The Vision of Piers Plowman

The Vision of Piers Plowman

The Vision of Piers Plowman

The Vision of Piers Plowman

Excerpt

It is not known who were the architects of our ancient cathedrals; they rise anonymously, and on them the signature of style, carried by every work of genius, is the signature of a people and a Faith. Piers Plowman, which of all poems is most like an English cathedral, is also virtually anonymous; it is the poem of a Catholic people, written from below; a whole nation's way of thinking and feeling finds voice in it; indeed, it speaks for all Christendom, though with an English accent.

A long tradition, springing from the fifteenth century, assigns it to William Langland, but this attribution tells us little, for it is not certainly known who William Langland was. A Dublin manuscript of the fifteenth century has the note that he was the son of Eustace de Rokayle, a gentleman; another source of later origin says he was born in Shropshire near the Malvern Hills; a number of like jottings, some of which are palpably mistaken, makes the sum of our information about him, apart from that which seems to be given in the poem itself: yet this poem was undoubtedly among the most famous of its day in England, as we may judge by the multiplicity of manuscripts, some three score of which survive from the fifteenth century; only ballads or miracle plays could have been more widely known; it was even alluded to by a popular agitator; John Ball wrote in his celebrated letter of encouragement to the insurgents under Wat Tyler:

". . . . and biddeth Peres Plowman go to his werk . . .
And do wel and bettre, and fleeth synne,
And seketh pees, and hold you therinne . . ."

For the most part John Ball's hearers, being serfs, were illiterate; but still the poem had somehow found home in their hearts. An allusion could stir them.

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