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 as the B text.

In a somer seson, whan softe was the sonne,
I shoop° me into shroudes as I a sheep° were, dressed — shepherd
In habite° as an heremite° unholy of werkes, clothes — hermit
Wente wide in this world wondres to here.° hear
Ac° on a May morwenynge° on Malverne° hilles [5] But — morning — Malvern
Me° bifel° a ferly,° of Fairye me thoghte.° to me — happened — marvel — it seemed to me
I was wery° forwandred° and wente me to reste weary — tired of aimless wandering
Under a brood° bank by a bourne° syde; broad — brook
And as I lay and lenede and loked on the watres,
I slombred into a slepyng, it sweyed° so murye.° [10] sounded — merry
Thanne gan° [me] to meten° a merveillous swevene° — began — to dream — dream
That I was in a wildernesse, wiste° I nevere where. knew
As I biheeld into the eest an heigh to the sonne,
I seigh° a tour° on a toft° trieliche ymaked,° saw — tower — hill — splendidly made
A deep dale° bynethe, a dongeon therinne, [15] valley
With depe diches and derke and dredfulle of sighte.
A fair feeld ful of folk fond° I ther bitwene — found
Of alle manere° of men, the meene° and the riche, all kinds — poor
Werchynge and wandrynge as the world asketh.
Somme putten hem° to the plough, pleiden ful selde,° [20] them[selves] — seldom
In settynge° and sowynge swonken° ful harde, planting — worked
And wonnen that thise wastours° with glotonye destruyeth won what these wasters
And somme putten hem° to pride, apparailed hem therafter, them[selves]
In contenaunce° of clothynge comen disgised — display
In preieres° and penaunce putten hem manye, [25] prayers
Al for the love of Oure Lord lyveden ful streyte° strictly
In hope to have heveneriche blisse° — the happiness of the kingdom of heaven
As ancres° and heremites that holden hem° in hire selles,° anchorite friars — them[selves] — their cells
Coveiten° noght in contree to cairen aboute travel
For no likerous° liflode° hire° likame° to plese. [30] lecherous ‐ livelihood — their — body
And somme chosen chaffare;° they cheveden° the bettre — business — achieved
As it semeth to oure sight that swiche° men thryveth; such
And somme murthes° to make as mynstralles konne,° pleasures — know how
And geten gold with hire° glee — ynnelees,° I leeve° — their — guiltless — believe
Ac° japeres and jangeleres,° Judas children, [35] but — jesters
Feynen° hem fantasies, and fooles hem maketh — feign
And han wit at wille to werken if they wolde.
That Poul° precheth of hem° I wol nat preve° it here: St. Paul — them — prove
Qui loquitur turpiloquium° is Luciferes hyne.° “He who speaks foully” — lackey
Bidderes and beggeres° faste aboute yede° [40] mendicants — went
[Til] hire° bely and hire bagge [were] bredful ycrammed,° their — full of bread
Faiteden° for hire° foode, foughten at the ale. deceived — their
In glotonye, God woot,° go thei to bedde, knows
And risen with ribaudie,° tho° Roberdes knaves; ribaldry — those
Sleep and sory sleuthe° seweth° hem evere. [45] sloth — follows them
Pilgrymes and palmeres plighten° hem togidere° vow — formed an alliance
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. permission — lie — all their life
I seigh° somme that seiden thei hadde ysought seintes: [50] saw
To ech a tale that thei tolde hire tonge was tempred° to lye disposed
Moore than to seye sooth,° it semed bi hire° speche. truth — their
Heremytes on an heep° with hoked° staves, in a crowd — hooked
Wenten to Walsyngham — and hire wenches after:
Grete lobies° and longe that lothe were to swynke° [55] lazy people — work
Clothed hem in copes° to ben° knowen from othere,° cloaks — be — [each] other
And shopen hem° heremytes hire ese° to have. shaped themselves as — their ease
I fond there freres,° alle the foure ordres, friars
Prechynge the peple for profit of [the] womb[e]:° belly
Glosed° the gospel as hem good liked; [60] explained
For coveitise° of copes construwed it as thei wolde. greed
Manye of thise maistres mowe clothen hem° at likyng may clothe themselves
For hire moneie and hire marchaundise marchen togideres.
Sith charite hath ben chapman° and chief to shryve lordes merchant
Manye ferlies han° fallen in a fewe yeres. [65] wonders have
But Holy Chirche and hii° holde bettre togidres they
The mooste meschief on molde° is mountynge up faste. earth
Ther preched a pardoner as he a preest were:
Broughte forth a bulle° with bisshopes seles,° papal proclamation — seals
And seide that hymself myghte assoillen° hem alle [70] absolve
Of falshede° of fastynge, of avowes ybroken. — falsehood
Lewed° men leved° hym wel and liked hise wordes, unlearned — believed
Comen up knelynge to kissen his bulle.
He bonched° hem with his brevet° and blered hire eighen,° struck — paper letter — conned their eyes
And raughte° with his rageman° rynges and broches. [75] laid his hands on — fake document
— Thus ye gyven youre gold glotons to helpe,
And leneth° it losels° that leccherie haunten“ lend — good-for-nothings
Were the bisshop yblessed and worth bothe his eris,° ears
His seel° sholde noght be sent to deceyve the peple. seal (on a leter)
Ac° it is noght by the bisshop that the boy precheth — [80] But
For the parisshe preest and the pardoner parten° the silver divide
That the povere° [peple] of the parissche sholde have if they ne were.° poor — were not
Persons and parisshe preestes pleyned° hem to the bisshop complained
That hire parisshes weren povere sith the pestilence tyme,° poor since the plague
To have a licence and leve° at London to dwelle, [85] permission
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 have spiritual responsibility — tonsure (shaved top of the head)
And signe that thei sholden shryven° hire parisshens, hear confession
Prechen and praye for hem, and the povere fede — [90]
Liggen° at Londoun in Lenten and ellis.° lie — at other times
Somme serven the King and his silver tellen,° count
In Cheker° and in Chauncelrie° chalangen his dettes the court of the Exchequer — chancery court
Of wardes and of wardemotes,° weyves° and streyves.° gathering of citizens in a ward — waifs — strays
And somme serven as servaunts lordes and ladies, [95]
And in stede of stywardes sitten and demen.° judge
Hire messe° and hire matyns° and many of hire houres their mass — their morning services
Arn doone undevoutliche; drede is at the laste
Lest Crist in Consistorie° acorse ful manye! episcopal court
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° ordered
Amonges foure vertues, most vertuous of alle vertues,
That cardinals ben called and closynge yates° gates
There Crist is in kyngdom, to close and to shette,° [105] shut
And to opene it to hem and hevene blisse shewe.
Ac° of the Cardinals at court that kaughte of that name but
And power presumed in hem a Pope to make
To han the power that Peter hadde, impugnen I nelle° — I will not impugn
For in love and in lettrure° the eleccion bilongeth; [110] scripture
Forthi° I kan and kan naught of court speke moore. therefore
Thanne kam ther a Kyng: Knyghthod hym ladde;° led
Might of the communes° made hym to regne. common people
And thanne cam Kynde Wit° and clerkes he made, Natural Intelligence
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. brought about
The Commune contreved° of Kynde Wit craftes, devised
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° third
Shopen° lawe and leaute° — ech° lif to knowe his owene. shaped — loyalty — each
Thanne loked° up a lunatik, a leene thyng withalle, looked
And knelynge to the Kyng clergially° he seide, in the manner of a scholar
“Crist kepe thee, sire Kyng, and thi kyngryche,° [125] kingdom
And lene° thee lede thi lond so leaute thee lovye, grant
And for thi rightful rulyng be rewarded in hevene”
And sithen° in the eyr on heigh an aungel of hevene since
Lowed° to speke in Latyn — for lewed° men ne koude° approved of — unlearned — could not
Jangle° ne jugge° that justifie hem sholde, [130] complain — judge
But suffren and serven — forthi° seide the aungel: therefore
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, “one lacking in respect, flippant scoffer” — glutton
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 gan° al the commune crye in vers of Latyn began
To the Kynges counseil — construe° whoso wolde — translate
“Precepta Regis sunt nobis vincula legis.”° “The King’s precepts are binding laws to us”
With that ran ther a route° of ratons° at ones throng — rats
And smale mees° myd° hem: mo° than a thousand [145] mice &mash; amid — more
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] outrun them easily
And pleide with hem perillousli and possed° aboute. pushed
“For doute of diverse° dredes we dar° noght wel loke” various — dare
And if we grucche° of his gamen° he wol greven° us alle — complain — games &mash; injure
Cracchen° us or clawen us and in hise clouches° holde. scratch — clutch’s
That us lotheth the lif er he late us passe.° [155] that we would loathe life before he let us die
Mighte we with any wit° his wille withstonde, intelligence
We myghte be lordes olofte° and lyven at oure ese.” above
A raton° of renoun,° moost renable° of tonge, rat — reputation — fluent
Seide for a sovereyn [salve] to hem alle,
“I have yseyen segges,”° quod° he, “in the Cite of Londoun [160] men — said [quoth]
Beren° beighes° ful brighte abouten hire nekkes, bear — collars
And somme colers of crafty work;° uncoupled they wenden° intricate workmanship — go
Bothe in wareyne° and in waast° where hem leve liketh, warren — waste — wherever they like
And outher while thei arn elliswhere, as I here telle.
Were ther a belle on hire beighe,° by Jesus, as me thynketh, [165] collar
Men myghte witen° wher thei wente and awey renne.° know — run
And right so,” quod° that raton,° “reson me sheweth said — rat
To bugge° a belle of bras or of bright silver buy
And knytten it on a coler for oure commune profit
And hangen it upon the cattes hals° — thanne here we mowen° [170] neck — we may hear
Wher he ryt° or rest or rometh to pleye; rides
And if hym list° for to laike,° thanne loke we mowen° likes — play — may
And peeren° in his presence the while hym pleye liketh, appear
And if hym wratheth,° be war and his wey shonye.°” is hostile — shun his way
Al the route° of ratons° to this reson assented; [175] group &mash; rats
Ac° tho the belle was ybrought and on the beighe° hanged although — neck
Ther ne was raton° in al the route,° for al the reaume° of France, rat &mdsh; group — realm
That dorste° have bounden the belle aboute the cattes nekke, dared
Ne hangen it aboute his hals° al Engelond to wynne, neck
[Ac]° helden hem unhardy° and hir counseil feble, [180] but — cowardly
And leten hire laboure lost and al hire longe studie.
A mous that muche good kouthe,° as me tho thoughte,° knew — as it then seemed to me
Strook° forth sternely and stood bifore hem alle, went
And to the route° of ratons° reherced° thise wordes: throng — spoke
“Though° we hadde ykilled the cat, yet sholde ther come another [185] even if
To cracchen us and al oure kynde, though we cropen° under benches. even if we crept
Forthi° I counseill°e al the commune to late the cat worthe,° therefore — advise — let the cat be
And be we nevere so bolde the belle hym to shewe.
The while he caccheth conynges° he coveiteth noght oure caroyne,° rabbits — flesh
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!° confusion — though — villain
For I herde my sire seyn, is seven yeer ypassed,
“‘Ther the cat is a kitoun, the court is ful elenge.’”° wretched
That witnesseth Holy Writ, whoso wole it rede — [195]
Ve terre ubi puer rex est,° &c. “Woe to the last where a child is king!”
For may no renk° ther reste have for ratons by nyghte. man
For many mennes malt we mees° wolde destruye, mice
And also ye route of ratons rende° mennes clothes, tear
Nere° the cat of the court that kan you overlepe; [200] were it not for
For hadde ye rattes youre [raik]° ye kouthe° noght rule yowselve. way — could
“I seye for me,“ quod the mous, “I se so muchel° after, much
Shal nevere the cat ne° the kiton by my counseil be greved, nor
Ne carpynge° of this coler that costed me nevere. foolish talk
And though it costned me catel,° biknowen it I nolde,° [205] chattel (property) — would not
But suffren as hymself wolde [s]o doon as hym liketh —
Coupled and uncoupled to cacche what thei mowe.° may
Forthi° ech a wis wight° I warne — wite wel his owene!” therefore — man
(What this metels° bymeneth,° ye men that ben murye, dream — means
Devyne ye — for I ne dar, by deere God in hevene)! [210]
Yet hoved° ther an hundred in howves° of selk° — waited — hoods — silk
Sergeants, it semed, that serveden at the Barre,
Pleteden° for penyes° and pounded the lawe, pleaded — pennies
And noght for love of Oure Lord unlose hire lippes ones.
Thow myghtest bettre meete° myst on Malverne Hilles [215] measure
Than get a “mom’ of hire mouth til moneie be shewed!
Barins° and burgeises° and bondemen als barons — burgesses
I seigh° in this assemblee, as ye shul here after; saw
Baksteres° and brewesteres° and bochiers° manye, bakers — brewers — butchers
Wollen webbesters and weveres° of lynnen, [220] weavers
Taillours and tynkers and tollers° in markettes, toll-collectors
Masons and mynours and many othere craftes:
Of alle kynne° lybbynge° laborers lopen° forth somme — kinds — living — leapt
As dykeres° and delveres° that doon hire dedes ille ditch-diggers — laborers
And dryveth forth the longe day with “Dieu save Dame Emme!”° [225] “God save Dame Emme!”
Cokes and hire knaves° cryden, “Hote pies, hote! their servants
Goode gees and grys!° Go we dyne, go we!” piglets
Taverners until hem tolden the same:
“Whit wyn of Oseye° and wyn of Gascoigne, Alsace
Of the Ryn° and of the Rochel,° the roost to defie!” [230] Rhine — La Rochelle
— Al this I seigh° slepyng, and sevene sythes° more. saw — times


for symonie
Simony is selling religious benefits: the Catholic Encyclopedia defines it as “a deliberate intention of buying or selling for a temporal price such things as are spiritual or annexed unto spirituals.” The syntax here, “for symonie,” means “despite the risk of beint guilty of simony.”
Sum Rex
“I am the King, I am the Prince; but later you may be neither. You who administer the laws of King Christ, in order to act better, be pious as you are just; the naked law wants you to clothe it with piety. Sow as much grain as you want to reap. If the law is stripped naked by you, then naked judgment should be meted out to you. If piety is sown by you, may you reap piety.”
Dum “Rex”
“Since the word ruler [i.e., king] comes from to rule, a ruler has only the name without the thing itself, unless he works to uphold the law.”