the parson, learned or unlearned, good or 
bad, to have so many inspectors and critics of his work about 
him. He lived in a limelight which darkens shadows, and 
strange to say, he has had no apologist but Chaucer the courtly 
poet. Pity the poor parson in any century who does his multi- 
farious work unnoticed by superiors and sometimes unthanked 
by his people. 

The parson, the friar, the seller of pardons, as well as the 
higher ecclesiastics, and of course all monks, were vowed to 
celibacy, but it does not seem that celibacy meant chastity, or 
that it prevented, in the case of parsons, the irregular marriages 
which the Church frowned on even to the days of Queen Elizabeth. 
' The secular cleric," says Cutts, " was not bound to be celibate. 
But if his marriage came up before the ecclesiastical courts it 
was then voidable. Consequently, to make his marriage in- 
capable of legal proof, he had it performed irregularly in some 
particular. Then it was illegal, derogatory, but not immoral or 
disreputable." In this the Church theory conquered till the 
Reformation. As Matthew Paris said long before, " the Pope 
deprived the clergy of sons and the devil sent them nephews" 
Langland, however, admits the chastity of many churchmen, 
and when Langland speaks well of even part of a class we must 
be careful of condemning it. 

This medieval enforcement of chastity is the heaviest source 
of indictment which the modern reformer brings against the 
Church. All miracle-mongering, sale of indulgences, robbery, 
deceit and the like, are nothing in comparison of the " brutalising 
of the race," as Galton calls it, by the chastity of the sweeter 
and gentler and more refined characters of the time. The 


194 Piers Plowman 

modern cares little for the self-sacrifice, the agonies of the truly 
chaste; that is their own affair. He boldly accuses the Catholic 
Church of being the author of the greatest sin against Western 
humanity that has ever been perpetrated. 

Of course the chastity was in many cases but lip-service. 
The contemporary records bear this out. A certain chaplain, 
name not known, had a portifory (breviary) stolen from him at 
night by a loose woman because he had not given her any money 
either on that night or on the night preceding; the book was 
pledged for Sd. (Riley, 1385). In 1385, Elisabeth Moring . . . 
received girls nominally as apprentices, but really to live a lewd 
life and to consort with friars, chaplains, and other such men 
(Besant). But, though John de Sloghtre, chaplain, is put in 
the Tower for being found wandering about the city against the 
peace, and was also gaoled for carrying arms (Riley, 1320); and 
though Richard Herying, chaplain, was attached for that he 
was indicted in the ward of Farndine (Farringdon) . . . and in 
the ward of Crepelgate as being a bruiser and night-walker 
(Riley), it cannot be too carefully remembered that records 
always call our attention to the worst. No century would like 
to be remembered by the police notes of Bow Street, and no 
historian ought to take Langlands pages for the whole of a story. 
Chaucer is much brighter, happier; if everything had been 
as Langland paints it the century could not have gone on 

In any comment on Langland the monks, nuns and their 
convents may be almost disregarded. There were no doubt 
many who came out of the cloister and who rode to hounds; 
many nuns who deserved the terrible picture drawn by Wrath 
(p. 78); but they receive less castigation at the hands of the poets 
than does the rest of the ecclesiastical machinery. Indeed, the 
monks seem to be outside the machinery; and the fierce envy 
of conventual wealth, which was one of the main causes of the 
Reformation, had not yet made itself greatly felt. As for the 
reformers of the day, they plainly derided the monks and passed 
them by. 

But the picture of Church matters is by no means even outlined 
in as yet. There remains to be considered the rabble of 
hangers-on, and under this uncomplimentary term may be 
included foreign agents, pardoners, pilgrims, palmers, hermits, 
ancres, recluses of all kinds, and those officials who got their 
living out of Church moneys, fines, or offerings. They indeed 

Comment 195 

form a motley crowd. Chaucers picture of some (e.g. the Pardoner 
and Summoner) is very clear; we see the papal agent, approved 
or connived at by the English bishop, selling and showing his 
absurd relics to the gaping crowd ; the summoner ready to pounce 
on any defenceless person and bring him or her before an 
ecclesiastical court. For the summoner there may be some 
defence. For the pardoner it seems there is none. M. Jusserand, 
who would defend him if he could, admits that Chaucers picture 
is true; it is more damaging to admit that the truly Catholic 
Langland is more contemptuous even than Chaucer. But noth- 
ing disturbs the pardoner; for insolence of hypocrisy which 
recognises itself there is nothing to beat his Prologue and his 
beautiful tale; only the scathing Billingsgate of the Host brings 
a flush of anger to his cheek. It is true that to-day the par- 
doner has vanished from the streets of England; but his 
audiences have not vanished; and the crowds that buy nostrums 
from the magazine advertisements and bottles at street corners, 
and the stealthier and richer clients of the crystal-gazer, cannot 
afford even to laugh at fourteenth-century England. The par- 
doner has turned quack and gipsy: that is all. 

The foreigner met with less approval than the pardoner. In 
x 353 an d 1393 Englishmen were forbidden to appeal to the 
papal courts; Langland sees them appealing against the king. 
In 1 35 1 foreigners were forbidden to hold English livings. 
Both these statutes aimed at extinguishing what were felt to be 
un-English proceedings. 

But the pilgrim and the recluse were nearer to the people than 
the summoner, the pardoner, or the foreigner. On every road 
the pilgrim, with his liquified saints blood, his vernicle picture, 
and his scallop-shell, told of his escapes, his travels and his 
relics. He was a genuine person — when he had travelled; he 
had been, as the wife of Bath had, over many a strange stream, 
and if he liked had leave to lie all his life after. Langlands and 
Chaucers pictures are so familiar that we may illustrate from 
one of their contemporaries, Sir John Mandeville, a clergyman, 
who, writing his book in Latin, French and English, distinctly 
states that he had been a great traveller. The cross and reed 
and sponge he saw at Constantinople; he fought against Arabs 
for the Sultan of Babylon ; he vouches for Ethiopians with one 
large foot and one only, used as an umbrella; for miraculous 
draughts of fishes, which came to the shore to be caught out of 
pure reverence for the king of the country, who has a very large 


Piers Plowman 

family; men without heads, men with eyes in their shoulders, 
dwerghes (dwarfs) with no mouths, but only a lytylle round hole, 
men with horses feet, all the marvels of the medieval map- 
makers are vouched for by Sir John. On his return he showed 
his book to the Pope, who had his statements of things seen and 
heard, examined, and " my book was proved for true." In the 
Roman du Renart the fox starts on pilgrimage with staff and scrip 
and takes sheep and donkey (Bernart the arch-priest) with him. 
Long before Erasmus, with his bitter satire, the people had 
begun to laugh at the pilgrim; he knew too much, he had 
been too far. But pilgrimages are by no means things of the 
past, nor can they be lightly laughed at. " They were dangerous, 
meritorious, and they showed a way to heaven. They relieved 
a man of work, they showed him amusing people. He and 
his licence were free of the roads " (Besant). With staff 
(bourdon) and scrip (a small bag), with bottle, rosary, shells and 
flasks, or other adornments, he proved his story; if he came from 
Palestine he wore strips of coloured cloth, sewn cross-wise on 
the shoulder, and the palm was sewn to clothes or carried in 
the hand. Vernicles (the picture of Christ), crosskeys and 
effigies of S. Peter and S. Paul were worn by Roman pilgrims; 
but alas, the Rome or Compostella pilgrim had not always 
been there. " W. Blakeney, shetil-maker, who pretended to be 
a hermit, was brought into the Guildhall for that whereas he was 
able to work for his food and raiment, he went about barefoot 
and with long hair under the guise of sanctity, and pretending 
to be a hermit, saying he was such and that he had made pil- 
grimage to Jerusalem, Rome, Venice and the city of Seville in 
Spain, and had received many good things from divers persons 
... he acknowledged that for the last six years he had lived 
by such fetches and deceits, and that he never was in the parts 
aforesaid " (Riley, 141 2). At home, besides the great S. Thomas 
and the many roods, S. Cuthbert at Durham, S. William of 
York, little S. William of Norwich, S. Wulfstan of Worcester, 
and S. S within of Winchester were among saints to whom 
pilgrimages were frequently made (Cutts). The reader must 
be reminded that there is no adequate ground for questioning 
the occasional " miracles " which occurred and still occur in 
such pilgrimages. One of the most brilliant modern productions 
of a cultivated mind and of a religious life, I refer to the Saintes 
Evangiles of M. Lassere, owes its origin directly to a miraculous 
cure wrought at Lourdes. Scientists may explain, we Protes- 

Comment 197 

tants may question; but neither pilgrimages nor " miracles " 
are dead — yet. 

The recluse — the true, strict recluse — has nothing to recom- 
mend him or her. The ghastly silence, the dirty walled-up cell, 
the long lone cold hours, form a picture compared with which the 
strictest life of Carmelite or Brigittine was comfort itself. It is 
suggested that the slits called lepers windows were for the use 
of anchorites, who had their cells outside the church walls. It 
is true that the recluse could in some cases talk to the outside 
world, and was sometimes so much consulted by the women of 
the place that he became a nuisance; it is equally true that 
some recluses did enjoy comparative comfort, though they were 
tied to one cell; but the true ancre was one of those who, like 
monk of the desert or trappist of to-day, is isolated, silent, dead. 
The service read over him and the subsequent condition of his 
days may be read and understood by the reader of Besants 

Hermits were the good-tempered Timons of the day; they 
lived in houses, they helped travellers, they were not always 
poor. There is no need to waste pity on the hermit; he came 
from all ranks of society, as his modern counterpart does. It is 
not every man who is smitten with the love of the society of his 
own kind; and there are to-day hermits even in cities, as there 
were in Langlands time. 

But all of whom I have been speaking were officially connected 
with the Church. There remains another class of friars who 
roamed the country before Langland had ceased writing, and 
who carried no licence from pope, bishop or archdeacon. I 
refer to Wyclifs poor priests. It is doubtful whether Langland 
means us to take any notice of them ; whatever may have been 
his attitude to Wyclif, he either does not know the name of 
Lollard, or he intends to sever himself entirely from lollers or 
Lollards. There is no question connected with the 1381 revolt 
which is so obscure as this : did Wyclif through his poor priests 
preach a social as well as an ecclesiastical revolution? When 
we find historians such as Mr. Thorold Rogers and Mr. Trevelyan 
disagreeing toto cozlo on this point, it is well for the ordinary 
reader to suspend judgment. It may be enough for us to note 
that there seems to be no proof that Langlands book or any 
part of it was used to inflame the social unrest, and another 
interpretation may be put upon the often quoted passages in 
the message from the Great Society. 


Piers Plowman 

A much more profitable inquiry turns us away from pope and 
cardinal, friar and monk, hermit and pilgrim, Wyclif and 
Swynderby, to the central figure which, as I have said before, 
glances in and out of the work in such elusive and mysterious 
fashion. It is long before we meet Piers Plowman, but when we 
do meet him he never wholly leaves the stage; if not actually 
speaking, his presence is felt: it is the book of Piers Plowman. 
So strongly does the reader feel this that it has been suggested 
that we have here but a fragment of genuine alliterative folk- 
literature of which Piers Plowman is the hero. The Plowman 
leads the way to Truth, whose servant he is, and the cutpurse 
and the pardoner desert him; a stray common woman is left, 
and he and she begin, but others join in the great pilgrimage. 
Before it is begun the half-acre has to be ploughed, and knight 
and wastrel have to help. Ladies must help too; the work of 
all is for the weal of all, and Piers makes his last will and testa- 
ment. Then the unemployables wrangle and Piers calls Hunger 
and Famine to help him; the gentry cannot. The pardon is 
sent by the Almighty to poor Piers Plowman, and henceforth he 
is a symbol which leads men to Do-well, Do-better and Do-best. 
He is referred to as the great example, the great teacher, until 
again he appears upon the scene riding to Jerusalem as the 
Good Samaritan to joust with death for the deliverance of 
humanity from hell. As Prince he sails hell-wards and the 
victory is assured. But Piers as Christ is gone, and Antichrist 
takes his place; the Piers that follows is the spirit of Church 
unity; the mysterious plowman, saviour, man, Christ, is now 
again lost, and must be sought for in a new Grail quest over the 
wide world. Small wonder that readers are in doubt as to 
Langlands meaning. I take it that Langland wilfully confused 
the character, for in his own mind there was no separation 
between the God-in-man and the man-in-God. As Bishop 
Stubbs says, " The full likeness to Jesus Christ, the ideal Son of 
God, is stored up in the Plowman, in the common man of the 
street and of the mill and of the workshop." Above every class 
and caste, sympathising with all, thinking nothing too high, 
nothing too low for him to notice, Piers represents the best 
religious thought of which Langland was capable, mans likeness 
to Christ and even his identification with him being made 
possible by the very nature of Christs appearance in the world. 
Love could not bear to remain in heaven; it must take mankind 
on it or die. 

Comment 199 

Allegory pressed hard loses its charm. If Piers Plowman were 
as clear outlined as Christian, the mystery of the Plowman 
would not fit in as it does with the chaos of the scene. He seems 
to suit the kaleidoscope of the field full of folk which is now 
a city, now a plain, now a procession, now a church, now a 
court, now a desolate land along which trains of pilgrims go — 
and always a dream. Battles and law courts vanish, Cornhill and 
Jerusalem disappear, and the sleeper is left upon the misty hills. 
From the Malvern Hills the mist never wholly goes; only now 
and then stands out, as in the Arthurian vision, the great 
figure — crowned . 

Yet, though the writer leaves his work in despondency and 
gloom, something had been accomplished. To have seen Piers 
Plowman working in that whirl and worry of politics was some- 
thing : to have realised that figure made life worth living to the 
writer, though death should be but, as he called it, the unknitter 
of all care and the beginning of rest. 

This is the reward of the spiritual reformer, whether he be a 
Francis, a Shelley or a Langland : that he catches glimpses of 
the impossible. The light that never will be on land or sea is his 
inspiration, and far above any amelioration of social ethics is 
the spiritual sense of the son of man ploughing the fourteenth- 
century fields, pushing the pilgrims through the strait gate and 
riding through Cheapside or Jerusalem to get him his gilt spurs 
and his slashed shoon. Langland, the poor wandering mass- 
priest, saw over old S. Pauls the vision splendid, as a later singer, 
poorer than Langland, in the same London, almost in the same 
street, saw it and could write : 

" world invisible, we view thee; 
O world intangible, we touch thee; 
O world unknowable, we know thee ; 
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee. 

The angels keep their ancient places, 
Turn but a stone and start a wing; 
'Tis ye, 'tis your estranged faces 
That miss the many-splendoured thing. 

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder) 
Cry; and upon thy so sore loss 
Shall shine the traffic of Jacobs ladder, 
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross. 

200 Piers Plowman 

Yea, in the night, my Soul, my Daughter, 
Cry — clinging Heaven by the hems; 
And lo, Christ walking on the water, 
Not of Gennesareth but Thames! " 

If we leave the religious outlook and look upon the social side 
of England, we are struck by the constant repetition of the 
note of misery. Yet it does not appear that the century was as 
bad as its successor. The drain of the French wars must have 
been felt; yet the Great Pestilence had, in its awful way, lessened 
by fifty per cent, the number of mouths that had to be fed. 

But Langlands complaint is not merely that the poor want 
food and raiment; it would appear from him that they needed 
protection against themselves and against the great. The 
adulteration of food and drink, the want of the poor mans 
lawyer, the general corruption and deceit all round him, the 
extremes of luxury and penury — these are the things that 
wring his heart. By way of illustration the following may be 
quoted from Riley as instances of dishonesty in trade; the first 
instance being one of the eternal quack, without whom no 
century can live. 

In 1382, " Roger Clerk was attached to make answer to Roger 
atte Hacche that whereas no physician or surgeon should inter- 
meddle with medicines but those who are experienced, the said 
Roger Clerk, who knew nothing of the arts aforesaid nor under- 
stood anything of letters, came to the house of him Roger atte 
Hacche and there saw one Johanna, the wife of the said Roger, 
who was then lying ill, and gave the said Roger to understand 
that he was experienced and skilled in the art of medicine. 

" Whereupon the said Roger gave him 12 pence in part 
payment of a larger sum that he was to pay him in case the 
said Johanna should be healed. And upon this the same Roger 
Clerk gave the said Roger an old parchment cut or scratched 
across, being the leaf of a certain book, and rolled it up in a 
piece of cloth of gold, and this he put about her neck, but in no 
way did it profit her. 

" And the said Roger Clerk was asked what the worth of such 
a parchment was, whereupon he said that upon it was written a 
good charm for fevers. Upon being asked by the court what 
were the words of this charm, he said, ' Anima Christi sanctifica 
me, corpus Christi salva me, sanguis Christi inebria me,' and the 
parchment being then examined, not one of these words was 

Comment 201 

found written thereon. And he was told by the court that a 
straw beneath his foot would be of as much avail for fevers as 
this said charm of his was, whereupon he fully granted that it 
would be so. And because that the said Roger was in no way 
a literate man, and seeing that he was found to be an infidel 
and altogether ignorant of the art of physic, it was adjudged 
that the same Roger Clerk should be led through the middle of 
the city with trumpets and pipes, he riding upon an horse 
without a saddle, the said parchment and a whetstone for his 
lies being hung about his neck, an urinal also being hung before 
him and another urinal on his back " (Riley, 465). 

The following are referred to : 

" . . . making pots of bad metal that come to nothing and melt ; 
mixing any manner of wares whereof the good thing may be 
impaired by the old; the dubbing or moistening of any mer- 
chandise, by reason whereof the weight may be increased ; selling 
putrid beef; making of hats, shoes or brides of poor or forbidden 
material . . . stealing dough by making holes in the tables used 
for baking; using false nets in the Thames; selling ale out of 
tankards with thickened bottoms. 

" Godfrey le Rede was attached with his bread, and this bread 
was weighed and adjudicated upon before Stephen de Alyndone, 
mayor, and it was found that the penny loaf of light bread of 
the said Godfrey weighed 155-., and was wanting of its right 
weight to the amount of 8.2J, and upon this he said he did not 
make the loaf aforesaid nor had any share therein for gain or 
for love, and he put himself upon the country as to the same. 
And the country (jury) came by John de Kyngyestone, pelterer, 
and others in the panel. Who being sworn said upon their oath 
that George the aforesaid is partner with John de Jernemue and 
Robert de Donstaple, bakers, who keep a bakehouse without 
Newgate just opposite Cokkes-lane, and that he shares with 
them in the said bakehouse and is their oven-man. Therefore 
it was adjudged that he should have the punishment of the 
hurdle" (Riley, 119). 

" John Rightwys and John Penrose, taverners, being accused 
of selling red wine unsound and unwholesome, John Rightwys 
was acquitted and John Penrose shall drink a draught of the 
same wine and the remainder shall be poured on his head " 
(Riley, 1364). 

202 Piers Plowman 

" Robin Porter, servant of John Gibbe, baker of Stratford, 
when the bread inspection came, knowing that the bread of his 
master was not of full weight, took a penny loaf and in it falsely 
and fraudulently inserted a piece of iron weighing about 4 oz. 
with intent to make the said loaf weigh more in deceit of the 
people " (Riley, 1387). 

As a lover of the poor Langland hated adulteration; but it is 
difficult to understand why he shared so clearly with the 1381 
rebellion its hatred of lawyers. We can see why the Rev. John 
Ball and his well-to-do friends burnt manor-rolls and charters 
and hunted lawyers to death. A lawyer to them meant a man 
who carried out or brought into operation the hated statutes 
which for forty years tried to fix wages after the Black Death. 
But Langland, as Jusserand says, cursed the revolt, and explicitly 
states that he did not sympathise with the cry for high wages. 
I think the explanation lies in Langlands belief that no juryman 
or siser, no panel, no inquest or collection of witnesses and 
neighbours collected to weigh the truth was ever honest. They 
were all got at by Meed. And the poor man, being poor and 
unversed in the ways of bribery, could get no lawyer to help 
him. There was no man to set the poor right in the usage of the 
law courts, civil and ecclesiastical. Justice should have been 
freely administered, not bought and sold, nor even paid for. 
Langlands Utopia is still Utopia, for even to-day the friendly 
lawyer will counsel his friend to keep clear of the honest but 
distrusted courts — distrusted because of long bills and unsatis- 
factory conclusions. The poor mans doctor is with us, a real 
blessing; but the poor mans lawyer has not yet made his 
appearance in the land. 

Of corruption Langland cannot say enough. Meed is over 
all; Simony, the worst bane of the medieval Church (as a Catholic 
writer puts it), was only one of the hydras heads. The most 
shameless bribery went on in high places, and no more disgraceful 
instance can be given than that of Richard Lyon, a condemned 
minister of the Crown, who actually sent a barrel of gold to the 
dying Prince, in order to win his help. To insult the Black 
Prince thus at any time of his life would have been bad enough, 
but so to deride and flatter the purest friend of the commons 
when he lay helpless and in grievous pain seems one of the 
most shameless acts in history. 

Beyond the corruption and the inability to get justice done 

Comment 203 

for the poor man, Langland turned his careful and observant 
eye on luxury, especially on luxury in dress. Chaucer is at one 
with him, and though he laughs at the excess of dress in his 
poems, in his prose he very nearly calls it one of the eight deadly 
sins. It would seem as if modern luxury in dress were really 
less than that of the fourteenth century, and the wife of Baths 
matinee hat was as broad as is a targe, surely an acreage to 
which we have not yet attained. The regulations of the time 
are very particular in their condemnation of the use of various 
furs by the common lewd women who dwell in the city of London, 
forbidding them to wear any manner of noble budge; but Pernel 
Proudheart was by no means the only offender; in 1363 
sumptuary laws had been passed regulating the dress of England. 
Even the clergy dressed in all colours and carried short swords, 
and it is said did not always take the trouble to put on a black 
gown at a funeral. 

As for arms and armour, Langland seems to hate them far 
more than the luxurious dress. He was no soldier like Chaucer, 
and took no delight in enumerating the pieces of armour worn by 
the knight. To him armour meant weapons and weapons meant 
wounds, and war was as barbarous as it had seemed to the old 
Hebrew prophet. Chivalry and its accompanying virtues meant 
less than nothing and vanity to the chantry priest; and very 
greatly would he have disapproved of Robert Newby, rector of 
Whitchurch, who leaves his brother his best sword ; of the vicar 
of Gaynford, who leaves his best suit of armour and all of his 
arrows; still more would he have admonished John Wyndhill, 
% rector of Arnecliffe, who in 1431 leaves a copy of Piers Plowman 
and green sanguine and murrey gowns and a baselard (knife) 
with ivory and silver handle. 

He dislikes the feasting and the minstrels as much as the 
weapons; they are Judas children, tellers of loose stories, and 
he would have answered to any one of them who said he had 
a licence as the indignant sixteenth-century writer answered, 
" Have you a licence from Christ Jesus? " 

These fighters and minstrels and wastrels moved him to fierce 
indignation. But his heaviest wrath is reserved for the dis- 
contented workman, and for the man who will not work. Though 
he hated lawyers who tried to get the Statute of Labourers 
enforced, he had no sympathy at all with the men who wished 
to force wages higher. It is amusing to see how many statutes 
and regulations were passed against the able-bodied beggars. 

204 Piers Plowman 

No person, according to statute, was allowed to relieve them, 
and in 1359 occurs the following entry: 

" Forasmuch as many men and women and others of divers 
counties who might work to the help of the common people have 
betaken themselves out of their own country to the City of 
London, and do go about begging there so as to have their own 
ease and repose, not wishing to labour or work for their sus- 
tenance, to the great damage of such the common people, and 
also do waste divers alms which would otherwise be given to 
many poor folk such as lepers, blind, halt and persons oppressed 
with old age and divers other maladies, we do therefore com- 
mand that all those who go about begging and who are able to 
work shall quit the said city between now and Monday next " 

" John Warde of York and R. Lynham of Somerset were 
questioned for that whereas they were stout enough to work for 
their food and raiment and had their tongues to talk with, they 
did pretend they were mutes, they went about carrying a 
two-ell measure and an iron hook and pincers and a piece of 
leather in shape like a part of a tongue edged with silver and 
with writing around it: ' This is the tongue of R. Warde: ' with 
which instruments they gave persons to understand they were 
traders and that they had been plundered and robbed of their 
goods, they making an horrible noise like unto a roaring and 
opening their mouths, to the manifest deceit of the whole of the 
people " (Riley, 1380). 

An extract from the Standard of October 6, 191 1, is interest- 
ing by way of comment : 

" William Thomas, a blind maker, of East Surrey Road, was 
charged with begging from foot passengers at Rosebery Avenue, 
Clerkenwell. A constable said he heard Thomas say to a gentle- 
man: ' Give a penny to a poor old cripple.' 

" Thomas was bound and bandaged on his first appearance in 
court, splinters and slings being used for his arms and legs. He 
now came up on remand without any of these professional 
impedimenta. The officer said that there was only an old wrist 
strain. He was sentenced to three months' hard labour." 

And in the daily press of October 11, 191 1, I find a magistrate 
recommending an iron muzzle for quarrelsome women. In 

Comment 205 

Langlands time branks (leathern gags) were used. As for the 
inefficiency of work of which Langland so bitterly complains, 
the reader may be referred to The Common Growth of Miss M. 
L<oane, written last year: 

" In another small town where lads professed that work of 
any kind was extremely hard to get, I found an old established 
tradesman, a leading councillor and a J. P., taking down the 
shutters and sweeping out the shop. ... I had the loafing son 
of a widow in my mind. The worthy justice also knew the 
widows son and many others. Clinging to his broom he hastily 
assured me that the loss of time was nothing compared with 
what he had wasted in trying to make boys do the work." 

And Langlands beggars, who will have hot meat quite hot, and 
that of the best, find their modern counterparts : 

" As to bacon, I can't get them (cottagers) to try good Danish 
at 8%d., though ordinary English is up to nd. just now, and 
the best is at a fancy price. And none but the best English 
cheese will do for them, however small a bit their money will 
run to." — The Common Growth (Miss M. Loane), 191 1. 

Truly the fourteenth century does not seem to be so very far 

The tragic events in the period of history over which Langland 
cast his eye were the Black Death of 1349, the death of the 
Black Prince in 1376, and the Peasants Revolt of 1381. The 
Black Death, by emptying the land of labour, was the cause of 
the famous statute by which for forty years an attempt was 
made to regulate and keep down the wages of the free-contracting 
labourer. The consequent discontent, rendered greater by the 
continuation of the French wars, swelled into the Peasants 
Revolt; but that revolt would in all probability never have 
occurred had the Black Prince, who was on the side of the 
disaffected, lived to make headway against the nobles. Parlia- 
ment, though ready to fight for the people, could do little; the 
deeds of the Good Parliament of 1376 were writ in water; " all 
its acts were cancelled, and the statute-book bears no trace of 
the greatest assembly of the period." The day of reckoning 
came. Opinions are freely divided on the subject of the revolt. 
We seem to know everything about it except the answer to this 
question, " Who was at the back of it ? " Some say the well-to-do 

206 Piers Plowman 

middle class in the country; some hint that the youthful king 
used the revolt, if he did not actually suggest it, as a weapon 
against the great nobles. Some again say, while others deny, 
that Wyclifs poor priests engineered what was known as the 
Great Society. We may be certain of this, that Langland 
strongly disapproved of it, although, as Professor Thorold 
Rogers thinks, the revolt may have put back the Reformation 
for a century and a half. The revolt failed, and Langland, seeing 
only its turbulence and murders, was content that it should fail; 
he had no hopes for his day from any social change; the horizon 
was that of " the collied night; " he was a social reformer from 
one standpoint only — the standpoint of religion. Without this, 
according to him, all social reform is meaningless, and must 
lead to greater luxury and greater discontent. None but Piers 
Plowman can save the people that he loved. 

For above all writers he is the peoples friend. None is more 
intolerant of their sad condition, none is more outspoken than 
he to king, bishop, knight, friar and huckster. The poor he has 
always in his heart. We do well to put up statues to Howard 
and to Quintin Hogg, and Guy dreams in stone among the 
people whom he helped ; but as yet no statue stands in Cornhill, 
no glass blazes in the Abbey in memory of this champion of the 
poor. Perhaps it is better so, considering his indignant con- 
demnation of the stained window and the church advertisement. 
Like Thomas a Kempis, he would prefer to be unknown and 
thought nothing of; and his work is, by wicked irony, interesting 
only to the student of history and the examinee. The book, 
however, demands — and never more loudly than now — that it 
should be read again and again by any who care to see the 
bitterness and the hope, the despair and the exultation of him 
who wrote four centuries ago the Vision of the Peoples Christ. 


Adulteration, 39, 201 
Ale, 81 
Allegory, 182 
Anchorites, 21, 197 
Antichrist, 170 
Appeal to Pope, 33 
Avignon, 168, 185 

Bail, 32, 54 

Bailiffs, 37 

Bakers, 144 

Bankers, 82 

Beggars, 4, 64, 66, 123, 127, 204 

Bishop, 5, 6, 182; good, 121 

Black Prince, 183 

Breton, n 1 

Bribery, 27, 30, 37, 40, 56, 202 

Bromholm, 81 

Bruges, 84 

Calais, 44 

Calumny, 79 

Cardinals, 7 

Cat, 9 

Cats-skins, 82 

Charity, 146, 186 

Chastity, 42, 193, 194 

Chaucer, 182 

Cheating, 80, 81, 83 

Church, 15, 17, 187, 189; legacies, 

71; wealth, 148; democratic, 

Cleric, 64 

Clerics, doing lay work, 6,11 
Common Sense, 7 
Conscience, 6, 31, 41, 98 
Convent, scene in, 79, 194 
Corfe Castle, 41 
Cornhill, 63, 185 
Country scenes, 136, 141 
Courts, 6, 7, 8, 48, 54 
Covetise, 6 

Covetousness, 80, 172 
Cripples, no 
Crucifixion, 152 
Crutched Friars, 28 

Death, 172 

Devils (named), 160 

Dinners, 128, 143, 183 

Discontent, 117 

Do-better, 146 

Doctors, 33, 45, n 5 , 116, 174 

Do- well, 135 

Drapers, 81 

Dreams, 181, 199 

Dress, 20, 57, 115, 146, 148 

Edward II., 41 
Edward III., 43, 183 
Envy, 75 

Fairs, S. Giles, 55, 183 
False, 25 
False weights, 81 
Farms, 106 
Fasting, 18 
Field of Folk, 3 
Fines, 31 
Food, 116 
Forestalling, 55 
France, 44 
French, 185 

Friars, 5, 6, 33, 38, 39, 135, i 42 , iy ^ 
176, 183, 192 

Glass, 38, 39 
Glass house, 174 
Gluttony, 17, 85 
Guns, 160 

Half-acre, 105, 109 
Harrowing of Hell, .1 50 
Harvest, 63 
Hermits, 4, 5, 197 
Humour, 188 
Hunger, in, 113 
Hunting, 48, 71 

Idlers, 109, no, 117 
Illegitimacy, 65 

Jurors, 42, 48, 173, 183 

Kalot, 166 
King, 8, 18, 187 
Kit, 166 

Ladies, 105 
Langland (lunatic), 8 
Laundry, 147 



Piers Plowman 

Lawyers, 10, 27, 29, 43, 47, 57, 122, 

123, 183 
Lechery, 74, 172 
Liar, 27, 32 
Lingard, 1S9 
Livery, 82 
Lollards, 63 
Lollers, 115, 125, 128 
Lombards, 59, 82 
London, 11, 64, 182, 183, 185 
Long Will, 184 
Love, 20, 21 
Love-day, 71 
Lucifer, 18 

Maintenance, 55 

Malvern, 10, 130, 182 

Mandeville, 195 

Mass, 7, 64, 193 

Mattins, 7 

Mayor, magistrate, 20 

Meed, 25; marriage of, 27 

Merchants, 122, 140 

Messengers, 140 

Metre, 188 

Minstrels, 107, 126, 203 

Money, use of, 122 

Monks, 79 

Need, 170 
Neighbours, 124 
New Fair, 86 
Norfolk French, 82 

Oaths, 88 

Pardons, 5, 32, 101, 121, 131, 195 

Parish church. 75, 192 

Parliament, 54; Good, 205 

Parsons, 6, 21, 168; idle, 88; igno- 
rant, 192 

Paulines, 31 

Peace, 54 

Peasantry, their life, 63, 107, 116; 
work, 112 

Peasants' Revolt, 197, 205 

Perrers, A., Lady Windsor, 25, 58 

Pews, 79 

Pilgrims, 4, 57, 72, 91, 97, 196 

Pillory, 32 

Plague, 6, 69, 70, 137, 171 

Pluralists, 38 

Poison, 41 

Poor, 20, 57, 65, 124, 137, 186 

Poor priests, 197 

Pope of France, 57 

Poverty, 145 

Praemunire, 195 

Pride, 72, 73, 167 
Prophecy, 49, 57, 71, 118 
Provisors, 31, 195 
Prussia, 84 
Psalms, seven, 48, 64 

Quacks, 200 
Quotations, 184 

Rat, 9 

Reason, 53, 69 
Reformation, 71 
Rents, 106 
Retail trade, 40 
Richard II., 183 
Rich houses, 138, 143 
Robin Hood, 89 
Rome, 57 

Saints, 196 

School, 64, 70, 190, 191 

Scolding-stool, 70 

Secret letters, 59 

Servant, good, 98 

Sheriffs, 42 

Shrift, 78, 176 

Simony, 27, 31, 42, 172 

Sloth, 88 

Statute of Labourers, 117, 202, 203 

Stocks, 56 

Summoners, 42, 195 

Tainted money, 84 

Tally, 55 

Tavern scene, 86 

Testament of P.P., 108 

Thames, 85 

Thomas a Becket, 98 

Thompson, F., quoted, 199 

Tithe, 85, 108 

Tommy Twotongues, 173 

Trades, n, 86, 100, 138, 16S 
I True-tongue, 48 ; Tommy, 53 
I Truth, 15, 98 

j Unity, 174 

:Walsingham, 5, 81 
I Weapons, 48, 203 

Weavers, 81 

I Westminster, 30, 37, 173 
1 Windows, 38 
■ Wisdom, 53 

Wizards, 76 
1 Women, loose, 69 
I Work, 114 
J Wrath, 77 
: Wrong (The King's Officer), 54 






Langland, William, 13307-1400? 
Piers Plowman :