Piers Plowman




TRUTH hereof heard tell · and to Piers he sent,
To take him his team · and to till the earth;
And provided a pardon · a poena et a culpa
For him, and for his heirs · for evermore after.
And bade him hold him at home · and plow up his fields,
And all that helped him to plow · to set or to sow,
Or any other work · that might Piers avail,
Pardon with Piers Plowman · Truth them hath granted.

Kings and knights · that keep Holy Church
And rightfully in realms · rule over the people
Have pardon through purgatory · to pass full lightly,
With patriarchs and prophets · in paradise to be fellows.

Bishops most blessed · if they be as they should,
Legists of both the laws · to preach to the lawless,
And inasmuch as they may · amend all sinners,
Are peers with the apostles · (this pardon Piers showeth),
And at the day of doom · at the high dais to sit.

Merchants to the good · had many years,
But none a poena et a culpa · would the pope them grant,
For they hold not her holy days · as Holy Church teacheth,
And they swear `by their souls' · and `so God must them help'
Clean against conscience · merchandise to sell.

But under his secret seal · Truth sent them a letter
That they should buy boldly · what they liked best,
And afterwards sell again · and save their profits
Therewith to amend maisons Dieu · and miserable folk help;
To repair rotten roads · where plainly required;
And to build up bridges · that were broken down;
Help maidens to marry · or make of them nuns;
Poor people and prisoners · to find them their food;
And set scholars to school · or to some other craft;
Relieve poor religious · and lower their rents --
'And I shall send you myself · Michael mine archangel,
That no devil shall you daunt · nor fright you at death,

Piers The Plowman, Passus VII, p. 61
And keep you from despair · if ye will thus work,
And send your souls safely · to my saints in joy.'

Then were merchants merry · many wept for joy,
And praised Piers the Plowman · that provided this bull.
Men of law less pardon had · that pleaded for Meed;
For the psalter saveth not them · such as taketh gifts,
And especially from innocents · that no evil know:

Super innocentem munera non accipies.
Pleaders should take much pains · to plead and help such;
Princes and prelates should · pay for their travail:
A regibus & principibus erit merces eorum.
But many justices and jurors · would do more for fees
Than pro Dei pietate · believe thou none other.
But he that spendeth his speech · and speaketh for the poor
That is innocent and needy · and no man oppresseth,
Comforteth them in that case · without coveting gifts,
And sheweth law for our Lord's love · as it hath learned,
Shall no devil at his death-day · daunt him with fear
That his soul is not safe · as witness the psalms:
Domine, quis habilabit in tabernaculo tuo, etc.
But to buy water, wind, wit · or fire, the fourth --
These four the Father of Heaven · made for his fold in common;
And these be Truth's treasures · true folk to help,
And Shall never wax nor wane · without God himself.

Those that pence of poor men · for their pleading take
Find their pardon full small · at their parting hence,
When they draw on to die · and indulgences would have.
Ye legists and lawyers · hold this for the truth,
That if that I lie · Matthew is to blame,
For he bade me write this · and this proverb told:

Quodcumque vultis ut faciant vobis homines, facite eis.
All living labourers · that live by their hands
And take the just wages · they honestly earn,
And live in love and in law · for their lowly hearts
Have the same absolution · that was sent to Piers.

Beggars and bidders · are not in the bull,
Unless the occasion be honest · that makes them to beg.
He that beggeth or cadgeth · unless he have need
Is as false as the fiend · and defraudeth the needy;
He beguileth the giver · all against his will
For if he wist he were not needy · he would give to another

Piers The Plowman, Passus VII, p. 62
That were more needy than he · so the neediest would be helped.
Cato teacheth men thus · and the Clerk of the Stories;
Cui des, videto · is Cato's teaching
And in the stories he teacheth to bestow thine alms well:
Sit elemosina tua in manu tua, donee studes cui des.
But Gregory was a good man · and bade give to all
That asketh for his love that giveth to us all:
Non eligas cui miserearis, ne forte praetei-eas illum qui meretur accipere.
Quia incertum est pro quo Deo magis placeas.
For wit ye never who is worthy · but God wot who hath need.
In him that taketh is the treachery · if treason there be;
For he that giveth, parteth · and prepareth him to rest,
But he that beggeth, borroweth · and bringeth himself in debt.
For beggars borrow evermore · and their bail is God
To repay those that give to them · with interest added:
Quare non dedisti pecuniam meam ad mensam,
Ut ego veniens cuin usuris exegissem illam?
Therefore beg not, ye beggars · unless ye've great need.
For whoso must buy him bread · the Book beareth witness,
Hath enough that hath bread enough · though he have naught else.
Satis dives est, qui non indiget pane.
Find habit and solace · in reading saints' lines;
The Book banneth begging · and blameth them thus:
Junior fui, et jam senui: et non vidi justum derelictum, nec semen ejus quaerens panem.
For ye live not in love and hold to no law.
Many of you wed not · the women you go with,
But like whinnying beasts · mount them and tread them,
And so bring forth children · that bastards men call.
If the back or some bone · is broken in youth,
Ye will exploit that child · for evermore after.
There is more misshaped people · among all these beggars
Than of other manner of men · that on this mould move.
And they that live thus their life · may well loathe the time
That ever he was born · when he shall hence fare.

But old men and hoary · without help or strength,
And all women with child · that can work no more,
The blind and bedridden · and broken in limb,
That bear mischief meekly · as lepers and others,
Have as plenary a pardon · as the plowman himself;
For love of their lowly hearts · our Lord hath them granted

Piers The Plowman, Passus VII, p. 63

Their penance and purgatory · here on this earth.
`Piers,' quoth a priest then · `thy pardon must I read,
For I will construe each clause · and tell it in English.'

And Piers at his prayer · the pardon unfoldeth,
And I behind both · beheld all the bull.
All in two lines it lay · and not a leaf more,
And was written right thus · in witness of Truth:

Et qui bona egerunt, ibunt in vitam aeternam;
qui vero mala, in ignem aeternum.
`Peter!' quoth the priest then · `I can no pardon find
But "Do well and have well · and God shall have thy soul;
But do evil and have evil · and after thy death-day
The Devil have thy soul · hope thou none other."'

And Piers in vexation · tore it in twain,
And said: `Si ambulavero in medio umbrae mortis non timebo mala:
quoniam tu mecum es.

`I shall cease from my sowing · and swink not so hard,
Nor about my belly-joy · so busy be more.
Of prayers and of penance · shall my plow be hereafter,
And I'll weep when I should sleep · though my wheat-bread fail.
The prophet his bread ate · in penance and sorrow,
And by what psalter saith · so did many others;
Whoso loveth God loyally · can live upon little:

Fuerunt mihi lacrimae meae panes die ac nocte.
`And, unless Saint Luke lie · he shows by the birds
We should not be too busy · about the world's bliss.
Ne solliciti sitis · he saith in the gospel,
And sheweth us by examples · our own selves to guide.
The fowls in the fields · who feeds them in winter?
They've no garner to go to · God finds for them all.'

'What!' quoth priest to Perkin · `Peter! as methinketh,
Thou art lettered a little · who learned thee thy book?'

`Abstinence the abbess,' quoth Piers · 'mine A B C taught me,
And Conscience came after · and taught me much more.'

`Wert thou priest, Piers,' quoth he · 'thou mightest preach where thou wouldest,
As a divine in divinity · with dixit insipiens for theme.'

`Ignorant fool!' quoth Piers · `little lookest thou on the Bible,
And the saws of Solomon · seldom thou seest:

Ejice derisores etjurgia cum eis, ne crescant, etc.'
Thus the priest and Perkin · opposed one to the other.
Piers The Plowman, Passus VII, p. 64
Through their words I awoke · and looked about
And saw the sun in the south · set at that time,
Meatless and moneyless · on Malvern hills
And musing on this vision · I went on my way.

Many times this vision · hath made me study
Of that I saw sleeping · if so it might be;
And also of Piers Plowman · full pensive in heart;
And what pardon he had · all the people to comfort,
And how the priest had impugned it · with just two words.
I've no savour in soothsaying · I see it oft fail;
And the canonists and Cato · counsel us not
To put faith in divining · for somnia ne cures.
But the book of the Bible · clearly bears witness
How Daniel divined · the dreams of a king,
That was Nebuchadnezzar · named by the clerks.
To whom Daniel said: 'Sir King · thy dream betokeneth
That unknown knights shall come · thy kingdom to cleave;
Amongst lower lords thy lands · shall be divided.'
And as Daniel divined · indeed it fell out,
The king lost his lordship · and lower men had it.
And Joseph dreamed marvellously · how the moon and sun
And the eleven stars of heaven · saluted him all.
Then Jacob judged · of Joseph's dream:
`Beaufils,' then quoth his father · 'for our lack we shall,
I myself and my sons · seek you in our need.'

As his father said it befell · in Pharaoh's time,
That Joseph was justice · Egypt to govern;
It befell as his father told · his friends there him sought.
And all this maketh me · on this dream to think:
And how the priest proved · no pardon like Do-well,
And deemed that good deeds · an indulgence surpassed,
And biennials and triennials · and letters of bishops.
And how Do-well at Doomsday · is honourable held,
Surpassing the pardon · of Saint Peter's church.

Now hath the pope power · to grant the people
Remission of penance · to pass into Heaven:
This is our belief · as lettered men teach us:

Quodeumque ligaveris super terram, erit ligature et in coelis, etc.
So I believe loyally · (the Lord forbid else!)
That pardon, penance, and prayers · cause to be saved
Piers The Plowman, Passus VII, p. 65
Souls that have sinned · seven times deadly.
But to trust to indulgences · truly methinketh,
Is not so safe for the soul · as it is to do well.

Therefore I advise all you · the rich on this earth
That on trust of your treasure · trentals can have,
Be ye never the bolder · to break the ten laws
And especially ye, masters · mayors, and judges,
Who for wise men are held · and have this world's wealth
To purchase your pardons · and the pope's bulls.
At the dreadful Doom · when the dead shall arise
And come all before Christ · their account to yield,
How thou leddest thy life · and here his laws kept,
And how thou didst day by day · the doom will declare:
Then a poke full of pardons · as provincials' letters,
Though found in the fraternity · of all the friars' orders
With doublefold indulgence · unless good deeds help you,
I put your patents and pardons · at one pea-pod's value!
Therefore I counsel Christians · to cry God mercy,
And Mary his mother · be our mediatrix,
That God give us grace here · ere that we go hence
That we may work such works · while we are here
That after our death-day · Do-well will declare
At the day of Doom that · we did as he bade.


  This is the end of the Vision (Psssus I-VII of Piers Plowman; The Section called Do-Well, Do Better, Do Best (Passus VIII to the end) follows; it recounts the dreamer's search for Truth. Passus XVIII, the Harrowing of Hell is available here; for the rest see the printed edition: William Langland, The Book Concerning Piers Plowman, tr. Donald and Rachel Attwater, ed.Rachel Attwater (Everyman, 1957), parts of which have been printed here with the permission of the publishers.

  Back to Passus VI | Back to Langland Note


Last modified: May, 2, 2006

Gold Texts on this page prepared and maintained by L. D. Benson (