Elementary’ Images in the Samaritan Episode of Piers Plowman.
Twenty-five years ago Schmidt argued in an essay in Essays in Criticism (‘L’s Structural Imagery’, 30, (1980): 311-25), that imagery of food and drink were structural to the poem. This essay proposes that such imagery pertains to a wider and more basic category he calls ‘elementary’, signifying both ‘elemental’ and ‘rudimentary’. L’s figurae draw on such fundamental features of bodily experience as heat and cold, wetness and dryness, or light and dark. These categories depend on the contact our five senses make with a world composed of the four elements; but the ‘elemental’ meaning imports, as much as this, the common (‘shared’ and ‘ordinary’) needs and actions that arise from the conditions of material existence. Thus it includes hunger and thirst, but also a whole range of sensory experiences that provide L the chief, at times sole, means through which transcendental religious truths may be communicated. This essay focuses on the Samaritan episode of B.17/C.19.