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The world of Piers Plowman


‘THIS were a wicked way · unless we had a guide

That would show us each step’ · thus these folk complained.

Quoth Perkin the plowman · ‘By Saint Peter of Rome!

I’ve an half acre to plow · hard by the highway.

Had I plowed this half acre · and sown it after,

I would wend then with you · and show you the way.’

‘This were long delay’ · quoth a dame in a veil,

‘What should we women · work at meanwhile?’

‘Some shall sew sacks’, quoth Piers · ‘for sheltering the wheat;

And ye, lovely ladies · with your long fingers,

Have silk and sendal · to sew, while there’s time,

Chasubles for chaplains · churches to honour.

Wives and widows · wool and flax spin;

Make cloth, I counsel you · and so teach your daughters.

The needy and naked · take heed how they lie

And contrive for them clothes · for so commands Truth.

I shall get them livelihood · unless the land fails,

Flesh and bread both · to rich and to poor,

As long as I live · for the Lord’s love of Heaven.

And all manner of men · that by meat and drink live,

Help ye them to work well · that win you your food.’

‘By Christ!’ quoth a knight then · ‘he teaches the best;

But on this theme truly · taught was I never.

Teach me’, quoth the knight · ‘and, by Christ, I will try!’

‘By Saint Paul!’ quoth Perkin · ‘ye proffer so fairly

That I’ll swink and sweat · and sow for us both,

And other labours do for thy love · all my lifetime,

In covenant that thou keep · Holy Church and myself

From wasters and wicked men · that this world destroy.

And go and hunt hardily · for hares and for foxes,

For boars and for badgers · that break down mine hedges;

And go train thy falcons · wildfowl to kill,

For such come to my croft · and crop off my wheat.’

Courteously the knight then · answered these words:

‘By my powers, Piers’, quoth he · ‘I plight thee my troth’


Taken from William Langland, The Book Concerning Piers the Plowman, tr. Donald and Rachel Attwater, ed. Rachel Attwater (London, 1957).