Astonishing in its cultural and theological scope, William Langland s iconoclastic masterpiece is at once a historical relic and a deeply spiritual vision, probing not only the social and religious aristocracy but also the day to day realities of a largely voiceless proletariat class E Talbot Donaldson s translation of the text has been selected for this Norton Critical Edition because of its skillful emulation of the original poem s distinct alliterative verse Selections of the authoritative Middle English text are also included for comparative analysis Sources and Backgrounds includes a large collection of contemporary religious and historical documents pertaining to the poem, including selections from the Douai Bible, accounts of the plague, and legal statutes Criticism includes twenty interpretive essays by leading medievalists, among them E Talbot Donaldson, George Kane, Jill Mann, Derek Pearsall, C David Benson, and Elizabeth D Kirk A Glossary and Selected Bibliography are also included A medieval allegory of the Christian Journey10 September 2010 My first impression of this book was that it reminded me a lot of Fascinating glimpse of a very different mental world I was particularly struck by this very medieval assumption that the Antichrist was going to form in the papacy. As on a walnot withoute is a bitter barke,And after that bitter barke, be the shelle aweye,Is a kirnelle of conforte kynde to restore.So is after poverte or penaunce pacientlyche y take Maketh a man to have mynde in Gode and a grete willeTo wepe and to wel bydde, whereof wexeth mercy,Of which Cryst is a kirnelle to conforte the soule Passus XI Lines 260 266I m rewriting this review since I ve had a lotexperience with medieval literature up to this point and I really can t help but feel As on a walnot withoute is a bitter barke,And after that bitter barke, be the shelle aweye,Is a kirnelle of conforte kynde to restore.So is after poverte or penaunce pacientlyche y take Maketh a man to have mynde in Gode and a grete willeTo wepe and to wel bydde, whereof wexeth mercy,Of which Cryst is a kirnelle to conforte the soule Passus XI Lines 260 266I m rewriting this review since I ve had a lotexperience with medieval literature up to this point and I really can t help but feel like maybe I was somewhat wrong about Piers Plowman So here is my current opinion on it, I suppose Piers Plowman is, without a doubt, one of the single most difficult works I have ever read Sure, the language is tricky, but one can expect that out of a work in Middle English It s nowhere as challenging on a linguistic level as something like Gawain and the Green Knight, for example The challenging part about this work is that it is one of the most complex ways the allegorical dream trope has ever been used This is a common element of most literature of the time, but in this case it s done in such a complex way that I m impressed and intimidated at the same time.To go intodetail, I should begin by saying that not only are there dreams, but there are dreams inside of other dreams, which basically bends the reality of what is actually happening and what is not happening This makes Piers very hard to grasp, but easy to appreciate just for its large scope.I think when I originally read this, it gave me a huge headache and thus I was not sure what to think once I finished But since I ve had a lot of time to think about it, I appreciate Langland s work quite a lot This is a very cryptic work, yet the concept is so eerily echoed inwell known works such as The Pilgrim s Progress Certainly a staple of medieval literature for any aficionado I do advise you to tread carefully, though You might get a bit lost in the dreams in this case I think this is the only book written by William Langland What I love so much about it is his discontent with the earth as it is Its inhabitants are narrowly concerned about the welfare of others while caring so much about themselves Langland is greatly disturbed by this state of affairs and tries to teach and encourage his fellow beings to shoulder the burdens of one another and help our fellow creatures in the spirit of friendship Those were strenuous times, and indeed they still are That I think this is the only book written by William Langland What I love so much about it is his discontent with the earth as it is Its inhabitants are narrowly concerned about the welfare of others while caring so much about themselves Langland is greatly disturbed by this state of affairs and tries to teach and encourage his fellow beings to shoulder the burdens of one another and help our fellow creatures in the spirit of friendship Those were strenuous times, and indeed they still are That is why Langland s book is very relevant today This is a very difficult book The work is composed of a series of allegorical dream visions and visions within visions On the first reading it is hard to identify any clear structure, but the lack of clarity is in part a literary device meant to present the reader with the same confusion as the dreamer narrator, or Piers Plowman experiences It is not always clear whether what the characters say is to be believed, although some aretrustworthy than others Each vision and conversation is This is a very difficult book The work is composed of a series of allegorical dream visions and visions within visions On the first reading it is hard to identify any clear structure, but the lack of clarity is in part a literary device meant to present the reader with the same confusion as the dreamer narrator, or Piers Plowman experiences It is not always clear whether what the characters say is to be believed, although some aretrustworthy than others Each vision and conversation is intended to consider ethical questions and the nature of the spiritual life from different perspectives, none of which is wholly adequate in itself The author gets the reader to work through a series of problems which lead to a greater understanding of difficult subjects and ultimately to greater spiritual maturity The work is sophisticated theologically, and it is advisable for readers not thoroughly familiar with Holy Scripture to look up each of the passages quoted, since they are only quoted in part All are identified in the footnotes An understanding of Medieval and or Patristic theology and practice is required, but with reflection can also be gained by reading the work Piers Plowman may be a forerunner to the Reformation, but it is by no means anti clerical or anti Church It is very critical of corruption in the Church especially anything having to do with money, mendicant orders, and indulgences , but does so from a well founded and very traditional point of view This Roberson Shepherd edition contains a number of critical essays 130 pages , including a useful summary, and many translated excepts of relevant primary sources 123 pages There is a very short glossary The facing Middle English, and modern translation format is great The footnotes are excellent There is no glossing of the Middle English text, although there is of course a translation on the opposite page This was my first real taste of medieval literature, and I enjoyed it Mainly I liked this book s alliterative poetic style, and its unique look at the doctrines of the Christian church in the form of allegorical characters I read the Donaldson alliterative verse translation, with edits and notes by Kirk and Anderson, so the language and spelling was modern, though not unnecessarily so The notes were tasteful and helpful they boosted my understanding of what was happening, and introduced me This was my first real taste of medieval literature, and I enjoyed it Mainly I liked this book s alliterative poetic style, and its unique look at the doctrines of the Christian church in the form of allegorical characters I read the Donaldson alliterative verse translation, with edits and notes by Kirk and Anderson, so the language and spelling was modern, though not unnecessarily so The notes were tasteful and helpful they boosted my understanding of what was happening, and introduced me to some unfamiliar medieval words.The book contains a series of dreams that start with a criticism of the Roman Catholic church the book was written in the 1300s or 1400s , and merges into the narrator s desire to find and learn from Do Well, Do Better, and Do Best in order to be truly righteous On the way, he meets Piers Plowman, a name that shows that he is everyman s man, Piers Peter, Plowman Layman farmer , who gathers up a few people who also desire righteousness and justice, but realize that it cannot be necessarily found in the externalistic, fleshly customs of the Roman church What s really exciting is when Piers Plowman begins to reveal himself gradually through some of his words and actions, that He is the Son of Man, and the Son of God, and it is He whose grace helps us to Do Well, Do Better, and finally, to Do Best Though the book dragged on a bit in the middle it s not really organized, or supposed to be , the climax in Passus XVIII at the cross of Christ was thrilling and well worth the slower middle In this section I found the quotes that had originally led me to this book quotes of the sisters Mercy, Righteousness, Truth, and Peace debating over which one of them would triumph at the cross Here is a close up look at this section that I enjoyed so much Quote beginning on p 204 Where out of the west a wench, as I thought,Came walking on the way she looked toward hell.Mercy was that maid s name, a meek thing withal,A most gracious girl, and goodly of speech.Her sister as it seemed came softly walking Out of the east, opposite, and she looked westward,A comely creature and cleanly Truth was her name.Because of the virtue that followed her, she was afraid of nothing.When these maidens met, Mercy and Truth,Each of them asked the other about this great wonder, And of the din and of the darkness, and how the day lowered,And what a gleam and a glint glowed before hell I marvel at this matter, by my faith, said Truth, And am coming to discover what this queer affair means Do not marvel, said Mercy, it means only mirth Since this baby was born it has been thirty winters,Who died and suffered death this day about midday.And that is the cause of this eclipse that is closing off the sun,In meaning that man shall be removed from darknessWhile this gleam and this glow go to blind Lucifer.For patriarchs and prophets have preached of this oftenThat man shall save man through a maiden s help,And what a tree took away a tree shall restore,And what Death brought down a death shall raise up What you re telling, said Truth, is just a tale of nonsense.For Adam and Eve and Abraham and the rest, Patriarchs and prophets imprisoned in pain,Never believe that yonder light will lift them up,Or have them out of hell hold your tongue, Mercy Your talk is mere trifling I, Truth, know the truth,For whatever is once in hell, it comes out never A longer debate ensues here, until they are joined by Peace and Righteousness said Mercy, I see here to the south Where Peace clothed in patience comes sportively this way.Love has desired her long I believe surelyThat Love has sent her some letter, what this light meansThat hangs over hell thus she will tell us what it means When Peace clothed in patience approached near them both,Righteousness did her reverence for her rich clothingAnd prayed Peace to tell her to what place she was going My wish is to take my way, said she, and welcome them allWhom many a day I might not see for murk of sin.Adam and Eve and the many other in hell,Moses and manywill merrily sing,And I shall dance to their song sister do the same.Because Jesus jousted well, joy begins to dawn.Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.Love who is my lover sent letters to tell meThat my sister Mercy and I shall save mankind,And that God has forgiven and granted me, Peace, and MercyTo make bail for mankind for ever after Then they observe and discuss Christ s work on the cross, and what it means for all mankind, from the Old Testament patriarchs, to those who are yet to be born, drawing all sorts of analogies and allegories based on jousting and warfare, light and darkness, and the ripe wine of the passion of Christ For I who am Lord of Life, love is my drink And for that drink today I died upon earthWhen I shall drink really ripe wine, Resurrectio mortuorum And then I shall come as a king crowned with angels And have out of hell all men s souls Fiends and Fiendkinds shall stand before me And be at my bidding, where best it pleases me Peace continues to argue for the efficacy of the cross, showing a paradox that God causes storms so that serene weather is appreciated, and ugliness in the world so that Beauty would stand in sharper contrast Then Peace piped a note of poetry As a rule the sun is brighter after the biggest cloud After hostilities love is brighter.After sharp showers, said Peace, the sun shines brightest No weather is warmer than after watery clouds Nor any love lovelier, orloving friends,Than after war and woe when Love and Peace are masters.There was never war in this world nor wickedness so sharpThat Love, if he liked, might not make a laughing matter Then comes the best part, which anybody who knows the scriptures will have been waiting for Truce said Truth, you tell the truth, by Jesus Let s kiss in covenant and each of us clasp other And let no people, said Peace, perceive that we argued For nothing is impossible to him that is almighty You speak the truth, said Righteousness, and reverently kissed her, Peace,And Peace her, per saecula saeculorum Mercy and Truth have met together Righteousness and Peacehave kissed each other Truth sounded a trumpet then and sang Te Deum Laudamus,And then Love strummed a lute with a loud note Behold how good and how pleasant, etc.Till the day dawned these damsels caroled When bells rang for the Resurrection, and right then I awakeAnd called Kit my wife and Calote my daughter Arise and go reverence God s resurrection In the next Passus, Piers Plowman, still bloody from the cross, gathers an army of Christians from every corner of the world to devote themselves to strengthening and purifying the church in unity.I don t think it would be easy to appreciate this book half so much, if you did not know the Bible through and through So many subtle hints about Biblical prophecies, analogies, and stories are dropped, to help the reader discover for himself what is so amazing about this story of Piers Plowman Other reviews I ve read said this poem was about medieval economics and social order True, those are elements that show up, as any world being redeemed to Christ will have to address economic and society, but the main thing I saw was the story of Christ s redemption told through the characters of different virtues and vices My favorite part was. After approximately a year of wading through Middle English alliterative verse at an average rate of approximately one page per day, I have finally come to the end of The Vision of Piers Plowman So was it worth it Yes It is by some stretch my most ambitious undertaking in regard to reading Middle English I have not read two of the Canterbury Tales together and have only read about half of it by number of lines many fewer than half the Tales and that s the limit of my Chaucer I ve never After approximately a year of wading through Middle English alliterative verse at an average rate of approximately one page per day, I have finally come to the end of The Vision of Piers Plowman So was it worth it Yes It is by some stretch my most ambitious undertaking in regard to reading Middle English I have not read two of the Canterbury Tales together and have only read about half of it by number of lines many fewer than half the Tales and that s the limit of my Chaucer I ve never tackled Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in the original and although I have read most of Malory, it is prose andrecent and again, not read as one big lump Piers Plowman is not merely longer, though it is, despite Langland being contemporary with Chaucer, fundamentallydifficult because the dialect is not Chaucer s The London dialect went on to become the dominant one in the development from Middle to Modern English and is therefore somewhat easier for the modern reader The concentration required and necessary time spent reading glosses and notes was rewarded, however It is slow going when one can only tackle it before going to sleep hence one year to do it justice The Vision of Piers Plowman is a Christian allegory and a deeply serious, heart felt as well as intellectual one Langland uses the older Alliterative verse style rather than adopting the new fangled rhyming, iambic schemes as Chaucer did I am a fan of this approach to narrative verse as it adds colour and interest makes the story poetic without the risk of the unvaried rhythm of iambic metre sending one to snooze land prematurely Alliterative verse forms have strict rules, just as iambic metres do and it takes considerable skill to compose in them.The seriousness and evident profound feeling behind the poem stands in stark contrast to the Canterbury Tales insofar as I ve read them even though there are some themes in common No matter where one stands regarding the debate about whether Chaucer s very parfit gentle knyght is being satirised or not, it is clear that the Tales in general are full of satire and humour and the various types of clergy are presented as a corrupt, greedy, hypocritical lot Chaucer seems not to have much anger behind his satire, though the Tales seem something of a frivolous entertainment When Langland tackles such folk as friers and pardoners they come in for a metaphorical roasting and it is plain that he expects most of them to experience a literal one after Judgement Day The only other Middle English poem I ve read in Tolkien s translation that competes for expressing deep feeling on the part of its author is Pearl another dream vision, about the author s grief at the loss of a young daughter Piers Plowman is on an altogether bigger scale, though In a series of dreams and dreams within dreams, which can get tricky to keep track of at one page a day not only is a Utopian society envisaged, but every major question of Christian theology is addressed as the spiritual progress of both Piers and the dreamer are chronicled right up to the final battle between good and evil forces within humanityThe prologue starts things of with an exciting little story where rats, mice and a cat take the place of nobles, commoners and the King Matters continue apace and rather wittily with the Marriage of Mede, which gets tangled up in legal battles and corrupt practice Later Piers sets up his farm and barn, eventually to be the scene of the dramatic finale Most of this is lively and the narrative helps drag one through the worst difficulties of the language One learns as one progresses once you know that ac means but it isn t a problem at future encounters, for example Piers wanders off on a pilgrimage at about the half way point as he believes he needs to understand the Biblical message better The proceeding third or so of the poem is easily the most dull and dry as it descends into a series of theological discussions usually expounded by various characters quoting liberal quantities of Latin at each other These matters were evidently important to Langland and to many intellectual Christians, I suspect but the excitement of the initial quarter of the poem becomes a distant memory Things pick up again with the appearance of the Actyf Man I love that name and steadily accelerate to an Apocalyptic conclusion worthy of a poem of such scale and ambition.We are lucky to have as much Middle English literature as we do and this work is a fine example of it read it if you are a Christian, or if your interest in poetry will withstand 362 pages requiring total focus I m actually reading an older translation by Henry Wells, which is probably much less accurate than the Norton edition but is fantastically bizarre and wonderful in its own right Someone had a good old time making it A randomly chosen example I bought her barley malt, and she brewed it for the traffic Penny ale and pudding ale were poured togetherFor labourers and poor folk she laid that aside.The best was in the ben or in my bed chamber Whoever took the bung from that, bought it thereafte I m actually reading an older translation by Henry Wells, which is probably much less accurate than the Norton edition but is fantastically bizarre and wonderful in its own right Someone had a good old time making it A randomly chosen example I bought her barley malt, and she brewed it for the traffic Penny ale and pudding ale were poured togetherFor labourers and poor folk she laid that aside.The best was in the ben or in my bed chamber Whoever took the bung from that, bought it thereafterA gallon for a groat, God wot, or dearer, And yet it came out by cup fulls, craftily measured Rose the Retailer was her right name.She had worked at huckstering all her lifetime p.61