The story of Lady Mede ends with a guilty verdict. The character Reason then preaches a sermon about how people ought to live. Another character, Repentance, urges them all to confess their sins and seek forgiveness. Langland uses allegorical characters to represent  'the seven deadly sins' and says how they responded to this advice. Why did his search for salvation take this route rather than some prescription for righteous action? Perhaps his ability to perceive wrong-doing  made it natural. Or perhaps sin offers far more poetic opportunity than saintliness. Or perhaps no attempt to live well has much chance if previous sin is ignored. Four of the sins are Envy, Covetousness, Gluttony and Wrath. His descriptions are a mix of appearance and behaviour, as in these lines about Envy

"His cheeks lowered and looked as foully
As a leek that has long lain in sunshine."    

"Then my eyes wander away from the altar
And note that Elene has a new jacket
and wish it were mine and all its web with it."

In the description of Envy there are two lines that show how personal are the choices made by translators. The latest (Sutton) is very concerned with alliteration and gives these two marvellous lines;

"Every syllable he spoke was soused in venom,
And he lived on sarcasm, slander and sneers,"

Covetousness is dirty and disreputable in his dress, coveting gorgeous items like the necklace. 

"He wore an hood on his head, a lousy hat above it
And a tawny tabard of twelve years' service,
Tattered and dirty, and full of lice creeping."

Then we get one of the best lines in the whole poem.

"Unless a louse could really leap, believe you me,
She wouldn't go walking on that weave, it was so threadbare."

One imagines the louse making a risk assessment and deciding against the activity. Gluttony is just as good. He sets out to go to church but is persuaded by Betty the Brewer go to the pub instead, with

"Wat the Warrener and his rabbiting wife".

The eating and drinking and singing go on;  

"Till Glutton had gulped a gallon and a gill.
His guts began  to grumble like greedy porkers."

He makes himself so sick and so drunk that he can't walk straight and has to be carried to bed.  Wrath specialises in stirring up trouble by false rumours that set one person against another. He recounts his time employed as a cook in a convent and equates his skill in inspiring malicious thoughts with  dishes that he served up.

"With vicious verbiage I, Wrath, cooked the vegetables
Till 'You lie' and 'You lie' leapt out at once,
And each hit the other under the cheek."

Typical of the strife-inducing rumours is calling;

"Dame Parnel a priest's wench - she'll not be prioress.
She'd a child in cherry-time: our chapter all know it."

Repentance demands that all the sins (meaning people guilty of them) should repent. Most of them, after argument and an attempt to justify themselves, do so. But repentance also demands that they should make restitution for the wrongs they have done. Langland constantly repeats this theme of 'Pay what you owe' and obviously it is can't always be done. Robert the Robber says that he can't possibly earn enough by honest toil to repay the money he has stolen. This is one of several moments when Langland confesses that he knows no answer.

"I cannot tell for sure what happened to this robber."

Having dealt with sin, repentance, absolution and restitution Langland turns to methods of earning spiritual brownie points. One method in his time was to go on pilgrimage. The company determine that their pilgrimage should be directed to finding Truth. But, sadly, nobody seems to know where he lives,










Click on THE HALF-ACRE. for the next page. It tells how the leadership of the pilgrimage fell upon Piers, who had work to do before he could take up his post.  Or get back to the start by clicking on HOME.