Title Background

The Pilgrim and the Book.- A Study of Dante Langland and Chaucer., Langland and Chaucer.

The Pilgrim and the Book.- A Study of Dante Langland and Chaucer., Langland and Chaucer.

Pp. 69-92, 163-78, and passim. Sees PPl, The Divine Comedy, and the Canterbury Tales as pilgrim poems informed by the paradigms of Exodus, Psalm 113, and the Emmaus story of Luke 24. The latter, in its liturgical dramatic form as Officlum Peregrinorum, is a speculum stultorum that contrasts exterior and interior sight, folly and wisdom, doubt and faith, lies and truth. Will, dressed in sheepskin like a pilgrim, encounters on the fair field of folk mirror images of himself in tale-telling pilgrims and lazy hermits, in a scene that establishes the pilgrim poet as an unreliable narrator. The contrast between the World (Meed) and God (Holy Church) is developed in the encounter with the carnal palmer and Piers, the true pilgrim, who takes on the role of the Saracen guide to the Holy Land. Will’s progress in the poem is from the carnal pilgrimage to the via veritatis. Will functions as Luke, the palmer as Cleophas, and Piers as Christ of the Emmaus story. WL as a boy in a Benedictine priory could well have sung the part of Luke; Piers’s appearance (B. 19.5-8) “peynted al blody” like Christ with a cross before the people, refers to an actor, a priest in the role of Christ in the Easter Officium Peregrinorum. The Emmaus story is echoed again in Conscience and Patience meeting Haukyn, a teller of lying pilgrim fables who mirrors Will’s own progress. WL deconstructs his own text by equating minstrelsy (as lying tales) with turpiloquium. Will’s education by Anima, the most inward part of his being, supersedes that given by his own imperfect doubles, Thought, Wit, et al.; he is thus able to find and recognize Piers in his soul “in his own and Christ’s image.” The allegory of agriculture links the motifs of pilgrimage and story telling (Luke) and pilgrimage and education (Exodus), as Piers, typologically like Abraham and Moses, sees the pilgrimage as honest agricultural labor. The pardon scene echoes the episode of the golden calf. The plowing of the Visio is spiritualized in the allegory of B. 19, where Piers becomes God’s plowman. Similarly, the Genesis and Exodus figurae of the Visio are fulfilled in WL’s use of the parable of the Good Samaritan, where Piers as Samaritan fulfills and completes Abraham and Moses, and Will is like one left for dead until Christ and Charity can become his savior. Likewise, the pardon is superseded by Moses’s Law, and both of these by Book. Both Book and WL’s poem are self-consuming artifacts: having served the purpose of guiding pilgrim readers toward salvation, they will themselves pass away.

Rev. Howard H. Schless, Speculum 64 (1989): 973-76; Christian K. Zacher, SAC 11 (1989): 234-38; James Simpson, MÆ 59 (1990): 144.


American University Studies, Series 4: English Language and Literature, vol. 42. New York, Berne, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1987.


Holloway, Julia Bolton.