Panis angelorum: Rollean Canor and Piers Plowman
With its simultaneously corporeal and spiritual qualities, music appears throughout PPl as multifarious and multimodal. Songs describe social types (beggars, Activa Vita, and Haukyn are all described as minstrels) and social actions (Mede is accompanied to her wedding by song); songs are sung by bodies at work (priests and parsons hunt souls with a musical ‘Placebo‘) but also by antisocial and lethargic singers; music might liturgical or secular, mundane or heavenly (Charity sings the Psalter; Hope’s horn trumpets ‘Deus, tu conuersus viuificabis nos‘). As a phenomenon in itself, therefore, music appears as neither purely positive nor negative, neither purely spiritual nor purely physical. PPl invokes contemporary medieval theories of mystical song and its relationship to bodies to describe the ways music forges relationships between subjects, both good and bad. This article addresses PPl‘s use of Rollean canor or angelic song in particular as a fundamental element of its understanding of musical practice. Although Richard Rolle, the 14th century mystic, is often considered to be primarily invested in embodied mystical experience, his discussion of canor in the Incendium Amoris and elsewhere is primarily concerned with a redefinition of the ‘body’ that experiences mystical phenomena. Rolle wrote about angelic song as a type of metaphysical food, and about canor as a sort of aural gustation, which understands the body as existing beyond mere corporeality. PPl‘s musical landscape borrows the concept of Rollean canor and renegotiates it as communal praxis through the figure of Glutton, Haukyn, and others. Whereas Rolle is interested primarily in singular mystical experience, PPl is concerned with the way mystical song works beyond the single human subject and forms choral communities across bodies, spaces, and times.
Yearbook of Langland Studies, 29 (2015), 3-23