“String him up,” some repoman shouted, (repossessor)
He’s a weirdo” “In the bin, in the bin”,
Yelled another and grabbed some thorns,
Sharp as needles, twisting them round
A fresh-cut-thorn branch. He made
A wreath and forced it down on his head,
The pain piercing his flesh. “Morning vicar”,
This comedian said and darted twigs
At him, aiming at his eyes. With three
Nails, he nailed him naked to the cross,
Lifted bitter drink to his lips, telling
Him drink and stop dropping off, hang
On a bit longer. “Now if he’s really something,”
He said, “He’ll get himself out of this one.
If you’re Christ, and if Christ is God’s
Son, come on down off that cross.
We’ll believe it then, you’ve got a life
On a string, you’re nevergoing to be
Began to fade
Pale and piteous
Like a prisoner
In death, the Lord
Of life and light
Closed his eyes, day
Shrank back, appalled,
And the sun darkened.
The Temple wall
Shattered and split
The solid rocks
Of earth ruptured,
It was dark
As thickest night,
Quaked like a live thing.
The noise brought
Dead men clambering up
From the coffined depths
Who told why the tempest raged so long.
One corpse said
“There is in darkness
Here a bitter fight
Life and Death
Destroy each other, None can know
For sure who wins
As the sun rises”,
And with these words
Sank back in earth.
From Piers Plowman by William Langland 1330?-1400?
translated by Ronald Tamplin. (from “The Lion Christian Poetry Collection” compiled by Mary Batchelor Lion Publishing 1995)
This translation combines a vivid recent colloquial language with the freshness of Langland’s great medieval poem ( contemporary with Chaucer). Tamplin gives us a sense of Langland’s realism in the frank brutal savagely comic talk going on round the crucifixion spectacle. The cosmic consequences of the death is based on some less familiar details to be found in Matthew’s gospel, much more readily grasped by the common people in the medieval period.
“And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom ;and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves opened: and many bodies of the saints which slept arose and came of the graves after the resurrection, and went into the holy city and appeared unto many”.
I’d be delighted if this extact encouraged readers to look at Langland’s work which has become too much neglected in recent years. Langland was a contemporary of Chaucer who uses Middle English rather than Chaucer’s “southren”. It is in unrhymed alliterative form based on Old Germanic (as was Beowulf in Old English).
Try reading aloud to get the sound of the alliterative verse. Individual words can be checked from the above translation- although this will not always be exact. The two Latin phrases quoted from the Bible are in Latin (” “It is finished” and “Indeed this was the Son of God”).
The passage from Langland starts from “His senses Began to fade” in the translation. Enjoy having a go and getting a feel of our ancient tongue and its poetry!
Consummatum est, quod Crist,and comsede for to swoune, Pitousliche and pale as a prison that deieth; The lord of lif and of light tho leide hise eighen togideres. The day for drede withdrough and derk bicam the sonne. The wal waggede and cleef, and al the world quaved, Dede men for that dene come out of depe graves, And tolde why that tempeste so long tyme durede. "For a bitter bataille" the dede bodie seide; " Lif and Deeth in this derknesse, hir oon fordooth hir boother. Shal no wight wite witterly who shal have the maistrie Er Sonday aboute sonne risyng- and sank with that til erthe Some saide he was Goddes sone, that so faire deyde: Vere filius Dei erat iste And some seide he was a wicche- "Good is that we assaye Wher he be deed or noght deed, doun er he be taken."