Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. I. Chaucer to Donne
Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. I. Early Poetry: Chaucer to Donne
Extracts from The Vision of Piers the Plowman
By William Langland (1332?–1400?)
PASSUS XXI. (Latest Version.)

WO-WEARY and wetshod · went I forth after,
As a reckless renk 1 · that recketh not of sorrow,
And yede 2 forth like a lorel 3 · all my life-time,
Till I wex 4 weary of this world · and wilned 5 eft 6 to sleep,
And leaned me till Lent · and long time I slept.        5
Of girls 7 and of gloria laus · greatly I dreamed,
And how hosanna by organ · old folk sung.
One, was semblable 8 to the Samaritan · and some-deal to Piers Plowman,
Barefoot on an ass-back · bootless came pricking,
Without spurs or spear · and sprackly 9 he looked,        10
As is the kind of a knight · that cometh to be dubbed,
To get his gold spurs · and galoches 10 y-couped. 11
Then was Faith in a fenestre 12 · and cried, ‘Ah! fili David!’
As doth an herald of arms · when auntres 13 come to jousts.
Old Jews of Jerusalem · for joy they sung,        15
          Benedictus qui venit in nomine domini.
Then I frayned 14 at Faith · what all that fare meant,
And who should joust in Jerusalem · ‘Jesus,’ he said,
‘And fetch that 15 the fiend claimeth · Piers fruit the Plowman.’ 16
‘Is Piers in this place?’ quoth I · and he preynte 17 upon me,        20
‘Liberum Dei arbitrium,’ quoth he · ‘for love hath undertaken
That this Jesus, of his gentrise 18 · shall joust in Piers’ arms,
In his helm and in his habergeon · humanâ naturâ.
That Christ be not known · for consummatus Deus,
In Piers’ plates the Plowman 19 · this pricker 20 shall ride;        25
For no dint 21 shall him dere 22 · as in Deitate patris.’
‘Who shall joust with Jesus?’ quoth I · ‘Jews, or the scribes?’
‘Nay,’ quoth Faith, ‘but the fiend · and false-doom-to-die.
Death saith he will for-do 23 · and adown bring
All that liveth or looketh · on land and in water.        30
Life saith that he lieth · and hath laid his life to wed, 24
That, for all that Death can do · within three days,
To walk, and fetch from the fiend · Piers fruit the Plowman,
And lay it where him liketh · and Lucifer bind,
And for-beat 25 and bring adown · bale and death for ever!        35
          O mors, ero mors tua!
Then came Pilate with much people · sedens pro tribunali,
To see how doughtily Death should do · and deem 26 their beyer right. 27
The Jews and the justices · against Jesus they were,
And all the court cried · crucifige! loud.        40
Then put him forth a pilour 28 · before Pilate, and said,
‘This Jesus of our Jews’ temple · japed 29 and despised,
To for-do it on a day · and in three days after
Edify it eft new · here He stands that said it,
And yet make it as much 30 · in all manner [of] points        45
Both as long and as large · aloft and aground,
And as wide as it ever was · this we witness all!’
‘Crucifige!’ quoth a catch-poll · he can of 31 witchcraft.
‘Tolle! tolle!’ quoth another · and took of keen thorns,
And began of a green thorn · a garland to make,        50
And set it sore on His head · and sith 32 said in envy,
‘Ave! Rabbi!’ quoth that ribald · and reeds shot at His eyes:
And nailed Him with three nails · naked on the rood,
And, with a pole, poison · [they] put to his lips,
And bade Him drink, His death to let 33 · and His days lengthen;        55
And said, ‘if He soothfast be · He will Himself help;
And now, if Thou be Christ · God’s son of heaven,
Come adown off this rood · and then will we ’lieve
That life Thee loveth · and will not let Thee die.’
‘Consummatum est!’ quoth Christ · and comsed 34 for to swoon        60
Piteously and pale · as prisoner that dieth.
The Lord of life and of light · then laid His eyes together,
The day for dread thereof withdrew · and dark became the sun,
The wall of the temple to-clave 35 · even in two pieces;
The hard rock all to-rove 36 · and right dark night it seemed.        65
The earth quook and quashed · as [if] it quick 37 were,
And dead men for that din · came out of deep graves,
And told why that tempest · so long time dured;
‘For a bitter battle’ · the dead body said;
‘Life and Death in this darkness · the one for-doth 38 the other,        70
But shall no wight wit witterly 39 · who shall have the mastery
Ere Sunday, about sun-rising’ · and sank with that to earth.
*        *        *        *        *
Lo! how the sun gan lock · her 40 light in her-self,
When she saw Him suffer death · who sun and sea made!
Lo! the earth, for heaviness · that He would death suffer,        75
Quaked 41 as [a] quick thing · and al to-quashed the rocks!
Lo! hell might not hold · but opened, when God tholed, 42
And let out Simon’s 43 sons · to see Him hang on rood.
Now shall Lucifer ’lieve it · though him loath think;
For Jesus, as a giant · with a gin 44 cometh yond,        80
To break and to beat adown · all that be against Him,
And to have out all · of them that Him liketh.
‘Suffer we,’ said Truth · ‘I hear and see both
A Spirit speak to hell · and bids unspar the gates;
          Attollite portas, principes, vestras; &c.’        85
A voice loud in that light · to Lucifer cried,
‘Princes of this palace · prest 45 undo the gates,
For here cometh with crown · the king of all glory.’
Then sighed Satan · and said to hell,
‘Such a light, against our leave · Lazarus it fetched;        90
Cold care and cumbrance · is come to us all.
If this king come in · mankind will he fetch,
And lead it where Lazar is · and lightly me bind.
Patriarchs and prophets · have parled 46 hereof long,
That such a lord and a light · shall lead them all hence.        95
But rise up, Ragamuffin! · and reach me the bars
That Belial thy bel-sire 47 · beat, 48 with thy dam, 49
And I shall let 50 this lord · and His light stop.
Ere we through brightness be blent 51 · bar we the gates!
Check we, and chain we · and each chine 52 stop,        100
That no light leap in · at louvre nor at loop.
And thou, Ashtaroth, hoot out · and have out our knaves,
Colting, and all his kin · our cattle 53 to save.
Brimstone boiling · burning out-cast it
All hot on their heads · that enter nigh the walls.        105
Set bows of brake 54 · and brazen guns,
And shoot out shot enough · His sheltrums 55 to blend. 56
Set Mahound at the mangonel 57 · and mill-stones throw,
With crooks and with calthrops · a-cloy 58 we them each one!’
‘Listen!’ quoth Lucifer · ‘for I this lord know,        110
Both this lord and this light · is long ago I knew him.
May no death this Lord dere 59 · nor devil’s queintise; 60
And, where He will, is His way · but warn Him of the perils.
If He reave me of my right · He robbeth me by mastery. 61
For, by right and by reason · the renks 62 that be here        115
Body and soul be mine · both good and ill.
For He Himself it said · that Sire is of hell,
That Adam and Eve · and all their issue
Should die with dool 63 · and here dwell ever,
If that they touched a tree · or took thereof an apple.        120
Thus this lord of light · such a law made;
And, since He is so leal a Lord · I ’lieve that He will not
Reave us of our right · since reason them damnèd.
And, since we have been seised 64 · seven thousand winters,
And [He] never was there-against · and now will begin,        125
He were unwrast of 65 His word · that witness is of truth!’
‘That is sooth,’ said Satan · ‘but I me sore doubt,
For 66 thou got them with guile · and His garden broke,
Against His love and His leave · on His land yedest, 67
Not in form of a fiend · but in form of an adder;        130
And enticedest Eve · to eat by herself,
And behightest 68 her and him · after to know,
As two gods, with God · both good and ill;
Thus with treason and with treachery · thou troiledest 69 them both,
And diddest 70 them break their buxomness 71 · through false byhest; 72        135
Thus haddest thou them out · and hither at the last.
It is not graithly 73 gotten · where guile is at the root.
Forthy 74 I dread me,’ quoth the devil · ‘lest Truth will them fetch;
And, as thou beguiledest God’s image · in going of an adder,
So hath God beguiled us all · in going of a wy.’ 75
*        *        *        *        *
‘What lord art Thou?’ quoth Lucifer · a voice aloud said,
‘The lord of might and of main · that made all things.
Duke of this dim place · anon undo the gates,
That Christ may come in · the king’s son of heaven.’
And with that breath hell brake · with all Belial’s bars;        145
For any wy or ward 76 · wide opened the gates.
Patriarchs and prophets · populus in tenebris
Sang with saint John · ecce agnus Dei!
Lucifer might not look · so light him ablent; 77
And those that our Lord loved · with that light forth flew.
*        *        *        *        *
Ashtoreth and all others · hid them in hernes, 78
They durst not look on our Lord · the least of them all,
But let Him lead forth which Him list · and leave which Him liked.
Many hundreds of angels · harped then and sang,
        Culpat caro, purgat caro, Regnat Deus Dei caro.        155
Then piped Peace · of poetry a note,
        Clarior est solito post maxima nebula Phebus,
        Post inimicitias clarior est et amor.
‘After sharpest showers,’ quoth Peace · ‘most sheen is the sun,
Is no weather warmer · than after watery clouds,        160
Nor love liefer · nor liefer friends,
Than after war and wrack · when Love and Peace be masters.
Was never war in this world · nor wickeder envy,
But Love, if him list · to laughing it brought,
And Peace, through patience · all perils stopped.’
*        *        *        *        *
Truth trumped them, and sang · Te Deum laudamus;
And then luted Love · in a loud note,
        Ecce quam bonum et quam iocundum est habitare fratres in unum!
Till the day dawned · these damsels danced,
That men rung to the resurrection · and with that I awaked,        170
And called Kitte my wife · and Calote my daughter,
‘Arise! and go reverence · God’s resurrection,
And creep on knees to the cross · and kiss it for a jewel,
And rightfullest relic · none richer on earth!
For God’s blessed body · it bare, for our boot, 79        175
And it a-feareth 80 the fiend; · for such is the might,
May no grisly ghost · glide where it shadoweth.
Note 1. man. [back]
Note 2. went. [back]
Note 3. caitiff. [back]
Note 4. became. [back]
Note 5. wished. [back]
Note 6. again. [back]
Note 7. children. [back]
Note 8. like. [back]
Note 9. sprightly. [back]
Note 10. shoes. [back]
Note 11. curiously cut. [back]
Note 12. window. [back]
Note 13. adventurers. [back]
Note 14. asked. [back]
Note 15. that which. [back]
Note 16. the fruit [souls of men] belonging to Piers Plowman [Christ]. [back]
Note 17. glanced, looked. [back]
Note 18. condescension. [back]
Note 19. in the plate-armour of Piers Plowman. [back]
Note 20. rider. [back]
Note 21. blow. [back]
Note 22. harm. [back]
Note 23. destroy. [back]
Note 24. as a pledge. [back]
Note 25. beat to death. [back]
Note 26. adjudge. [back]
Note 27. the right [claim] of them both. [back]
Note 28. a robber put himself forward. [back]
Note 29. jested. [back]
Note 30. great. [back]
Note 31. knows much of. [back]
Note 32. then. [back]
Note 33. prevent. [back]
Note 34. began. [back]
Note 35. was cloven in twain. [back]
Note 36. was reft in two. [back]
Note 37. alive. [back]
Note 38. destroys. [back]
Note 39. know certainly. [back]
Note 40. sun is feminine. [back]
Note 41. so here; above we have quook. [back]
Note 42. suffered. [back]
Note 43. In the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, two sons of Simeon rise from the dead, and reveal what they have witnessed in hell during Christ’s descent into it. [back]
Note 44. device, plan. [back]
Note 45. quickly. [back]
Note 46. spoken. [back]
Note 47. good father. [back]
Note 48. forged. [back]
Note 49. mother. [back]
Note 50. stop. [back]
Note 51. blinded. [back]
Note 52. chink. [back]
Note 53. chattels. [back]
Note 54. cross-bows, with powerful levers for setting them. [back]
Note 55. squadrons. [back]
Note 56. blind. [back]
Note 57. catapult. [back]
Note 58. frustrate. [back]
Note 59. harm. [back]
Note 60. device. [back]
Note 61. mere force. [back]
Note 62. men. [back]
Note 63. sorrow. [back]
Note 64. in possession. [back]
Note 65. turned away from. [back]
Note 66. because. [back]
Note 67. wentest. [back]
Note 68. didst promise. [back]
Note 69. didst deceive. [back]
Note 70. didst cause. [back]
Note 71. obedience. [back]
Note 72. promise. [back]
Note 73. regularly. [back]
Note 74. therefore. [back]
Note 75. in taking the form of a man. [back]
Note 76. despite any wight or guard. [back]
Note 77. blinded. [back]
Note 78. corners. [back]
Note 79. help, remedy. [back]
Note 80. frightens away. [back]
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