Piers Plowman (Selection)

By William Langland

Edited by Jack Lynch

A quick-and-dirty transcription of the Prologue of the B text for classroom use — even though my very smart pal Lawrence Warner says there's no such thing.


In a somer seson, whan softe was the sonne,
I shoop me into shroudes as I a sheep were,
In habite as an heremite unholy of werkes,
Wente wide in this world wondres to here.
Ac on a May morwenynge on Malverne hilles [5]
Me bifel a ferly, of Fairye me thoghte.
I was wery forwandred and wente me to reste
Under a brood bank by a bourne syde;
And as I lay and lenede and loked on the watres,
I slombred into a slepyng, it sweyed so murye. [10]

Thanne gan [me] to meten a merveillous swevene
That I was in a wildernesse, wiste I nevere where.
As I biheeld into the eest an heigh to the sonne,
I seigh a tour on a toft trieliche ymaked,
A deep dale bynethe, a dongeon therinne, [15]
With depe diches and derke and dredfulle of sighte.
A fair feeld ful of folk fond I ther bitwene —
Of alle manere of men, the meene and the riche,
Werchynge and wandrynge as the world asketh.

Somme putten hem to the plough, pleiden ful selde, [20]
In settynge and sowynge swonken ful harde,
And wonnen that thise wastours with glotonye destruyeth
And somme putten hem to pride, apparailed hem therafter,
In contenaunce of clothynge comen disgised —
In preieres and penaunce putten hem manye, [25]
Al for the love of Oure Lord lyveden ful streyte
In hope to have heveneriche blisse —
As ancres and heremites that holden hem in hire selles,
Coveiten noght in contree to cairen aboute
For no likerous liflode hire likame to plese. [30]
And somme chosen chaffare; they cheveden the bettre —
As it semeth to oure sight that swiche men thryveth;
And somme murthes to make as mynstralles konne,
And geten gold with hire glee — ynnelees, I leeve —
Ac japeres and jangeleres, Judas children, [35]
Feynen hem fantasies, and fooles hem maketh —
And han wit at wille to werken if they wolde.
That Poul precheth of hem I wol nat preve it here:
Qui loquitur turpiloquium is Luciferes hyne.

Bidderes and beggeres faste aboute yede [40]
[Til] hire bely and hire bagge [were] bredful ycrammed,
Faiteden for hire foode, foughten at the ale.
In glotonye, God woot, go thei to bedde,
And risen with ribaudie, tho Roberdes knaves;
Sleep and sory sleuthe seweth hem evere. [45]

Pilgrymes and palmeres plighten hem togidere
For to seken Seint Jame and seintes at Rome;
Wenten forth in hire wey with many wise tales,
And hadden leve to lyen al hire lif after.
I seigh somme that seiden thei hadde ysought seintes: [50]
To ech a tale that thei tolde hire tonge was tempred to lye
Moore than to seye sooth, it semed bi hire speche.

Heremytes on an heep with hoked stavesa,
Wenten to Walsyngham — and hire wenches after:
Grete lobies and longe that lothe were to swynke [55]
Clothed hem in copes to ben knowen from othere,
And shopen hem heremytes hire ese to have.

I fond there freres, alle the foure ordres,
Prechynge the peple for profit of [the] womb[e]:
Glosed the gospel as hem good liked; [60]
For coveitise of copes construwed it as thei wolde.
Manye of thise maistres mowe clothen hem at likyng
For hire moneie and hire marchaundise marchen togideres.
Sith charite hath ben chapman and chief to shryve lordes
Manye ferlies han fallen in a fewe yeres. [65]
But Holy Chirche and hii holde bettre togidres
The mooste meschief on molde is mountynge up faste.

Ther preched a pardoner as he a preest were:
Broughte forth a bulle with bisshopes seles,
And seide that hymself myghte assoillen hem alle [70]
Of falshede of fastynge, of avowes ybroken. —
Lewed men leved hym wel and liked hise wordes,
Comen up knelynge to kissen his bulle.
He bonched hem with his brevet and blered hire eighen,
And raughte with his rageman rynges and broches. [75]
— Thus ye gyven youre gold glotons to helpe,
And leneth it losels that leccherie haunten“
Were the bisshop yblessed and worth bothe his eris,
His seel sholde noght be sent to deceyve the peple.
Ac it is noght by the bisshop that the boy precheth — [80]
For the parisshe preest and the pardoner parten the silver
That the povere [peple] of the parissche sholde have if they ne
were.

Persons and parisshe preestes pleyned hem to the bisshop
That hire parisshes weren povere sith the pestilence tyme,
To have a licence and leve at London to dwelle, [85]
And syngen ther for symonie, for silver is swete.
Bisshopes and bachelers, bothe maistres and doctours —
That han cure under Crist, and crownynge in tokene
And signe that thei sholden shryven hire parisshens,
Prechen and praye for hem, and the povere fede — [90]
Liggen at Londoun in Lenten and ellis.
Somme serven the King and his silver tellen,
In Cheker and in Chauncelrie chalangen his dettes
Of wardes and of wardemotes, weyves and streyves.
And somme serven as servaunts lordes and ladies, [95]
And in stede of stywardes sitten and demen.
Hire messe and hire matyns and many of hire houres
Arn doone undevoutliche; drede is at the laste
Lest Crist in Consistorie acorse ful manye!

I parceyved of the power that Peter hadde to kepe — [100]
To bynden and unbynden, as the Book telleth —
How he it lefte with love as Oure Lord highte
Amonges foure vertues, most vertuous of alle vertues,
That cardinals ben called and closynge yates
There Crist is in kyngdom, to close and to shette, [105]
And to opene it to hem and hevene blisse shewe.
Ac of the Cardinals at court that kaughte of that name
And power presumed in hem a Pope to make
To han the power that Peter hadde. impugnen I nelle —
For in love and in lettrure the eleccion bilongeth; [110]
Forthi I kan and kan naught of court speke moore.

Thanne kam ther a Kyng: Knyghthod hym ladde;
Might of the communes made hym to regne.
And thanne cam Kynde Wit and clerkes he made,
For to counseillen the Kyng and the Commune save. [115]
The Kyng and Knyghthod and Clergie bothe
Casten that the Commune sholde hem [communes] fynde.
The Commune contreved of Kynde Wit craftes,
And for profit of al the peple plowmen ordeyned
To tilie and to travaille as trewe lif asketh. [120]
The Kyng and the Commune and Kynde Wit the thridde
Shopen lawe and leaute — eeh lif to knowe his owene.
Thanne loked up a lunatik, a leene thyng withalle,
And knelynge to the Kyng clergially he seide,
“Crist kepe thee, sire Kyng, and thi kyngryche, [125]
And lene thee lede thi lond so leaute thee lovye,
And for thi rightful rulyng be rewarded in hevene"”
And sithen in the eyr on heigh an aungel of hevene
Lowed to speke in Latyn — for lewed men ne koude
Jangle ne jugge that justifie hem sholde, [130]
But suffren and serven — forthi seide the aungel:
"Sum Rex, sum Princeps,” — neutrum fortasse deinceps”
O qui iura regis Christi specialia regis,
Hoc qiiod agas nielius — iustus es, esto pius”
Nudum ius a te vestiri vult pietate. [135]
Qualia vis nietere, talia grana sere:
Si ius nudatur, nudo de iure metatur;
Si seritur pietas, de pietate metas'.

Thanne greved hym a goliardeis, a gloton of wordes,
And to the aungel an heigh answerde after: [140]
Dum “rex” a “regere” dicatur nomen habere,
Nomen habet sine re nisi studet iura tenere.”

Thanne [c]an al the commune crye in vers of Latyn
To the Kynges counseil — construe whoso wolde —
“Precepta Regis sunt nobis vincula legis”'
With that ran ther a route of ratons at ones
And smale mees myd hem: mo than a thousand [145]
Comen to a counseil for the commune profit;
For a cat of a court cam whan hym liked
And overleep hem lightliche and laughte hem at his wille, [150]
And pleide with hem perillousli and possed aboute.
“For doute of diverse dredes we dar noght wel loke”
And if we grucche of his gamen he wol greven us alle —
Cracchen us or clawen us and in hise clouches holde.
That us lotheth the lif er he late us passe. [155]
Mighte we with any wit his wille withstonde,
We myghte be lordes olofte and lyven at oure ese'.
A raton of renoun, moost renable of tonge,
Seide for a sovereyn [salve] to hem alle,
“I have yseyen segges,“ quod he, “in the Cite of Londoun [160]
Beren beighes ful brighte abouten hire nekkes,
And somme colers of crafty work; uncoupled they wenden
Bothe in wareyne and in waast where hem leve liketh,
And outher while thei arn elliswhere, as I here telle.
Were ther a belle on hire beighe, by Jesus, as me thynketh, [165]
Men myghte witen wher thei wente and awey renne.
And right so,“ quod that raton, “reson me sheweth
To bugge a belle of bras or of bright silver
And knytten it on a coler for oure commune profit
And hangen it upon the cattes hals — thanne here we mowen [170]
Wher he ryt or rest or rometh to pleye;
And if hym list for to laike, thanne loke we mowen
And peeren in his presence the while hym pleye liketh,
And if hym wratheth, be war and his wey shonye'.
Al the route of ratons to this reson assented; [175]
Ac tho the belle was ybrought and on the beighe hanged
Ther ne was raton in al the route, for al the reaume of France,
That dorste have bounden the belle aboute the cattes nekke,
Ne hangen it aboute his hals al Engelond to wynne,
[Ac] helden hem unhardy and hir counseil feble, [180]
And leten hire laboure lost and al hire longe studie.
A mous that muche good kouthe, as me tho thoughte,
Strook forth sternely and stood bifore hem alle,
And to the route of ratons reherced thise wordes:
“Though we hadde ykilled the cat, yet sholde ther come another [185]
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. [190]
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 — [195]
Ve terre ubi puer rex est, &c.
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; [200]
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, [205]
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!”
(What this metels bymeneth, ye men that ben murye,
Devyne ye — for I ne dar, by deere God in hevene)! [210]
Yet hoved ther an hundred in howves of selk —
Sergeants, it semed, that serveden at the Barre,
Pleteden for penyes and pounded the lawe,
And noght for love of Oure Lord unlose hire lippes ones.
Thow myghtest bettre meete myst on Malverne Hilles [215]
Than get a “mom' of hire mouth til moneie be shewed!
Barins and burgeises and bondemen als
I seigh in this assemblee, as ye shul here after;
Baksteres and brewesteres and bochiers manye,
Wollen webbesters and weveres of lynnen, [220]
Taillours and tynkers and tollers in markettes,
Masons and mynours and many othere craftes:
Of alle kynne lybbynge laborers lopen forth somme —
As dykeres and delveres that doon hire dedes ille
And dryveth forth the longe day with “Dieu save Dame Emme!” [225]
Cokes and hire knaves cryden, “Hote pies, hote!
Goode gees and grys! Go we dyne, go we!”
Taverners until hem tolden the same:
“Whit wyn of Oseye and wyn of Gascoigne,
Of the Ryn and of the Rochel, the roost to defie!” [230]
— Al this I seigh slepyng, and sevene sythes more.


Notes

[Note]
[To come.]