Monday, September 21, 2020

William Langland

William Langland is the author of the alliterative poem The Vision of Piers Plowman, which was written in Middle English. There are three extant versions of the poem from the 1360s to the 1380s. The poem, which was an influence on Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, consists of eight dreams in which the narrator is on a quest for the true Christian life.

The following, from a translation by Peter Sutton, takes Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan to speak of the inadequacies of Faith and Hope for our salvation unless we rely on the blood of Christ. Faith and Hope ― personified in the roles of the two who passed by the injured man ― are also identified as Abraham and Moses.

from The Vision of Piers Plowman (Step XVII ― Lines 47 ff.)

As we went on our way, exchanging words,
We saw a Samaritan sitting on a mule,
And jogging speedily the same way as ourselves,
Coming from Jericho, as that country is called,
And trotting to a tournament in Jerusalem town.
The herald and Hope and he came together
Where a traveller lay wounded, attacked by thieves.
He was stripped and unable to help himself,
Or to stand and proceed, and no aid was at hand.
His limbs would not move and he looked half-alive.
The herald called Abraham, or Faith, saw him first
But refused to go nearer than nine plowed furrows.
Then along came Hope, who had loudly alleged
That he’d helped many men with the message of Moses,
But he steered well clear when he saw the scene,
Like a duck that is dodging a deadly falcon.
Then soon the Samaritan caught sight of the man
And leapt from his mount and led on the mule
As he went to view the victim’s wounds.
He deduced from the pulse that death was a danger,
And could tell at once that treatment was wanted.
So he hastened to his bottles and opened both
And washed the wounds with wine and oil,
Bandaged him, bound up his head and brought him
On the mule several miles to some houses near a market,
A cluster that was new and was called the Law of Christ,
Where he lodged him at an inn and alerted the landlord,
Asking him to treat him until his return.
“Here is money,” he said, “for medicine for the man,
And a few more coins for the cost of his keep.
And should he cost more I will settle it soon,
But I really cannot stay,” he said, and swiftly
He set off to ride the Jerusalem road.
Faith followed hastily, hoping to overhaul him,
And Hope hurried after, as fast as he was able,
Intending to catch him and talk as they travelled.
Seeing that, I scurried on too without stopping,
Pursuing the Samaritan who showed such pity
And pleading for employment as his page or groom.
“I fear not,” he said, “but you’ll find I’m your friend
In time of need.” So I thanked him and told him
How Faith and Hope had fled full of fear
When they saw the man and his sorrowful state.
“Excuse them,” he answered. “They would hardly have helped
For no medicine on earth could have mended the man,
Neither Faith nor Hope, for his hurts had so festered,
Without blood from a bairn that was born of a maid.
If baptized and bathed in that blessed blood,
And patched with penance and the Passion of that babe,
He’d be able to hobble, but he’ll never be whole
Till he’s swallowed the bairn’s sacred body and blood.
“No one wanders through the wilds of this world
Without running into robbers, riding or on foot,
Save a few such as Faith and his fellow, Hope,
And myself and now you, and such as pursue
Our ways and works, for the wood harbours outlaws
Who lurk on the look-out for likely prospects,
Checking who’s on horseback, ahead or behind,
Reckoning that riders are rougher prey.
When the robber saw me, a Samaritan on a mule,
Which is known as Flesh after fleshly human nature,
Following Faith and his fellow he fled
And he hid in hell, but within three days
I can vouch that the felon will be fettered with chains
And will trouble no travellers who take this road:
O death, I will be thy death.
“Then Faith shall perform a forester’s duties,
Guiding those folk who are foreign to the forest
And revealing the road to Jerusalem town.
And Hope shall be ostler at the inn, healing victims
And the feeble and faint whom Faith cannot teach,
Leading them with love, by the law of his writ,
Giving lodging and relief through belief in the Church,
Till I come once again to this country with comfort
And bring the salve that will save all the sick
Who crave it, covet it and cry to be cured.
Then the blood of the child in Bethlehem born
Shall save those who follow the faith of his friends.”
“Sweet sir,” I said, “should I accept
What Faith and his fellow have each affirmed?
Three separate persons, prime and perpetual,
Yet all one God, as Abraham argued,
While Hope then urged and exhorted me to love
One God above all and then everyone else
The same as myself with all my strength?”
“Fasten your faith and your firm belief
On Abraham,” he said, “the herald of arms.
And as Hope exhorted you, I urge you to love
Fellow Christians as kindly as you care for yourself.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.