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Piers Plowman

 

PASSUS I

 

WHAT this mountain meaneth · and the dark dale
And the field full of folk · I fairly will show.
A lady, lovely of looks · in linen clothed,
Came down from a castle · and called me fairly
And said: `Son, sleepest thou? · Seest thou this people,
How busy they be · about all the throng?
The most part of this people · that passeth on earth,
Have worship in this world · and wish for no better;
Of other heaven than here · they hold no account.'

I was feared of her face · though she were so fair,
And said, 'Mercy, madam · what is this to mean?'
'The tower on the toft,' quoth she 'Truth is therein
And would have that ye do · as his word teacheth;
For he is Father of Faith · formed you all
Both with flesh and with face and gave you fine wits
To worship him therewith · while that ye are here.
Therefore he hath bade the earth to help you each one
With woollen, with linen · with food at your need,
In reasonable measure to make you at case.

`And commanded of his courtesy · three things in common.
None are needful but those · and name them I will
And reckon them rightly · rehearse thou them after.
The first one is vesture · to save thee from chill;
And meat for meals · to save thee misease
And drink when thou art dry · but do naught out of reason
Lest thy worth be wanting · when thou shouldest work.

`For Lot in his lifetime · for liking of drink
Did with his daughters · what the Devil liked.
He delighted in drink · as the Devil wished,
And Lechery was gainer · and lay with them both,
Putting blame on the wine · for that wicked deed:

Inebriamus eum vino, dormiamusque cum eo, ut servare possimus de patre nostro semen.
Through wine and through women · there was Lot overcome,
Begetting in gluttony · boys that were blackguards.
Piers The Plowman, Passus I, p. 8

Therefore dread delicious drink · and thou shalt do the better;
Measure is medicine · though thou yearn for much.
All is not good for the spirit · that the guts asketh,
Nor livelihood to thy body · that is life to the soul.
Believe not thy body for · him a liar teacheth:
That is, the wretched world · which would thee betray.
For the fiend and thy flesh · follow thee together;
This and that chaseth thy soul · and speak in thine heart;
That thou shouldest be ware · I teach thee the best.'

`Madam, mercy,' quoth I · `I like well your words.
But the money of this earth · that men hold to so fast, Tell me, madam, to whom that treasure belongeth?'

`Go to the Gospel,' quoth she · `that God spoke himself,
When the people posed him · with a penny in the Temple,
Whether they should therewith · worship king Caesar.
And God asked of them · of whom spake the writing
And likewise the image · that stood thereon?
"Caesaris," they said · "Each one sees him well."

`"Reddite Caesari," quoth God · "that Caesari belongeth
Et quae sunt Dei, Deo · or else ye do ill."
For rightful Reason · should rule you all,
And Mother-Wit be warden · your wealth to keep,
And tutor of your treasure · to give it you at need;
For husbandry and they · hold well together.'
Then I asked her plainly · by him that made her,
`That dungeon in the dale · that dreadful is to see,
What may it mean · ma dame, I beseech you?'

`That is the castle of Care · whoso cometh therein
May curse he was born · in body or in soul.
Therein abideth a wight · that is called Wrong,
Father of Falsehood · who built it himself.
Adam and Eve · he egged on to ill;
Counselled Cain · to kill his brother;
Judas he jockeyed · with Jewish silver,
And then on elder · hanged him after.
He is the letter of love · and lieth to all;
Those who trust in his treasure · betrayeth he soonest.

Then had I wonder in my wit · what woman it were
That such wise words · of Holy Writ showed,
And asked her in the high name · ere she thence went,
Who indeed she was · that taught me so fairly?

Piers The Plowman, Passus I, p. 9

`Holy Church I am,' quoth she · 'thou oughtest me to know.
I received thee first · and taught thee the faith,
And thou broughtest me sponsors · my bidding to fulfil
And to love me loyally · while thy life lasteth.'

Then I fell on my knees · and cried of her grace,
And prayed her piteously · to pray for my sins,
And to teach me kindly · on Christ to believe,
That I might work his will · that made of me man.
`Show me no treasure · but tell me this only --
How may I save my soul · thou that holy art held?'

When al I trasures are tried,' quoth she · 'truth is the best;
I appeal to Deus caritas · to tell thee truth;
It is as dear a darling · as dear God himself.

`Whoso is true of his tongue · and telleth none other,
And doth works therewith · and willeth no man ill:
He is a god, says the Gospel · on earth and in heaven.
And like to our Lord · by Saint Luke's own words.
The clergy that know this · should tell it about,
For Christian and heathen · alike claim the truth.

`Kings and their knights all · should care for it rightly;
Ride to reach the oppressors · all round the realms,
And take trangressores · tying them tightly,
Till Truth had determined · the tale of their trespass.
That the profession plainly · pertaineth to knights;
Not to fast on one Friday · in five score winters,
But hold with him and with her · that desireth all truth
And never leave them for love · nor for seizing of silver.

`For David in his days · dubbed knights,
And swore them on their swords · to serve Truth ever;
And whoso passed that point · apostate was from the order.

`But Christ, king of all kings · ten orders knighted,
Cherubim and Seraphim · seven such and one other,
And gave them might of his majesty · the merrier they thought it;
And over his common court · made them archangels,
Taught them by the Trinity · the truth to know
And to bow to his bidding · he bade them naught else.

`Lucifer with his legions · learned it in Heaven,
But because he obeyed not · his bliss he did lose,
And fell from that fellowship · in a fiend's likeness
Into a deep dark hell · to dwell there for ever;
And more thousands with him · than man could number

Piers The Plowman, Passus I, p. 10

Leapt out with Lucifer · in loathly form:
For they believed in him · that lied in this manner --

Ponam pedem in alquilone, et similis ero altissimo.
`And all that hoped it might be so · no Heaven might hold them;
They fell out in fiend's likeness · nine days together,
Till God of his goodness · steadied and stayed
Made the heavens to be shut · and stand so in quiet.

'When these wicked went out · wonderwise they fell;
Some in air, some in earth · and some in deep hell;
But Lucifer lowest · lieth of them all.
For the pride he put on · his pain hath no end;
And all that work wrong · wander they shall
After their death day · and dwell with that wretch.
But those that work well · as holy writ telleth,
And end, as I have said · in truth, that is best,
May be sure that their soul · shall wend to Heaven,
Where Truth is in Trinity · and enthroneth them all.
Therefore I say, as I said · in sight of these texts,
When all treasures are tried · Truth is the best.
Learn these unlearned · for lettered men know it,
That Truth is treasure · the best tried on earth.'

`Yet have I no natural knowing,' quoth I · 'ye must teach me better,
By what craft of my body · begins it, and where.'

`Thou doting duffer,' quoth she · 'dull are thy wits;
Too little Latin thou learnest · man, in thy youth;

Heu mihi, quod sterilem duxi vitam juvenilem!
`It is natural knowing,' quoth she · 'that teacheth thine heart
For to love thy good Lord · liefer than thyself;
No deadly sin to do · die though thou shouldest:
This I trow to be Truth · who can teach thee better,
See you suffer him to say · and then teach it after.
For thus witnesseth his words · work thou thereafter;
For Truth telleth that Love · is the remedy of Heaven;
No sin may be seen in him · that useth that sort,
And all his works he wrought · with Love as he listed;
And taught it Moses for the best thing · and most like to Heaven
With the plant of peace · most precious of virtues.

`For Heaven might not hold it · so heavy of itself,
Till it had of the earth · eaten its fill.
`And when it had of this fold · flesh and blood taken,

Piers The Plowman, Passus I, p. 11

Never was leaf upon linden · lighter thereafter,
And pricking and piercing · as the point of a needle,
That no armour might stay it · nor any high walls.

`Therefore is Love leader · of the Lord's folk of Heaven,
And a mean, as the mayor is · between king and commons;
Right so is Love a leader · and the law shapeth,
Upon man for his misdeeds · he fixeth the fine.
And for to know it by nature · it springeth in might,
In the heart is its head · and there its well-spring.

`For in natural knowing · there might beginneth
That comes from the Father · that formed us all,
Looked on us with love and · let his Son die
Meekly for our misdeeds · to amend us all;
And yet would he them no woe · that wrought him that pain,
But meekly with his mouth · mercy he besought
To have pity of that people · that pained him to death.

`Here might thou see examples · in himself alone,
That he was mightful and meek · and mercy did grant
To them that hanged him on high · and pierced his heart.

`Therefore I rede you rich · to have pity on the poor;
Though ye be mighty at law be · meek in your works.

`For the same measures that ye mete · amiss or aright,
Ye shall be weighed therewith · when ye wend hence;

Eadem mensura qua mensifueritis, remetietur vobis.
`For though ye be true of your tongue · and honestly earn,
And as chaste as a child · that weepeth in church,
Unless ye love loyally · and give to the poor,
Such goods as God sends you · to them gladly giving,
Ye have no more merit · in mass or in hours
Than Malkin of her maidenhood · that no man desireth.

`For James the gentle · judged in his books
That faith without fact · is right nothing worth
And as dead as a door-post · unless the deeds follow;

Fides sine operibus mortua est, etc.
`Therefore chastity without charity · shall be chained in hell;
It is lacking as a lamp · that no light is in.
Many churchmen are chaste · but their charity is away;
Are no men more avaricious · when they be advanced:
Unkind to their kin · and to all Christian folk,
They chew up their charity · and cbide after more.
Such chastity without charity · shall be chained in hell.
Piers The Plowman, Passus I, p. 12

`Many pastors keep themselves · clean in their bodies
But are cumbered with covetousness · they can not drive it from them
So hardly hath avarice · hasped them together.
And that is no truth of the Trinity · but treachery of hell,
Lessoning the unlearned · to withhold their alms.

`Therefore these words · are written in the Gospel,
Date et dabitur vobis · for I give to you all.
And that is the lock of Love · that letteth out my grace
To comfort the care full · encumbered with sin.

`Love is leech of life · and next our Lord's self,
And also the right road · that runneth unto Heaven;
Therefore I say as I said · before by the texts,
When all treasures be tried · Truth is the best.
Now have I told thee what Truth is · that no treasure is better;
I may linger no longer thee with · now look on thee our Lord!'

 

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[This text is from William Langland, The Book Concerning Piers the Plowman, tr. Donald and Rachel Attwater, ed. Rachel Attwater (Everyman, 1957), printed with the permission of the publisher.]

 


Last modified: May, 2, 2006

Gold Texts on this page prepared and maintained by L. D. Benson (ldb@wjh.harvard.edu)