William Langland ‘The Visions of Piers Plowman – Passus 5’

The pilgrims wandering to find Truth meat a professional pilgrim, who is completely bedecked with various souvenirs from the places he visited: phials of holy water from Canterbury, crosses from Rome, shells from Compostela and so on, But when the pilgrims ask him about the way to Truth, he doesn’t know it, despite his impressive list of journeys (he claims he’s been even to Mount Ararat). A plowman, later on identified as PIers, tells the pilgrims that he can show them the way to Truth, because he is its servant. doing various menial works. Then he proceeds to explain the way and his route is basically an allegory of the Ten Commandments, done in the manner: “go along the brook Be-Modest-Of-Speech, then cross it through the ford “Honour-Thy-Father-And-Thy-Mother, then through the meadoe You-Shall-Not-Swear” and so on. Then he describes the castle of Truth in a similarly allegorical manner. The gate-keepers are Grace and Amend-Thyself, and when you tell them you’ve done the penance assigned by the priest, they will let you in. When the pilgrims, who are sinners, hear this, they lose enthusiasm for their journey and start to drop off. It’s understandable that Langland includes among them the pickpocket, the prostitute and the pardoner, but why the cake-seller? What did the cake-sellers ever do to him? Overcharge him for some gingerbread?


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