Piers Plowman, Passus XVIII

LINEN-LESS and wet-shod · went I forth after,
As a reckless fellow · that of no woe recks,
And went like a vagrant · all my life,
Till I waxed weary of the world · and wished to sleep again,
And leaned me about till Lent · and long time I slept;
And of Christ's passion and penance · that the people saved,
I rested and dreamed there, and snored fast · till ramis palmarum;
Of children and of gloria laus · greatly me dreamed,
And how hosanna to the organ · old folk sang.
One like to the Samaritan · and somewhat to Piers Plowman.
Bare-foot on an ass's back · boot-less came riding,
Without spurs or spear · lively he looked,
As is the way with a knight · that cometh to be dubbed,
To get him gilt spurs · or shoes slashed.
Then was Faith in a window · and cried 'a! fili David!'
As doth a herald at arms · when the adventurous come to joust.
Old Jews of Jerusalem · for joy they sang,

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.

Then I asked of Faith · what all that affair meant,
And who should joust in Jerusalem · 'Jesus,' he said,
'And fetch what the Fiend claimeth · Piers' fruit the Plowman.'
'Is Piers in this place?' quoth I · and he looked on me,
'This Jesus of his nobility · will joust in Piers' arms,
In his helm and in his hauberk · humana natura;
That Christ be not known here · for consummatus Deus,
In Piers' garment the Plowman · this pricker shall ride;
For no dint shall him hurt · as in deitate Patris.'
'Who shall joust with Jesus?' quoth I · 'Jews or scribes?'
'Nay,' quoth He, 'the foul Fiend · and falsehood and death.
Death saith he will undo · and down bring
All that liveth or looketh · in land or in water.
Life saith that he lies · and laith his life to pledge,
That for all that death can do · within three days,
He will go and fetch from the Fiend · Piers' fruit the Plowman,

Piers The Plowman, Passus XVIII, p. 168

And lay it where him liketh · and Lucifer bind,
And beat and down bring · sorrow and death for ever:

O mors, ero mors tua!'

Then came Pilatus with much people · sedens pro tribunali,
To see how doughtily death should do · and judge the rights of both.
The Jews and the justices · against Jesus they were,
And all their court on him cried · crucifige sharp.
Then put forth a robber · before Pilate, and said,
'This Jesus at our Jews' temple · japed and despised,
To undo it on one day · and in three days after
Edify it anew · (here he stands that said it)
And yet make it as much · in all manner of points,
Both as long and as large · by height and by length.'
'Crucifige,' quoth a catchpole · 'I warrant him a witch!'
'Tolle, tolle!' quoth another · and took of keen thorns,
And began of keen thorn · a garland to make,
And set it hard on his head · and said in malice,
'Ave, rabi!' quoth that rascal · and threw reeds at him,
Nailed him with three nails · naked on the rood,
And poison on a pole · they put up to his lips,
And bade him drink his death drink · his days were done.

'And if that thou powerful be · help now thyself,
If thou be Christ, and king's son · come down off the rood;
Then shall we believe that Life thee loveth · and will not let thee die!'
'Consummatum est,' quoth Christ · and began for to swoon
Piteously and pale · as a prisoner that dieth;
The lord of life and of light · then layed his eyes together.
The day for dread withdrew · and dark became the sun,
The veil shook and was cleft · and all the world quaked.
Dead men for that din · came out of deep graves,
And told why that tempest · so long time lasted.
'For a bitter battle' · the dead body said;
'Life and Death in this darkness · one undoes the other;
Shall no wight know truly · who shall have the mastery,
Ere Sunday about sun-rising' · and sank with that to earth.
Some said that he was God's son · that so fair died,

Vere filius Dei erat iste, etc.

And some said he was a witch · 'it is good that one try,
Whether he be dead or not dead · down ere he be taken.'
Two thieves also · suffered death that time,
Upon a cross beside Christ · so was the common law.

Piers The Plowman, Passus XVIII, p. 169

A catchpole came forth · and cracked both their legs,
And their arms after · of each of those thieves.
But was no boy so bold · God's body to touch;
For he was knight and king's son · nature granted that time,
That no rascal was so hardy · to lay hand upon him.
But there came forth a knight · with a keen spear ground,
Called Longinus, as the story telleth · and long had lost his sight.
Before Pilate and the other people · in the place he stood;
Spite his many teeth · he was made that time
To take the spear in his hand · and joust with Jesus;
For all they were afraid · that waited on horse or stood,
To touch him or to handle him · or take him down off rood.
But this blind bachelor then · struck him through the heart;
The blood sprung down by the spear · and unbarred the knight's eyes.
Then fell the knight upon knees · and cried him mercy --
'Against my will it was, lord · to wound you so sore!'
He sighed and said · 'sore it methinketh;
For the deed that I have done · deliver me to your grace;
Have on me pity, righteous Jesus!' · and right with that he wept.
Then began Faith fiercely · the false Jews to despise,
Called them caitives · accursed for ever,
For this foul villainy · 'vengeance to you all!
To make the blind beat him bound · it was a knave's counsel.
Cursed caitiff · knighthood was it never
To ill treat a dead body · by day or by night.
The prize yet hath he gained · for all his great wound.
For your champion of chivalry · chief knight of you all,
Yields him defeated in the running · right to Jesus' will.
For be this darkness done · his death will be avenged,
And ye, lordlings, have lost · for Life shall have the mastery.
And your franchise, that free · was fallen in thraldom,
And ye, churls, and your children · succeed shall ye never,
Nor have lordship in land · nor no land till,
But all barren be · and usury use,
Which is a life that our Lord · in all laws curseth.
Now your good days are done · as Daniel prophesied,
When Christ came, of their kingdom · the crown should fall;

Cum veniat sanctus sanctum, cessabit unctio vestra.'

What with fear of this marvel · and of the false Jews,
I withdrew me in that darkness to descendit ad inferna.
And there I saw sothly · secundum scripturas,

Piers The Plowman, Passus XVIII, p. 170

Out of the west · a wench, as me thought,
Came walking in the way · to Hell-ward she looked.
Mercy was called that maid · a meek thing withal,
A full benign lady · and gentle of speech.
Her sister, as it seemed · came softly walking,
Even out of the east · and westward she looked.
A full comely creature · Truth she was called,
For the virtue that her followed · afraid was she never.
When these maidens met · Mercy and Truth,
Each asked the other · of this great wonder,
Of the din and of the darkness · and how the day began to dawn,
And what a light and a brightness · lay before Hell.
'I wonder at these happenings · in faith,' said Truth,
'And am seeking to discover · what this marvel meaneth.'
'Have no wonder,' quoth Mercy · 'joy it betokeneth.
A maiden called Mary · and mother without knowledge
Of any human creature · conceived through speech
And grace of the Holy Ghost · waxed great with child;
Without stain · into this world she brought him;
And that my tale be true · I take God to witness.
Since this child was born · be thirty winters passed;
Who died and death suffered · this day about midday.
And that is cause of this eclipse · that closeth now the sun,
In meaning that man shall · from darkness be drawn,
The while this light and this brightness · shall Lucifer blind.
For patriarchs and prophets · have preached hereof often,
That man shall man save · through a maiden's help,
And what was lost through tree · tree shall it win,
And what death down brought · death shall relieve.'
'What thou tellest,' quoth Truth · 'is but a tale of waltrot
For Adam and Eve · and Abraham with others,
Patriarchs and prophets · that in pain lie,
Believe thou never that yon light · them aloft will bring,
Nor have them out of Hell · hold thy tongue, Mercy!
It is but a trifle that thou tellest · I, Truth, know the soth.
For that is once in Hell · out cometh he never;
Job the prophet, patriarch · reproveth thy sayings,

Quia in inferno nulla est redemptio.'

Then Mercy full mildly · mouthed these words,
'Through experience,' quoth she · 'I hope they shall be saved.
For venom undoes venom · and that I prove by reason.

Piers The Plowman, Passus XVIII, p. 171

For of all venoms · foulest is the scorpion,
May no medicine help · the place where he stingeth,
Till he be dead and placed thereon · the evil he destroyeth,
The first venom · through venom of himself.
So shall this death undo · I dare my life lay,
All that Death undid first · through the devil's enticing:
And right as through guile · man was beguiled,
So shall grace that began · make a good sleight;

Ars ut artem falleret.'

'Now stay we,' said Truth · 'I see, as methinketh,
Out of the cold of the north · not full far hence,
Righteousness come running · rest we the while;
For she knows more than we · she was ere we both.'
'That is soth,' said Mercy · 'and I see here by south,
Where Peace cometh playing · in patience clothed;
Love hath coveted her long · believe I none other
But he sent her some letter · what this light meaneth,
That is over Hell thus · she us shall tell.'
When Peace, in patience clothed · approached near them twain,
Righteousness her reverenced · for her rich clothing,
And prayed Peace to tell her · to what place she went,
And in her gay garments · whom greet she thought?
'My will is to wend,' quoth she · 'and I welcome them all,
That many day I might not see · for murkyness of sin.
Adam and Eve · and others more in Hell,
Moses and many more · mercy shall have;
And I shall dance thereto · do thou so, sister!
For Jesus jousted well · joy beginneth to dawn;

Ad vesperum demorabitur fletus, et ad matutinum laetitia.

Love, that is my lover · such letters me sent,
That Mercy, my sister, and I · mankind should save;
And that God hath forgiven · and granted me, Peace, and Mercy,
To be man's surety · for evermore after.'
'Lo! here the patent!' quoth Peace · 'in pace in idipsum --
And that this deed shall endure · dormiam et requiescam.'
'What, ravest thou?' quoth Righteousness · 'or thou art right drunk!
I Believest thou that yonder light · unlock might Hell,
And save man's soul? · sister, ween it never!
At the beginning, God · gave the judgement himself,
That Adam and Eve · and all that them followed
Should die down right · and dwell in pain after,

Piers The Plowman, Passus XVIII, p. 172

If that they touched a tree · and the fruit ate.
Adam afterwards · against his warning,
Ate of that fruit · and forsook, as it were,
The love of our Lord · and his lore both,
And followed what the fiend taught · and his fellow's will,
Against reason, I, Righteousness · record thus with truth,
That their punishment be perpetual · and no prayer them help.
Therefore let them chew as they chose · and chide we not, sisters,
For it is helpless harm · the bite that they took.'
'And I shall prove,' quoth Peace · 'their pain must have an end,
And woe into well · must wend at last;
For had they wist of no woe · well had they not known.
For no wight knows what well is · that never woe suffered,
Nor what is called hunger · that had never lack.
If no night were · no man, as I believe,
Would know clearly · what day means;
Would never right rich man · that liveth in rest and ease
Know what woe is · except for natural death.
So God that began all · of his good will
Became man of a maid · mankind to save,
And suffered himself to be sold · to see the sorrow of dying,
The which un-knitteth all care · and commencing is of rest.
For till modicum meet with us · I may it well avow,
Knows no wight, as I ween · what enough means.

Therefore God of his goodness · the first man Adam,
Set him in solace · and in sovereign mirth;
And then he suffered him sin · sorrow to feel,
To see what well was · truly to know it.
And after, God ventured himself · and took Adam's nature,
To know what he hath suffered · in three sundry places,
Both in Heaven, and in earth · and now to Hell he thinketh,
To know what all woe is · that knew of all joy.
So it shall fare with these folk · their folly and their sin,
Shall teach them what anguish is · and bliss without end.
Knows no wight what war is · where that peace reigneth,
Nor what is indeed well · till "well-away" him teach.'

Then was there a wight · with two broad eyes,
Book was called the beau-père · a bold man of speech.
'By God's body,' quoth this Book · 'I will bear witness,
That when this child was born · there blazed a star,

Piers The Plowman, Passus XVIII, p. 173

That all the wise of this world · in one thought accorded,
That such a child was born · in Bethlehem city,
That man's soul should save · and sin destroy.
'And all the elements,' quoth the Book · 'hereof bear witness,
That he was God that all wrought · the welkin first showed;
Those that were in heaven · took stella cometa,
And kindled her as a torch · to reverence his birth;
And light followed the Lord · into the low earth.
The water witnessed that he was God · for he went on it;
Peter the apostle · perceived his going,
And as he went on the water · well him knew, and said,

Jube me venire ad te super aquas.

And lo! how the sun began to lock · her light in herself,
When she saw him suffer · who sun and sea made!
The earth for heaviness · that he would suffer,
Quaked as a live thing · and all crushed the rock!
Lo! Hell might not hold · but opened when God suffered,
And let out Simeon's sons · to see him hang on rood.
And now shall Lucifer believe it · though him loth think;
For Gigas the giant · with a weapon made
To break and to beat down · those that be against Jesus.
And I, Book, will be burnt · but Jesus rise to live,
In all the might of man · and his mother gladden,
And comfort all his kin · and out of care bring,
And all the Jews' joy · dissolve and disjoin;
And unless they reverence his rood · and his resurrection,
And believe on a new law · be lost life and soul.'
'Abide we,' said Truth · 'I hear and see both,
How a spirit speaketh to hell · and bids unbar the gates;

Attollite portas, etc.'

A voice loud in that light · to Lucifer crieth,
'Princes of this place · unbolt and unlock!
For here cometh with crown · that king is of glory.'
Then sighed Satan · and said to them all,
'Such a light, against our leave · Lazarus it fetched away;
Care and confusion · is come to us all.
If this king come in · mankind will he fetch,
And lead it where he liketh · and easily me bind.
Patriarchs and prophets · have talked hereof long,
That such a lord and a light · should lead them all hence.'
'Listen,' quoth Lucifer · 'for I this lord know,

Piers The Plowman, Passus XVIII, p. 174

Both this lord and this light · it is long ago I knew him.
May no death him harm · nor no devil's cunning,
And where he will, is his way · but ware him of the perils,
If he reave me of my right · he robbeth me by mastery.
For by right and by reason · those people that be here
Body and soul be mine · both good and ill.
For himself said · that sire is of heaven,
If Adam eat the apple · all should die,
And dwell with us devils · this threat he made;
And he that truth is · said these words;
And since I have been in possession · seven hundred winters,
I believe that law will not · let him in the least.'
'That is soth,' said Satan · 'but I me sore dread,
For thou gained them with guile · and his garden broke,
And in semblance of a serpent · sat on the apple-tree,
And egged them on to eat · Eve by herself,
And told her a tale · of treason were the words;
And so thou haddest them out · and hither at last.
It is not easily held · where guile is the root.'
'For God will not be beguiled' · quoth Goblin, 'nor tricked;
We have no true title to them · for through treason were they damned.'
'Certes, I dread me,' quoth the Devil · 'lest truth will them fetch.
This thirty winter, as I ween · hath he gone and preached;
I have assailed him with sin · and at some time asked
Whether he were God or God's son? · he gave me short answer.
And thus he walked forth · this two and thirty winter,
And when I saw it was so · sleeping, I went
To warn Pilate's wife · what sort of man was Jesus;
For Jews hated him · and have done him to death.
I would have lengthened his life · for I believed, if he died,
That his soul would suffer · no sin in his sight.
For the body, while it on bones went · about was ever
To save men from sin · if they themselves would.
And now I see where a soul · cometh hitherward sailing
With glory and with great light · God it is, I know well.
I advise we flee,' quoth he · 'fast all hence;
For us were better not be · than abide his sight.
For thy lies, Lucifer · lost is all our prey.
First through thee we fell · from heaven so high;
Because we believed thy lies · we leapt out all with thee,
And now for thy last lie · lost we have Adam,

Piers The Plowman, Passus XVIII, p. 175

And all our lordship, I believe · on land and on water;

Nunc princeps hujus mundi ejicietur foras.'

Again the light bade unlock · and Lucifer answered,
'What lord art thou?' quoth Lucifer · 'quis est iste?'
'Rex gloriae' · the light soon said,
'And lord of might and of main · and all manner of virtues;
dominus virtutum;
Dukes of this dim place · anon undo these gates.
That Christ may come in · the king's son of heaven.'
And with that breath Hell broke · and Belial's bars,
Inspite of wight or ward · wide open the gates.
Patriarchs and prophets · populus in tenebris,
Sang Saint John's song · 'ecce agnus Dei.'
Lucifer might not look so light him blinded;
And those that our Lord loved · into his light he took,
And said to Satan, 'lo! here · my soul to amend
For all sinful souls · to save those that be worthy.
Mine they be and of me · I may the better them claim.
Although reason record · and right of myself,
That if they eat the apple · all should die,
I promised them not here · Hell for ever.
For the deed that they did · thy deceit it made;
With guile thou them got · against all reason.
For in my palace, paradise · in person of an adder,
Falsely thou fetchest thence · thing that I loved.
Thus like a lizard · with a lady's visage,
Like a thief thou me robbest · the old law granteth,
That beguilers be beguiled · and that is good reason;

Dentem pro dente, et oculum pro oculo.

Ergo, soul shall soul quit · and sin drive out sin,
And all that man hath misdone · I, man, will amend.
Member for member · by the old law made amends,
And life for life also · and by that law I claim it,
Adam and all his issue · at my will hereafter.
And what death in them undid · my death shall relieve,
And both quicken and purchase · what was destroyed through sin;
And that grace guile destroy · good faith it asketh.
So believe it not, Lucifer · that against the law I fetch them,
But by right and by reason · ransom here my lieges:

Non veni solvere legem, sed adimplere.

Thou fetchest mine from my place · against all reason,

Piers The Plowman, Passus XVIII, p. 176

Falsely and feloniously · good faith me it taught,
To recover them through ransom · and by no reason else,
So what with guile thou got · through grace it is won.
Thou, Lucifer, in likeness · of a wicked adder,
Got by guile · those that God loved;
And I, in likeness of a man · that lord am of Heaven,
Graciously thy guile have requited · go guile against guile!
And as Adam and all · through a tree died,
Adam and all through a tree · shall turn again to life;
And guile is beguiled · and in his guile fallen:

Et cecidit infoveam quam fecit.

Now beginneth thy guile · against thee to turn,
And my grace to grow · ever greater and wider.
The bitterness that thou hast brewed · enjoy it thyself,
That art doctor of death · drink what thou madest!
For I, that am lord of life · love is my drink,
And for that drink today · I died upon earth.
I fought so, I thirst yet · for man's soul's sake;
May no drink me moist · nor my thirst slake,
Till the vintage fall · in the vale of Jehoshaphat,
And I drink right ripe must · resurrectio mortuorum,
And then shall I come as a king · crowned with angels,
And have out of Hell · all men's souls.
'Fiends and fiendkins · before me shall stand,
And be at my bidding · wheresoere me liketh.
And to be merciful to man · then my nature asketh;
For we be bretheren of blood · but not in baptism all.
But all that be my whole bretheren · in blood and in baptism,
Shall not be damned to the death · that is without end;

Tibi soli peccavi, etc.

It is not the custom on earth · to hang a felon
More than once · though he were a traitor.
And if the king of that kingdom · come in that time,
Where the felon suffer should · death or otherwise,
Law wills, he give him life · if he looked on him.
And I, that am king of kings · shall come in such a time,
Where judgement to the death · damneth all wicked;
And if law wills I look on them · it lieth in my grace,
Whether they die or die not · for what they did ill.
Be it anything bought · the boldness of their sins,

Piers The Plowman, Passus XVIII, p. 177

I may do mercy through righteousness · and all my words true.
And though holy writ wills that I be avenged · on them that did ill,

Nullum malum impunitum, etc.

They shall be cleansed clearly · and washed of their sins
In my prison Purgatory · till parce is called,
And my mercy shall be showed · to many of my bretheren.
For blood may suffer blood · both hungry and a'cold,
But blood may not see blood · bleed, without pity.

Audivi arcana verba, quae non licet homini loqui.

But my righteousness and right · shall rule all Hell,
And mercy all mankind · before me in Heaven.
For I were an unkind king · unless I my kindred helped,
And above all at such need · when help needs must come;

Non intres in judicium cum servo tuo, Domine.

Thus by law,' quoth our Lord · 'lead I will from hence
Those that me loved · and believed in my coming.
And for thy lying, Lucifer · that thou told to Eve,
Thou shalt abide it bitterly' · and bound him with chains.
Ashtoreth and all the rout · hid them in corners,
They dared not look on our Lord · the boldest of them all,
But let him lead forth what he liked · and allowed him what he pleased.
Many hundreds of angels · harped and sung,

Culpat caro, purgat caro; regnat Deus Dei caro.

Then piped Peace · of poesy a note,

'Clarior est solito post maxima nebula Phoebus,
Post inimicitias clarior est et amor.

Is no weather warmer · than after watery clouds.
Nor no love dearer · nor dearer friends,
Than after war and woe · when Love and Peace be masters.
Was never war in this world · nor wickedness so keen,
That Love, if he pleased · could not bring to laughter,
And Peace through patience · all perils stopped.'
'Truce,' quoth Truth · 'thou tellest us soth, by Jesus.
Clip we in covenant · and each of us kiss the other!'
'And let no people,' quoth Peace · 'perceive that we chid?
For impossible is no thing · to him that is almighty.'
'Thou sayest soth,' said Righteousness · and reverently her kissed,
Peace, and Peace her · per saecula saeculorum.

Misericordia et veritas obviaverunt sibi; justitia et pax osculatae sunt.

Truth trumpeted then, and sang · 'Te Deum laudamus';

Piers The Plowman, Passus XVIII, p. 178

And then played Love the lute · in a loud note,

Ecce quam banum et jocundum, etc.

Till the day dawned · these damsels danced,
That men rang in the resurrection · and right with that I waked,
And called Kit my wife · and Calot my daughter--
'Arise and reverence · God's resurrection,
And creep to the cross on knees · and kiss it for a jewel
For God's blessed body · it bore for our saving,
And it frighteneth the fiend · for such is the might,
May no grisly ghost · glide near its shadow!'

This is a part of the the section of Piers Plowman (Passus VIII to the end) called "Do-Well, Do Better, Do Best," which recounts the dreamer's search for Truth. 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.