Piers Plowman, Passus VI

'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

Piers The Plowman, Passus VI, p. 52

That pact to fulfil · though for it I fight;
As long as I live · I shall thee maintain.'
'Yea; yet one point,' quoth Piers · 'I pray of you more.
Look ye sue no tenant · unless Truth assent.
Though he may amerce them · let Mercy be taxer
And Meekness thy master · in spite of Meed's checks.
And though poor men proffer you · presents and gifts,
Take it not; for perchance · ye may not deserve it,
And then must repay it · again at a year's end
In a full perilous place · purgatory called.
Mishandle not bondmen · the better may thou speed.
Though he be underling here · well may happen in heaven
That he'll be worthier set · more blissful than thou,
Unless thou do better · and live as thou shouldest:

Amice, ascends superius.

'In the charnel at church · churls are hard to pick out,
Or a knight from a knave · know this in thine heart.
See thou'rt true of thy tongue · and tales that thou hate,
Unless they have wisdom · to chasten thy workmen.
Hold with no rascals · and hear not their tales,
Especially at meat · such men eschew;
They're the devil's minstrels · I bid thee to know.'
'I assent, by St James!' · said the knight then,
'For to work by thy words · while my life endures.'

'And I shall apparel me,' quoth Perkyn · 'in pilgrim's wise,
And wend with you I will · till we find Truth;
Put on me my clothes · patched-up and ragged,
My leggings and mittens · 'gainst cold of my nails,
Hang my seed basket at my neck · instead of a scrip,
And a bushel of breadcorn · bring me therein;
For I will sow it myself · and then will I wend
To pilgrimage as palmers do · pardon for to have.
Who will help me to plow · or to sow ere I wend
Shall have leave, by our Lord! · to glean here in harvest
And with it make himself merry · spite of who may begrudge it.
And all kinds of craftsmen · who will honestly live,
I shall find them food · that faithfully work.
Save Jack the juggler · and Janet of the stews,
Daniel the dicer · and Denot the bawd,
All lying friars · and folk of their order,
And Robin the ribald · for his smutty words --

Piers The Plowman, Passus VI, p. 53

Truth told me once and · bade me repeat it:
Deleantur de libro viventium · I'll not deal with them,
For Holy Church of their like · is told no tithe to take:

Qui cum justis non scribantur;

By good luck they've escaped · now God them amend!'
Dame Work-while-time-is · Pier's wife was called;
His daughter, Do-right-so- · or-thy-dame-shall-thee-beat;
His son, Suffer-thy-sovereigns- · to-have-their-will-
Judge-them-not-for-if-thou-dost- · thou-shalt-it-dearly-rue.
'May God be with all · for so his word teacheth.
For now I am hoary and old · and have goods of mine own
To penance and pilgrimage · I will pass with these others.
Wherefore ere I wend · I'll write out my bequest.

'In Dei nomine. Amen · I make it myself.
He shall have my soul · that best hath deserved it
And if from the fiend will defend · for so I believe,
Till I come to his account · as my Credo me telleth,
To have release and remission · on that rental, I hope.
The church shall have my corpse · and keep all my bones,
For of my corn and cattle · she gathered the tithe.
I paid parson promptly · for peril of my soul;
So is he holden, I hope · to name me in his mass
And make a memento · among other Christians.

'My wife shall have my · honest gains and no more,
To share with my daughters · and my dear children.
For should I today die · all my debts are quit;
I bore back what I borrowed · ere I to bed went.
And with the residue and remnant · by the Rood of Lucca!
I will worship therewith Truth, · while I live,
And be his pilgrim at plow · for all poor men's sake.
My plow-foot shall be my pike-staff · and pick apart the roots
And help my coulter to carve · and clean up the furrows.'

Now is Perkin and his pilgrims · to the plow gone;
To plow his half acre · helped him many.
Ditchers and delvers · digged up the balks;
Therewith Perkin was pleased · and praised them soon.
Other workmen there were · that worked eagerly;
Each man in his manner · made himself busy,
And some to please Perkin · piked up the weeds.

At high prime-tide Piers · let the plow stand,

Piers The Plowman, Passus VI, p. 52

To oversee them himself · and whoso worked best
Should be hired thereafter · when harvest time came.
Then sat down some · and sang over the ale
And helped plow his half acre · with 'Ho, trollo-lolli!'

'On peril of my soul!' quoth Piers · out of pure anger,
'Unless ye rise swiftly · and speed you to work,
Shall no grain that groweth · gladden you at need,
And though ye die for dole · devil take him who cares.'

The false fellows were afeared · and feigned themselves blind;
Some laid their legs awry · in the way such louts know,
And made their moan to Piers · and prayed of him grace;
'For we have no limbs to labour with · Lord, thanked be thee!
But we pray for you, Piers · and for your plow too,
That God of his grace · your grain multiply
And yield to you for your alms · that ye give us here;
For we can not Swink nor sweat · such sickness us aileth.'

'If it be sooth,' quoth Piers, 'that ye say · I shall soon it espy.
Ye be wasters, I wot well · and Truth wots the sooth!
I am his old hind · and am bidden by him to wam
Those in this world · who have harmed his workmen.
Ye waste what men win · with travail and trouble,
But Truth shall teach you · his plow-team to drive,
Or ye shall eat barley bread · and of the brook drink.
But if one be blind, broken-legged · or bolted with irons,
He shall eat wheat bread · and drink with myself,
Till God of his goodness · amendment him send.
But ye might travail as Truth wills · and take meat and hire
To keep kine in the field · the corn from the beasts,
To dike or to delve · or thresh out the sheaves,
Or help to make mortar · or bear muck afield.
In lechery and in lying · ye live, and in sloth,
And it is on sufferance · that vengeance is not taken.
But anchorites and hermits · that eat not but at noon,
And no more ere the morrow · mine alms shall they have,
And my goods shall clothe those · that have cloisters and churches.
But Robert the runabout · shall have naught of mine,
Nor friars; unless they preach well · and have leave of the bishop --
These shall have bread and pottage · and make themselves at ease:
'Tis an unreasonable religion · hath right naught to depend on.'
Then a waster was wrath · and so would have fought,

Piers The Plowman, Passus VI, p. 55

And to Piers the Plowman · he proffered his glove.
A Breton, a braggart · at Piers boasted too;
Bade him piss with his plow · for a starveling wretch!
'Willy or nilly · we will have our will;
Of thy flour and thy flesh · fetch when us like
And make merry therewith · despite thy accounts.'
Then Piers the Plowman · complained to the knight
To keep him, as covenant was · from cursed wretches
And from these wolfish wasters · that do the world harm:
'For they waste and win naught · and meanwhile there'll be
No plenty for the people · while my plow be idle.'

Courteously the knight then · as his nature was,
Warned the waster · and told him to mend:
'Or, by the order I bear · thou shalt suffer the law!'

'I was not wont to work,' quoth Waster · 'and now will not begin' --
And made light of the law · and less of the knight,
Set Piers and his plow · at the price of a pea
And menaced Pier's men · if they met again soon.

'Now by peril of my soul · I shall punish you all!'
Piers whooped after Hunger · who heard him at once.
'Avenge me,' quoth he, 'on these wasters · who worry the world!'

Hunger in haste then · seized Waste by the maw
And wrung him so by the belly · that both his eyes watered;
The Breton he buffeted · about the cheeks
That he looked lantern-jawed · all his life after.
He beat them so both · that he near burst their ribs;
Had not Piers with a pease-loaf · prayed Hunger to cease
They had been buried both · believe thou none other!
'Suffer them to live,' he said · 'let them eat with the hogs
Or else beans and bran · baked up together,
Or else milk and mean ale' · thus prayed Piers for them.

Loungers for fear thereof · fled into barns
And flapped on with flails · from morning till eve,
So that Hunger less hardily · looked upon them,
For a potful of pease · that Piers had made.
A heap of hermits · hung on to spades
And cut up their capes · to make themselves coats,
And went out as workmen · with spades and with shovels
To dig and to delve to drive away hunger.

The blind and bedridden · were bettered by thousands;
Those that sat to beg silver · soon were they healed;

Piers The Plowman, Passus VI, p. 56

For what was baked for a horse · was a boon for the hungry,
And many a beggar for beans · glad was to sweat,
And each poor man was well pleased · to have pease for his hire;
And what Piers prayed them to do · they did swift as a sparhawk.
Thereof was Piers proud · and put them to work,
Gave them meat as he might · and a moderate hire.
Then had Piers pity · and prayed Hunger to wend
Home into his own place · and holden him there.
'For I am well avenged now · of wasters, through thy might.
But I pray thee, ere thou pass,' · quoth Piers to Hunger,
'With beggars and bidders · what's best to be done?
For I wot well, when thou'rt gone · they will work full ill;
For misfortune makes them · to be so meek now
And for default of their food · this folk is at my will.
They're my brethren by blood · for God bought us all.
Truth taught me once · to love them each one
And to help them in all things · always, as they need.
And now would I know of thee · what were the best,
How I might master them · and make them to work.'

'Hear now,' quoth Hunger · 'and hold it for wisdom:
Bold beggars and big · that might earn bread by work,
With hounds' bread and horse bread · hold up their hearts,
Abate them with beans · to keep down their bellies;
And if grumblers grouse · bid them go work,
And they shall sup sweeter · when they've it deserved.

'And if thou find any fellow · that any false man
Or fortune hath injured · find how such to know!
Comfort him with thy goods · for Christ's love of Heaven,
Love them and lend to them · so God's law teacheth:

Alter alterius onera portate.

And all manner of man · that thou mayest espy
That be needy and have naught · help them with thy goods;
Love them and loathe them not · let God take the vengeance;
If they've done thee evil · let thou God alone;

Mihi vindicta, & ego retribuam.

If thou wilt be gracious before God · do as the gospel teacheth,
And be loved among lowly men · so shalt thou have grace,

Facite vobis amicos de mamona iniquitatis.'

'I would not grieve God · for all the goods on ground.
Might I do as thou sayest and be sinless?' · said Piers then.
'Yea, I promise thee,' quoth Hunger · 'or else the Bible lieth.

Piers The Plowman, Passus VI, p. 57

Go to Genesis the giant · engenderer of us all:
"In sudore and swink · thou shalt earn thy meat
And labour for livelihood" · and so our Lord bade.
And Wisdom saith the same · I saw it in the Bible:
Piger prae frigore · no field would till,
Therefore shall he beg and bid and no man cure his hunger.
Matthew-with-man's-face · mouthed these words,
That servus nequam had a coin · and as he would not chaffer
Had rebuke of his master · for evermore after;
Who because he would work not · took away his coin
And gave that coin to him · that ten others had;
And with that he said so · that Holy Church heard:
"He that hath shall have · and be helped when he needeth,
And he that naught hath shall naught have · and no man him help;
And of that he weeneth to have · I will him bereave."

Mother-Wit wisheth · that each wight should work
In diking or in delving · or travailing in prayers;
At contemplative or active life · Christ would that men work,
The psalter saith in the psalm · of Beati omnes,
He that feedeth himself · with his faithful labour
He is blessed by the Book · in body and in soul:

Labores manuum tuarum, etc.'

'Yet I pray you,' quoth Piers 'par charité, · if ye know
Any line of leechcraft · teach it me, my dear.
For some of my servants · and myself also
For all a week work not · so our belly acheth.'
'I wot well,' quoth Hunger · 'what sickness you aileth;
You have munched overmuch · and that maketh you groan.
But I bid thee,' quoth Hunger · 'as thou thine health willest,
That thou drink not each day · ere thou dine somewhat.
Eat naught, I command thee · ere hunger thee take
And send thee of his sauce · to savour thy lips;
And keep some till supper-time · and sit not too long,
Rise up ere appetite · have eaten his fill.
Let not Sir Surfeit · sit at thy board;
Listen not, for he is lecherous · and lickerish of tongue,
After many manner of meats · his maw is anhungered.

And if thou diet thee thus · I dare lay none ears
That Physic his furred hoods · for his food shall sell,
And his Calabrian cloak · with the knots of gold,
And be fain, by my faith · his physic to leave

Piers The Plowman, Passus VI, p. 58

And learn to labour on land · for livelihood's sweet.
For murderers are many leeches · the Lord them amend!
Making men die through their drinks · ere destiny wills.'
'By St Paul,' quoth Piers · 'these are profitable words!
Wend thou, Hunger, when thou wilt · and well be thou ever.
For this lovely lesson may the Lord · requite thee.'

'I swear to God,' quoth Hunger · 'hence will I not wend
Till I have dined this day · and drunken also.'

'I have no penny,' quoth Piers · 'pullets for to buy,
Nor neither geese nor pigs · but two green cheeses,
A few curds and cream · and an oaten cake,
And two loaves of beans and bran · baked for my youngsters.
And yet I say, by my soul · I have no salt bacon;
Nor no hen's eggs, by Christ · collops for to make.
But I have parsley and leeks · with many cabbages,
And a cow and a calf · a cart-mare also
To draw dung afield · while the drought lasteth.
With this for our living we must live · until Lammas time come,
And by that I hope I have · harvest in my croft;
Then may I make thee thy dinner · as I'd like to dearly.'
All the poor people then · their peascods fetched,
Beans and baked apples · they brought in their laps,
Onions and chervis · and many ripe cherries,
And proffered Piers this present · wherewith to please Hunger.

Hunger ate all in haste · and asked after more.
Then poor folk for fear · fed Hunger quickly;
With green leeks and pease · to poison him they sought.
By that it nighed near harvest · new corn came to market;
Then were folk fain · and fed Hunger with the best,
With good ale, as Glutton taught · and made Hunger go sleep.

Then would Waster not work · but wandered about,
Nor no beggar eat bread · that had beans therein
But asked for the best · white, made of clean wheat;
Nor none halfpenny ale · in no wise would drink,
But of the best and the brownest · for sale in the borough.

Labourers that have no land · to live on but their hands
Deigned not to dine at day · on worts a night old.
May no penny ale please them · nor no piece of bacon,
Only fresh flesh or fish · fried, roast, or baked,
And that chaud or plus chaud · 'gainst chilling their maw.

Piers The Plowman, Passus VI, p. 59

He must be hired at a high rate · else will he chide,
And wail at the time · when he was workman made;
And against Cato's counsel · begins he to rail:

Paupertatis onus patienter ferre memento.

He has grievances against God · and grumbles against Reason;
Then curseth he the king · and all his counsel after
For licensing laws that · labourers grieve.
But while Hunger was their master · then would none of them chide
Nor strive against his statute · so sternly he looked.
But I warn you, workmen · earn while ye may,
For Hunger hitherward · hasteth him fast,
He shall awake with water · wasters to chasten.
Ere five years be fulfilled · such famine shall arise,
Through floods and foul weather · all fruits shall fail.
So said planet Saturn · and sent to warn you:
When ye see the sun gone amiss · and heads of two monks,
And a Maid have the mastery · and multiply by eight,
Then shall Death withdraw him · and Dearth be the judge,
And Davy the ditcher · shall die of hunger,
Unless God of his goodness · do grant us a truce.


Back to Passus V | Next Passus | Back to Langland Page

[This text is from William Langland, The Book Concerning Piers the Plowman, tr. Donald and Rachel Attwater, ed. Rachel Attwater. London and New York. 1957; printed with the permission of the publisher.]