Langland now gets seriously concerned about old age, and has a long passage worthy of quoting in full.

"But Age soon came to me. He walked on my brain pan.
He made me bald before and bare on the crowning.
He walked heavily on my head. It will be seen forever.
'Sir ill-mannered Age', I said, 'woe be with you!
How long has your way been on the heads of  people?
If you acted aright  you would  ask their permission'.
'Yes, dear sluggard!' he said and struck me harder
He hit me on the ear so that I am hard of hearing.
He hit me about the mouth and beat out my teeth.
He gyved me in gouts; I could not walk freely.
And this woe that I was in moved my wife also.
She wished heartily that  I were already in heaven.
The limb that she loved was no longer able.
Age and she had enfeebled it together."

Langland asks Nature for help. He is told to get into Unity (the Christian community)

"And hold yourself there always till I send for you.
And you must gain some craft ere you come thence."

He asks what quality it is best to carry with him into Unity and is told Love. Off he goes, travelling

"Through Contrition and Confession, till I came to Unity.
There Constable Conscience guarded Christian livers.
They were sadly besieged by seven great giants,
Who held hard with Antichrist against Conscience".

From here onwards the story is about a succession of assaults on Unity. It revisits many church failings that Langland has castigated before, but it feels different now since Langland is inside the place. It is as if awareness of death has given him a less detached attitude. What happens to Unity now matters.The story seems to move faster, with fewer long digressions, but there is no diminution of the usual colourful abuse.

"Sloth assaulted Unity with a sling: smote a passage.
A thousand proud priests passed in with him,
With cut suits and spiked shoes and soldiers' daggers;
All came against Conscience; Covetousness led them.
'By Mary,' cried a cursed priest from the coast of Ireland,
'I count no more of Conscience if I catch the silver
Than I do when I drink a draught of good ale.'"

These folk almost overwhelm Unity and Conscience calls on Clergy to save him from 'imperfect priests and prelates of Holy Church'. Clergy, here, is the allegorical character, uncontaminated by the intruders. The call is answered by by friars, who Conscience (and Langland) hate and expect to be useless. Need takes a hand, saying that these friars only want to sign up in the hope of gain. Need advises 'let them in  but don't give any of them a parish. They signed up to poverty, so let them enjoy it'. There is an expressive line:     

 "Let them chew as they have chosen."

Conscience is soft-hearted and lets them in after a stern lecture that condemns, among other things, their increase in numbers. There is a detailed passage in which the religious orders are contrasted with an army, which has a formal payroll. Hangers-on, even if they fight, don't get paid. So the 'extra' friars should not expect rewards.

However,Envy takes the friars in hand and teaches them new skills of argument and deceit that will increase their influence. What Langland sees as their main evil is that they will grant forgiveness of sin for cash payments when sin ought to demand sorrow and some form of penance. They are making things easy for the wrongdoer (provided he can pay) and turning him aside from the only method that will really work - the method that will earn forgiveness and will (because the penance is painful) make the sinner less likely to sin again. The allegory now is that of a sick person (sinner) being made whole through repentance and penance or given easier treatment by a quack.

Click on END GAME to learn about the failure and success of Langland's search. Or click on HOME to ghet back to the beginning.

                                             OLD AGE

                           PLACE OF REFUGE - UNITY


                         A THOUSAND PRESSED IN

                           NOT PRIESTLY GEAR

                             ALLOWED IN AFTER ALL