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On the Times


1 Alas! that such things could be said

2 Their cut sleeves adorn (expose) their knuckled elbows

3 I wish their pouch (vagina?) were filled

4 having been prepared [by drink] for wreaking havoc

5 They demand [performance] time for clapping

6 May his grace flourish in fruit [children?]

7 Whoever may read these things / let him not condemn the meters I have fashioned; / The English language refuses / to submit itself to any law.

8 O king, if you are a king, rule yourself, and you will be a king though you have nothing. / You have the name without the thing, unless you, king, rightly rule yourself.


2 decendunt. A: descendunt with decedunt written above. C: procedunt, with discendunt written above it.

5 In B this line was skipped by the scribe, then written in at the top of the page, with an arrow curling downward to locate the place where it should be inserted.

7 oure. A: tour. Wr and C: honowr.

9 slewthe. A: slouthe. Wr and C: lust.

11 Sethyn trewth was. A: Sith trouthe ys. C: Sone trowyth ys. asyde. B: o syde.

13 Wheche. A: Whiche. C: Where.

14 nostri fiunt. A: nostri fient. C: nostri sunt jam.

15 schyld. A and C: scheld.

16 eu. A: en. C: heu.

17 A: Ofte tymes have we herd. C: Oftyn tyme have we here.

19 A: But ever desired we. C: But ever have we desire. B clearly reads deferred rather than deserred. Richard Green (correspondence April 5, 1995) suggests the gloss "we have continually put off more favorable opportunities [i.e., to remedy the situation] for ourselves."

20 commoda. C: commercia

26 The scribe has inserted que above the line with a caret.

28 per rus. Or perhaps B: per ens. A: parvo. C: per rus et mare. Green suggests by correspondence: "C's per rus et mare is grammatical (unlike A's paruo per mare) and yields a sort of sense 'through the countryside and by the sea' but is clumsy at best. Perhaps the original read parvum per mare [i.e., 'across the Channel'] which would explain B's per rus per mare."

29 went. B: want. A and C: went.

31 C: Ho seythe truth he is schent

33 Rowners. C: Robberes

35-36 The B scribe skipped the long line, but added it at the bottom of the page, with an arrow indicating where it should be placed.

35 klaterers. C: flaterars

36 A and C: sua subdant colla securi

42 collacrematur. A and C: collachrimatur.

44 depopulatur. B: deppulatur. A and C: depopulatur

46 spirituales cedunt. A: spiritualia cadunt. C: spiritualia cedunt.

47 A: Sume bethe myschevyd. C: And so sume be myschevyd.

49 goose. The second -o is superscript. A: goith. C: goth

50 plus facit homo viciosus. A: plus fecit homo vitiosus. C: et plus hoc facit ut vitiosus.

53 A: Goddes halydayys ar noght. C: Goddes dere halydayys ar noght. See line 55, which, in B, is also shortened, thus rhyming halydays/playes.

55 A: For unthrifty pley is worght. C: For onthryfty pley ys worght. See note to line 53 on B's rhyme.

58 B writes in eis regnant ma before striking this out and writing steriles & luxuriosi above the crossout.

62 fune. A and C: fine.

63 C: Put these to the peynys.

65-88 Wesmynster. These lines resemble the complaints about law courts in poems such as London Lickpenny and The Simonie.

67 Noght ellys. A: neuertheles; C: neuer Þe lesse.

68 vincuntur. B: vincunt. A and C: vincuntur.

71 face. I am indebted to Richard Green for the gloss "outface," or "face down."

82 crucis here seems to be a reference to a coin.

83 Green notes a similar use of the proverb in the Towneley Second Shepherd's Play: "Ill spon weft, iwys, ay commys foull owte"(line 587).

92 metuendi. A and C: metuenda.

95 The kyng knows nott alle. Topos of "the king's ignorance." See Truthe, Reste, and Pes, lines 45-46, and The Simonie, lines 313-24.

99 The kattys nek to the bel. This line refers to the well-known fable of belling the cat which Langland used in his political allegory, Piers Plowman B Prologue 146-208. There the cat is probably John of Gaunt, uncle to Richard II and his guardian. In 1376 Bishop Thomas Brinton preached a sermon that mentioned the fable of the mice and the cat. The identity of the cat in On the Times is less certain.

107 B inserts hym above the line.

109 Goode Jak . . . John. Wright identified the first Jak with Robert de Vere, Duke of Dublin, and Jak nobil (line 113) with Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk. Green believes "Goode Jak" refers to Jack Philipot, who helped finance Thomas of Woodstock's expedition to France, thus providing the soldiers with "loricos vel tunicas, quas vulgo 'jakkes' vocant." "John" in Green's political explanation denotes John of Gaunt, who might have been expected to reimburse Philipot for aid to his brother (pp, 336-39). That "Jak" probably refers to a person may be seen in the word's repetition in proximity (lines 105, 109, 111, 113).

110 gratia. Green suggests a reference to "his grace" John of Gaunt, with a pun on "kindness" and "thanks."

112 regna remota. Green explains these lines as John of Gaunt's absence from England during the late 1370s and early 1380s, including the 1378 St.-Malo expedition, an expedition to Scotland in 1380, and a diplomatic mission to Scotland in 1381.

117 Purs Penyles. This allegorical figure appears in other late medieval writings, including The First Shepherd's Play from the Towneley cycle of mystery plays: "I may syng / With purs penneles...." See MED, s.v. peniles (b). A satire on contemporary fashion begins in this line with the introduction of Galauntes who cavort with Purs Penyles as if they had both wealth and leisure.

123 B: Now ys he here gone. A & C: Now is he here, and now is he gon.

125 Freshest. B: Freshet. A: Fresshest. C: Fresch.

new towche. The phrase is reminiscent of Chaucer's Pardoner: "Hym thoughte he rood al of the newe jet" (CT General Prologue, line 682).

131 B: Narow thay bene thay seme brod. So too in C. Gloss based on A: Narugh they be, thou they seme brode.

132 A: nova sunt; factio gentis. C: vana sunt hoc facite, gentes.

139 War ye. C's reading. B: Where ever. A: Ware.

144 A: non sit regula Sarum. C: cum non sit regula Sarum.

146 A: laqueantur a corpore crura. C: laqueant ad corpora crura. Perhaps the sense is: "the legs are laced [with points] to the body."

157 Mony. B Mony (y inserted above a caret).

160 B and C: nisi deus instat aliquando. Emendation from A.

161 B: Womonly brestes. A: Women, lo! with wantounly brestes. C: Women lo! with here brestes.

162 B: pretendunt. The sense of B 161-62, which reads: Womonly brestes pretendunt arte prophana, is perhaps something like "with profane art they puff out their chests like women."

168 A: ut ventus ecce! vacillant. C: ventus velut ecce vacillant.

169 A: Now knokelyd elbowys. C: Her knokelys elbowys

175 A: Than ther teth quakis. C: Here chekys than quakys.

176 A: sed se quasi concutientes. C: sese quasi concutientes.

181 Huffe o galant. RHR comments on the phrase: "'Galaunt' continued in use well into the sixteenth century, and there is a considerable body of literature on these overdressed braggarts" (p. 322). RHR edits a satirical lyric against sumptuous clothing that contains the refrain, "Huff! a galawnt, vylabele! / Thus syngyth galawntys in here revelere" (no. 52, Historical Poems of the XIVth and XVth Centuries). "Huff" is a term associated with braggarts and bullies, as is indicated by a stage direction in the Digby mystery play: "Her xal entyr a galavnt þus seyying: Hof, hof, hof, a frysche new galavnt!" (RHR, pp. 322-23). A: Huf a galaunt thee atowche. C: Of a galaunt the towch. Krochalis and Peters gloss "Huf" as "If." Green suggests that the sense of B might be: "If a gallant alludes [OED s.v. Touch v. 18b] to it [þer a = þeron?] (with 'it' being the dripping nose)."

182 Green wonders if the line might not be an ostentatiously polite way the gallant alludes to his lady's dripping nose?

183 powche. Perhaps "mouth" rather than "vagina."

189 Vye velabel. These words are similar to the refrain term in RHR's no. 52, which he entitles "Huf! A Galaunt." See above, note to line 181. Perhaps A is the more sound reading with Vive la bele!

197-200 appear in C as lines 177-80. Though Krochalis and Peters normally follow A, they follow C's line order in this instance.

200 dampna. B dampna (a inserted above a caret).

201 Armes, sydes, and blode. Blasphemous oaths against Christ's body.

202 recitauit. A and C read future tense recitabit, which makes better sense. So too in line 204 with domabit.

206 poscunt: A's reading. B: possunt.

207 B and A: A contur tenore. C: A cowntur-tenur at Newgat. Krochalis and Peters emend according to C, an emendation that provides a more stable meter than that of the London MSS.

211 A: Now sey I for this dispite. C: Nowt I say for despyte.

217 Symon. Simon Magus (Acts 8.9-24), who gave his name to the word "simony." He offered money to the apostles so that he might pass on the power of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands. R. F. Green suggests a possible jibe at Simon Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury at the time of the Peasants' Revolt. See note to "Tax has tenet us alle," line 35, below.

227 ye. A and B. C: he

229 lanterne of lyght. Perhaps an allusion to John 8:12, the source for the title of the Wycliffite treatise.

232 venena: C's reading. B: vena.

233 A: Oure kynge and oure lond. C: Ouer kynge and his lond.

234 servet: A & C. B: servat.

et tueatur. B: et tudatur. C: te a tudatur. A and Wr: et teneatur.

238 fructu. Glossed here as "fruit [children?]"; but perhaps an allusion to St. Paul on the first fruits of grace (Rom. 8:23); or to James 1:18.

Latin epilogue O rex. The B Prologue of Piers Plowman contains similar verses: "Dum rex a regere dicatur nomen habere / Nomen habet sine re nisi studet iura tenere" (140). Since the name of "king" comes from regere, to rule, unless a man takes care to maintain law he bears the name without the substance.
Syng I wolde, butt, alas!
   decendunt prospera grata.
Ynglond sum tyme was
   regnorum gemma vocata,
Of manhod the flowre,
   ibi quondam floruit omnis;
Now gone ys that oure--
   traduntur talia sompnis.
Lechery, slewthe and pryde--
   hec sunt quibus Anglia paret.
Sethyn trewth was set asyde,
   dic qualiter Anglia staret.
Wheche oure fryndes were
   nostri fiunt inimici,
With bow, schyld and spere:
   poterunt--eu!--talia dici. 1
Oft tymes we have herd
   mala nobis esse futura,
But ever we have deferred
   a nobis commoda plura.
Loo! withyn oure lond
   insurgunt undeque guerre.
But God put to his hond,
   fiet destructio terre.
On water and on lond,
   que quondam nos timuerunt,
Now many a thowsand,
   nos per rus per mare querunt.
The dred of God ys went,
   humanus sed timor astat.
Whoo sayth the trewthe ys schent;
   regnum violentia vastat;
Rowners and flatereres,
   hi sunt regno nocituri;
Wold God suche klaterers
   subdant sua colla securi.
Ynglond, awake now--
   consurgunt jugiter hostes,
And goode hede take thu:
   fac ostia, dirige postes.
The ryche maketh myry,
   sed vulgus collacrematur;
The pepulle ys wery,
   quia ferme depopulatur.
The chyrche ys greved
   quia spirituales cedunt.
And some bene myschevyd;
   plus dampni crescere credunt.
Ynglond goose to noght
   plus facit homo viciosus;
To lust mon ys broght,
   nimis est homo deliciosus.
Godys dere halydays
   non observantur honeste.
For unthryfty playes
   in eis regnant manifeste;
Unthryft and wombes joyse
   steriles et luxuriosi,
Gentyles, gromes, and boyse,
   socii sunt atque gulosi.
Sugget and suffrayn
   uno quasi fune trahuntur.
Putt thay bene to payne
   ad eos quicunque locuntur.
At Wesmynster halle
   leges sunt valde scientes;
Noght ellys before thayme alle,
   ibi vincuntur jura potentes.
That never herd the case,
   juramento mediabit,
The mater wylle he face   
   et justum dampnificabit,
And an obligacion
   de jure satis valitura
Throgh a fals cavelacoun,
   erit effectu caritura.
His own cause mony mon
   nunc judicat et moderatur.
Law helpis nott then,
   ergo lex evacuatur.
Monslaghter and theft
   crucis ad votum redimuntur.
Be warre of ylle sponon weft;
   quia pravi prave locuntur.
Jurrers with payntyt sleves,
   inopes famuli dominorum,
Theys hurtes and greves,
   nobis Deus ipse deorum.
Grete hurt to this lond
   est usurpata potestas;
Therefore putt to his hond
   regis metuendi majestas.
For harmes that wil falle,
   nonnulla statuta parantur;
The kyng knows nott alle,
   non sunt qui vere loquuntur.
He and he says welle,
   sed sermo placere videtur;
The kattys nek to the bel
   hic et ille ligare veretur.
What ys the cause of this?
   vere violentia legis.
Amend that ys amysse
   poterit clementia regis.
Now without a jak
   paucos timuit remanere;
Sum have hym on his bak,
   sed bursa mallet habere.
Goode Jak, where is John?
   ubi gratia nunc requiescit?
Jak, now grace ys gone;
   ad regna remota recessit.
Jak nobil with hym ys;
   iter simul accipuerunt.
Of bothe ys grete mys;
   illos multi modo querunt.
Galauntes, Purs Penyles--
   per vicos ecce vagantur.
Yf yt be as I gesse,
   male solvunt quod mutuantur.
On with another anone
   satagit committere guerram.
Now ys he here, now is he gone,
   destruxit ut advena terram.
Freshest of the new towche,
   incedunt ridiculose,
Lytel or noght in the powche,
   pascuntur deliciose.
Brodder then ever God made
   humeris sunt arte tumentes;
Narow thay bene, thay seme brod,
   nova sunt haec respice gentes
They bere a newe facoun,
   humeris in pectore tergo;
Goddes plasmacoun
   non illis complacet ergo.
With wyde koleres and hye,
   gladio sunt colla parata,
War ye the profycy;
   contra tales recitata.
Longe spores on the hele,
   et rostra fovent ocrearum.
They thynk it dose wele,
   si non sit regula Sarum.
A strayt bend have the hose,
   laqueantur ad corpora crura.
They may nott, I suppose,
   curvare genu sine cura:
When other men kneles
   pia Christo vota ferentes,
Thay stondyn at here helys,
   se non curvare valentes;
For hurtyng of herre hose
   non inclinare laborant
I trow, for herre long toose
   dum stant ferialiter orant.
Mony a mon they lett
   et turbant ad sacra stando;
Crystys curse they get,
   nisi desistant aliquando.
Womon, lo! with wantoun brestes
   procendunt arte prophana;
Prechers ne pristes
   possunt hec pellere vana.
With poyntys ful stronge
   caligas de more sigillant
Now schort and now longe,
   ventus velud ecce vacillant.
Theyer knokuld elbows
   manice laqueant lacerate 2
In frost and in snows,
   ut aves spectant laqueate.
When frost awakes,
   et stringunt frigore gentes,
Theyer teth then quakes,
   sese quasi concientes.
Ful oftymes ywys
   gelido fervent in amore,
There specyall when thay kysse
   distillat nasus in ore.
Huffe o galant ther a towche,
   unguentum stillat amoris.
I wolde fulle were there powche 3
   tanti dulcedine roris!
Lo! this fore a grete nede,
   sua miscent ora libenter.
Whoo so ever takes hede
   manat liquor irreverenter.
"Vye velabel!" they kry,
   fragrantia vina bibentes,
They drynke tyl thay be dry,
   lingua sensuque carentes.
They kry, "Ful the bolles!"
   "Bonus est liquor, hic maneamus!
Fore alle Crystyn soles,
   dum durant vasa, bibamus!"
Qwen men rest takes,
   noctis sompno recreati,
Seche felows awakes
   ad dampna patranda parati 4
"Armes, sydes, and blode!"
   horum quidam recitauit;
Yit when he ys most wode,
   tunc blandus sermo domauit.
Peraventure at an owre
   poscunt hi tempore plausus 5
A countur-tenore,
   cantabit carcere clausus.
Of the cherche that I wryte,
   non forte placet sibi psalmus;
Noght say I for despyte,
   sic me Deus adjuvet almus.
Alas and waylaway!
   decus ecclesie tenebrascit.
Lyght wylle fayl, darre y say
   Sanctus nunc Spiritus assit.
Symon, that fals man
   decus nocet ecclesiarum;
Myche sorow he began,
   virus diffudit amarum.
And than fals avaryce
   satis ecclesiam laqueasti;
With mony other vice
   Christi sponsam violasti.
Here mekyl more myght I say,
   tamen ordo vetat feriarum;
Of seche more se ye may
   in libris ecclesiarum.
The lanterne of lyght
   non fulget luce serena;
Yt ys nott alle oryght:
   populus bibit ecce venena.
Owre kynge and his lond
   servet, regat et tueatur,
God that with Hys hond
   celum, terram moderatur,
In age as he grows
   sua crescat gratia fructu; 6
Fulle lytelle he knowes
   quanto dolet Anglia luctu.
Hec quicumque legat / non dampnet metra que pegi
Anglica lingua negat / semet subdere legi. 7
O rex, si rex es, rege te, et eris sine re rex
Nomen habes sine re, te nisi recte regas. 8
Explicit autem scriptum. Nunc finem feci, da mihi quod merui.
[This work is finished. Now I have made an end. Grant me what I deserve.]
good times are fading away; (see note)
called the jewel of realms/nations
(see note)
where once all flourished
hour (time); (see note)
such things are fading into dreams
sloth; (see note)
these are the things which England obeys
Since truth; (see note)
tell how England stands
Those who; friends; (see note)
now have become our enemies; (see note)
(see note)
(see note)
heard; (see note)
that there would be evils for us
put off; (see note)
more favorable opportunities for ourselves; (see note)
wars rise up everywhere
Unless; intervene
there will be a destruction of the land
[powers] which once feared us; (see note)
seek us out through countryside and by the sea; (see note)
fear; has vanished; (see note)
but fear of people remains
Whoever speaks; ruined; (see note)
violence lays waste to the realm
Whisperers; (see note)
these will injure the realm
gossips; (see note)
might submit their necks to the axe; (see note)
[our] enemies jointly arise
bar the gates, batten the doors
but the common people weep; (see note)
since (the land) is nearly laid waste; (see note)
because the spiritual leaders withdraw; (see note)
Some are brought to disaster; (see note)
they believe more harm is coming
goes; ruin; (see note)
and the sinful creature is more esteemed; (see note)
Mankind is too given to delights
God's precious holy days; (see note)
aren't observed honorably
Since profligate diversion; (see note)
openly rules these days
Profligate; bodily
sterile and lustful; (see note)
Nobility, grooms; churls (youth)
are gluttons all alike
Subject; sovereign
are drawn as if with a single line; (see note)
torture; (see note)
whoever speaks against them
(see note)
there are men most learned in law
Nevertheless; (see note)
there the powerful laws are chained; (see note)
One who never heard the case
will arrange things with an oath
He will outface (face down) the evidence; (see note)
and will condemn the just
legal contract (surety)
that would be valid enough in law
legal quibble
will be emptied of its force
now judges and oversees
for alas! the law is eviserated
are exonerated when cash speaks up for them; (see note)
Beware of ill-spun wool; (see note)
since corruption haunts the corrupt
Jurors; sleeves
retainers of noblemen
These; oppress
God of gods Himself knows
Great harm
is power falsely claimed
the majesty of the fearsome king; (see note)
Against; may
no statutes are drafted
(see note)
there are none who speak the truth
This one and that one
and the speech seems to please
cat's neck; (see note)
he fears to tie (the string) here and there
the violence against the law
the mercy of the king will be able to
jack (quilted jerkin/coin)
few fear to remain
him (the jerkin/coin); (see note)
but would prefer to have him in their purses
(see note)
Where does his grace now lie at rest; (see note)
he has gone off to distant realms; (see note)
noble (a coin)
they've gone on a journey together
Both (the duke & his money) are greatly missedbr> many now seek them
(see note)
behold, they wander through the countryside
they repay badly what they borrow
One; soon
is busy to commit war
(see note)
he ravages the earth like a stranger
fashion; (see note)
they strut ridiculously
they dine deliciously
they puff out (their) shoulders artificially
[Though] narrow; broad; (see note)
they are a "new fashion" of gents; (see note)
with shoulders in the back of the chest
shaping of them
therefore is not pleasing to them
collars; high
their necks are prepared for the sword
Beware of the prophecy; (see note)
tales are told against such men
spurs; heel
they cherish the pointed toes of their slippers
even if it may be not the rule of Sarum; (note)
the shins are adorned to the crotch; (note)
to bend the knee without care
saying pious vows to Christ
their heels
unable themselves to bend their [knees]
For fear of damaging their hose
they take pains not to bend
believe; their; toes
while they pray standing up in a workaday manner
hinder; (see note)
by standing they cause confusion in the service
unless they desist somewhat; (see note)
(see note)
behave with a profane art; (see note)
Neither preacher nor priest
are able to warn [them] off these vanities
they decorate [their] boots fashionably
behold, just as the wind they vary; (see note)
(see note)
like snared birds they look
and people huddle together for cold
Their; chatter; (see note)
as if clattering on their own; (see note)
they burn in icy love
Their sweetheart; kiss
the nose drips in the mouth
(see note)
she drips the balm of love; (see note)
(see note)
with the sweetness of such great dew
they freely mix their mouths
liquid (saliva?) irreverently flows
Long live beauty; cry; (see note)
drinking fragrant wines
lacking tongue and sense
Fill the bowls
The liquor is good; let's stay here
Christian souls
while the bottles last, let's drink
When; (see note)
renewed by a night's sleep
(see note)
(see note)
one of them swears; (see note)
then the flattering word will prevail
By chance, after an hour
(see note)
(see note)
shut up in a prison will sing
[to sing] a psalm perhaps pleases him (the tenor)
shameful behavior; (see note)
so help me sweet God
the glory of the Church grows dark
now let the Holy Spirit be here
(see note)
harms the Churches' dignity
poured forth a bitter poison
you have ensnared the Church enough
many a vice
you have ravished the bride of Christ
On this matter a great deal more
yet festive propriety prohibits
such; you may behold; (see note)
in the books of the Church
(see note)
does not shine with a steady light
Behold, the people drink poisons; (see note)
(see note)
may He keep, rule, and protect; (see note)
judges heaven [and] earth
As he [the king] grows older
(see note)
with how much sorrow England suffers

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