I saw a tower on a hill-top, trimly built,
A deep dale beneath, a dungeon tower in it,
With ditches deep and dark and dreadful to look at.
A fair field full of folk I found between them,
Of human being of all sorts, the high and the low…
For James the gentle enjoined in his books
That faith without works is worse than nothing,
And as dead as a doornail unless the deed goes with it.
Faith without works is dead.
She makes men misbehave many score times.
In trust of her treasures she troubles a great many.
…Poisoned popes, impaired Holy Church.
…She’s as common as the cartway to comers and goers,
To monks, to messengers, to leper-men in hedges.
If any man does me a good turn or helps me at need,
I’m unkind in return for his courtesy and cannot understand it,
For I have and always have had some of a hawk’s manners;
I’m not lured with love unless something’s lying under the thumb.
I shall sweat and strain and sow for us both,
And also labor for your love all my lifetime,
In exchange for your championing Holy Church and me
Against waters and wicked men who would destroy me.
…I can find no pardon here—
Only, “Do well, and have well,” and God will have your soul.
And “Do evil, and have evil,” and hope nothing else
But that after your death-day the Devil will have your soul.
Do-Well…and Do-Better and Do-Best the third
Are three fair virtues and are not far to find.
Whoever is meek of his mouth, mild of his speech,
True of his tongue and of his two hands,
And through his labor or his land earns his livelihood,
…Do-Well is with him.
Do-Better does the same, but he does much more.
He’s lowly as a lamb, lovely of speech;
…he helps where there’s need
…Do-Best is above both and bears a bishop’s crozier
That has a hook at one end to hold men in good lives.
A spike is on that staff to shove down the wicked…
Do-Well, my dear sir, is to do as law teaches,
To behave lovingly and humbly and harm no person;
But to love and to lend aid, believe me, that’s Do-Better;
To protect and provide for people young and old,
To heal them and to help them, is Do-Best of all.
Can neither kinghood nor knighthood, as far as I can see,
Help at all toward Heaven when one’s hour comes,
Nor riches, nor revenue, nor royal lord’s estate.
Paul proves it impossible, rich men in Heaven.
And let folk of all factions, whether friends or enemies,
Love each other and help each other as they would themselves.
Whoever lends no help loves not, the Lord knows the truth,
And he commands every creature to conform himself to love
Other Christians as himself and his enemies as well.
For whoever hates us it’s our merit to love.
Just as the plumes of the peacock impede him in his flight,
So there is an impediment in possession of pennies and nobles
To all those who hold on to them until their tails are plucked.
And though the rich man repent then and start to rue the time
That he ever gathered such a great amount and gave away so little,
His language will sound in our Lord’s ear like a magpie’s chattering.
“All these clerks,” I declared then, “that believe in Christ’s teaching,
Say in their sermons that neither Saracens nor Jews
Nor any creature of Christ’s likeness can be saved without Christendom.”
“Contra!” exclaimed Imaginative…
…“Salvabitur vix Justus in die judicii;
Disce…doce, dilige inimicos.
Disce and Do-Well, doce and Do-Better, dilige and Do-Best:
I learned this from a lover once—Love was her name.
“With words and with works,” she said, “and will of your heart,
…learn to love, for the Lord of Heaven’s sake,
Your enemy in every way even as you love yourself.”
To scrape your coat clean of all kinds of filth.
…Do-Well will wash it and wring it with a wise confessor.
…Do-Better will scrub it and scour it…
…And then send you to Satisfaction, to let the sun bleach it.
…Do-Best will keep it clean from unkind deeds.
And for an example see how on trees in the summer time
There are some boughs that bear leaves and some bear none.
There is some sickness in the root of such sots of trees;
Just so parsons and priests and preachers of Holy Church
Are the root of the right faith to rule the people;
But where the root is rotten…
Shall never flower nor fruit grow nor fair leaf be green.
Therefore by color nor by clergy, you’ll never come to know him,
Neither through words nor works, but through will alone,
And no clerk knows that, nor creature on earth
But Piers the Plowman, Petrus id est Christus.
…Piers’s fruit flowered and befell to be ripe.
And then Jesus should joust for it by judgment of arms
Which one should fetch the fruit, the Fiend or himself.
The bitterness that you have brewed, imbibe it yourself
Who are doctor of death, the drink you made.
For I who am Lord of Life, love is my drink
And for that drink today I died upon earth,
I struggled so I’m thirsty still for man’s soul’s sake.
Surely you know…
That knight, king, conqueror can be one person.
To be named a knight is fair, for men shall kneel to him.
To be called a king is fairer, for he can make knights;
But to be called a conqueror, that comes by special grace,
…To make lads lords of the lands he wins
And foul slaves of free men who will not follow his laws.
This Jesus…when he was just a boy,
Turned water into wine, as holy words relate.
And there God of his grace began to Do-Well.
…And when he’d grown more mature…
…fed with two fishes and with five loaves
Near-famished folk, more than five thousand.
Then he comforted those full of care and acquired a greater name
Which was Do-Better...
He lies drowned in dream…and so do many
The Friar with his physic has enchanted the folk here,
And given them a drugged drink: they dread no sin.
…I will become a pilgrim,
…To seek Piers the Plowman, who might expunge Pride,
And see that friars had funds who flatter for need
And contradict me, Conscience; now Kind avenge me,
And send me heart and health till I have Piers the Plowman.