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Piers Plowman

 

PASSUS II

 

YET I knelt on my knees · and cried of her grace,
And said: `Mercy, Madame · for Mary's love of Heaven,
That bore that blissful Child · that bought us on the rood,
Teach me by some skilled way · Falsehood to know.'

`Look upon thy left side · and lo! where he standeth,
Both Falsehood and Flattery · and their many fellows!'

I looked on my left side · as the lady taught me,
And was ware of a woman · worthily clothed,
With fringes of fur · the finest on earth,
Crowned with a crown · the king hath no better
Featly her fingers were · framed with gold wire,
And thereon red rubies · as red as any coal,
And diamonds of dearest price · and two kinds of sapphires,
Orientals and beryls · poison banes to destroy.

Her robe was full rich · of red scarlet dyed,
With ribands of red gold · and of richest stones;
Her array me ravished · such riches saw I never;
I had wonder what she was · and whose wife she were.

`What is this woman,' quoth I · `so worthily attired?'
`That is Meed I the Maid,' quoth she · `who hath vexed me full oft,
And lied of my lover · that Loyalty is called,
And slandered him to lords · that have to guard laws;
In the pope's palace · familiar as myself,
Though truth would not so · for she is a bastard.

`For Flattery was her father · that had a fickle tongue
And never said sooth · since he came to earth.
And Meed is mannered after him · right as nature requireth;

Qualis pater, talis filius; bona arbor bonum fructum facit
`I ought to be higher than she · my birth is the better.
My father the great God is · and ground of all graces,
One infinite God and I his good daughter;
And he gave me Mercy · to marry with myself.
And what man be merciful · and loyally me love
Shall be my lord, I his leman · in highest Heaven.

1And what man taketh Meed · mine head dare I lay
That he shall lose for her love · a lot of caritatis.
How construeth David the king · of men that take Meed

Piers The Plowman, Passus II, p. 14
And of men of this mould · that maintaineth Truth
And how ye shall save yourselves · the Psalter beareth witness:
Domine, quis habitabit in tabernaculo tuo, etc.
`And now will Meed be married · all to a cursed wretch,
To one Fickle-Tongue · offspring of a fiend.
Flattery through his fair speech · hath this folk enchanted,
And all is Liar's leading · that she is thus wedded.

`To-morrow will be made · the maiden's bridal,
And there might thou know if thou wilt · which they be all
That belong to that lordship · the less and the more.
Know them there if thou canst · and keep thy tongue still,
Blame them not but let be · till Loyalty be judge
And have power to punish them · then put forth thy plaint.

`I commend thee to Christ,' quoth she · I and his clean mother,
And may no conscience cumber thee · for coveting of Meed.'

Thus left me that lady · there lying asleep.
And how Meed was married · meseemed in a dream
That all the rich retinue · that with Falsehood reign
Were bidden to the bridal · on both the two sides
Of all manner of men · the mean and the rich.
To marry this maiden · was many man assembled,
As of knights and of clerks · and other common people,
Assessors and summoners · sheriffs and their clerks,
Beadles and bailiffs · and brokers of wares,
Couriers and victuallers · advocates of the Arches-
I cannot reckon the rout · that ran about Meed.

But Simony and Civil Law · and assessors of courts
Were most privy with Meed · of any man, methought.
But Flattery was the first · that fetched her out of bower,
And like a broker brought her · to be with Falsehood joined.
When Simony and Civil Law · saw the will of them both,
They assented, for silver · to say as both would.
Then leapt Liar forth and · said `Lo here! a charter
That Guile with his great oaths · gave them together,'
And prayed Civil Law see · and Simony read it.
Then Simony and Civil Law · stand they forth both,
And unfold the enfeoffment · that Falsehood hath made,
And thus being these fellows · to read out full loud:

`Sciant praesentes et futuri, etc.
`Wit ye and witness ye · that wander on this earth,
Piers The Plowman, Passus II, p. 15
That Meed is married · more for her goods
Than for any virtue or fairness · or generous nature.
Falseness is fain of her · for he knows her riches;
And Flattery with fickle speech · invests them by charter
To be princes in pride · poverty to despise,
To backbite and to boast · and false witness to bear,
To scom and to scold · and slander to make
Disobedient, and bold · to break the Ten Laws.

'And the earldom of Envy · and of Wrath together,
With the stronghold of Strife · and Chattering-out-of-Reason,
The county of Covetousness · and its coasts about,
That is, Usury and Avarice · all them I grant,
With bargains and brokerage · and the borough of Theft.

`All the lordship of Lechery · in length and in breadth,
As in works and in wards · and watching with eyes,
And in clothes and in wishings · and with idle thoughts
Where the will gladly would · but the power is weak.'

Gluttony he gave also · and great oaths together,
And all day to drink · at divers taverns,
There to jangle and jape · and judge their fellow Christians.
And on fast days to feed · before the full time
And then sit and sup · till sleep them assail,
And to breed like town swine · and repose at their ease,
Till sloth and sleep · make sleek their sides;
And Despair to awaken them so · with no will to amend;
They believe themselves lost · this is their last end.

And they to have and to hold · and their heirs after,
Dwelling with the Devil · and damned be for ever,
With all that pertaining to purgatory · in the pain of hell.
Yielding for this thing · at one year's end
Their souls to Satan · to suffer with him pains
And with him to wander with woe · while God is in heaven.

In witness of which thing · Wrong was the first,
And Piers the pardoner · of the Pauline order,
Bart the beadle · of Buckinghamshire,
Reynold the reeve · of Rutland soke
Mund the miller and many more other.
`On the date of the Devil · this deed I enseai,
In sight of Sir Simony · and by Civil Law's leave.'

Then Theology was vexed · when this tale he heard,
And said to Civil Law · `Now sorrow mayest thou have, Piers The Plowman, Passus II, p. 16

Such weddings to wangle · to work against Truth;
And ere this wedding be wrought · woe thee betide!

For Meed is a woman · of Amends engendered,
And God granted to give · this Meed to Truth;
Thou hast given her a beguiler · now God give thee sorrow!
Thy text telleth thee not so · Truth knows the sooth,
For dignus est operarius · his hire to have;
Thou hast fastened her to Falsehood · fie on thy law!
For all by lying thou livest · and lecherous works;
Simony and thyself · shame Holy Church;
The notaries and thee · annoy the people.
Ye shall atone for it both · by God that me made!
Well wot ye, ye liars · unless your wit fails,
That Falsehood is faithless · and false in his works,
And was a bastard born · of Beelzebub's kin.
And Meed is a mistress · a maiden of wealth,
And might kiss the king · as his cousin, if she would.

'Therefore, work ye by wisdom · and by wit also,
And lead her to London · there law is declared,
If any law will allow · of their lying together.
And though justices judge her · to be joined with Falsehood,
Yet beware of their wedding · for a wise one is Truth
And Conscience is of his council · and knoweth you each one;
And if be find you in default · and with Falsehood hold,
It shall beset your souls · full sour at the last!'

Hereto assented Civil Law · but Simony would not
Till he had silver for his service · and also the notaries.
Then fetched Flattery forth · florins enough,
And bade Guile to give · gold all about,
And notably to the notaries · that them none might fail,
And fee False-Witness · with florins enough:
`For he can manage Meed · and make her assent.'

When this gold was given · great was the thanking
To Falsehood and Flattery · for their fair gifts;
And they came to comfort · from care this Falsehood
And said: `Certes, sir · cease shall we never
Till Meed be thy wedded wife · through the wits of us all.
For we have Meed managed · with our merry speech,
That she granteth to go · with a very good will
To London to look · if that the law would
Adjudge you jointly · in joy for ever.'

Piers The Plowman, Passus II, p. 17
Then was Falseness fain · and Flattery as blithe,
And caused all men to be summoned · from the shires about,
And bade them be bound · beggars and others,
To wend with them to Westminster · to witness this deed.

But then looked they for horses · to carry them thither,
And Flattery fetched forth then · foals enough,
And set Meed on a sheriff · all newly shod;
Falsehood sat on an assessor · that softly trotted;
Flattery on a flatterer · finely attired.

Then had notaries none · annoyed they were
That Simony and Civil Law · should on their feet go.
But then swore Simony · and Civil Law both
That summoners should be saddled · and serve them each one,
And had provisoes apparalled · in palfrey wise.
`Sir Simony himself · shall sit their backs.

`Deans and subdeans · draw you together,
Archdeacons and officials · and all your registrars,
Saddle them with silver · our sin to sanction,
As adultery and divorces · and secret usury,
To bear bishops about · on visitations.

`Partisans of the Paulines · for plaints in consistory
Shall serve myself · that Civil Law is called;
And cart-saddle the commissary · our cart shall he draw,
And fetch forth our victuals · from fornicators' fines.

`And make of Liar a long cart · to draw all these others,
Such as friars and false fellows · that on their feet run.'
And thus Falsehood and Flattery · fared forth together,
And Meed in the midst · and all these men after.
I have no time to tell · the tail that them followed,
Of many manner of men · that on this mould live;
But Guile was foregoer · and guided them all.

Truth saw them well · and said but a little,
But pricked his palfrey · and passed them all,
And came to the king's court · and Conscience it told.
And Conscience to the king · rehearsed it after.
`Now by Christ!' quoth the king · `if I might catch
Falsehood or Flattery · or any of his fellows,
I would wreak on those wretches · that work so ill,
Make them hang by the neck · and all that maintain them!
Shall no man on this mould · go bail for the least,

Piers The Plowman, Passus II, p. 18
But right as law shall allow · let it fall on them all.'

And commanded a constable · the first one that came,
To, 'Arrest those tyrants · at any cost, I bid;
And fetter Falsehood fast · in spite of any gifts
And get off Guile's head · and let him go not.
And if ye light on Liar · let him not escape
Ere he be put in pillory · for any prayer, I bid;
And bring ye Meed to me · in spite of them all.'

Dread at the door stood · and the doom heard,
And how the king commanded · constables and sergeants
Falseness and his fellowship · to fetter and to bind.
Then Dread went quickly · and warned Falsehood
And bade him flee for fear · and his fellows all.

Falsehood for fear then · fled to the friars.
And Guile started to go · aghast for to die.
But merchants met with him and made him abide
And shut him in their shops · to show their wares,
And apparelled him as a prentice · the people to serve.

Lightly then Liar · leaped away,
Lurking through lanes · lugged about by many.
He was nowhere welcome · for his many tales,
Everywhere hooted · and hustled away;
Till pardoners had pity · and pulled him indoors.
They washed him and wiped him and wound him in clouts;
And sent him with seals · on Sundays to churches,
To give pardons for pence · by pounds at a time.
Then looked at him leeches · and letter they sent
That he should live with them · and look at men's water.
Spicers spoke with him · to inspect their wares,
For he kenned their craft · and knew many gums.
But minstrels and messengers · met with him once
And held him an half-year · and eleven days.

Friars with fair speech · fetched him thence,
And lest others should know him · dressed him as a friar.
But he hath leave to leap out · as oft as him liketh,
And is welcome when he will · to stay with them oft.

All fled for fear · and were hiding in holes;
Save Meed the Maid · no man durst abide.
But truly to tell · she trembled for dread,
Her hands wrung, and wept · when she was arrested.

 

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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)