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‘In which Piers the Plowman appears to the Dreamer’

In a somur Saturday, wery of swonken ful harde,
Y lay in a meadow, swollen river rushing past,
fair folk werkynge in feld afar,
flokkes belles tolling al the losses of the world.
And a black humour gripped me.
River, quod Y, from what hidden source springe yow?
Fair folk, wherefore toil yow to harvest stones?
Stars where hide yow yon light when daytime comes?
And, Y yow treuthe tell, dark and bitter bees me hearte stung.
Then Piers appeared lening on crooke, clothyde in shepe cloke,
stinking, but saint-like nonetheless, comme as prodigal uncle,
me caughte wynkynge in softe sonne.
Y grabbed me a ful fistful of shepe curls at cloke’s hemme:
Show me, Y begge him, thos thinges yow love most in this world.
Teach me to be better, to be the verry beste of men!
Piers saigh naught, but pointed with his crooke
at buddes of hawthorns pink and taut as teats
it’s good to suck, at river foaming as a happy head of ale,
at black and raucous crow, flapping as a cleric in a fitte of geste
and, at laste, the bluebird of happiness returnede to me.
And my hearte was gladde again. But Piers was cackling
and, ‘neath that shepe disguise, Y seigh his wolfish whiskers
twitchin’ and rekke hemme for the deveel he be.
Bluebird dipped off down Dingley Dell bytwene dale and tower
and Y looked up to saigh olde bridge ysquatte over river
as reckless rascal with cacks round ankles. Piers
had disappeared and Lady Mede was shrilling in me ear…
Oh Drat, quod Y, awakening. The double depe ditche Y’ve dugge me.

Judith Rawnsley is a poet based in Hong Kong. She recently took part in Tom Chivers’ course: Fair Field: How to Write Like a Medieval. The brief was to respond creatively to a passage from William Langland’s fourteenth century work, Piers the Plowman, in which the speaker falls asleep in the Malvern Hills and has a ‘marvellous’ dream.

“To prepare for my writing session, I immersed myself in Tom’s Fair Field website, which has a variety of resources about Piers Plowman including three hallucinatory podcasts made for The Guardian. The Fair Field site is an amazing resource which I’d encourage you to visit. I also watched Alaric Hall’s wonderful Youtube video lectures on how to pronounce Middle English. This really got me into the medieval mood – I found myself writing a parody of the original text and especially enjoyed the excuse for some bawdy humour!”

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Image Credits:

e-codices, scene from “Labors of the month March”. Licence.