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Piers Plowman: An Alliterative Verse Translation

3.38  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,113 Ratings  ·  70 Reviews
"Cesseth!' seide the Kyng, " I suffre yow no lenger. Ye shul saughtne, forsothe, and serve me bothe. Kis hire,' quod the Kyng, "Conscience, I hote!' "Nay, by Crist!' quod Conscience," congeye me rather! But Reson rede me therto, rather wol I deye.

A translation of the 14th century poem, which offers a picture of society in the late Middle Ages on the threshold of the early
Paperback, 259 pages
Published March 17th 1990 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1360)
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The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey ChaucerPiers Plowman by William LanglandTroilus and Criseyde by Geoffrey ChaucerThe Mabinogion by UnknownSir Gawain and the Green Knight by Unknown
Fourteenth Century List
2nd out of 22 books — 8 voters
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by UnknownRevelations of Divine Love by Julian of NorwichThe House Of Fame by Geoffrey ChaucerThe Voyage of Saint Brendan by BenedeitParliament of Fowls by Geoffrey Chaucer
Medieval Dream Visions
8th out of 9 books — 3 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jan 26, 2010 Robert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, religion
After approximately a year of wading through Middle-English alliterative verse at an average rate of approximately one page per day, I have finally come to the end of The Vision of Piers Plowman. So was it worth it?

Yes! It is by some stretch my most ambitious undertaking in regard to reading Middle-English; I have not read two of the Canterbury Tales together and have only read about half of it (by number of lines - many fewer than half the Tales) and that's the limit of my Chaucer. I've never
Jan 23, 2013 Matthew74 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very difficult book! The work is composed of a series of allegorical dream visions and visions within visions. On the first reading it is hard to identify any clear structure, but the lack of clarity is in part a literary device meant to present the reader with the same confusion as the dreamer/narrator, or Piers Plowman experiences. It is not always clear whether what the characters say is to be believed, although some are more trustworthy than others. Each vision and conversation is ...more
Jul 29, 2016 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"As on a walnot withoute is a bitter barke,
And after that bitter barke, be the shelle aweye,
Is a kirnelle of conforte kynde to restore.
So is after poverte or penaunce pacientlyche y-take:
Maketh a man to have mynde in Gode and a grete wille
To wepe and to wel bydde, whereof wexeth mercy,
Of which Cryst is a kirnelle to conforte the soule."
-Passus XI Lines 260-266

I'm rewriting this review since I've had a lot more experience with medieval literature up to this point and I really can't help but feel
Jul 04, 2012 Karlyn is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
I'm actually reading an older translation by Henry Wells, which is probably much less accurate than the Norton edition but is fantastically bizarre and wonderful in its own right. Someone had a good old time making it.
A randomly chosen example:

"I bought her barley malt, and she brewed it for the traffic;
Penny ale and pudding ale were poured together
For labourers and poor folk;--she laid that aside.
The best was in the ben or in my bed-chamber;
Whoever took the bung from that, bought it thereafte
Sep 20, 2008 Ashley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
I read this as part of a high school English assignment...I completely dreaded it from the moment I was given the assignment, and dragged my feet- but when I actually started reading, I completely fell in love.

If you can force yourself to get past (or rather, appreciate) the style of writing, it's an incredibly worth-while read!
Linda Jacobs
Sep 05, 2010 Linda Jacobs rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
Strive for "do best."
David Sarkies
Apr 28, 2015 David Sarkies rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lover's of medieval literature
Recommended to David by: My Bible college
Shelves: christian
A medieval allegory of the Christian Journey
10 September 2010

My first impression of this book was that it reminded me a lot of Pilgrims' Progress, however it is nowhere near as simple or as straight forward as John Bunyan's text. In fact, having been written three hundred years earlier, not only does the text need to be translated, the period in which it was written is vastly different. Where Pilgrim's Progress is about a man's Christian journey, Piers the Ploughman is about a man who goes on a
Jul 07, 2012 Annie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was my first real taste of medieval literature, and I enjoyed it! Mainly I liked this book's alliterative poetic style, and its unique look at the doctrines of the Christian church in the form of allegorical characters. I read the Donaldson alliterative verse translation, with edits and notes by Kirk and Anderson, so the language and spelling was modern, though not unnecessarily so. The notes were tasteful and helpful-- they boosted my understanding of what was happening, and introduced me ...more
Simon Mcleish
Mar 10, 2012 Simon Mcleish rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Originally published on my blog here in July 1998.

Although I was able to read Geoffrey Chaucer in the original Middle English with only the help of a (fairly comprehensive) glossary, I'm glad I got hold of Piers Plowman in modern English. Judging by the excerpts given in this book, it is considerably more difficult to read, mainly because it is written in a Midlands dialect which didn't provide the basis for later literary English as Chaucer's language did.

The text of Piers Plowman is considerab
Stephanie Smith
Oh Goodreads, how I wish you allowed non-whole number ratings! Alas, I cannot give "Piers Plowman" my honest rating of 2.5 stars.
I was originally going to round my rating down to 2 stars, but then I remembered a certain character mentioned in the beginning of Passus IX. Now my rating is 3 stars, thanks to the "haughty horseman of France."
Historically significant, this text well depicts the day to day struggles of a common man with no voice and no power. I found the text slightly tedious due to the religious/spiritual context and the allegory that i could not completely relate to. An important work nonetheless and one that I am glad to have plowed through.
Mar 30, 2015 Gray rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Institutions and society have changed little since Langland wrote "Piers the Ploughman." His criticisms ring true today. Comedians, aka jesters, get a bum rap ("they are the Devil's minstrels!")---which I take exception to since it's their job to be offensive. This translation and others allow the reader to understand the content of "Piers the Ploughman," but I felt I was missing something by not getting a sense of how the original, written in alliterative verse, sounds. Luckily, the University ...more
Dec 12, 2015 Keith rated it it was ok
I read as far at Passus 7 (the second vision), what is the so-called A text. At that point I lost interest in the rambling debate on the finer points of Christian redemption and perdition. That, combined with Piers/Will agitated rants about everyone else’s sins, made it unpleasant to continue, so I stopped. I didn’t see how it shed a light on my 21st century secular life.

Piers/Will is frustratingly conservative when he’s constantly calling out the weaknesses and sins of others. But on the other
Interesting but don't expect to read it quickly. I think a few more reads might get me on track with this but for now, laity devotional reading and even applicable to Christianity today. The version I read was Oxford Classics B Text and found it an easy enough version to follow translated from Middle English but must be quite beautiful in its original form. This is a very long poem divided up into separate visions which follow a theme of what it means to live authentically Christian. It is a cul ...more
J. Alfred
Written by a guy we know nothing about in the fourteenth century, this is a wildly confusing text which is also very interesting (if one is at all interested in the devotional or theological life of England in the fourteenth century). Theology seems to have been akin to poetry for this time period: there were few definates, and everything was held in balance by forces which weren't quite in concert with one another. That is, scripture (including Apocraphal scripture) is more or less behind all t ...more
Al E.
Feb 15, 2015 Al E. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A thoroughly engaging book...especially for any students or practitioners of Middle English.
It is an allegorical narrative, written in un-rhymed alliterative verse. The narrative is part social satire and part theological allegory as the narrator searches for true Christian life/values (as per Christianity in the medieval period) and there is a series of dreams, or dream visions wherein the lives of the three main allegorical characters are examined.
Very entertaining reading.
Sarah Berry
Jan 15, 2015 Sarah Berry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The use of allegory in this work is simply incredible. The extend to which the technique skillfully formulates and questions each character (power) relation in the text, forcing the reader to engage on ever more multi-facetious levels, only serves to add to the amazement that, in the hundreds of years since this work was written, we have neither surpassed it, nor truly recognised its brilliance. An argument against the period as an intellectual 'dark ages' in itself.
Apr 19, 2014 Tracy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's not possible to review or recommend or maybe even write about this stunningly powerful poem of the 14th century. It's more important to study it with an expert...and there aren't a lot of those around.

It's a journey through all the thought & beliefs & lyricism & critiques & rejoicings of 14th century England. If you can read it with someone, do. Yeah. It's amazing.
Stephanie Ricker
Aaaagh, dream visions! I hate them so. I know this is a very important piece of Middle English literature. I still hate it. I can't help it. I don't care about Piers and his half acre of land, and I really dislike allegory most of the time (I'm with you, Tolkien), I don't dig your theology, and this thing is so incoherent and scattered anyway.

*takes a deep breath* *lets it out*

But. There were certain lines that were nice, mainly for their alliteration:
“Of the flowers of the field and their fair
Lucas Johnson
Jan 30, 2016 Lucas Johnson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fortunate fall, that gave to us a redeemer. It is a blessing to read near-biblical prose that resembles other artifacts like the Book of Common Prayer. The inheritance of the Christian world is a marvelous one that should be cherished and can still shine throughout the ages.
Nov 17, 2015 Meg rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
So. Much. Allegory.
It reminds me of all I loved about Everyman, but feels less like a universal concept and more like a pointed court heckling through the guise of pompous holier-than-thou pretext.
Read the full review at
Jana Tenbrook (LeggingsAreNeverPants)
A well-written analogy of Christian virtues and the proper Christian life, via the opinions of medieval Europe. Just not my cup of tea.
Very interesting read...easy to get lost in all the dreams, but I appreciate the value of this poem.
I simply couldn't read this book with understanding. I do fine reading the middle english on a line by line basis, but stringing them together without having another element to follow is difficult. The book has no real characters,, plot, or action to follow, so all I really got out of it was "This is a Christian text" It's not nearly as easy to follow as Gawain and the Green Knight or The Canterbury Tales. If you do attempt, or succeed, to read the text. I advise skipping the introduction, unles ...more
Tasha Clark
Dec 20, 2015 Tasha Clark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Liked spiritual growth of main character and lessons learned within
Apr 30, 2012 Cherylann rated it it was ok
Though I can appreciate the brilliance of Langland's poem, I did not especially enjoy it. Langland's extensive use of allegory, though intentional, became so confusing and muddled that the poem's meaning was difficult to decipher. Though his writing of dreams is fantastically accurate, it does not necessarily the way one would like to experience a book. Random characters appearing out of nowhere and disappearing just as quickly is what we experience in dreams. It is more difficult to decipher me ...more
Nick Ziegler
It's an absolute mess.
Ahmet Uçar
read but cannot remember.
Jan 17, 2011 Diane rated it it was amazing
Beautifully written, thought-provoking medieval allegory about the role of Christ's Church on earth. Somewhat difficult to understand, but very rewarding. In the tradition of Dante's "Divine Comedy" or Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress." The author provides a scathing indictment of the problems of the contemporary Church, while calling upon its leaders for repentance.
Ellen Brewster
Apr 17, 2015 Ellen Brewster rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This took me a very long time! I needed to build up my confidence in reading Middle English, so when I finally picked up the book again I was so much faster.

Would definitely recommend, it has lots to say on various moral topics. Extra star granted for a passage near the end where the dreamer laments his lack of ability to get an erection due to old age.
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Best Dream Vision Character Ever! 2 3 Apr 29, 2014 09:18AM  
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William Langland, (born c. 1330—died c. 1400), presumed author of one of the greatest examples of Middle English alliterative poetry, generally known as Piers Plowman, an allegorical work with a complex variety of religious themes.

One of the major achievements of Piers Plowman is that it translates the language and conceptions of the cloister into symbols and images that could be understood by th
More about William Langland...

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