Pilgrimage in Medieval English Literature 700-1500, 700-1500
The chapter entitled, “ Piers Plowman,” looks at what came to be in the late fourteenth-century a tension between the ideas, images, and theologies of place pilgrimage and life pilgrimage. PPl evinces this tension, commencing with the ambiguity of the first lines of the poem, when Will describes himself as donning “shroudes as I a sheep were” (Prol.2) ” lines that communicate the speaker’s lack of spiritual direction through the imagery of wandering sheep expressed in such scriptural passages as Psalm 118:176 and Isaiah 53:6, as well as John 10, Luke 15, and 1 Peter 2:25. Thereafter, the poem in its entirety offers commentaries on both forms of pilgrimage. Passus 5-7 especially exhibit the tensions between both forms; the treatment of the seven deadly sins in passus 5 stand out as an exposition on the question of sin, penance, and pilgrimage typical of such works as DeGuileville’s Pélerinage de la Vie Humaine and the Middle English Weye of Paradys. Moreover, Piers’ tearing of the pardon in passus 7 signifies a rejection of place or “outer” pilgrimage for life pilgrimage itself.
Rev. Ad Putter, YLS 18 (2004): 161-64