Enthusiasms

Containing whatever I enthuse over

Piers Plowman

Posted by clissold345 on December 28, 2007

Piers Plowman is a Middle English allegorical narrative poem (written apparently by a William Langland). There are three main versions of the poem: A, B, and C. Parts of the poem are very lively. The quotes that I give are from the B text (in twenty books/passus).

A mouse advises the rats to let the cat be (even though it sometimes kills them):

‘Though we hadde ykilled the cat, yet sholde ther come another
To cracchen us and al oure kynde, though we cropen under benches.
Forthi I counseille al the commune to late the cat worthe,
And be we nevere so bolde the belle hym to shewe.
The while he caccheth conynges he coveiteth noght oure caroyne,
But fedeth hym al with venyson; defame we hym nevere.
For bettre is a litel los than a long sorwe:
The maze among us alle, theigh we mysse a sherewe!
For I herde my sire seyn, is seven yeer ypassed,
“Ther the cat is a kitoun, the court is ful elenge.”
That witnesseth Holy Writ, whoso wole it rede–
“Vae tibi, terra, cujus rex puer est.”
For may no renk ther reste have for ratons by nyghte.
For many mennes malt we mees wolde destruye,
And also ye route of ratons rende mennes clothes,
Nere the cat of the court that kan you overlepe;
For hadde ye rattes youre [raik] ye kouthe noght rule yowselve.
I seye for me’, quod the mous, ‘I se so muchel after,
Shal nevere the cat ne the kiton by my counseil be greved,
Ne carpynge of this coler that costed me nevere.
And though it costned me catel, biknowen it I nolde,
But suffren as hymself wolde [s]o doon as hym liketh–
Coupled and uncoupled to cacche what thei mowe.
Forthi ech a wis wight I warne — wite wel his owene!’ [Prologue]

Meed, a beautiful richly-dressed woman, speaks in favour of mede (reward, pay, bribery):

“It bicometh to a kyng that kepeth a reaume
To yeve men mede that mekely hym serveth —
To aliens and to alle men, to honouren hem with yiftes;
Mede maketh hym biloved and for a man holden.
Emperours and erles and alle manere lordes
Thorugh yiftes han yonge men to yerne and to ryde.
The Pope and alle prelates presents underfongen
And medeth men hemselven to mayntene hir lawes,
Servaunts for hire servyce, we seeth wel the sothe,
Taken mede of hir maistres, as thei mowe acorde.
Beggeres for hir biddynge bidden men mede.
Mynstrales for hir myrthe mede thei aske.
The Kyng hath mede of his men to make pees in londe.
Men that kenne clerkes craven of hem mede.
Preestes that prechen the peple to goode
Asken mede and massepens and hire mete also.
Alle kyn crafty men craven mede for hir prentices.
Marchaundise and mede mote nede go togideres:
No wight, es I wene, withouten Mede may libbe!” [Book/Passus 3]

Gluttony is on his way to church to be shriven but he stops off at the public house for a quick drink of spiced ale:

Now bigynneth Gloton for togoto shrifte,
And kaireth hym to kirkewarde his coupe to shewe.
Ac Beton the Brewestere bad hym good morwe
And asked of hym with that, whiderward he wolde.
“To holy chirche,” quod he, “for to here masse,
And sithen I wole be shryven, and synne na moore.”
” I have good ale, gossib,” quod she, ” Gloton, woltow assaye?”
” Hastow,” quod he, “any hote spices?”
“I have pepir and pione,” quod she, “and a pound of garleek,
A ferthyngworth of fenel seed for fastynge dayes.”
Thanne goth Gloton in, and grete othes after. [Book/Passus 5]

When Wastour refuses to work in return for food Piers sets Hunger on Wastour and his companion:

“I was noght wont to werche,” quod Wastour, “and now wol I noght bigynne!”
And leet light of the lawe, and lasse of the knyghte,
And sette Piers at a pese, and his plowgh bothe,
And manaced Piers and his men if thei mette eftsoone.
“Now, by the peril of my soule!” quod Piers, “I shal apeire yow alle!”
And houped after Hunger, that herde hym at the firste.
“Awreke me of thise wastours,” quod he, “that this world shendeth!”
Hunger in haste thoo hente Wastour by the mawe,
And wrong hym so by the wombe that al watrede hise eighen.
He buffetted the Bretoner aboute the chekes
That he loked lik a lanterne al his lif after.
He bette hem so bothe, he brast ner hire guttes;
Ne hadde Piers with a pese-lof preyed Hunger to cesse,
They hadde be dolven bothe — ne deme thow noon oother.
“Suffre hem lyve,” he [Piers] seide “and lat hem ete with hogges,
Or ellis benes and bren ybaken togideres.” [Book/Passus 6]

Christ, in the form of light, demands entry at the gates of hell:

Eft the light bad unlouke, and Lucifer answerde,
“Quis est iste?
What lord artow?” quod Lucifer. The light soone seide,
“Rex glorie,
The lord of myght and of mayn and alle manere vertues —
Dominus virtutum.
Dukes of this dymme place, anoon undo thise yates,
That Crist may come in, the Kynges sone of Hevene!”
And with that breeth helle brak, with Belialles barres —
For any wye or warde, wide open the yates.
Patriarkes and prophetes, populus in tenebris,
Songen Seint Johanes song, “Ecce Agnus Dei.”
Lucifer loke ne myghte, so light hym ablente. [Book/Passus 18]

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