Saturday, February 27, 2010

Piers Plowman Translation of Prologue

Skeat's translation of Piers Plowman is available as a pdf, but not as digital text, so here's the prologue for you:

In a summer season, when soft was the sun,
I enshrouded me well in a shepherd's garb,
And robed as a hermit, unholy of works,
Went wide through the world, all wonders to hear.
And on a May morning, on Malvern hills,
Strange fancies befell me, and fairy-like dreams.
I was weary of wand'ring, and went to repose
On a broad green bank, by a burn-side;
As I lay there and leaned and looked on the waters,
I slumbered and slept, they sounded so merry.

Came moving before me a marvellous vision;
I was lost in a wild waste; but where, I discerned not.
I beheld in the east, on high, near the sun,
A tower on a hill-top, with turrets well wrought;
A deep dale beneath, and a dungeon therein,
With deep ditches and dark, and dreadful to see.
A fair field, full of folk, I found there between,
Of all manner of men, the mean and the rich,
All working or wand'ring, as the world requires.

Some ploughed with the plough; their play was but seldom;
Some sowing, some earning, with sweat of their brows,
The gain which the great ones in gluttony waste.

In pride of apparel some passed on their way,
And in costliest clothing were quaintly disguised.
In prayer and in penance some placed their delight,
And all for our Lord's love lived strictly and hard,
In hope to have after their heavenly meed;
These hermits and anchorites held to their cells,
Not caring to roam through the country around
For doles of sweet dainties, their flesh to delight.

Some chose to be chapmen, to chaffer for gain;
As it seems to our sight, such surely succeed.
And some, to make merry, as minstrels are wont,
Getting gold with their glee, yet guiltless, I trust.
As for jugglers and jesters, all Judas's children,
That feign silly fancies, apparelled as fools,
Having wit, if they willed it, to work as they ought -
I pass o'er what Paul would have preached of these sinners;
For the speaker of evil is Satan's own son.

Next beggars and beadsmen were bustling about,
Their bags and their bellies with bread were well cramm'd.
By falsehood they fed them, and fought o'er their ale,
As greedy as gluttons they go to their beds,
And rise up as ribalds, these robberlike knaves;
Sleep and vile sloth pursue them for ever.

Next, pilgrims and palmers would plight them together
To seek out Saint James and saints known in Rome;
They went on their way with many wise tales,
And had leave to tell lies all their lifetime after.
Some saw I that said they had sought out the saints;
In each tale that they told their tongue fashion'd lies
Much sooner than sooth, as it seemed by their speech.

Of hermits a huge heap, with hooks to their staves,
To Walsingham went; and their wenches went after;
Great lubbers and long, that to labour were loath;
They clothed them in cloaks, to be known from all others,
And arrayed them as hermits, more ease to enjoy.

I found there some friars of all the four orders,
Who preached to the people for personal profit;
As it seemed to them good, put a gloss on the gospel,
And explained it at pleasure; they coveted copes.
Many of these masters may wear what they will;
Their money and merchandise meet well together;
Since Charity was chapman, and chief to shrive lords,
What sights we have seen in a few short years!
Unless they and the Church keep closer together,
The most mischief e'er made will be mounting up fast.

There preached, too, a pardoner, a priest, as he seemed,
Who brought forth a bull, with the bishop's seals,
And said he himself might absolve them all
Of falsehood in fasting, or vows they had broken.

The laymen believed him, and lik'd well his words,
Came up and came kneeling, to kiss the said bull;
He blessed them right bravely, and blinded their eyes,
And won with his roll both their rings and their brooches.
Thus they give up their gold for such gluttons to spend,
And lose to loose livers their lawful gains.
If the bishop were wiser, or worth both his ears,
His seal ne'er were sent, to deceive so the people.
Small blame of the bishop such boys will express;
For the parish-priest and pardoner part all the silver
That the poor of the parish would otherwise share.


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