Piers the Ploughman

by William Langland

Other authorsJ. F. Goodridge (Translator), J. F. Goodridge (Introduction)
Paperback, 1959



Call number





Penguin Classics (1959), Paperback, 320 pages


Notes by the translator and an introduction by Nevil Coghill supplement this handsomely produced version of the masterpiece of social protest literature in the Middle Ages.

User reviews

LibraryThing member baswood
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"
"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
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LibraryThing member jsburbidge
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.)
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LibraryThing member vibrantminds
A religious poem from the Middle Ages that deals with problems of the times and the Christian attitude towards God. The author contemplates life and death and sin and the role the church plays in each. He enters different settings through dreams as he explores different aspects of Christianity to solve his dilemma.
LibraryThing member JVioland
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.
LibraryThing member john257hopper
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.… (more)


Original publication date

1967 (Salter/Pearsell edition)
1959 (English ∙ Goodridge)
1380s (C ms.)
1377 - 79 (B ms.)
1367 -70 (A ms.)

Physical description

320 p.; 7.7 inches


0140440879 / 9780140440874

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