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The Design of the Poem.

The Design of the Poem.

An interpretative summary of the poem, considered in all three versions, according to the organizing principles embedded in the text itself, i.e., the three dreams that constitute the A version, the eight that make up the B and C versions. Explains the concept of truth, emblemized in the Prologue, as primarily a social ideal, “manifested concretely in the obligations of status, in the duties of knighthood, in the subordination of one individual to another.” In the speech of Holy Church, truth is shown to be not only the political virtue par excellence but also the means to salvation, which is the central concern of the poem. The trial of Meed (passus 2-4) dramatizes the protasis of Holy Church’s speech (“When all treasures are tried”) by literally putting on trial a personification of “tresor.” Passus 3-5 dramatize the apodosis of her speech (“truth is best”). With the Vita the poem turns abstract and ratiocinative. Thought, paralleling in function Holy Church, serves as a guide who offers a conceptual framework for what follows, though the “three lives” are used by WL primarily as a rhetorical scheme for amplification. Imaginatif is the most important of Will’s guides in the third vision: a mediator between the rational and sensitive aspects of the soul, a figure for the operation of prudence, and the faculty responsible for dreams and indeed for the creation of poetry itself. The first dream-within-a-dream impels the Dreamer to commit himself affectively to the search for truth, in a way that parallels Holy Church’s extension of kynde knowyng into loving. In the Dreamer’s search for charity, Conscience and Patience are the chief guides. The banquet scene shows that learning is no guarantee of a virtuous life; only through patience can Will learn charity. The Haukyn episode teaches Will the necessity not only of hard work and the faithful fulfillment of obligations but also the lesson of’ fiat voluntas tua: to cast oneself wholly on the will of God is the essence of patience, the ground of charity, the way to truth.” Now Anima (Liberum Arbitrium in the C version) can lead the Dreamer to loves epiphany in the second dream-within-a-dream. Lists earlier references to Piers in arguing that they lead steadily toward the Dreamer’s vision of the Incarnation. The Piers-figure grows in significance and corresponds to the Dreamer’s own progress. The reconciliation of the Four Daughters of God and the Dreamer awakening to the Easter bells serve as a climax but not a conclusion. Indeed, the inconclusive ending of the poem suggests that “Will’s hard-earned desire to ‘do well’ is, tragically, not enough.’


Alford, Companion to PPl 29-65.

Cross Reference



Alford, John A.