Piers Plowman, Passus VII

TRUTH hereof heard tell · and to Piers he sent,
To take him his team · and to till the earth;
And provided a pardon · a poena et a culpa
For him, and for his heirs · for evermore after.
And bade him hold him at home · and plow up his fields,
And all that helped him to plow · to set or to sow,
Or any other work · that might Piers avail,
Pardon with Piers Plowman · Truth them hath granted.

Kings and knights · that keep Holy Church
And rightfully in realms · rule over the people
Have pardon through purgatory · to pass full lightly,
With patriarchs and prophets · in paradise to be fellows.

Bishops most blessed · if they be as they should,
Legists of both the laws · to preach to the lawless,
And inasmuch as they may · amend all sinners,
Are peers with the apostles · (this pardon Piers showeth),
And at the day of doom · at the high dais to sit.

Merchants to the good · had many years,
But none a poena et a culpa · would the pope them grant,
For they hold not her holy days · as Holy Church teacheth,
And they swear 'by their souls' · and 'so God must them help'
Clean against conscience · merchandise to sell.

But under his secret seal · Truth sent them a letter
That they should buy boldly · what they liked best,
And afterwards sell again · and save their profits
Therewith to amend maisons Dieu · and miserable folk help;
To repair rotten roads · where plainly required;
And to build up bridges · that were broken down;
Help maidens to marry · or make of them nuns;
Poor people and prisoners · to find them their food;
And set scholars to school · or to some other craft;
Relieve poor religious · and lower their rents --
'And I shall send you myself · Michael mine archangel,
That no devil shall you daunt · nor fright you at death,

Piers The Plowman, Passus VII, p. 61

And keep you from despair · if ye will thus work,
And send your souls safely · to my saints in joy.'
Then were merchants merry · many wept for joy,
And praised Piers the Plowman · that provided this bull.
Men of law less pardon had · that pleaded for Meed;
For the psalter saveth not them · such as taketh gifts,
And especially from innocents · that no evil know:

Super innocentem munera non accipies.

Pleaders should take much pains · to plead and help such;
Princes and prelates should · pay for their travail:

A regibus & principibus erit merces eorum.

But many justices and jurors · would do more for fees
Than pro Dei pietate · believe thou none other.
But he that spendeth his speech · and speaketh for the poor
That is innocent and needy · and no man oppresseth,
Comforteth them in that case · without coveting gifts,
And sheweth law for our Lord's love · as it hath learned,
Shall no devil at his death-day · daunt him with fear
That his soul is not safe · as witness the psalms:

Domine, quis habilabit in tabernaculo tuo, etc.

But to buy water, wind, wit · or fire, the fourth --
These four the Father of Heaven · made for his fold in common;
And these be Truth's treasures · true folk to help,
And Shall never wax nor wane · without God himself.
Those that pence of poor men · for their pleading take
Find their pardon full small · at their parting hence,
When they draw on to die · and indulgences would have.
Ye legists and lawyers · hold this for the truth,
That if that I lie · Matthew is to blame,
For he bade me write this · and this proverb told:

Quodcumque vultis ut faciant vobis homines, facite eis.

All living labourers · that live by their hands
And take the just wages · they honestly earn,
And live in love and in law · for their lowly hearts
Have the same absolution · that was sent to Piers.
Beggars and bidders · are not in the bull,
Unless the occasion be honest · that makes them to beg.
He that beggeth or cadgeth · unless he have need
Is as false as the fiend · and defraudeth the needy;
He beguileth the giver · all against his will
For if he wist he were not needy · he would give to another

Piers The Plowman, Passus VII, p. 62

That were more needy than he · so the neediest would be helped.
Cato teacheth men thus · and the Clerk of the Stories;
Cui des, videto · is Cato's teaching
And in the stories he teacheth to bestow thine alms well:

Sit elemosina tua in manu tua, donee studes cui des.

But Gregory was a good man · and bade give to all
That asketh for his love that giveth to us all:

Non eligas cui miserearis, ne forte praetei-eas illum qui meretur accipere.
Quia incertum est pro quo Deo magis placeas.

For wit ye never who is worthy · but God wot who hath need.
In him that taketh is the treachery · if treason there be;
For he that giveth, parteth · and prepareth him to rest,
But he that beggeth, borroweth · and bringeth himself in debt.
For beggars borrow evermore · and their bail is God
To repay those that give to them · with interest added:

Quare non dedisti pecuniam meam ad mensam,
Ut ego veniens cuin usuris exegissem illam?

Therefore beg not, ye beggars · unless ye've great need.
For whoso must buy him bread · the Book beareth witness,
Hath enough that hath bread enough · though he have naught else.

Satis dives est, qui non indiget pane.

Find habit and solace · in reading saints' lines;
The Book banneth begging · and blameth them thus:

Junior fui, et jam senui: et non vidi justum derelictum,
nec semen ejus quaerens panem.

Many of you wed not · the women you go with,
But like whinnying beasts · mount them and tread them,
And so bring forth children · that bastards men call.
If the back or some bone · is broken in youth,
Ye will exploit that child · for evermore after.
There is more misshaped people · among all these beggars
Than of other manner of men · that on this mould move.
And they that live thus their life · may well loathe the time
That ever he was born · when he shall hence fare.
But old men and hoary · without help or strength,
And all women with child · that can work no more,
The blind and bedridden · and broken in limb,
That bear mischief meekly · as lepers and others,
Have as plenary a pardon · as the plowman himself;
For love of their lowly hearts · our Lord hath them granted

Piers The Plowman, Passus VII, p. 63

Their penance and purgatory · here on this earth.
'Piers,' quoth a priest then · 'thy pardon must I read,
For I will construe each clause · and tell it in English.'

And Piers at his prayer · the pardon unfoldeth,
And I behind both · beheld all the bull.
All in two lines it lay · and not a leaf more,
And was written right thus · in witness of Truth:

Et qui bona egerunt, ibunt in vitam aeternam;
qui vero mala, in ignem aeternum.

'Peter!' quoth the priest then · 'I can no pardon find
But "Do well and have well · and God shall have thy soul;
But do evil and have evil · and after thy death-day
The Devil have thy soul · hope thou none other."'
And Piers in vexation · tore it in twain,
And said: 'Si ambulavero in medio umbrae mortis non timebo mala:
quoniam tu mecum es.
I shall cease from my sowing · and swink not so hard,
Nor about my belly-joy · so busy be more.
Of prayers and of penance · shall my plow be hereafter,
And I'll weep when I should sleep · though my wheat-bread fail.
The prophet his bread ate · in penance and sorrow,
And by what psalter saith · so did many others;
Whoso loveth God loyally · can live upon little:

Fuerunt mihi lacrimae meae panes die ac nocte.

And, unless Saint Luke lie · he shows by the birds
We should not be too busy · about the world's bliss.
Ne solliciti sitis · he saith in the gospel,
And sheweth us by examples · our own selves to guide.
The fowls in the fields · who feeds them in winter?
They've no garner to go to · God finds for them all.'
'What!' quoth priest to Perkin · 'Peter! as methinketh,
Thou art lettered a little · who learned thee thy book?'

'Abstinence the abbess,' quoth Piers · 'mine A B C taught me,
And Conscience came after · and taught me much more.'

'Wert thou priest, Piers,' quoth he · 'thou mightest preach where thou wouldest,
As a divine in divinity · with dixit insipiens for theme.'

'Ignorant fool!' quoth Piers · 'little lookest thou on the Bible,
And the saws of Solomon · seldom thou seest:

Ejice derisores etjurgia cum eis, ne crescant, etc.'

Thus the priest and Perkin · opposed one to the other.

Piers The Plowman, Passus VII, p. 64

Through their words I awoke · and looked about
And saw the sun in the south · set at that time,
Meatless and moneyless · on Malvern hills
And musing on this vision · I went on my way.
Many times this vision · hath made me study
Of that I saw sleeping · if so it might be;
And also of Piers Plowman · full pensive in heart;
And what pardon he had · all the people to comfort,
And how the priest had impugned it · with just two words.
I've no savour in soothsaying · I see it oft fail;
And the canonists and Cato · counsel us not
To put faith in divining · for somnia ne cures.
But the book of the Bible · clearly bears witness
How Daniel divined · the dreams of a king,
That was Nebuchadnezzar · named by the clerks.
To whom Daniel said: 'Sir King · thy dream betokeneth
That unknown knights shall come · thy kingdom to cleave;
Amongst lower lords thy lands · shall be divided.'
And as Daniel divined · indeed it fell out,
The king lost his lordship · and lower men had it.
And Joseph dreamed marvellously · how the moon and sun
And the eleven stars of heaven · saluted him all.
Then Jacob judged · of Joseph's dream:
'Beaufils,' then quoth his father · 'for our lack we shall,
I myself and my sons · seek you in our need.'

As his father said it befell · in Pharaoh's time,
That Joseph was justice · Egypt to govern;
It befell as his father told · his friends there him sought.
And all this maketh me · on this dream to think:
And how the priest proved · no pardon like Do-well,
And deemed that good deeds · an indulgence surpassed,
And biennials and triennials · and letters of bishops.
And how Do-well at Doomsday · is honourable held,
Surpassing the pardon · of Saint Peter's church.

Now hath the pope power · to grant the people
Remission of penance · to pass into Heaven:
This is our belief · as lettered men teach us:

Quodeumque ligaveris super terram, erit ligature et in coelis, etc.

So I believe loyally · (the Lord forbid else!)
That pardon, penance, and prayers · cause to be saved

Piers The Plowman, Passus VII, p. 65

Souls that have sinned · seven times deadly.
But to trust to indulgences · truly methinketh,
Is not so safe for the soul · as it is to do well.
Therefore I advise all you · the rich on this earth
That on trust of your treasure · trentals can have,
Be ye never the bolder · to break the ten laws
And especially ye, masters · mayors, and judges,
Who for wise men are held · and have this world's wealth
To purchase your pardons · and the pope's bulls.
At the dreadful Doom · when the dead shall arise
And come all before Christ · their account to yield,
How thou leddest thy life · and here his laws kept,
And how thou didst day by day · the doom will declare:
Then a poke full of pardons · as provincials' letters,
Though found in the fraternity · of all the friars' orders
With doublefold indulgence · unless good deeds help you,
I put your patents and pardons · at one pea-pod's value!
Therefore I counsel Christians · to cry God mercy,
And Mary his mother · be our mediatrix,
That God give us grace here · ere that we go hence
That we may work such works · while we are here
That after our death-day · Do-well will declare
At the day of Doom that · we did as he bade.

This is the end of the Vision (Passus I-VII of Piers Plowman); the Section called "Do-Well, Do Better, Do Best" (Passus VIII to the end) follows; it recounts the dreamer's search for Truth. Passus XVIII, the Harrowing of Hell is available here; for the rest see the printed edition: 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.