William Langland : Literary contribution

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Chaucer did not stand alone in the domain of English poetry of his time. He had great contemporarie, William Langland. Though entirely overshadowed by the dominating figure of Chaucer, Langland is considerable poets. In fact, for centuries William Langland was ranked with Chaucer.

Chaucer did not stand alone in the domain of English poetry of his time. He had great contemporarie, William Langland. Though entirely overshadowed by the dominating figure of Chaucer, Langland is considerable poets. In fact, for centuries William Langland was ranked with Chaucer.
William Langland

William Langland (1332-1400) is the author of a long poem, Piers Plowman, the most popular poem of the century. It exists in three versions, called A, B & C Texts, which appeared in 1362, 1377 and 1400 respectively. The general form of the poem is a vision framing moral allegories, so that it is a continuation of the tradition of the Roman de la Rose.

The poem consists of eleven visions. The poet, disguised as a shepherd falls asleep on a May morning in the Malvern Hills and has a vision of a vast, fair field full of flowers, full of all manners of folk poor and rich, workers and idlers, nobles and burghers, etc. The crowd swarms as in a market-place, a contrast to Chaucer's peaceful picture of his pilgrims. "The first vision by subtle and baffling changes, merges into a series of dissolving scenes which deal with the adventures of allegorical beings, human, like Do-well, Do-better, Do-best or of abstract significance like Lady Meed and the Seven Deadly Sins. During the many incidents of the poem the virtuous powers suffer most, till the advent of Piers the Plowman - the Messianic deliverer, who restores the balance to the right side. The underlying motive of the poem is to expose the sloth and vice of the Church and to set on record the struggles and virtues of the common folk" (Albert). The themes are nothing new to the poet but what lends a flavour to the poem is the realistic and sometimes sublime treatment of these mediaeval commonplaces.

Langland's understanding and compassion for the labouring poor appears unique, when we remember the time in which he lived. His sketches of the homely life are interesting and valuable as history. He has painted with all fervour of affection how the Cottar's views rise in winter night to card and spin and wash and rock the cradle, how their husbands toil and pinch to pay rent and get bread for children crying for food, and still like true-born Englishmen, cling tragically to self-respect, and make shift, though they go hungry to turn the fair outward and be abashed for to beg'. Sentiments like these made the name of Piers Plowman a catchword among the revolting peasants in 1381.

The poem has a three-fold aspect as a picture of contemporary life, as a satire on the corruption's of the church and as an allegory of life. His satires on the corruption's of the age have the savage ring of the satire of Swift. He is biting and cynical to a degree. His thought is vigorous and the tone has a loftiness and nobility that is almost new. His manner of story-telling is dramatic and recalls the morality and mystery plays. But Langland was neither an artist nora musician. He is powerless to, build it as a whole. The poem is a string of scenes loosely connected. The style has a "sombre energy, an intense but crabbed seriousness and an austere simplicity of treatment." His versification is archaic, It is the alliterative metre of old English poetry in which he writes. The pity is that in spite of the immense contemporary popularity of the poem it has inspired no successor.

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