Essay The Inner Pilgrimage in William Langland's Piers Plowman

Essay The Inner Pilgrimage in William Langland's Piers Plowman

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The Inner Pilgrimage in William Langland's Piers Plowman


Passus VIII of William Langland's Piers Plowman presents a search--which becomes a journey within the journey of the entire text. Here the narrator, Will, describes an inner pilgrimage--one that takes its shape in a religious context, but plays itself out through everyday life and the notion of self. The medieval traditional notion of pilgrimage involves the physical journey to a religious shrine as a means of obtaining, through journey and arrival, a revelation of religious and sacred integrity. The connotations of pilgrimage, however, stretch far beyond the actual physical act--a pilgrimage is "the physical symbol of [an] eternal goal" (Davidson and Dunn-Wood 13). The expanse of pilgrimage in medieval terms also envelops the understanding that "within or alongside this spiritual journey...was an intellectual journey as well, a quest against error and folly for truth and wisdom, which ultimately amounted to the knowledge of God" (Bowman 5). But pilgrimage goes even beyond that, in that it requires an absolute journey into the self with the goal of discovering that which gives the individual a context in which to exist.

The stage is set for journey in the opening line of the passus by Will, who says, "Thus robed in russet I roamed about/ A whole summer season searching for Do-Well." The establishment of Do-Well as the goal creates the context through which this particular pilgrimage must be understood. And it must also be understood that Will does not know what (or who) Do-Well is: "And I asked very frequently of folk that I met/ If anyone knew where Do-Well made his home"; he knows only that he feels that he should search for such an existing concept (Passu...


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...da Kay and Maryjane Dunn-Wood. Pilgrimages in the Middle Ages: A Research Guide. New York: Garland Publishing Company, 1993.

Davis, J.D. A Dictionary of the Bible. Michigan: Baker Book House, 1924.

Hagan, Susan K. Allegorical Remembrance. University of Georgia Press, 1990.

Hieatt, Constance B. The Realism of Dream Visions: The Poetic Exploitation of the Dream-Experience in Chaucer and his Contemporaries Mouton & Co. 1967.

Holy Bible. Michigan: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1990.

Kirk, Elizabeth D. The Dream Thought of Piers Plowman. Yale: Yale University Press, 1972.

Knapp, Bettina L. Dream and Image. New York: Whitston, 1977.

Langland, William. Piers Plowman. Trans. E. Talbot Donaldson. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990.

Sargent-Baur, Barbara N. Journeys Toward God: Pilgrimage and Crusade. Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 1992.

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