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Piers Plowman by William Langland
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Piers Plowman

by William Langland

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1,35765,664 (3.57)1 / 32
  1. 00
    The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (myshelves)
    myshelves: Some similar themes are covered, especially with regard to religious issues.
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This is one of the last major poems (along with the work of the Gawain-poet) to use the old alliterative verse forms inherited from the Germanic past for a major poem. Despite using a shade more freedom than, say, the author of Beowulf did, this is firmly within that tradition, not a nostalgic or antiquarian harking-back: the old poetic tradition clearly had survived organically in the North, and this is its last flowering before English poetry becomes defined by the French-influenced verse of Chaucer, Gower, and their successors.

The content, however, is sui generis: a tapestry of devotional and homiletic elements tied together by a depiction of general lived experience.

It represents the general weaknesses of mediaeval architectonics: "I have made a heap of all that I could find", says Nennius, and this is as much a heap as any other kind of structure. The dream/vision model helps to justify the transitions, however, and it has thorough thematic unity.

It may also be the most liturgical of all major poems: the Latin verses which appear throughout would have been familiar to the devout reader, as they are not so much biblical (most of them are biblical, but not all: the Vexilla Regis, for example, gets a look in in the Harrowing of Hell passage) as drawn from the propers, both major and minor, of the missal.

There are, accordingly, threshold issues for the typical modern reader, but this is nevertheless well worth taking the effort to read.

(Review is of Skeat's edition of the B-text.) ( )
1 vote jsburbidge | Sep 20, 2016 |
I read this for its historical importance. Langland's poem is a quest: How to lead a good Catholic life in Medieval England. It was a little difficult to read, but if done shortly after you read Chaucer, it is far easier. ( )
  JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
Attempted to read it once but just couldn't get through it. ( )
  Georges_T._Dodds | Mar 30, 2013 |
I read the version published in Everyman and edited by A. V. C. Schmidt. This is the B text in Middle English and I found it a struggle to read. Having just read the Riverside Chaucer I was fairly optimistic I would cope with this, but Langland's English is different again and it has taken me about six weeks to read it through.

At the start of the poem Will is found wandering around the countryside and becoming tired he lays down to sleep and has a dream vision. This happens eight times during the course of the poem and so it does feel that the it stops and starts, sometimes covering ground previously covered. If I had to summarise the poem I would say that these visions demonstrate to Will what it takes to be a good Christian. The visions are in effect sermons or homily's in an allegorical framework, which at times spring into life and make it worthwhile to struggle on with the text. An example is the description of Gluttony:

His guttes gonne to gothelen as two gredy sowes;
He pissed a potel in a Paternoster-while
And blew his rounde ruwet at his ruggebones ende
That all that herde that horn helde hir nose after....

This example shows the alliteration that runs through the whole poem and makes it fun to read aloud

The poem has been the subject of much literary criticism and has been described as:

"An attack on church and state, a poem with unity"
or
"Has a tendency to rambling and vagueness sometimes degenerating into incoherence."

For me the answer lies somewhere between these two viewpoints. There are certainly vigorous attacks on the clergy especially the mendicant friars and on rich people in general, with an exhortation for the common man to follow the scriptures. This led me to wonder what audience had Langland in mind when he wrote the poem. It would have been far out of the reach of even the educated common man.

The text contains many Latin phrases, which are translated in footnotes in this version. The glosses beside the text are sometimes essential for an understanding but sometimes they get in the way and I found it was better to ignore them and just plough through reading aloud. This is not an essential read, but then I am glad I took the time to battle with it, perhaps I would have been better to have read it in translation, but then I would have missed out on the poetry of the original ( )
2 vote baswood | Feb 16, 2011 |
Got through a little under half of this. The allegories are an interesting reflection of religious, political and social issues of the time, but I felt no urge to continue with it. The author's background is a stark contrast from that of his contemporary, Chaucer, and very little is known about William Langland, who exists only through the clues in the work itself - there is no other contemporary evidence of his existence.
  john257hopper | Dec 9, 2010 |
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» Add other authors (77 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
William Langlandprimary authorall editionscalculated
Coghill, NevillIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Donaldson, E. TalbotEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kane, GeorgeEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pearsall, DerekEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Salter, ElizabethEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schmidt, A. V. C.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schmidt, A. V. C.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
First words
In a summer season when the sun was mild
I clad myself in clothes as I'd become a sheep;
In the habit of a hermit unholy of works
Walked wide in this world, watching for wonders. (Donaldson Translation)
(C-Text)
In a somur sesoun whan softe was the sonne
Y shope me into shroudes as y a shep were;
In abite as an heremite, vnholy of werkes,
Wente forth in the world wondres to here,
And say many sellies and selkouthe thynges.
(C-Text, Pearsall/Salter edition)
In a somur sesoun, whan softe was the sonne
I shope me into shroudes, as I a shep were,
In abite as an heremite, unholy of werkes,
Wente forth in the world wondres to here,
And saw many selles and selcouthe thynges.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140440879, Paperback)

Piers the Ploughman, a blending of prophecy and satirical comedy, is the great representative English poem of the late Middle Ages.

The work of an obscure fourteenth-century cleric, Piers the Ploughman is concerned with the largest of all poetic themes, the meaning of man's life in relation to his ultimate destiny. This spiritual allegory is set against a colorful background of teeming medieval life between the 'Tower of Truth' and the 'Dungeon of Falsehood'. With an Introduction, Notes and a book-by-book Commentary on the allegory, J.F. Goodridge's modern translation of the poem captures the flavour of Langland's vivid pictures and vernacular expressions.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:38 -0400)

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