Piers Plowman: The Prologue

Original Text: 
unspecified ("A-text").
3In habite as an hermite unholy of werkes
4Wente I wyde in this world wondres to here;
13And as I beheold into the est an heigh to the sonne,
15A deop dale bineothe, a dungun ther-inne,
16With deop dich and derk and dredful of sighte.
17A feir feld full of folk fond I ther bitwene,
19Worchinge and wandringe as the world asketh.
24In cuntenaunce of clothinge comen disgisid.
26For love of ur Lord liveden ful streite,
27In hope for to have hevene-riche blisse;
32As hit semeth to ure sighte that suche men thryveth;
34And gete gold with here gle, giltles, I trowe.
36Founden hem fantasyes and fooles hem maaden,
37And habbeth wit at heore wille to worchen yif hem luste.
43In glotonye, God wot, gon heo to bedde,
48Wenten forth in heore wey with mony wyse tales,
49And hedden leve to lyen al heore lyf aftir.
53Clotheden hem in copes to beo knowen for bretheren;
66And brought forth a bulle with bisschopes seles,
70And comen up knelynge to kissen his bulle;
76His sel shulde not be sent to deceyve the peple.
77It is not al bi the bisschop that the boye precheth,
78Bote the parisch prest and the pardoner parte the selver
82To have a lycence and leve at Londun to dwelle,
86Pleden for pens and poundes the lawe,
92Erchedekenes and denis, that dignité haven
93To preche the peple and pore men to feede,
106Taverners to hem tolde the same tale,


1] Full title, The Vision of William concerning Piers the Plowman. There are some 45 MSS. of the 14th and 15th centuries. There are three versions of the poem, the A-text (ca. 1362), the B-text (ca. 1377), and the C-text (ca. 1393). First printed 1550. The author is thought to have been William Langland, native of Shropshire and later resident in London as a clerk in minor orders. Some hold that he wrote only the prologue and first eight passus of the A-text and that the remainder, with the two later texts, is the work of other men. The poem consists of a series of allegorical visions which satirize the political and social abuses of the time. Back to Line
2] I arrayed myself in a garment as if were a shepherd. Back to Line
5] Malverne huller. Malvern Hills between Worcestershire and Herefordshire, near the supposed birth-place of the poet. Back to Line
6] ferly. Marvel.
fairie. Enchantment. Back to Line
7] forwandred. Worn out with wandering. Back to Line
8] bourne. Burn's, brook's. Back to Line
9] leonede. Leaned. Back to Line
10] swyed so murie. Sounded so pleasantly. Back to Line
11] meeten a sweven. Dream a dream. Back to Line
12] wuste. Knew. Back to Line
14] sauh. Saw.
tour. Tower.
toft. Open space. (The tower symbolizes Heaven, the dungeon Hell, and the field Earth.)
tryelyche. Choicely, skilfully.
i-maket. Made. Back to Line
18] mene. Mean, common. Back to Line
20] pleiden. Played. Back to Line
21] settynge. Planting.
swonken. Toiled. Back to Line
22] And won what these wasters destroy by their gluttony. Back to Line
23] Some gave themselves up to pride (i.e., display) and dressed themselves accordingly, came disguised in the fashion of their clothing. Back to Line
25] Putten hem monye. Many applied themselves. Back to Line
28] ancres. Anchorites.
holdeth hem. Keep themselves. Back to Line
29] cairen. Roam. Back to Line
30] non likerous lyflode. Any luxurious food.
licam. Body. Back to Line
31] chaffare. Trade.
cheeven. Succeed. Back to Line
33] cunne. Know how. Back to Line
35] Bote. But. Back to Line
38] preoven. Adduce. Back to Line
39] He who speaks slander is Lucifer's servant. (The Latin quotation is not from St. Paul and has not been identified.) Back to Line
40] eoden. Went. Back to Line
41] balies. Bellies.
bretful i-crommet. Crammed brim-full. Back to Line
42] Feyneden hem. Practised deception.
atte. At the. Back to Line
44] this roberdes knaves. These robber rascals. Back to Line
45] steughth. Sloth.
suweth. Follow. Back to Line
46] plihten hem. Pledged themselves. Back to Line
47] seche. Seek.
Seint Jame. The shrine of St. James at Compostella in Spain. Back to Line
50] Ermytes. Hermits.
on an hep. In a crowd. Back to Line
51] Walsyngham. The shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk. Back to Line
52] lobres. Lubbers.
swynke. Labour. Back to Line
54] schopen hem to hermytes. Shaped, made themselves into hermits. Back to Line
55] foure ordres. The Carmelites (white friars), Augustines (Austin friars), Dominicans (black friars), and Franciscans or Minorites (gray friars). Back to Line
56] wombes. Bellies. Back to Line
57] Glosyng. Interpreting, with already the bad sense of explaining away or wresting. Back to Line
58] On account of their covetousness of fine cloaks they mistranslate it. Back to Line
59] mowen. May. Back to Line
60] Money and their trade are closely related. Back to Line
61] Since these charitable orders have become traders and are the principal confessors of noblemen. Back to Line
62] ferlyes. See on 1. 6. Back to Line
63] But. Unless.
heo. She, or they.
bet. Better (the adverbial form). Back to Line
64] molde. Earth. Back to Line
65] pardoner. A seller of indulgences. See Chaucer's Prologue, 669-714. Back to Line
67] asoylen. Absolve. Back to Line
68] vouwes i-broken. Broken vows. Back to Line
69] lewede. Ignorant (O.E. Iœewed, lay, unlearned).
levide. Believed. Back to Line
71] bonchede. Struck.
brevet. Letter (of indulgence).
blered heore eiyen. Bleared their eyes, deluded them. Back to Line
72] raughte. Reached, i.e. got.
ragemon. A document with a long list of names; sometimes called rageman-rolle, hence modern rigmarole. Here the papal licence with the names and seals of many bishops attached. See Chaucer, Cant. Tales, C, 334-342. Back to Line
73] yiveth. Give.
oure. Your. Back to Line
74] losels. Rascals.
haunten. Practise. Back to Line
75] eres. Ears. Back to Line
79] yif that heo ne weore. If they did not exist, if it were not for them. Back to Line
80] Persones. Parsons.
playneth. Complain. Back to Line
81] seththe. Since.
pestilence. The Black Death of 1348-9; there was a second plague in 1361-2, shortly before this was written. Back to Line
83] singe ther for simonye. To obtain appointments as chantry-priests to sing masses for the souls of the dead at better pay and with less labour than that entailed by their parish duties. Hence the accusation of simony (see Acts, viii.18). Back to Line
84] hoved. Hovered, lingered about.
houves of selke. Silk coifs or hoods. Back to Line
85] Serjauns. Sergeants, lawyers of high rank. See the description of one in Chaucer's Prologue, 309-330. Back to Line
87] ones. Once. Back to Line
88] meten. Measure. Back to Line
89] mom. Mumble. Back to Line
90] divyne. Divinity. Back to Line
91] clerkes of acounte. Accountants. Back to Line
94] Ben lopen. Have leapt, i.e. run. Back to Line
95] schende. Injure. Back to Line
96] burgeis. Burgesses. Back to Line
97] semblé. Assembly. Back to Line
98] bochers. Butchers.
breusters. Brewers. Back to Line
99] Wollene-websteris. Weavers of wool. Back to Line
100] tokkeris. Tuckers, finishers of cloth. Back to Line
101] minours. Miners. Back to Line
102] Dykers. Diggers of ditches.
don heore dedes ille. Do their work badly. Back to Line
103] And spend the whole day long in singing popular songs. The song "God save you, Dame Emma" may have been the same as a ballad sung by a minstrel at Winchester in 1338, telling of the trial of Emma, wife of King Canute, for adultery, and with a refrain as above sung by the audience. Back to Line
104] knaves. Boys, servants. Back to Line
105] gryse: pigs. Back to Line
107] Oseye: Alsace. Back to Line
108] Ryn: Rhine.
defye: defy, i.e., withstand, digest. Back to Line
109] seve sithes more. Seven times more than this. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
2RP.1.6; RPO 1996-2000.