The enduring fascination of Piers Plowman

Ian Sansom

People who know me, wonder at why I call myself the Pension Plowman. I tried to explain why on a podcast with Nico and Darren and there are some blogs on here which touch on the matter. But I am not weird enough to begin to understand the weirdest poem in the English language – Visio Willelmi de Petro Ploughman – the Vision of Piers Plowman.

This morning, I came across a man much weirder and more imaginative (and funny) than me, called Ian Sansom who in 2014 did a 30 minute podcast on Piers Plowman – the hero of Will’s dream – Will being William Langland who claims he dreamt all this up while lying on a knoll on top of the Malvern Hills in around 1380.

Will on a knoll atop the Malvern Hills

Ian Sansom says he dreamed he’d been commissioned to do this pod for the BBC but it’s hard to know if it was a dream or not- especially as the pod appeared and amazingly is still available and can be listened to here.

Ian likens Langland’s poem to a 14th Century “Howl” -think Ginsburg – but Howl’s too arty for me, Piers Plowman is a hard working chap who wants the world to be better and indeed best and sees that happen by people working together in a fair field of folk. Sadly, most of the time, Piers Plowman is off-stage and the cameo appearances he makes are less remembered than the poem’s description of the harrowing of hell and other goth-trash.

Piers – like the Pension – Plowman is a rather slight creation of Langland’s imagination and what he does exists only in a dream.

But he’s survived 700 years and while the poem is only read by English Literature students. it is still able to create a pod or inspire a blog or – more prosaically – an In our Time.

And I guess Langland has survived because he put his vision into words and wrote them down and he shored the shards of his thinking against the future by making a book. That book got copies and read and at certain times in Britain’s history, the book came to prominence because it inspired other people.

And it inspired Ian Sansom , who though a bit younger than me, went to the same university and I suspect studied with the same teacher – Geoffrey Hill

So here’s to you Ian Sansom, what you did 9 years ago in a little tower in Ulster just got someone out of bed and writing this.

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;
And e'en the dearest—that I loved the best—
Are strange—nay, rather stranger than the rest.
John Clare

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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