Figural Allusions to Piers in Pier Plowman, Passus 13-16

Figural Allusions to Piers in Pier Plowman, Passus 13-16

Yoon, Minwoo

Medieval and Early Modern English Studies, Volume 13 (2005)


In the course of wanderings in search of Dowel (Passus 8-12), the Dreamer encounters the personified allegories which denote rational faculties of human soul and the means of knowledge. The debates between them on Dowel’s whereabouts are, in figural terms, compared to the “wilderness talk” of the Israelite history in the Old Testament. Meanwhile, since his tearing of the Pardon (Passus 7), Piers has been off the stage of Piers until Anima mentions his name in Passus 16. His presence, however, constantly felt even in these Passus 13-16. Owing to the allusions to him, Piers is figured forth as the depository of Christian wisdom (“word”); he is said to come to prove the wisdom in “dede” (“work”). Finally, Piers is noted as a human being who perceives human will (“will”); and, since this ability pertains to Christian deity, Anima comes to state that “Petrus id est christus” in Passus 15. The allusions, which anticipate Piers’s coming, nullifies the pseudo-logical reasoning, and gradually replaces the “wilderness” words. These allusions to Piers are compared to the Biblical prophecy of Christ’s coming. The images and roles of Piers, however enigmatic, are to be viewed in figural perspective. Each moment of Piers’s transformation, here seen through the allusions, unmistakably prefigures Piers as the humana natura of Christ in Passus 18.

In accordance with this development of Piers’s image, the Dreamer comes to pursue Charity as the way to salvation who is ultimately Christ but provisionally Piers. He realizes that Dowel does not exist outside his heart and it must be found and grown in him, although at present obscure as “in a mirror.” The divine image “on the mirror”-enigmatic and imperfect, as well-is no other than the vestige of God in the created being. The obscure and imperfect image of charity in man is an “infinite” picture in pursuit of the “finite,” “face-to-face” vision of God. Also, the prophetic and poetic styles, employed respectively in describing Piers’s coming and the image of charity in human heart, are of a quality that appeals to the affective side of human will, in antithesis to the sterile intellectual “wilderness talk.”

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