Piers Plowman




Now is Meed the Maid · and no more of them all,
With beadles and bailiffs · brought before the king.
The king called a clerk · (I know not his name)
To take Meed the Maid · and make her at ease.
'I shall try her myself · and truly inquire
What man of this earth · is dearest to her.
And if she works by my wisdom · and my will follows
I will forgive her this guilt · so me God help!'

Courteously the clerk then · as the king ordered,
Took Meed by the middle · and brought her indoors,
And there was mirth and minstrelsy · Maid Meed to please.
They that harboured in Westminster · honoured her all;
And gently with joy · of the justices some,
Betook them to the bower · where the bride dwelled
To comfort her kindly · with Learning's leave;
And said: 'Mourn not thou Meed · nor make no sorrow,
For we will counsel the king · and thy way shape
To be wedded at thy will · and where thy love liketh,
For all Conscience's care · or craft, as I trow.'

Mildly Meed then · thanked them all
For their great goodness · and gave them each one
Cups of clean gold · and cups of silver,
Rings also with rubies · and rich things many,
The least men of her train · money of gold.
Then took they their leave · these lords, of Meed.

With that came clerks · to comfort her too
And bade her be blithe · `for we be thine own
For to work thy will · so long as thou last.'
Prettily she then · promised them the same,
To `love you loyally · and lords to make,
And in consistory of the court · to call out your names;
Lack of wit shall not hinder · the man that I love
That he be well advanced · for I am known
Where cunning clerks · shall be left behind.'

Then came there a confessor · clothed as a friar;
To Meed the Maid · he muttered these words
And said full softly · in shrift as it were:

Piers The Plowman, Passus III, p. 20
'Though ignorant men and learned · had lain by thee both
And Falseness had followed thee · these fifty winters,
I shall absolve thee myself · for a horse-load of wheat,
Also be thy bedesman · and bear well thy message
Amongst knights and clerks · Conscience to turn.'
Then Meed for her misdeeds · to that man kneeled,
And shrove her of her sinfulness · shamelessly, I trow,
Told him a tale · and tendered a noble
For to be her bedesman · and her broker too.

Then soon he absolved her · and afterwards said:
`We have a window a-making · will mulct us in much;
Wouldst thou glaze that gable · and grave on it thy name,
Surer should thy soul be · heaven to have.'

'Wist I that,' quoth that woman · 'I would not spare
For to be your friend, friar · and fail you never
All the while you love lords · that lechery haunt
And blame not the ladies · that love well the same.
`Tis but frailty of flesh · you find it in books --
In the course of nature · whereof we all come;
If you scandal escape · scathe is soon mended;
It's the sin of the seven · soonest forgiven.

'Have you mercy,' quoth Meed · 'on men that it haunt
And I shall cover your church · and your cloister make,
Your walls well whiten · and their windows glaze,
Do painting and picturing · and pay for the making,
That all seeing it shall say · `of your house I'm a sister.'

But God to all good folk · such graving forbiddeth,
To write so in windows · of their worthy deeds,
Lest pride be painted there · and pomp of the world.
For Christ knoweth thy conscience · thy inmost intention,
The cost and thy covetousness · and whose was the wealth.

Therefore I advise you, lords · leave ye such works,
To write up in windows · of your worthy deeds
Or call for God's men · when ye deal out doles,
Lest ye have your reward here · and your Heaven also.

Nesciat sinistra quid faciat dextra.
Let not thy left half · later or sooner,
Know what thou workest · with thy right side;
For thus bids the Gospel · good men to do alms.

Mayors and mace-bearers · the means are between
The king and the commons · to see the law kept,

Piers The Plowman, The Vision, p. 21
To punish on pillories · and punishment stools
Brewers and bakers · butchers and cooks,
For these are this world's men · that work the most harm
To the poor people · that must buy piece-meal.

For they poison the people · privily and oft,
Get rich by retailing · and buy themselves rents
With what the poor people · should put in their bellies;
For traded they truly · they'd have built not so high,
Nor bought any ground-rents · be full certain of that!

But now Meed the Maid · the mayor hath besought
Of all such sellers · silver to take,
Or presents without pence · as goblets of silver,
Rings or other riches · trade's frauds to maintain.

`For my love,' quoth that lady · `love them each one,
And suffer them to sell · somewhat against reason.'

Solomon the sage · a sermon he made
For to amend mayors · and men that guard laws,
And told them this theme · that I think to tell:

Ignis devorabit tabernacula eorum qui libenter accipiunt munera, etc.
Among lettered men · this Latin is to mean
That fire shall fall and burn · all to blue ashes
The houses and the homes · of them that desire
Presents or briberies · because of their office.

The king from council came · and called after Meed,
And sent for her quickly · with sergeants many,
That brought her to bower · with bliss and with joy.

Courteously the king then · commenced to talk
To Meed the Maiden · speaking these words:
`Unwisely, woman · wrought hast thou oft;
But worse wroughtest thou never · than when Falsehood you took.
But I forgive thee that guilt · and grant thee my grace;
Hence on, to thy death day · do so no more!

'I have a knight, Conscience · come of late from beyond.
If he willeth thee to wife · wilt thou him have?'
'Yea, lord,' quoth that lady · `the Lord forbid else!
If I be not wholly at your best · let me hang soon!'

And then was Conscience called · to come and appear
Before king and council · the clerks and the others.
Kneeling, then Conscience · to the king louted
To learn what his will were · and what he should do.

` 'Wilt thou wed this woman,' quoth the king · 'if I will assent?

Piers The Plowman, The Vision, p. 22
For she is fain of my fellowship · for to be thy mate.'

Quoth Conscience to the king · `Christ it me forbid!
Ere I wed such a wife · woe me betide!
For she is frail of her faith · fickle of her speech,
And maketh men misdo · many score times,
Trust in her treasure · betrayeth full many.
To wives and widows · wantonness she teacheth,
And learneth them lechery · that love her gifts.
Your father she felled · through her false behest,
And hath poisoned popes · and impaired Holy Church.
There is no better bawd · by him that me made!
Though me search through the earth · between heaven and hell.
For she is lecherous in her looks · and loose in her tongue,
Common as a cart-road · to each knave that walks,
To monks and to minstrels · and lepers in hedges.
Assessors and summoners · such men her praise;
Sheriffs of shires were ruined · if she were not.
For she makes men to lose · their land and life both.
She letteth pass prisoners · and pays for them often,
Giveth gold to gaolers · and great groats as well
To unfetter the false · to flee where they like;
And taketh the true man by the top-knot · and tieth him fast
And hangeth him for hatred · that harm never did.
To be cursed by a council · she counts not a rush,
For she clotheth the commissory · and covers his clerks;
She's absolved as soon · as herself liketh,
And may nigh as much do · in one single month
As your secret seal · in six score of days.
For she is privy with the pope · provisors it know
For Sir Simony and herself · seal all their bulls.

`She blesseth the bishops · though they be unlearned
Provideth for parsons · and priests enableth
To have lemans and lovers · all through their lives
And beget them babies · though the law forbids.
Where she is well with the king · woe is the realm,
For she favoureth the false · and fouleth truth oft.

`By Jesus! with her jewels · your judges she shames,
Lieth against Law · and gets in his way
That Faith may not pass by · her florins are so thick.
She leadeth the law as she list · and law-days maketh,
And makes men lose through her love · that the law may win;

Piers The Plowman, The Vision, p. 23
A Poor Person's perplexed · though he plead for ever.
Law is So lordly · and loth to make end;
Without Presents or pence · she pleaseth full few.

`Barons and burghers she · brings into sorrows,
And the commons to care · that would live in truth;
For clerkship and coveting · she coupleth together.
This is the life of that lady · the Lord give her sorrow!
And all that maintaineth her men · mischance them betide!
For poor men have no power · to complain, though they smart,
Such a master is Meed · among men of wealth.'

Then mourned Meed · and moaned to the king
To have space to speak · succeed if she might.

The king granted her grace · with a good will:
`Excuse thee if thou canst · I can no more say,
For Conscience accuseth thee · to cast thee off for ever.'

`Nay, lord,' quoth that lady · `believe him the less,
When ye understand truly · where the wrong lieth.
Where that mischief is great · Maid Meed may help.
And thou knowest, Conscience · I came not to chide
Nor deprave thy person · with a proud heart.
Well thou knowest, liar · unless thou wilt be,
How thou hast been with me · eleven times,
And griped at my gold · to give where thee liked;
And why thou art wrathful now · a wonder methinketh.
Yet I may, if I might · make to thee gifts
And maintain thy manhood · more than thou knowest.

`But thou hast famed me foully · before the king here.
For killed I never no king · nor counselled thereafter
Nor did as thou deemest · I appeal to the king!

`In Normandy was he not · annoyed for my sake.
But thou thyself soothly · shamedst him oft;
Crept into a cabin · for cold of thy nails,
Weening that winter · would have lasted for ever,
And didst dread to be dead · because of the downpour
And hiedest thou homeward · for hunger of guts.

`Without pity, pillager · poor men thou didst spoil
And bore their brass on thy back · to Calais to sell.
While I lingered with my lord · his life for to save;
I made his men merry · and mended their mourning.
I patted their backs and · emboldened their hearts
And made them hop for hope · of my help at their will.

Piers The Plowman, The Vision, p. 24
Had I been marshal of his men · by Mary of heaven!
I durst have laid my life · and no less a pledge,
He should have been lord of that land · in length and in breadth,
And also bring of that country · his kin for to help --
The least brat of his blood · the peer of a baron.

`Cowardly thou, Conscience · counselled him thence
To leave all his lordship · for a little silver,
And that the richest realm · that rain hovereth over.

`It becometh a king · that keepeth a realm
To give meed to men · that meekly him serve,
To aliens and to all men · to honour them with gifts.
Meed maketh him loved · and for a man holden.
Emperors and earls · and all manner of lords
For gifts have young men · to run and to ride.
The pope and all prelates · presents accept
And fee men themselves · to maintain their laws.
Servants for their service · we see well the sooth,
Take meed of their masters · as they may agree.
Beggars for their begging · beg of men meed;
And minstrels for their mirth · meed do they ask.
The king hath meed of his men · to make peace in the land;
Men that teach children · crave of them meed.
Priests that preach to the people · for goodness, ask meed,
And mass-pence and their meat · at their meal times.
All kinds of craftsmen · crave meed for their prentice;
Merchants and meed · must needs go together.
No wight, as I ween · without me, Meed, may live.'

Quoth the king to Conscience · 'By Christ! as methinketh
Meed is well worthy · the mastery to have.'

`Nay,' quoth Conscience to the king · and kneeled to the earth,
`There are two manner of meeds · my lord, with your leave.
The one, God of his grace · granteth, in his bliss,
To those that do good deeds · the while they are here.
The prophet preacheth thereof · and put it in the Psatter:

Domine, quis habitabit in tabernaculo tuo?
"Lord, who shall dwell in thy dwellings · and with thy holy saints,
Or rest on thine holy hills?" · this asked David.

`And David answered himself · as the Psalter telleth:

Qui ingreditur sine macula, & operaturjustitiam.
"Those spotless that enter · and all of one will,
And have wrought their works · with right and with reason;
Piers The Plowman, The Vision, p. 25
And he that useth not · the life of usury,
And instructeth poor men · and pursueth truth;
Qui pecuniam suam non dedit ad usuram, et munera super innocentem, etc.
And all that helpeth the innocent · and hold with the rightful,
And without meed do them good · and the truth helpeth."
Such manner of men, lord · shall have this first meed
Of God, at their great need · when they go hence.

`There is another meed, measureless · that masters desire.
To maintain misdoers · meed they do take;
And thereof saith the psalter · at a psalms' end,

In quorum munibus iniquitates sunt, dextra eorum repleta est muneribus;
And he that graspeth her gold · so me God help!
Shall abide it bitterly · or the Book lieth!

`Priests and parsons · that pleasure desire
And take meed and money · for the masses they sing,
Receive their meed here · as Matthew us teacheth:

Amen, amen, receperunt mercedem suam.
That which labourers and low folk · take of their masters
Is in no manner meed · but a moderate hire.

`In merchandise is no meed · I may well it avow:
It is clearly exchange · one pennyworth for another.

`But readest thou never Regum · thou recreant Meed,
Why the vengeance fell · on Saul and his children?
God sent to Saul · by Samuel the prophet
That Agag of Amalek · and all his people after
Should die for a deed · that their elders had done.
"So," said Samuel to Saul · "God himself biddeth
Thee be true at his bidding · his will to fulfil.
Wend to Amalek with thine host · and what thou findest there, slay it:
Both men and their beasts · burn them to death;
Widows and wives · women and children,
Chattels and fixtures · and all that thou findest,
Burn, and bear not away · be it never so rich,
For meed nor for money · look thou destroy it,
Spill it and spare it not · thou shalt speed the better."

`Because he coveted cattle · and the king spared,
Spared both him and his beasts · the Bible witnesseth,
Otherwise than he was warned · by the prophet,

Piers The Plowman, The Vision, p. 26
God said then to Samuel · that Saul should die,
And his seed for that sin · shamefully end.
Such a mischief Meed · made King Saul to have
That God hated him for ever · and all his heirs after.
The conclusion of this case · I care not to show;
For fear that it vex men · no end will I make.
For so is this world's way · with them that have power,
That whoso saith sooth · is the soonest blamed.

`I, Conscience, know this · Mother-Wit me it taught,
That Reason shall reign · and the realms govern.
As it happened to Agag · shall happen to others.
Samuel shall slay him · and Saul shall be blamed,
And David shall be diademed · and subdue them all;
And one Christian king shall · care for them all.

'Meed shall no more be master · as she is now,
But Love and Lowliness · and Loyalty together,
These shall be masters on earth · Truth to save.

`And who trespasseth against Truth · or traverseth his will,
Loyalty shall judge him · no living man else.
Shall no serjeant for service · wear a silk hood
And no fur on his cloak · for pleading at bar.
Meed of many misdoers · maketh more lords,
And over the lords' laws · ruleth the realms.

`But man's Love shall come yet · and Conscience together,
And make Law a labourer · such love shall arise
And such peace among the people · and a perfect truth
That Jews shall ween in their wits · and wax wondrous glad,
That Moses or Messiah · be come into this earth,
And have wonder in their hearts · that men be so true.

`All that bear a dagger · broad sword or lance,
An axe or an hatchet · or any weapon else
Shall be doomed to the death · if he have it not smithed
Into sickle or scythe · into plow-share or coulter.

Conflabunt gladios suos in vomeres, etc.
Each man to play with a plow · a pick-axe or spade,
Spin, or spread dung · or perish in sloth.

`All priests and parsons · shall hunt with placebo And cry upon David · each day until eve.
Hunting or hawking · if any of them use,
The boast of his benefice · shall be taken from him.

Piers The Plowman, The Vision, p. 27
Shall neither king nor knight · constable nor mayor,
Oppress the commons · nor summon to court
Not empanel them on juries · to make them plight truth
But according to the deed done one · judgment shall reward,
Mercy or no mercy · as Truth shall accord.

`King's court and common court · consistory and chapter,
All shall be but one court · and one baron judge:
Namely True-Tongue, a tidy man · that troubled me never.
Battles shall not be · nor no man bear weapon,
And what Smith that any maketh · be smitten therewith to death,

Non levabit gens contra gentem gladium, etc.
'And ere this fortune fall · men shall find the worst,
By six suns and a ship · and an half sheaf of arrows;
And the full of the moon · shall turn Jews to the Faith,
And Saracens at that sight · shall sing Gloria in excelsis, etc.,
For Mahomet and Meed · shall mishap at that time;
For melius est bonum nomen quam divitiae multa.'
As wroth as the wind then · waxed Meed in a while.
`I know no Latin,' quoth she · 'but clerks know the truth.
See what Solomon saith · in Wisdom book,
That they that giveth gifts · the victory win
And much worship have therewith · as holy writ telleth:
Honarem adquiret qui dat numera, etc.'
'I well believe, lady,' quoth Conscience · 'that thy Latin be true;
But thou art like a lady · that once read a lesson:
It was, Omnia probate · and that pleased her heart
For that line was no longer · being at the leaf's end.
Had she looked the other side · and turned the leaf over,
She would have found many words · following thereafter;
Quod bonum est tenete. · Truth made that text!
And so fared ye, madam! · Ye couldst no more find,
Though ye looked on Wisdom · sitting in your study.
This text that ye have told · were good for the lords
But you lacked a cunning clerk · that could the leaf turn!
And if ye seek Wisdom again · find shall ye that followeth
A full troublesome text · to them that take meed;
And that is, animam autem auferet accipientium, etc.
That is the tail of the text · of that that ye shewed:
That, though we win worship · and with meed have victory,
The soul that bribes taketh · is by so much in bonds.'


  Back to Passus II | Next Passus | Back to Langland Note


[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 (