Title Background

<i>Piers Plowman</i>‘s Lyric Poetics

Piers Plowman‘s Lyric Poetics

This article explores how the lyric forms and themes incorporated into PPl direct the poem’s investigation of the proper epistemological foundations of vernacular making. Lyric varieties such as the chanson d’aventure, which L periodically invokes, serve as more than mere stylistic embellishments; rather, these lyric passages model experiential modes of compositio and lectio that PPl repeatedly contrasts with more authoritative textual traditions. This tension between sensory and revelatory forms of textual engagement is particularly pronounced in the poem’s third and fourth visions, where L’s lyric interpolations pair with Will’s epistemological inquiries to make a case for the didactic and ethical efficacy of sensory and extraclergial forms of literary ‘making’: vernacular poetry’s potential, in other words, to supplement and direct a life guided by Christian ideals. The first half of the essay reads the poem’s third vision in light of the chanson d’aventure interlude that inaugurates it, suggesting that this lyric exordium raises questions concerning the efficacy of experiential modes of compositio that Will’s two later visions of middle-earth directly address. Under Imaginatif’s guidance, Will nearly achieves lyric’s potential as an exemplary mode of making. The second half turns its attention to lyrical lectio and the varieties of textual ruminatio metaphorically staged during Conscience’s dinner. L’s invocation of the penitential psalms in this passus tempers the epistemological ramifications of Conscience’s decision to forsake Clergy for Patience. The fusion of sensory and revelatory knowledge in the medieval literary traditions surrounding the psalms that Patience and Will ingest provides a counterpoint to Conscience’s preference of kynde wit over clergie and demonstrates once more lyric’s ability, by straddling these epistemological modes, to produce morally and spiritually productive utterances. (CRHJ)