Piers Plowman


William Langland

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Tree Symbol Icon

The tree appears several times throughout the poem, but each time, the tree symbolizes the Christian community. One of Will’s many teachers, Anima, explains that society is like a tree whose roots (the priesthood) are rotting, consequently poisoning the rest of the tree (society). This tree is the Christian community at its present, sickly state. Later, Anima (and also Piers Plowman) introduces the idea of the tree of Patience. This tree symbolizes the Christian community in its ideal state, as its roots are made of mercy, the leaves are the laws of the Church, the flower buds are obedience, and the fruit is charity. The tree is defended by Piers Plowman, who brandishes three wooden poles (the Trinity) to strike down the evil forces that try to attack the tree and steal its fruit. Near the end of the poem, the tree becomes the tree of Truth, which is destroyed by Antichrist, representing the subsequent destruction of the Christian community. 

Tree Quotes in Piers Plowman

The Piers Plowman quotes below all refer to the symbol of Tree. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Love Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the W. W. Nortona & Company edition of Piers Plowman published in 2006.
Passus XV Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Anima (speaker), Will
Related Symbols: Tree
Page Number: 247
Explanation and Analysis:
Passus XVI Quotes

…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.

Related Characters: Mary (speaker), Will, Piers Plowman, Christ / Jesus, Fiend
Related Symbols: Tree
Page Number: 277
Explanation and Analysis:
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Tree Symbol Timeline in Piers Plowman

The timeline below shows where the symbol Tree appears in Piers Plowman. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Passus XV
Corruption Theme Icon
Social Hierarchy, Community, and Selfishness Theme Icon
Anima explains that society is like a tree. Some branches are barren, while others have healthy growth, and this disparity means that the... (full context)
Passus XVI
Corruption Theme Icon
Good Works and Salvation Theme Icon
...admits that he still is confused about Charity. Anima responds with an explanation of a tree called Patience. Its roots are made of mercy, its leaves are the laws of the... (full context)
Corruption Theme Icon
Piers Plowman appears to Will and shows him the tree called Patience. Will notices the tree is propped up by three wooden poles, which Piers... (full context)
Passus XX
Corruption Theme Icon
Will drifts asleep again, this time dreaming that Antichrist, appearing in human form, destroying the tree of Truth all over the world (here, Truth is a tree, not God or God’s... (full context)