Will’s Imagination in Piers Plowman
Argues that Imaginatif functions in PPl to reconcile ‘clergie’ and ‘kynde knowynge’, to harmonize the lessons that Will has learned from his instructors on the one hand and from his experience of the natural world on the other. Will seeks spiritual enlightenment from the natural world, in this quest following the lead of many a Christian before him, but he initially misunderstands the mechanism of natural theology. As his interactions with Thou3t and Wit show, he reaches flawed conclusions when he follows his rational faculties wherever they are disposed to go. He needs ‘clergie’ to steer his investigations and to derive spiritually profitable conclusions from them. Imaginatif is both Will’s teacher in this matter and the very means by which Will is able to reconcile the two bodies of knowledge. Aristotelian philosophy in the Middle Ages typically assigned imagination the job of bridging sense and intellect, matter and spirit, and this much attested cognitive function of imagination casts light on what Imaginatif and imagination can do for Will. With their aid, Will is better able to reconcile the natural and the spiritual so that, by the end of the poem, he simply is living biblical narrative; his experience of the world has become spiritual. Imagination not only makes Will a better reader of the natural world but also of poetry, and the poem becomes more vivid as Will becomes adept in using his imagination as it was intended to be used. By calling attention to the cognitive work of imagination, then, this article shows what Imaginatif means and how Will puts Imaginatif’s teachings to work in the poem. (MK)
JEGP: Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 108 (2009), 27-58.