Piers Plowman – 1

AG: We’ll start with a little fragment (from “Piers Plowman”) of the original “In a somer seson, whan soft was the sonne,/I shope me into shrouded, as I a shepe were;/In habite as an heremite unholy of works/Went wide in this world, wondres to here./Ae on a May morninge on Malverne hulles/Mi bifel a ferry, of fairy me thoughte;/I was wery forwandred and went me to rest/Under a brode banke by a bornes side,/And as I lay and lend and loked on the wateres,/I slombred in a sleeping, it sweyed so merye.”

It’s relatively understandable, isn’t it? There’s a few words not clear, yes? – but mainly you get the idea, but I’ll read.. I’ll read some in English. I’ll read a bit of it in English so that you can…because, actually, it’s kind of a magical story, and then get back to the.. some version of the Anglo-Saxon. I don’t think there’s any of this in the Norton Anthology is there?

“In a summer season, when the sun was soft/I clothed myself in rough clothes as if I were a shepherd/Appearing like a hermit among unholy works” – [he went in disguise]  – “I rode far in this world to hear and see wonders/But on a May morning on Malvern Hills/A marvel befwll me, from fairyland I thought/I had wandered until I was weary and had gone to rest/Under a broad bank by the side of a brook,/And as I lay and idled and looked upon the water/I slumbered in a sleeping, it seemed so pleasant”

“Then I did dream a marvelous dream/that I was in a wilderness, where I didn’t know./ And as I looked to the east, aloft to the sun,/ I saw a tower on a hillock most splendidly built/ And with a deep dale beneath and with a dungeon therein/, With deep ditches and dark, a dreadful sight” –  [even in the translation you get some of the alliteration going] –

– “A fair field full of folk I saw lying between” – [that’s, like , the great memorable, piece of alliterative line that everybody knows from “Piers Plowman – “A fair field full of folk (in a vision once I saw) – A fair field full of folk ” – (a) funny line – fair/field/full of/folk – “a”-“e” – “u” – “o” (a-e-u-o) – fair field full of folk – A fair field full of folk I saw lying between/ All manner of men, the humble and the rich/ Working and wandering  as the world required of them./ Some put themselves to the plough and played but seldom/In planting and sowing they labored full hard/And won that which wasters expend in gluttony/And some gave themselves to pride and dressed them accordingly/ In outward show of raiment all decked out they appeared/Beggars and mendicants were hurrying about, their bellies and their bag cramped full of bread/Telling falsehoods for their food and fighting at their ale/Going to bed in gluttony, as God well knows/Rising with ribaldry, these robber rascals/Sleep and sad slothfuness follow them ever….” – (This is strictly “Slow Train A Comin’, actually. It’s a vision of pure Christ and an attack on the churches and the corruption of the day (straight out of (Bob) Dylan)

“Hermits in the crowd with their hooked staves/ Went up to Walsingham. and their wenches came with them/All of them were great lubbers, tall and strong who hated to work/Clothing themselves in clokes to be distinguished from others/And clothed like hermits perhaps to have sweet comfort.  Parsons and parish complete…”

Well, let’s see, that’s enough and (to) get on to a very funny line later..  ”Bishops and novices, masters and doctors who have a cure of souls with Christ’s blessing/And a tonsure as a token of a sign that they should shrive their parishioners should preach and pray for them and feed the poor. They all lie in London during Lent and all seasons/Some serve the King and count his silver in the Exchequer and in the Chancery/Claiming his debts from wards and ward meetings, all waifs and strays.

and then there’s a funny line later – “Then a hundred folk hovered about in hoods of silk/ Law sergeants it seemed, who served at the bar, pleading the law for pennies or pounds/Not once did they loose their lips for love of  our Lord/ Thou coulds’t better measure the mist on Malvern Hill than get a mumble from their mouths unless money was shown ‘em” – (That’s pretty beautiful, even the translation’s good – It sounds like (Jack) Kerouac actually..sort of.. or I read that in Kerouac’s particular rhythmic tone – “Thou could better measure the mist on Malvern Hill than get a mumble from their mouths unless money was shown ’em” – “unless money was shown ‘em” (he would’ve said “unless money was shown em” (“unless money was shown them“)  – “Thou could better measure the mist on Malvern Hill than get a mumble from their mouths unless money was shown ’em”.

Okay – So what is the older sound? It’s good enough for what it is, but what is the older sound?

to be continued

[Audio from the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-nine-and-a-half  minutes in and concluding at approximately sixty-four-and-three-quarter minutes in]

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