Apocalypse Then: The Ideology of Literary Form in Piers Plowman
The apocalyptic, as a kind of “metaphoric thinking,” structures B.16-20 and, moreover, organizes L’s general method of conflating images, foreshadowing passages, and juxtaposing temporalities. For instance, passus 19 draws from and conflates the accumulated images of Piers and Christ of the previous passus so as to blur temporalities between L’s time and the first century. By linking the characters (Peter, Piers, Christ) together in the Easter Day passus and beyond, L comprehends the generic depth of apocalyptic thinking. Yet there is another temporality operating in these passages, one that revolves around the liturgical calendar, which establishes a decentering of human history and sees the flow of history as following a process of erring-renewal-reconciliation-pilgrimage. While there are elements of this process in the Visio, the Vita is more explicitly invested in it, as in passus 16, where the dreamer meets Abraham, appears to misapprehend or “err,” and is then moved forward through a series of renewal-reconciliation moments through passus 19, and finally to the end of the poem, where pilgrimage begins by a Pentecostal impetus. Had L continued his poem, he would return to the Advent, with its dual implications of Christ’s first and second coming. The poem, however, only anticipates these events in a postponed moment. L’s “metaphor thinking” allows him to understand his world through a “traditional, hegemonic model that promoted security, understanding, and insight into the enigma of time.”
Religion and Literature 31 (1999): 103-116.