HOME | About | Surprise! | More ≡

The Vision of William concerning
Piers the Plowman

by William Langland
The original, squashed down to read in about 45 minutes

Ploughing, from a 13Cent English Prayer Book
(England, 1377)

Written in England around 1377, after the 'Black Death' had killed much of Europe's population, William Langland's (or possibly Langley's) 'The Vision of William concerning Piers the Plowman' is an allegorical poem about the quest, through dreams, for how to live the true, decent, honest and redemptive, Christian life.

Its idea that the real presence of God on earth is not to be found in churchmen but in the honest and ordinary worker, embodied in the character of 'Piers the Plowman', provided an inspiration for repeated popular revolts in England. It also happens to include the first known telling of the tale of 'Belling the Cat' and the first mention of Robin Hood.

This abridged version is largely based on the modern-language translation of 1888 by Walter Skeat, but restores some of the ruder passages and older word-forms. The [Line Numbers and sub-heading are Skeat's, but vary somewhat between this and the 50-or-so other different known versions.
Abridged by: Glyn Hughes

by William Langland



    IN a someres seysoun - whan set was the sunne
    y schoop me in-to shrowdes - as y a sheep were
    in abyte of an heremyte - vnholy of werkes
    wente wyde in þis world - wondres to here
    ac on a maij mornynge - on maluerne hilles
    me bifel a ferly - of fayrye me thougthe
    y was wery for-wandred - and wente me to reste
    vnder a brode banke - by a bornys syde

IN a summer season, when soft was the sun,
I enshrouded me well in a shepherd's garb,
And robed as a hermit, unholy of works.
Went wide through the world, all wonders to hear.

And on a May morning, on Malvern hills,
Strange fancies befell me, and fairy-like dreams.
I was weary of wand'ring, and went to repose
On a broad green bank, by a burn-side.

As I lay there and leaned and looked on the waters,
I slumbered and slept, they sounded so merry. [10
Came moving before me a marvellous vision.
I was lost in a wild waste, but where, I knew not.

I beheld in the east, on high, near the sun,
A tower on a hill-top, with turrets well wrought.
A deep dale beneath, and a dungeon therein, [15
With deep ditches and dark, and dreadful to see.

A fair field, full of folk, I found there between.
Of all manner of men, the mean and the rich.
All working or wand'ring, as the world requires.
Some ploughed with the plough, their play was but seldom.
Some sowing, some earning, with sweat of their brows, [21
The gain which the great ones in gluttony waste.

In pride of apparel some passed on their way,
And in costliest clothing were quaintly disguised.
In prayer and in penance some placed their delight, [25
And all for our Lord's love lived strictly and hard,

As it seems to our sight, such surely succeed.
And some, to make merry, as minstrels are wont.
Getting gold with their glee, yet guiltless, I trust.
As for jugglers and jesters, all Judas's children, [35
Having wit, if they willed it, to work as they ought -

Next beggars and beadsmen* were bustling about, [One employed to pray for the dead
Their bags and their bellies with bread were well cramm'd.
I found there some friars of all the four orders,
Who preached to the people for personal profit. [60

Pride, as a Jester
From the Bodleian manuscript of 1427

There preached, too, a pardoner, a priest, as he seemed,
Who brought forth a Bull, with the bishop's seals.
And said he himself might absolve them all [70
Of falsehood in fasting, or vows they had broken.

The laymen believed him, and lik'd well his words,
Came up and came kneeling, to kiss the said Bull.
Yet the parish-priest and pardoner part all the silver
That the poor of the parish would otherwise share.

The parsons and parish-priests complained to the bishop
That their parishes were poor since the pestilence-year,
Asking licence and leave in London to dwell, [85
To sing there for simony*, for silver is sweet. [Selling church offices

Their masses and matins and many of their prayers
Are done undevoutly. I dread, at the last,
Lest Christ, at the judgement, will curse not a few.

Then came there a king, with knights in a troop.
Behind him came Kind-Wit, and clerks he appointed
To counsel the king, and the commons to save. [115
The king and his knights, and the clergy also
Decreed that the commons must toil for their bread.

Then, high in the air, an angel from heaven
Spake loudly in Latin, that laymen might fail
"Know, prince, that thy power soon passes for ever.
Thy kingdom is Christ's, and in keeping His laws

Then forth ran a rout of great rats, all at once.
Where met them small mice, yea, more than a thousand.
All came to a council for their common profit.
For a cat of the court would come, when he liked,
And chase them and clutch them, and catch them at will, [150

Then a rat of renown, very ready of tongue.
Said, for a sovereign help to themselves,
"Let us buy a bell of brass or of bright silver.
On the cat's neck to hang, then each hearer can tell [170
If he rambles or rests him, or runs out to play!

But not a rat in the rout, for the realm of all France,
Durst bind the said bell about the cat's neck,
Nor hang it beside him, all England to win!

Then a mouse of mind, who had merit, methought.
Strode forth sternly, and stood before them all,
"Though we killed the old cat, yet another would come [185
To catch all our kin, though we crept under benches.

I counsel the commons to let the cat be.
While the cat catches rabbits, he covets us less.
Better a little loss than a livelong sorrow, [195
I warn well each wise man to ward well his own."

What this vision may mean, ye men that are merry.
Discern ye! I dare not discern it myself!

Then saw I a hundred, in hoods all of silk,
All Serjeants of law, that served at the bar.
Pleading their causes for pence or for pounds.
But for love of our Lord their lips moved never!
Sooner than measure-out mist upon Malvern hills [215

Barons and burgesses, and bondmen also
I saw in this assembly, as soon ye shall hear.
Bakers and brewers, and butchers full many,
Websters* of woollen, and weavers of linen, [Knitters
Tailors and tinkers, and tollers in markets, [220
Masons and miners, and many more crafts.

Cooks and kitchen-lads cried - "Hot pies, hot!" [225
"Good geese and good bacon!" - "Good dinners! come, dine!"
"White wine of Alsace!" - "Red Gascony wine!"
"Here's Rhine wine!" "Rochelle wine, your roast to digest!"

All this saw I sleeping, and seven times more. [230



WHAT that hill-top may mean, and the murky dale,
And the Fairfield full of folk, I shall fairly show.

A lady, lovely of look, and in linen clothed.
Came down from the castle, and called me by name.
And said, "Son, sleepest thou? Seest thou this people, [5
How busy they be, all about this maze.

The chief part of this people, that pass o'er the earth,
Want worship in this world, and wish for no more,
They hold no account of a heaven, save here!" [10

"That tower on the hill-top is Truth's own abode,
He is Father of your faith, and formed you all,
Both figure and face, and He gave you five wits
To worship Him with, all the while ye are here.
He hath ordered the earth, for your help, to supply
Both woollen and linen, and livelihood's needs. [19

Yet this world with its wiles lies in wait to betray.
For the fiend and thy flesh ever follow together, [40
Pursuing thy soul, and seducing thine heart.
Be wise then and wary, I warn thee full well."

"Gramercy, my lady, I mind well thy words.
But the wealth of this world, so much wooed by mankind,
To whom doth that treasure, pray tell me, belong. " [45

'Give Caesar,' quoth God, 'what to Caesar belongeth,
And to God, what is God's, if to good ye incline.'
For Reason and Right should be rulers of all.   
For caution and care are the causes of thrift."

Then I meekly besought, for her Maker's sake-
"The dungeon in the dale, so dreadful to see.
What meaneth its menace, my lady, I pray" [60
"Tis the Castle of Care. whoso cometh therein
May mourn that he born was, in body or soul.

There watcheth a wight, and Wrong is his name.
The father of falsehood, and finder of ill.
Adam and Eve he to evil incited, [65
Gave counsel to Cain, how to kill his brother,
And Judas beguiled, who hung himself after.

Then I wondred in my wit, who this woman might be
Who such words of wisdom from holy writ drew.
I asked her who she was, and why warned me so well. [74
"Holy-Church," quoth she, "as thou oughtest to know.
I received thee at first, thy faith I thee taught."

Then I knelt on my knees, and her mercy besought,
And piteously prayed her to pray for my sins, [80
And kindly instruct me on Christ to believe.
And to work at His will, who had wrought me as man.

"Ne'er tell me of treasure, but tell me the truth,
How to save my soul. as a saint I revere thee!"
"When all treasures are tried, know. Truth is the best,
'God is Love,' saith the text, and it teaches you all [86
That Truth can be trusted, like true God Himself.

Who is true of his tongue, and has no false tales,
Is wary in works, and wishes no evil,
He is a god, by the gospel, on earth and aloft, [90

The clerics who know this should teach it to all.
For Christian and heathen lay claim to the Truth.
Both kings and their knights should keep to the Truth,
They should ride through the realm, and arrest all the false, [95
Should take the transgressors, and tie them in bonds.

As Christ, King of kings, made ten orders of knighthood,
Cherubs and seraphs, seven more, and one other.
Over armies of angels archangels were these.
Obeying God's bidding. He bade them naught else. [110

Yet Lucifers legions, tho they had learnt this in heaven,
But brake his obedience, abandoned his bliss.
And fell from that fellowship, in a fiend's likeness,
To a deep dark hell, to dwell there for ever.

And all wicked workers shall likewise wend.
After their deathday, to dwell with that fiend.
But well-doing workers, as holy writ tells.
May be sure that their souls shall ascend unto heaven [130
Where Truth, the Tri-une, shall enthrone them on high.

When all treasures are tried, then Truth is the best. [205
I have told thee what Truth is, no treasure is better.
I may linger no longer. The Lord be thy guide!"



YET I knelt on my knees, loud crying for grace,
Saying, "Mercy, my lady, for our Lady's sake,
Who bare Him that bought us on the blessed rood*, [Rod, hence 'the cross'
Teach me some token, the False One to know!"

Lady Meed (or Mede)
From the Bodleian manuscript of 1427

"Look on thy left hand, see there Falsehood and Flattery!" [5
And so looked I left as the lady had said.
And was ware of a woman, most worthily clothed.
All furnished with furs, none finer on earth.

Crowned with a crown, the king hath no better. [10
Featly* her fingers were furnished with rings [Nimbly
With ribbons of red gold and richest of stones.
Her ravishing raiment, her riches amazed me.

"Who is this woman so worthily dressed."
"'Tis Meed, maid of Money, who hath injured me oft, [20
In the palace of the pope she's as prime as myself,
Though justice would ban her, for her bastard birth.
Falsehood was her father, full fickle of tongue,

Now Meed will be married to a miscreant base.
To one False Fickle-Tongue, child of a fiend. [40
And how Meed was then married, I marked in my dream;

How all the rich retinue, that reigned with Sir False,
Were bidden to the bridal, in both of their trains.
Of all manner of men, the mean and the rich. [55
Assize-men and summoners*, and sheriffs and clerks. [Court bailiffs

Beadles and bailiffs, and brokers of wares.
Purveyors, and advocates of the Court of Arches. [60
The lords of Lechery, earls of Envy and Wrath,

From the castles of Chiding and Chattering-out-of-reason,
Through the County of Coveting, and coasts all around,
By Usury and Avarice, and the borough of Theft,
And Gluttony giving them hard drink in taverns.
Still gibing and jesting, and feasting on fasting-days [95

They hunted for horses, to hasten the journey.
Miss Meed sat on a sheriff, shod all anew,
False rode an assize-man, that softly trotted,
With Guile as foregoer, guiding them all.
To London, to know if the law will allow [155
The judges to join them in joy everlasting."

And came to the king's court, and told all Sir Conscience, [190
And Conscience to the king recounted it then.
"Now by Christ," quoth the king, "if I could but catch
False or Sir Flattery, or any of their fellows,
I'd wreak wrath on those wretches, that wrought have so ill,

So, go, catch me those tyrants, I tell thee for sooth.
And fast fetter False, never free him for bribes. [200
Light upon Liar, and let Guile be beheaded,
And bring Meed to me, in spite of them all."

Dread stood at the door, and this doom heard,
Then went Dread away, and gave warning to False,
Bade him flee for fear, and his fellows go with him.
So False in his fear fled fast to the friars. [210

All fled they for fear, and had flown into holes.
Save Meed the maid, not a man durst abide.
But, truly to tell it, she trembled for dread, [235
And lamented and wept when at last she was caught.



NOW Meed the maid was brought to the king.
"I shall try her myself, and truly enquire,
What spouse in this world she would soonest wed.
If she works by my wish, and my will doth follow,
I'll forgive her her guilt. so God be my help!"

There was mirth and minstrelsy, Meed to amuse.
To comfort her kindly, with Clergy's leave, [15
Then came a confessor, with cope like a friar,
Saying full softly, in shrift as it were,
"Though laymen and learned had loved thee alike,
And falsehood had followed thee for fifty years,
I soon would absolve thee, for a sackful of wheat, [40

Then Meed, for her misdeeds, to that man knelt.
She told him a tale, and tendered to him a noble*, [A gold coin, 1/3 of a £
Right soon he absolved her, and afterwards said. -
"We are working a window, much wealth will it cost.
Wouldst thou glaze that gable, and grave there thy name.
Safe were thy soul to ascend unto heaven!" [50

"Wist I that," quoth the woman, "I would not spare
To befriend you, sir friar! nor fail you at need.
While you love such lords as in lechery live.
And blame not the ladies that love well the same.
'Tis a frailty of flesh, as ye find in your books, [55
And the natural course mankind to preserve.

"Have mercy," quoth Meed, "upon men that pursue it,
And I'll cover your church, and your cloister repair, [60
Whiten your walls, and your windows glaze,
And paint and pourtray them, and pay for the making.
All that see it shall say I am sister of your house."

But God, to all good men, such 'graving forbids,
To write thus in windows their worthy deeds, [65
Lest pride be there painted, and pomp of the world.
For Christ knows your conscience and covert intent.

Then the king came from council, and called to him Meed,
"Unwittily, woman, thou was to choose Sir False.
I forgive thee that guilt, and grant thee my grace.
I've a knight, named Conscience, late come from afar;
If he wooes thee for wife, say, wilt thou him wed?" [110

"Yea, lord!" quoth the lady, "the Lord forbid else!"
Then Conscience was called, to come and appear
Low kneeling, Sir Conscience the king saluted, [115
"Wilt wed this woman, by my will and assent.
She is fain of thy fellowship, thy wife for to be."

Quoth Conscience to the king - " Now Christ it forbid!
Ere I wed such a wife, may woe me betide! [120
She is frail in her faith, and fickle of speech,
And maketh men misdo many score times.

She hath poisoned popes, and impaired holy church.
There is no better bawd, by Him that me made,
Between heaven and hell, in the whole wide earth.
She is loose in her living, and lavish of speech,
She lures men to lose both their lands and their lives. [135

Gives gold to the jailers, and groats of silver,
To unfetter the false men, to flee where they please.
She blesseth the bishops, though base and unlearned,
Gives prebends* to parsons, and priests she permits [Salaries
To have lemans* and lovers as long as they live, [Lovers

"Nay, lord!" quoth that lady, "believe him the less,
When I tell you the truth, where the true wrong lies. [175
Where mischief is most, there Meed may avail!

Thou knowest, Sir Conscience, I come not to chide
Thou hast lain in my lap some eleven times, [180
And hast grasped at my gold, to give where you pleased.
Thy present displeasure surprises us all!

Thou hast foully defamed me, before the king here!
I make men merry, their mourning I mend.
I patted their backs, and emboldened their hearts,
For priests and 'prentices payments they crave.
Merchants and meed ever meet well together." [225

Said Conscience, "I know, as Common-sense taught.
That Reason shall reign, and govern all realms.
No more then shall Meed be a master, as now.
But Lowness and Love, and Loyalty also!" [290

But Kind-love shall come yet, and make Law a labourer,
There will be peace among people, such perfect truth,
King's court and common court, consistory and chapter,
All shall be one court, and one baron judge. [320
No battles shall be, nor bearing of weapons, -
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation (Isa. ii. 4).

And Saracens and Jews will sing 'Glory to God,'
Mohammed and Meed both shall meet with mishap. -
For 'A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches' (Prov. xxii. i ). -
And 'Hold fast what is good ' - God gave us that rule (i Thess. V. 2i).
The soul that takes bribes is in bondage thereby."



"CEASE," said the king, "I suffer you no longer.
Be reconciled, soothly, and serve me alike.
Kiss her," quoth the king, "Conscience, I bid thee!"
"Nay, sir king," quoth Conscience, "excuse me for ever.
Save Reason direct me, I rather would die!"

"Then," saith the king, "go fetch Reason hither.
Command him to come, my counsel to hear!"
So Sir Reason was sent for, and saddled his courser
With Cato his servant, and Tom True-tongue his aid [22

And next Warren Wisdom, with Witty his friend.
Followed them fast, for they fain too would repair
To the Kings's Courts their own suits to pursue,

Courteously the king came out to meet Reason,
'Twixt himself and his son he set him on the bench, [45
And well wisely discoursed for a while together.

Then came Peace into parliament, and put forth a plea,
How Master Wrong had abducted his wife,
Had borne away Rose, Sir Reginald's love,
And Maikin the maiden, with merciless force [50
"My geese and my swine his serving-men steal,
That Wrong was a robber, who wrought many harms."

But Wrong was well wary, and sought Wisdom's aid
To let Meed's money return him to grace [75
Then Wisdom and Witty went forward together,
To conquer the king with coins, if they might.

But the king by the cross and his crown swore,
That Wrong for his works much woe should endure.
And commanded a constable to cast him in irons. [85
"He shall not, in seven years, see his feet once!"

Some wrought with Sir Reason for ruth* on that wretch, [Mercy
To counsel the king, and Conscience as well. [111
That Meed might be surety, they Reason besought.
"No ruth* shall be wrested," quoth Reason, " from me.
Till lords and great ladies alike love Truth,
Till hypocrites holy are held in contempt,
Clerks covet to feed and to clothe the poor,

I saw Meed, in the moot-hall, on men of law wink.
Who leapt to her, laughing, and Reason they left.
Sir Warren Wisdom then winked at the lady,
"Your man am I, madam! whate'er my mouth utters. [155
I fall in with florins*, and fail in my speech!" [Silver coin

The righteous recorded that Reason said truth.
And Wit too accorded, commending his words.
While most men in hall, and many of the great
Said Meekness was master, and Meed was accurst. [160

Love liked her but little, and Loyalty less.
And said it so high, that the whole hall heard.
"He that wisheth to wed her, for wealth of her goods,
Men will call him a cuckold, or cut off my nose!"
Then Meed began mourning, and made sad lament [165
That the chief of the commons accounted her frail.

The king called for Conscience; with Reason he came;
And recorded that Reason had rightly adjudged.
"So Reason shall rule, if I reign any longer.
No Meed shall buy bail, by Saint Mary in heaven!
But laws shall be loyal, not laden with cavil*, [Trivialities

Now rest thee, Sir Reason, and ride not away. [190
As long as I live, will I leave thee no more."
"I am ready," quoth Reason, " to rest with you ever,
Be Conscience in our council. I care for no better."
"I assent," quoth the king, " God save us from faults;
As long as life lasteth, hence live we together!" [195



THE king and his knights to the kirk came
To hear morning matins, and the mass after.

Then I waked from my sleep, and was woeful withal
That I had not slept sounder, and seen much more.
Scarce fared I a furlong, ere faintness o'ercame me, [5
Nor further could foot it, for default of repose.

Sat I softly adown, and said my belief,
And babbled o'er my beads. which brought me asleep.
Then saw I much more than I marked hitherto.
The field full of folk I saw, as before, [10
Where Reason was ready to preach to the realm.

With a cross, 'fore the king, he commenced his teaching.
He proved that the pestilences* were purely for sin, [The plagues of 1348-9
And the south-west wind, on Saturday at even.
Was plainly for our pride, and for no point else. [15
Pear-trees and plum-trees were puffed to the earth

How plainly Sir Reason 'gan preach to the people.
He bade Waster to work at what he knew best.
To win what he wasted, with wise employ. [25
Maid Parnel he prayed fine apparel to leave.

He bade also Betty cut a bough or e'en twain.
And beat Beton therewith, unless she would work.
He charged also chapmen* to chasten their children, [Trader, merchant
Not spoil them, though wealthy, the while they were young. [35

And next he prayed prelates and priests together,
"What ye preach to the people, first prove on yourselves.
If ye live by your lore, we believe you the better." [45
Religion he counselled his rule to observe,

Then he counselled the king the commons to love, [50
Then prayed he the pope to have pity on the church.
Ere he granted a grace, first to govern himself.
" Ye that laws have to keep, first covet the truth"

More than gold or great gifts, if God ye would please.
The traitor to truth has been told in the gospel [55
That neither God knows him, nor saints in the skies.
Seek rather Saint Truth, who can save you all.
Who assent to my sermon!" - And thus said Sir Reason.


Maid Parnel Proud-heart fell prone on the earth,
Lying long ere she looked up, and " Lord, mercy!" cried.
She vowed then a vow to the Father in heaven, [65
Her smock to un-sow, and a hair-shirt to wear.


Then said Lecher, "Alas!" - to our Lady he cried
To have mercy, for misdeeds, 'twixt God and his soul.
And said that on Saturdays, seven years after, [74
He would drink 'with the duck', and would dine only once!


Next Envy, with heavy heart, asked to have shrift.
As a sorrowful sinner his sins he confessed.
He was pale as a stone, in a palsy he seemed.
In a short coat and kirtle, a knife by his side. [80

Saying, "I cry on my knees, may Christ give him sorrow
At church from the altar I turn way mine eyes.
And note how Elaine hath a new-made gown. [110
I wish it were mine, with the rest of the web.

I laugh when men lose, for that my heart liketh.
I weep when they win, and bewail the time.
I doom the ill-doer, myself doing worse.
I'll amend, if I may, by th' Almighty's help!"


Now Wrath awaketh, with two white eyes.
He snivelled with his nose, with a neck low bent. 135
"I am Wrath," quoth he. "I once was a friar,
My aunt is a nun, and an abbess to boot.

I was cook in her kitchen, the convent I served 155
Made pottage for the prioress, and other poor dames.
Their broth was to backbite - "dame Joan is a bastard"
"Dame Parnel's a priest's wench, a prioress never, 160
She childed in cherry-time, the chapter all know it."

Saint Gregory, pope, forbade nuns to shrive*. [Give forgiveness
For surely, with women, no secret is safe!
"Repent," quoth Repentance. "rehearse nevermore
Such facts as thou findest by favour or right. [185
Be sober," he said, and absolved him thereafter.


Next Coveting came. whom I scarce can describe.
So hungry and hollow Sir Harvey appeared.
He had beetling brows, coarse bulging lips, [190
And two bleary eyes, like a blind old hag.

His beard, like a boor's, was beslobbered with bacon.
A hood on his head, and a lousy old hat. [195
In a tawny tabard, some twelve years old.
All tattered and torn, with lice for its tenants. -

"I've been covetous," quoth that caitiff*, "I confess it here. [Coward
First learnt I, in lying, wickedly to weigh,
At Weyhill and Winchester selling my wares.
Then I drew me to drapers, and learned to stretch stuff [210
Till ten yards or twelve were turned to thirteen!"

Then lost he all hope, and himself would have hanged.
But quickly Repentance the wretch reassured -
"Keep mercy in mind, and thy merchandise use, [295
To make restitution, and reckon with all.
The Lord's grace was lent you, to lead you from sin."


Now beginneth Sir Glutton, on his way to the church [305
But Betty the brewster* just bade him "Good-morrow," [Brewer
And asked him therewith as to whither he went.
"To holy church haste I, to hear me a mass.
And straight to be shriven, and sin nevermore."

"Good ale have I, and gossip; Sir Glutton, come try it!
I've hot spices of pepper, peony and garlic."
Then Glutton goes in, and with him great oaths.
Cicely the shoe-seller sat on the bench, [315
The warrener* Wat, and his wife also, [Gamekeeper
Timothy the tinker, with two of his lads.

The hackney-man Hick, the needle-man Hugh,
A fiddler, a ratcatcher, a Cheapside raker,
A rider, a rope-seller, dish-selling Rose,
Godfrey of Garlickhithe, Griffin of Wales. [325
Gave Glutton, with glad cheer, a treat of good ale.

They sat so till evensong, and sung now and then,
Till Gluttony'd glugged down a gallon and a gill
Then his guts 'gan grunting like two greedy sows
He pissed a full Our Father's worth in the pot
Then blew a bold round from his rump-bones end
So all that heard that horn held their nose after [345

He could scarcely stand till he'd picked up his stick,
And was tripp'd by the threshold and thrown to the earth.
Clement the cobbler him caught by the middle.
But Glutton coughed up a caudle* in Clement's lap. [Slops
A caudle so foul no Hertfordshire hound
As would lap up the leavings, unlovely of scent.

With all woe in the world his wife and his wench
Bore him home to his bed, and he slept, in his sloth.
All Saturday and Sunday, till sunset had come. [365
Then woke he in wonder, and wiped both his eyes.
The word he first uttered was - "Where is the bowl."

His wife sadly warned him, how wicked his ways,
And Repentance full rightly rebuked him of sin. -
"I, Glutton," he granted, "am guilty indeed."
And vowed he would fast. - "For hunger or thirst
Shall no fish on the Friday be found in my maw
Till Abstinence, my aunt, hath accorded me leave." [390


Then came Sloth all beslobbered, with two slimy eyes,
"I must sit," quoth this sinner, "or else shall I doze.
"Awake!" quoth Repentance, "make ready for shrift." [400

"'Tis true I've trespassed with my tongue,
I know not the holy Paternoster that the priests say,
But well the rhymes of Robin Hood, or Randolph of Chester.
Forty vows have I made, and forgot them the morrow
God's pain and His passion I ponder on seldom
I visit no feeble men, or fettered men in jails.

I'd sooner hear ribaldry, or summer-games of cobblers,
Or lying tales to laugh at, and belie my neighbours, [415
Than all that e'er Mark wrote, John, Matthew, or Luke.
All vigils and fastdays I simply let slide.
And lie abed in Lent, in a lazy sleep.

I've been parson and priest past thirty long years,
Yet I sing not, nor sol-fa, nor Saints' Lives read.
I can hold well 'love-days*,' or hear a reeve's reckoning, [Meeting-days
But in canon-law and decretals* can read not a line. [Church documents

If I buy aught and pledge it- but it be on the tally-
I forget it right soon. and, when settlement's sought, [430
Six times or seven I forswear it with oaths.
Thus true men I trouble ten hundred of times.
My servingmen's salary is sometimes behind.

"Dost repent." quoth Repentance. and straightway he swooned.
Vigilate, the watchful, drew water from his eyes [450
Then sat Sloth up, made the sign of the cross.
And vowed, before God, for his foul neglect. -

"Each Sunday, for seven years, except I am sick,
Will I draw me, ere day, to the dear-lov'd church,
To hear matins and mass, like a monk devout. [460
No ale after meat shall hold me thence!"


Crying upward to Christ and His kindly mother
That grace might go with them, to seek saint Truth. [520
They all blundered, like beasts, over banks and o'er hills,
A long while, till late, when a lithe one they met.

Apparelled as a pagan, in pilgrim's guise.
A hundred of vials were set on his hat,
Signs from Sinai, Gallician shells.
With crosses on his cloak, and the keys of Rome, [530
That all might see signs of what shrines he had sought.

The Pilgrim
From the Bodleian manuscript of 1427

"Know'st thou a saint men entitle Saint Truth.
Canst thou walk us the way now, to where He resides." [540
"Nay," said the pilgrim, "so God be my guide,
I saw never palmer with pikestaff or scrip
That asked for Him ever, ere now in this place!"

"By Peter!" quoth a ploughman, and put forth his head,
"I know Saint Truth as a clerk knows his books! [545
I have faithfully followed him fifty long years.
Sometimes as sower, and oftimes to reap

"Yea, Piers!" quoth the pilgrims, and proffered him pay
To teach them the true way to Truth's own abode. [564
"Not a farthing I finger, for Saint Thomas's shrine!
Truth would love me the less for a long time after.
But would ye now wend there, the way there is this

Commence it through Meekness, ye men and ye women, [570
Till ye come unto Conscience, let Christ know the truth
Bend forth by a brook named Be-courtly-of-speech,
Till ye find there a ford, called Honour-your-fathers.

Next come near a croft called Covet-not-men's-cattle-or-wives-
Next bend past a barrow, Bear-no-false-witness,
'Tis fenced in with florins and other like fees. [590
Then pluck thou no plant there, for peril of thy soul.

Next come to a court, as clear as the sun,
Its moat is of Mercy, the manor around, [595
The walls are of Wit, to guard against Will,
Buttressed with Believe-so-or-saved-be-never.
The house is all covered, both chambers and halls,
Not with lead, but with Love, and Low-speech-of-brethren;

There are seven sweet sisters that serve Truth for ever,
Porters of posterns* assigned to that place. [Door-guards
Abstinence is one, and Humility next,
Charity and Chastity, chief of His maidens, [630
Patience and Peace, many people they help.

And Largesse, the lady that lets many in.
Is wondrously welcome, and well is received. [635
And except ye're akin to some one of the seven,
"By Christ!" quoth a cutpurse*, "no kin have I there!" [Thief
"Wist I," quoth a wafer-man*," such were the truth. [Biscuit maker

"Yes!" quoth Piers Plowman, (their profit he sought,)
"Mercy's a maid there, hath might over all.
Akin to all sinners, as her Son is also.
By help of these two (there is hope in none other)
Grace shalt thou get there, by going betimes."
A common wench cried - "Thy companion I'll be" [650



Quoth Perkin* the ploughman - "By Saint Peter of Rome, [Perkin=Piers
First must I plough my half-acre, and sown it well after,
Then I would wend with you, and show you the way."

"What should we women then work at the while."
"Some, sew up the sacks, against shedding the wheat.
Ye, ladies so lovely, so long in the fingers, [10
Get sendal* and silk. and sew, at your leisure, [Fabric?
Chasubles* for chaplains, our churches to honour. [Decorated cloaks

I shall find all some livelihood, unless the land fail,
Both meat and good bread, both for rich and for poor.
As long as I live, for the love of our Lord.
All manner of men, that meat earn and drink, [20
Help them to work well, that win you your food."

"'Tis true!" quoth a knight then,"to toil I will go."
"By Paul, now," quoth Perkin, "your offer is fair, [25
But your duty, Sir Knight, is the use of your arms,
To chase wasters and wantons, this world that destroy.
To hunt hares and the foxes, that crop off my croft."

Whoso helps me to plough here, or sow, ere I wend.
Shall gain him a good right to glean here in harvest,
Therewith to make merry, though many begrudge him.
And craftsmen of all kinds, whose callings are true, [70
I will find them in food while they faithfully live.

To plough his half-acre there helped him full many.
Dikers* and delvers*, they digged up the banks. [Ditch-diggers
And Perkin was pleased then, and praised them at work. [110
Each man, in his manner, well made his attempt.
And some, to please Perkin, would pick up the weeds.

But some sat at ease, and sung in the ale-house.
Their help in the ploughing was - "hi! tooral, lay!"
"Our limbs cannot labour, so willeth the Lord!
Exertion would slay us, such sickness us aileth!" [130
"If ye say sooth," said Piers, "I soon shall espy!"

"Ye are wasters, I wot well, and Truth wot the sooth!
Your bread shall be barley, your drink of the brook!
But the blind and the bedrid, or broken of limb,
They shall bread have and broth, and abide at their ease.
Till God, of His goodness, amendment may send." [140

Warned well the waster, and wooed him to profit -
"Now, on peril of my soul, I shall punish you all!" -
Piers hollered after Hunger, who heard him at once,
"Wreak woe on these wasters, the world who destroy!" [175
Then Hunger caught Waster in haste by the maw.

And wrung so his belly, that both his eyes watered.
That Breton he buffeted on both cheeks about,
That he looked like a lantern* his lifetime thereafter! [ie hollow
He beat so their bodies, he burst half their ribs. [180
Had not Piers, with a pease-loaf*, prayed Hunger to cease. [Cheap, inferior bread of pea-flour

Then pity had Piers, praying Hunger to go
Fast home to his own place, and hold him content -
"Hear now," quoth Hunger, " and hold it as wisdom.
Bold beggars and big, that their bread well may earn, [216
With hounds' bread and horse-bread hold up their hearts.
Abate them with beans, lest their bellies grow fat.

If the grumblers demur, bid them go to their work.
They'll sup all the sweeter, when supper is earned. [220
If thou find any feeble, by Fortune oppressed,
Comfort and keep them, for Christ's sake in heaven,
Love them and lend, as the law of God teacheth. "

"By Saint Paul!" quoth Piers, "these are profitable words.
Wend, Hunger, when thou wilt, well be thee for ever!
For thy laudable lesson the Lord thee requite!" [279
"Hark now," quoth Hunger, "ne'er hence will I wend
Ere to-day I have dined, and have drunk well also."

"I've no penny," quoth Piers, "young pullets to buy,
Nor bacon nor geese, only two green cheeses,
Some curds and some cream, and an oaten cake, [284
Two bean-loaves with bran, just baked for my children.

Nor eggs, by my Christendom, collops to make.
Only onions and parsley, and cabbage-leaf plants. [290
By such food must we live, until Lammas-time come,
I hope I may have then some harvest afield.
And I'll dight* thee a dinner, as dearly will please me." [Prepare

Then all the poor people their pea-shells brought,
Beans and baked apples they brought in their laps, [295
Young onions and chervils and ripe cherries many.
And proffered these presents, Sir Hunger to please.

All Hunger ate hastily, and asked for some more!
Then poor folk, for fear, fed Hunger with speed.
And thought him to poison with peas and green leeks. [300
Then harvest drew nigh, new corn came to market,
And folks were full fain, and fed Hunger right well
With good ale, as a glutton, and got him to sleep.

I warn you, ye workmen, to win while ye may.
For Hunger now hitherward hastens full fast,
To wake you with water, and wasters to starve.
Ere five years be fulfilled, such a famine shall rise, [325
So saith Saturn* and sent you to warn, [Planet of seeds and growth
Save God, of His goodness, will grant us a truce.



TRUTH heard tell hereof, and to Piers He sent,
To take him his team, and to till well the earth.
And procured him a Pardon-Bull* 'from all pain and guilt,' [Exemption from penance in the afterlife
For him and his heirs, for evermore after.

For as Kings and knights, and those of holy church.
Have pardon through purgatory* to pass with much ease, [The afterlife abode of the sinful
To partake the paradise of patriarchs and prophets,
Even carters and commoners may have the same.

E'n Merchants, who no Pope would Paradise grant
But under secret seal Truth sent them a letter.
Saying boldly go buy and save well your profit, [25
Therewith to build hospitals, helping the sick,
Or roads that are rotten full rightly repair,
Or bridges, when broken, to build up anew,

To marry poor maidens, or make of them nuns.
Poor people and pris'ners with food to provide, [30
Set scholars to school, or to some other crafts,
That in safety your souls to My saints may have bliss."

And these are Truth's treasures, true people to help.
All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them (Matt. vii. 12).
All living lab'rers, that live by their hands,
Who truly receive and as truly perform,
Who in love live, and law, for their lowly hearts
Have the same absolution that sent was to Piers. [65

But mendicant beggars are not in the Bull.
For he that begs or beseeches, save bitter his need,
Is as false as the fiend, and defraudeth the needy,
Beguiling the giver against what he would. [70
If he knew he'd no need, he would give to another

More needy than them, and the neediest help.
The old men and hoary, and helpless of strength,
And women with child, that to work are unable, [100
Bedrid and blind men, or broken in limb.
That pain bear in patience, like lepers or others,
Have as plenary pardon as Piers hath himself. [105

"Piers!" quoth a priest then, "this pardon I'd read,
And construe each clause, and declare it in English."
Then Piers, at his prayer, the pardon unfolded,
And behind both the twain I beheld all the Bull.
In two lines it lay, and ne'er a leaf more. -

    Et qui bona egerunt ibunt in vitam eternam.
    Qui vero mala, in ignem eternum.

[They that have done good, shall go into life everlasting.
And they that have done evil, into everlasting Fire.]

"By Saint Peter!" the priest said, "that is no pardon
Mere 'Do-well and have-well, and God have thy soul,'
And ' Do-ill and have-ill, and hope nothing else
But, after thy death-day, the devil have thy soul.' " [115
And Piers, for pure anger, then tore it in twain.

"What?" the priest said to Piers, "who taught thee to read?"
"Abstinence the abbess my A-B-C taught me,
And Conscience came after, and counselled me more."
"Wert thou true priest, Piers! Then thou might'st preach."
"Rude wretch!" replied Piers, " little read'st thou the Bible,

The priest then and Perkin opposed one another.
Through their words I awoke, looking warily round.
And the sun in the south saw I sitting that time. [140
Meatless and moneyless, on Malvern hills.
Did I ponder this dream while departing for home.

How Perkin the ploughman was pensive in heart.
And how the priest proved no pardon like Do-well,
Deciding that Do-well indulgences passed, [170
Thus Do-well at doomsday is dearly received,
Surpassing paid pardons of Peter's own church.

So I counsel all Christians to cry for God's mercy, [195
Praying Mary His mother to mediate also.
That God give us grace now, before we go hence,
Such works for to work, e'en while we are here,
That, after our death-day, then Do-well may witness.
At the great day of doom, that we did as He bade.


The Skeat version of Piers Plowman ends here, but other versions continue for up 20 'Passus', relating how Piers searches for 'Do-Well', 'Do-Better' and 'Do-Best', accompanied by the spirits of Wisdom, Conscience and the good Roman Emperor Trajan.

MORE FROM The Hundred Books...

Surprise A Christmas Carol A Study in Scarlet A Voyage to the Moon Aesop's Fables Alice in Wonderland An English Opium-Eater Anna Karenina Antarctic Journals Arabian Nights Aristotle's Ethics Barnaby_Rudge Beowulf Beyond Good and Evil Bleak House Book of the Dead Caesar's Commentaries Crime and Punishment Dalton's Chemical Philosophy David Copperfield Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Descartes' Meditations Dombey and Son Don Quixote Dulce et Decorum Est Einstein's Relativity Elements of Geometry Fairy Tales Father Goriot Frankenstein Gilgamesh Great Expectations Gulliver's Travels Hamlet Hard Times Heart of Darkness History of Tom Jones I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud If - Ivanhoe Jane Eyre Jekyll and Mr Hyde Kant Lady Chatterley's Lover Le Morte D'Arthur Le Repertoire de La Cuisine Les Miserables Little Dorrit Lysistrata Martin Chuzzlewit Meditations Metamorphosis Micrographia Moby-Dick My Confession Newton's Natural Philosophy Nicholas Nickleby Notebooks Of Miracles On Liberty On Old Age On The Social Contract On War Our Mutual Friend Paradise Lost Pepys' Diary Philosophy in The Boudoir Piers Plowman Pilgrims Progress Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect Pride and Prejudice Principles of Human Knowledge Principles of Morals and Legislation Psychoanalysis Revolutions of the Celestial Orbs Robinson Crusoe Romeo and Juliet Songs of Innocence and Experience Sorrows of Werther Sovran Maxims Tale of Two Cities Tess of the d'Urbervilles The Advancement of Learning The Adventures of Oliver Twist The Analects The Ballad of Reading Gaol The Bhagavad-Gita The Canterbury Tales The Communist Manifesto The Confessions The Decameron The Divine Comedy The Gospels of Jesus Christ The Great Gatsby The Histories The Life of Samuel Johnson The Magna Carta The Motion of the Heart and Blood The Odyssey The Old Curiosity Shop The Origin of Species The Pickwick Papers The Prince The Quran The Remembrance of Times Past The Republic The Rights of Man The Rights of Woman The Rime of the Ancient Mariner The RubaiyƔt Of Omar Khayyam The Torah The Travels of Marco Polo The Wealth of Nations The Wind in the Willows Three Men in a Boat Tom Brown's Schooldays Tristram Shandy Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea Ulysses Uncle Tom's Cabin Utopia Voyages of Discovery Walden Wilhelm Meister Wuthering Heights