The Style of Prayer in Piers Plowman
Kinds of prayer in PPl include ‘prayers from the liturgy,’ especially the psalms ‘or [prayers] from common practice’ (p. 68), and a smaller number of prayers original or taken from life by the poet (p. 70). Short examples include ‘interjections in religious language’ (p. 70) which may be either prayers or ‘profane expletives’ like ‘By God!’ (B XX 34; 71). Longer personal prayers by characters in PPl or characters in scriptural stories they retell tend to be liturgical and biblical in style (p. 75), plain and conversational, often cries for mercy. Their style differs from that of fourteenth-century religious lyrics in being more public (i.e., not addressed to a single listener or ‘lemman’ of Christ), often less visually graphic, not centered on the sufferings of Mary but of Christ. The style of prayer in Piers (i.e., of Biblical prayers themselves in Latin and/or English, of interjections, and of longer personal prayers by characters in the poem or in retold scriptural stories) is thus scriptural and readable, ‘strong, bodily, simple, and familiar; it tantalizes the mind into contemplation of divine mystery’ (p. 82), emphasizing and often expressing faith and the felt need for God’s mercy.