Piers Plowman




`CEASE now!' saith the king · `I suffer you no longer,
Ye shall agree, forsooth · and then serve me both.
Kiss her,' quoth the king · `Conscience, I bid thee.'

`Nay, by Christ!' quoth Conscience · 'dismiss me for ever!
Unless Reason rede me thereto · rather will I die.'

`And I command thee,' quoth the king · to Conscience then,
'Be ready to ride and · Reason thou fetch;
Command him that he come · my counsel to hear.
For he shall rule my realm · and rede me the best,
And account with thee, Conscience · so me Christ help!
How thou lessonest the people · the learned and unlearned.'

`I am glad of that charge' · said the man then,
And rode right to Reason · rehearsed in his ear,
And said as the king bade · and soon took his leave.

`I shall array me to ride,' quoth Reason · rest thee awhile';
And called Cato his knave · courteous of speech,
And also Tom-true-tongue- · tell-me-no-tales-
Nor-lies-for-to-laugh-at- · for-l-loved-them-never;
'And set saddle upon Suffer- · till-I-see-my-time,
And girdle it well · with Wise-Word's girths,
Hang on the heavy bridle · to hold his head low,
For he will neigh more than once · ere that he be there.'

Then Conscience on his courser · fareth forth fast
And Reason with him rode · rehearsing together
What masteries Meed · maketh on this earth.

One Warren Wisdom · and Witty his fellow
Followed them fast · they had business to do,
In Exchequer and at Chancery · to be discharged:
And rode fast, for Reason · should advise them best
For to save them, for silver · from shame and from harm.

And Conscience knew them well · they loved covetousness,
And bade Reason ride fast · and reek of them neither.
'There are wiles in their words · and with Meed they dwell;
Where wrath is and wrangling · there win they silver;
But where loyalty and love is · they will not come near.

Contritia & in felicitas in viis eorum, etc.
Piers The Plowman, Passus IV, p. 29
They will give naught for God · not even one goose wing,
Non est timor Dei ante oculos eorum.
For, God knows, they would do more · for a dozen chickens
Or as many capons · or for a sack of oats,
Than for the love of our Lord · or all his loyal saints.
Therefore, Reason, let those rich ones · ride by themselves,
For Conscience knows them not · nor does Christ, as I think.'
And then Reason rode fast · on the right highway,
As Conscience advised · till they came to the king.

Courteously the king then · came to meet Reason,
And between himself and his son · set him on a bench,
And they talked most wisely · a great while together.
Then came Peace into parliament · and put forth a bill --
How Wrong against his will · had his wife taken,
How he had ravished Rose · Reginald's love,
And Margaret her maidenhood · not minding her kicks.
Both my poultry and pigs · his purveyors fetch;
I dare not for fear of him · fight or complain.
He borrowed my bay horse · and brought him home never,
Nor no farthing there for · for aught I could plead.
He maintaineth his men · to murder my menials,
Fighteth in my markets · and forestalleth my fairs,
Breaketh up my barn door · beareth off my wheat,
And for ten quarters of oats · tenders a tally;
He beats me also · and lies with my maid --
I am not brave enough · to give him a look.'
The king knew he said sooth · for Conscience him told
Wrong was a wicked wretch · who wrought much sorrow.

Wrong was afeared then · and Wisdom he sought
To make peace with his pence · and proffered him many,
And said: 'Had I the king's love · little would I reek,
Though Peace and his power · complained for ever.'

Then went Wisdom · and Sir Warren the witty,
For that Wrong had wrought · so wicked a deed,
And warned Wrong then · with this wise tale:
`Whoso worketh wilfully · wrath maketh oft;
I say it of thyself · thou shalt it well find.
Except Meed it mend · thy mischief is certain,
For both thy life and thy land · lie in his grace.'

Then wooed Wrong · Wisdom full hard
To make peace with his pence · paid out on the sly.

Piers The Plowman, Passus IV, p. 30
Wisdom and Wit then · went they together
And took Meed along · with them mercy to win.

Peace put forth his head · and his bloody pate:
`Without guilt, God knoweth · got I this harm;
Conscience and the Commons · know I speak sooth.'

But Wisdom and Wit · worked away fast
To come over the king · with money, if they might.

The king swore, by Christ · and by his crown both,
That Wrong for his works · should woe endure,
And commanded a constable · to cast him in irons,
`And let him not in seven years · see his feet once.'

`God knows,' quoth Wisdom · 'that were not the best,
If he make amends · let Surety have him
And be bail for his baseness · and buy his well-being,
So amend what is misdone · and evermore be better.'
Wit accorded therewith · and said the same:
`Better it is that good · evil down bring,
Than evil be beaten · and good never the better.'

Then began Meed to moan · and mercy besought.
And proffered Peace a present · all of pure gold.
`Have this, man, of me,' quoth she · `to amend thy scathe,
For I will wager for Wrong · he will do so no more.'

Piteously Peace then · prayed to the king
To have mercy on that man · that misdid him so oft;
`For he hath pledged me well · as Wisdom him taught,
And I forgive him that guilt · with a good will,
So that the king assent · I can say no better,
For Meed hath made me amends · and I may no more ask.'

`Nay,' quoth the king then · `so me Christ help!
Wrong mendeth not so away · first will I know more;
For if let off so lightly · laugh loud he would,
And afterwards bolder be · to beat my subjects.
Unless Reason have ruth on him · he shall rest in my stocks,
And that as long as he liveth · except Lowliness him bail.'

Some men prompted Reason · to have pity on that wretch,
And counselled the king · and Conscience after;
And that Meed might be surety · Reason besought.

`Tell me not,' quoth Reason · `pity to have,
Till lords and ladies · all love truth
And hate all wickedness · to hear it or speak it;
Till Pernel puts her pretty things · away in her drawer;

Piers The Plowman, Passus IV, p. 31
And cherishing of children · be by chastening with rods;
And holiness of rascals · be held not a marvel;
Till covetousness of clerks · the poor clothes and feeds:
And roaming religious sing · Recordare in cloister,
As Saint Benet them bade · Bernard and Francis;
And till preachers' preaching · be proved on themselves;
And till the king's counsel · be common profit;
Till bishops' bay mares · buy shelter for beggars,
Their hawks and their hounds · help for poor religious.

`And till Saint James be sought · where the poor sick be,
So none go to Galicia · but to stay there for ever;
And all the Rome-runners · to robbers beyond
Bear no silver over sea · that shows the king's sign,
Neither graven nor ungraven · golden nor silver,
Upon forfeiture of that fee · whoso finds him at Dover,
Except he be merchant or his man · or messenger with letters,
Provisor or priest · or penitent for his sins.
And yet,' quoth Reason, `by the Rood · I shall no ruth have
While Meed hath the mastery · in this moot-hall
But I may shew examples · as I see otherwiles.
I say for myself,' quoth he · 'and it so were
That I were king with a crown · to care for a realm,
Should never wrong in this world · that I might know,
Be unpunished in my power · on peril of my soul!
Nor get my grace for gifts · so me God save!
Nor for no Meed have mercy · except she be meek.

`For nullum malum the men · met with impunitatem
And bade nullum bonum · be irremuneratum.

'Let your confessor, sir king · construe this without gloss;
And if ye put it to test · I pledge both my ears
That Law shall turn labourer · and spread dung afield,
And Love lead thy land · as thou likest best!'

Clerks that were confessors · coupled them together
All to construe this clause · and for the king's profit,
Nor for comfort of the commons · nor for the king's soul.

For I saw Meed in the moot-hall · on men of law wink,
And they laughing leaned to her · and many left Reason.

Warren Wisdom · winked upon Meed
And said: 'Madam, I am your man · whatever my mouth say;
I fall in with florins,' quoth that fellow · 'and then my speech fails.'

Piers The Plowman, Passus IV, p. 32
All the righteous recorded · that Reason told truth,
Wit accorded therewith and · commended his words,
And most people in the hall · and many of the great
Held Meekness the master · and Meed a vile shrew.

Love held her lightly · and Loyalty still less,
And said it so loudly · that all the hall heard:
'Whoso wants her for wife · for the wealth of her goods,
If he be not a cuckold · then cut off my nose.'

Meed mourned then · and made heavy cheer,
For the commons in that court · called her an whore.
But a sizer and a summoner · pursued her fast,
And a sheriff's clerk · cursed all the rout,
'For often have I,' quoth he · 'helped you at bar
And yet gave ye me never · the worth of a rush.'

The king called Conscience · and afterwards Reason
And recorded that Reason · had rightfully shown;
And moodily upon Meed · with might the king looked,
Waxed wroth with Law · Meed almost had fouled it,
And said: 'Through your law · I lose many escheats;
Meed over-mastereth Law · and Truth mightily hinders.
Reason shall reckon with you · if I reign any while,
And judge you, by this day · as you have deserved.
Meed shall not bail you by · Mary of heaven!
I will have loyalty in law · and stop all your jangling,
And as most folk witness well · Wrong shall be sentenced.'

Quoth Conscience to the king · `If the commons assent not
`Tis full hard, by mine head · thereto to bring it,
All of your liege-men · to lead thus aright.'

`By him racked on the wood' · quoth Reason to the king,
`If I rule not your realm · rend out my ribs!
If ye order Obedience · to be on my side.'

`And I assent,' saith the king · `by Saint Mary my lady!
When my council comes · of clerks and of earls.
But readily, Reason · thou shalt not ride from me,
For as long as I live · I will not let thee go.'

'I am ready,' quoth Reason · 'to rest with you ever;
If Conscience will be of our council · I care for no better.'
'And I grant,' quoth the king · `God forbid that it fail!
As long as our life lasteth · live we together.'


  Back to Passus III | 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 (