AD's English Literature : An Introduction to The Vision of William Concerning Piers the Plowman

An Introduction to The Vision of William Concerning Piers the Plowman



The 14th-century poem The Vision of William Concerning Piers the Plowman, better known as Piers Plowman, is generally attributed to William Langland. Three distinct versions of it exist, the first c. 1362, the second c. 1377, and the third 1393 or 1398. It has been described as "a vision of Christ seen through the clouds of humanity."  A religious allegory, the work is written as a dream vision, a popular medieval form in which a story is presented as if the author had dreamed it. 
 
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Piers Plowman is a series of visions in which are portrayed the shams and impostures of the age and the misery of the common people. It is divided into nine dreams, and is in the unrhymed, alliterative, first English manner. In the allegory appear such personifications as Meed (worldly success), Falsehood, Repentance, Hope, etc. Piers Plowman, first introduced as the type of the poor and simple, becomes gradually transformed into the Christ. Further on appear Do-well, Do-bet, Do-best. The emphasis, however, is placed on a Christian vision of the life of activity, of the life of unity with God, and of the synthesis of these two under the rule of a purified church. As such, despite various faults, it bears comparison with the other great Christian visionary poem, La divina commedia (The Divine Comedy), by Dante. For both, the watchwords are heavenly love and love operative in this world.

In this poem, and its additions, Langland was able to express all that he had to say of the abuses of the time, and their remedy. Here is no such merry going like of the bright picture of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. For example, while Chaucer portrays the Tabard Inn with its good cheer and merry company, Langland goes to another inn on the next street; there he looks with pure eyes upon sad or evil-faced men and women, drinking, gaming, quarreling, and pictures a scene of physical and moral degradation. Langland himself stands out as a sad, earnest, and clear-sighted onlooker in a time of oppression and unrest. He is not much of an artist, being intent rather on delivering his message than that it should be in a perfect dress. Langland’s poem, written in the midst of the labor agitation, was the first glorification of labor to appear in English literature.  Prof. Manley, in the Cambridge History of English Literature, advances the theory that The Vision is not the work of one, but of several writers, William Langland being therefore a dramatic, not a personal name. It is supported on such grounds as differences in meter, diction, sentence structure, and the diversity of view on social and ecclesiastic matters expressed in different parts of the poem.


Ref.  1.The Poet by D. Lewis
        2. History of English Literature by Albert 

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