Piers Plowman


William Langland

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Piers Plowman: Passus XIV Summary & Analysis

Long-windedly, Hawkin explains that he only has one outfit. Plus, he has a wife and kids, and they all spill on his clothes, too. Although Hawkin’s coat has been “laundered in Lent,” he still can’t manage to keep the coat clean for more than a few moments. Conscience explains to him that contrition will “scrape your coat clean,” “Do-Well will wash it and wring it” with confession, and “Do-Better will scrub it… / And dye it” with satisfaction. Lastly, “Do-Best will keep it clean from unkind deeds.”
Hawkin’s inability to keep his coat clean for very long illustrates the way that humans are prone to frequent sin. This time, it is Hawkin, not Will, who is taught about Do-Well, Do-Better, and Do-Best. Conscience explains all three in terms of the sacrament of penance, which consists of contrition (remorse for sin), confession, and satisfaction (prayers or deeds a person has to do following confession).
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Hawkin is skeptical, so Patience explains to him how “…through faith comes contrition… / Which drives away deadly sin and reduces it to venial.” Patience also chimes in, explaining to Hawkin the importance of “Patient Poverty,” as well as the ways that riches come between man and God and can block the path to Heaven. Hawkin asks Patience for the definition of “Patient Poverty,” so Patience explains that it is, among other things, “a gift from God” and “A removal from cares.” Overcome with remorse for his sins, Hawkin begins to weep, and Will suddenly wakes up.
Patience elaborates on the idea of contrition—that Christians must foster a genuine, deep sense of remorse for their sins. This means that confession isn’t a box that Christians can mindlessly check in order to be absolved from sin. They must, rather, truly engage with their remorse. Like many others in the poem, Patience outlines all of the benefits of poverty (and implies all of the downsides of wealth). In a nod to his own allegorical significance, Patience calls it “Patient Poverty,” as this kind of poverty is marked by acceptance and the understanding that poverty on earth can mean a spiritually rich eternal life in Heaven. Note how this idea of “patient poverty” fits with the poem’s general sense that the feudal social order, with peasants on the bottom, is in fact correct and good—and just requires people to act as good Christians in order to be ideal. The entire feudal model is built on the idea that the third estate will have “patient poverty.”
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