Classic and Contemporary Poetry
THE TALE OF PIERS THE USURER, by ROBERT OF BRUNNE Poet's Biography
First Line: Saint john the almoner
Last Line: For his meekness and his good deed.
Alternate Author Name(s): Mannyng, Rober
Subject(s): Covetousness; Ten Commandments; Usury
Saint John the Almoner
Saith Piers was an okerer,
And was swithe covetous
And a nigun and avarous,
And gathered pence unto store
As okerers doen aywhore.
Befel it so upon a day
That poore men sat in the way
And spread their hatren on their barm
Against the sunne that was warm,
And reckoned the custom-house each one
At which they had good, and at which none;
Where they had good they praised well,
And where they had nought never a dele.
As they spake of many what
Come Piers forth in that gat.
Then said each one that sat and stood,
"Here com'th Piers, that ne'er did good;"
Each one said other jangland
They took ne'er good at Piers' hand;
Ne none poor man ne'er shall have,
Coud he never so well crave.
One of them began to say,
"A wager dare I with you lay
That I shall have some good of him,
Be he ne'er so gryll ne grim."
To that wager they granted all,
To give him a gift if so might befal.
This man up stert and took the gate
Till he came to Piers' gate.
As he stood still and bode the qued
One come with an ass charged with bread:
That eache breade Piers had bought,
And to his house should it be brought.
This saw Piers come therewithal.
The poore thought, "Now ask I shall:" --
"I ask thee some good, for charity,
Piers, if thy wille be!"
Piers stood and looked on him,
Felounly, with eyes grim.
He stooped down to seek a stone
But, as hap was, then found he none,
For the stone he took a loaf
And at the poore man it drove.
The poor man hent it up belive
And was thereof full ferly blithe.
To his fellows fast he ran
With the loaf, this poore man,
"Lo," he saide, "what I have!
Of Piers' gift, so God me save!" --
Nay, they swore by their thrift,
Piers gave never such a gift.
He said, "Ye shall well understand
That I it had at Piers' hand;
That dare I swear on the halidom,
Here before you each one."
Greate marvel had they all
That such a chance might him befal.
The thirde day, thus writ it is,
Piers fell in a great sickness;
And as he lay in his bed
Him thoughte well that he was led
With one that after him was sent
To come unto his Judgement.
Before the Judge was he brought,
To yield account how he had wrought.
Piers stood full sore adrade
And was abashed as maid:
He saw a fiend on the to party
Bewraying him full felonly;
All it was shewed him before
How he had lived since he was bore;
And namely every wicked deed
Sin first he coude himself lead,
Why he them did and for what chesun,
Of all behoveth him yield a reason.
On the tother party stood men full bright
That would have saved him at their might,
But they mighte no good find
That might him save or unbind.
The fair men said, "What is to rede,
Of him find we no good deed
That God is payed of -- but of a loaf
The which Piers at the poor man drove.
Yet gave he it with no good will
But cast it after him with ill;
For Goddes love he gave it not
Ne for almsdeed he it had thought:
Natheless the poore man
Had the loaf of Piers than."
The fiend had laid in balance
His wicked deeds and his mischance:
They laid the loaf against his deeds --
That had nought else, they mote needs --
The holy man telleth us and says
That the loaf made even peise.
Then said these faire men to Piers,
"If thou be wise, now thou leres
How this loaf thee helpeth at need
To till thy soul with almes deed."
Piers of his sleep gan blink
And greatly on his dream gan think,
Sighing with a moaning cheer
As man that was in great were,
How that he acouped was
With fiendes fele for his trespas,
And how they would have damned him there
If mercy of Jesus Christ ne were.
All this in his heart he cast,
And to himself he spake at last:
"That for a loaf in evil will
Halp me in so great peril,
Muche would it help at need
With good will do almes deed."
From that time then wex Piers
A man of so faire maneres
That no man might in him find
But to the poor both meek and kind,
A milder man ne might not be,
Ne to the poor more of alms free,
And rueful of heart also he was
That mayst thou here learn in this pas.
Piers met upon a day
A poor man by the way
As naked as he was bore
That in the sea had alle lore.
He came to Piers where he stood
And asked him some of his good,
Somewhat of his clothing
For the love of Heaven's king.
Piers was of rueful heart,
He took his kirtle off, as smart,
And did it on the man above
And bade him wear it for his love.
The man it took and was full blithe;
He yede and solde it as swithe.
Piers stood and did behold
How the man the kirtle sold,
And was therewith ferly wroth,
That he sold so soon his clothe;
He might no longer for sorrow stand,
But yede home full sore greetand,
And said it was an evil sign
And that himself was not digne
For to be in his prayer,
Therefore nold he the kirtle wear.
When he hadde full long grete
And a party began thereof lete,
For commonly after weep
Falle men soone on sleep, --
As Piers lay in his sleeping
Him thought a faire swevening.
Him thought he was in heaven light,
And of God he had a sight,
Sitting in his kirtle clad
That the poor man of him had,
And spake to him full midely:
"Why weepest thou and art sorry?
Lo, Piers," he said, "this is thy clothe.
For he sold it were thou wroth?
Know it well, if that thou can, --
For me thou gave it the poor man.
That thou gave him in charity
Everydeal thou gave it me."
Piers of sleepe out abraid
And thought great wonder and sethen said,
"Blessed be alle poore men,
For God Almighty loveth them!
And well is them that poor are here,
They are with God both lief and dear!
And I shall fonde both night and day
To be poor, if that I may."
Hastily he took his catel
And gave it to poor men each deal.
Piers called to him his clerk,
That was his notary and bade him hark,
"I shall thee show a privity,
A thing that thou shalt do to me,
I will that thou no man it tell.
My body I take thee here to sell
To some man as in bondage,
To live in povert and in servage.
But thou do this, I will be wroth,
And thou and thine shall be me loth.
If thou do it, I shall thee give
Ten pound of gold, well with to live.
Those ten pound I take thee here,
And me to sell in bond manere.
I ne recke unto whom,
But only he have the Christendom.
The ransom thou shalt for me take,
Therefore thou shalt sickerness make
For to give it blithely and well
To poore men every deal,
And withhold thereof no thing
The mountenance of a farthing."
His clerk was woe to do that deed,
But only for menace and for dread,
For dread Piers made him it do,
And did him plight his troth thereto.
When his clerk had made his oath
Piers did on him a foul cloth,
Unto a churche both they yede
For to fulfil his will indeed.
When that they to the churche come,
"Lord," thoughte the clerk, "now whom
Might I find this eache sele
To whom I might sell Piers well."
The clerk looked everywhere
And at the laste he knew where.
A rich man that ere had be
Special knowledge ever betwe,
But through mischance at a cas
All his good y-lore was,
"Yole," thus that man hight,
And knew the clerk well by sight.
They spake of old acquaintance
And Yole told him of his chance.
"Yea," said the clerk, "I rede thou buy
A man to do thy marchaundye,
That thou mayst hold in servage
To restore well thy damage."
Then said Yole, "In such chaffare
Would I fain my silver ware."
The clerke said, "Lo! one here
A true man and a debonere
That will serve thee to pay
Peynible all that he may.
Piers shalt thou call his name,
For him shalt thou have much frame;
He is a man full gracious
Good to win unto thine house,
And God shall give thee his blessing
And foison in alle thing."
The clerk gave all his ransoun
To the poor men of the town,
Plenerly all that he took,
Withheld he not a farthing nook.
The Emperor sent his messengers
All about for to seek Piers,
But they ne mighte never hear
Of rich Piers the tollere,
In what steade he was nome
Nor whitherward he was become;
Nor the clerk would tell to none
Whitherward that Piers was gone.
Now is Piers become bryche
That ere was both stout and rich,
All that ever any man him do bade
Piers did it with hearte glad,
He wex so mild and so meek
A milder man thurt no man seek,
For he meeked himself o'er skill
Pots and dishes for to swill;
To great penance he gan him take,
And muche for to fast and wake;
And much he loved tholmodness
To rich, to poor, to more, to less.
Of alle men he would have dout,
And to their bidding meekly lout;
Would they bid him sit or stand
Ever he woulde be bowand,
And, for he bare him so meek and soft,
Shrewes misdid him full oft
And held him folted or wood,
For he was so mild of mood.
And they that were his felaws
Missaid him most in theire saws;
And all he suffered their upbraid
And never naught against them said.
Yole, his lord, well understood
That all his grace and all his good
Came for the love of Piers
That was so holy maneres.
And when he wist of his bounty
He called Piers in privity.
"Piers," he said, "thou were worthy
For to be worshipped more than I,
For thou art well with Jesu,
He sheweth for thee great virtu,
Therefore I shall make thee free:
I will that my fellow thou be."
Thereto Piers granted not
To be freeman as he besought,
He wolde be as he was ore,
In that servage for evermore;
He thanked the lord mildely
For his greate courtesy.
Sithen Jesu, through his might,
Shewed him to Piers sight,
For to be stalworth in his fonding
And to him to have longing:
"Be not sorrowful to do penance,
I am with thee in every chance;
Piers, I have mind of thee, --
Lo here the kirtle that thou gave for me:
Therefore grace I shall thee send,
In all goodness well to end."
Befel that serjeaunts and squiers
That were wont to serve Piers
Went in pilgrimage, as in case,
To that country where Piers was.
Yole full fair gan them call
And prayed them home to his hall;
Piers was there, that eache sele,
And, every one, he knew them wele.
All he served them as a knave,
That was wont their service to have,
But Piers not yet they knew,
For penance changed was his hue.
Not forthe they beheld him fast
And often to him their eyes they cast,
And saide, "He that standeth here
Is like to Piers tollere."
He hid his visage all that he might
Out of knowledge of their sight;
Natheless they beheld him more
And knew him well, all that were thore,
And said, "Yole, is yon thy page?
A rich man is in thy servage!
The Emperor, both far and near,
Hath do him seek that we find here."
Piers listened and heard them speaking
And that they had of him knowing;
And privily away he name
Till he to the porter came.
The porter had his speeche lore,
And hearing also, since he was bore;
But through the grace of sweet Jesu
Was shewed for Piers fair virtu.
Piers said, "Let me forth go!"
The porter spake, and saide, "Yo."
He that was deaf and dumb also
Spake, when Piers spake him to.
Piers out at the gate went
And thither yede where God him sent.
The porter yede up to the hall,
And this merveil told them all,
How the squier of the kitchen,
Piers, that had woned here in,
He asked leave, right now late,
And went forth out at the gate.
"I rede you all, give good tent
Whitherward that Piers is went.
With Jesu Christ he is prive,
And that is shewed well on me:
For what time he to me spake
Out of his mouth me thoughte break
A flame of fire, bright and clear,
The flame made me both speak and hear;
Speak and hear, now both I may,
Blessed be God and Piers to-day."
The lord and the guestes all,
One and other that were in hall,
Had merveil that it was so,
That he might such miracle do.
Then as swithe Piers they sought.
But all their seeking was for nought;
Never Piers they ne found
Night nor day, in ne stound.
For he that took Enoch and Ely
He took Piers, through his mercy,
To rest withouten end to lede,
For his meekness and his good deed.
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