Ploughing on. LO22658
Fri, 10 Sep 1999 18:06:44 EDT

Dear Learners,

I stood in the fields behind my small village yesterday as a lone man in a
tractor was going up and down the field ploughing. In the distance there
are fields set into the hillside of the nearby 'downs' that have 'wave
like ripples' set into them. You can see such features all over England.
It is a sign of ancient cultivation. As the ploughman drove his silver
blades into the earth with the deceptive ease of a thousand horsepower I
asked my companion how long such an acreage would have taken to plough
four hundred years ago with real horses. Days, weeks we thought. But then
fields were smaller and the now absent hedgerows were then abundant with a
teeming diversity of life.

My mind ambled backward and forward and settled upon the vision of a great
lean and lanky figure dressed in virtual rags; he was a ploughman from the
past. Back bent in diligent work. I thought, in for a penny in for a pound
and I walked up to him and asked him his name and what he thought he was
doing ploughing the field four hundred years too late? He said his name
was Piers, his wife was Kit and his daughter Colette. He had come from the
village of Cornhill and made a meagre living by ploughing as a freelance
and occasionally singing the 'Office of the Dead' for wealthy patrons. A
task of small reward but much other account since it meant he was partly
educated as an 'unbeneficed clergy', which means so he informed me, that
he once took minor orders until his patrons died leaving him somewhat
bereft. Socially he was a form of proletarian cleric. "I wander here and
there and enjoy much mixed company." Sometimes it seems he dressed like a
beggar and wandered about in a sort of dream, dreaming this and that and
composing long poems, and it seemed that some thought him quite mad. He
said that he had a vision of a future world that buried itself under a
mass of detritus and would call upon ploughmen of all kinds to sift and
turn over the soils in the hope of finding some resurrection or other. He
said strangely that his writings would become very hard and ossified such
that they would look like stones, but then after some considerable time
the new ploughmen would turn them over and rediscover in them softer
meaning that would turn the detritus of the age into the material for a
new life and a new time.

I thought 'hard and obscure'; he is speaking in allegory.
Mmm, a poet ploughman.

So I said to him, " What is the seed you are going to sow that would reap
such a harvest?"

"The meaning of man's life on earth and his relation to his ultimate
destiny." I thought, this sounds like an incarnation of At de Lange. This
guy is off his proverbial rocker.

I sense that if I asked him for 'the meaning of life' he wasn't going to
give it me straight. But I did ask him whose life he wanted to get to the
meaning of.

" Each individual who inhabits middle-earth, somewhere between the 'tower
of truth' and the 'dungeon of falsehood'.

That interested me a lot because I thought, hey, I live there.

"But you are not going to do this through poetry." I said.

"I realise that, so I try and translate my visions given to me as I plough
the earth into immediate applications for real life."

So he went on to explain to me that each dream or vision was applicable to
life as it has to be lived.

He was really crazily imaginative for a man four hundred years old. He
explained that he, "-used a schema of differing time values or scales and
with these he could increase both meaning and value, and these could
operate side by side or superimposed one upon the other in a polyphonic
manner." Then I got sneaky in my mind and curiosity got the better of me.
I thought this could be a dream. I could have dozed off while reading from
the digest LO list and some interminable essay by At de Lange (;-)) has
winged me off into another ether and now I am going to unlock myself from
this illusion and confront him with a teaser.

" Tell me now, Piers, what form does this quest and poem take, since I
have a friend you might like to meet." (Surmising that even At de Lange
cannot be in two places at once- not even in my dreams).

You know, I reckon he saw me blink, this is what he said and I quote him
word for word. "Through my dreams I have seen the world with new eyes, I
am bewitched into thinking seriously about the world and now I have to
journey in many guises on a pilgrimage in search of truth. It can only be
found through learning the law of Love."

(Heavens, was I happy he did not say AGAPE!!)

"So must I meet and assimilate every aspect of reality, and rise from the
preoccupation with physical, economic, social and political 'facts' to the
level of spiritual and moral vision. This I do through growth of learning
and understanding, which are my narrative thread. It is no regular step by
step progress, but like life somewhat unpredictable, there are moments
crowded with vivid impressions and moments flooded in solitude with the
wonder of new realisations."

I thought, Blimey, now he's talking 'digestive' and 'emergent' learning to
me! Now I wearied, I could see the sun begin to fall from the sky. He did
not seem tired though. He took up the plough and saw straight through me.

"Tired are ye?"

"There be no compromise in eternities demands, life is erratic, you like I
must constantly double back and forth on your tracks to rediscover what
you had already known"

This was becoming absurd. This was Dante, this was a topic I was mulling
over for a posting to the LO list only last week. Recovery 'of the whole'
in 'the field of our dreams' in which we are 'becoming lost' according to
Peter Senge. How can this bloke see so deep and wide, so particular and so

Truth to tell I found it disquieting. But I had to just know a little
more. I confessed to being curious and I thought to invoke a higher ideal
than some selfish knowledge importation exercise by telling him of my
visions and aspirations and how I wrote to people and read from them 'on
the other side of the world' in the twinkle of an eye.

After a joke I did not fully understand about the other side of a plank of
wood he proceeded to share this with me.

" This is how I plough Andrew, and this is how I sow in the next season. I
try and combine opposite qualities, an almost exasperating sense of the
absolute, that insists on following up every hint and will never leave the
subject until the truth of it has been pursued to its final conclusions."
Then in his old English he said it just like this- "I shal tellen for
treuth sake, take hede who so lyketh!"-he went on, "- but also I like to
show how common sense confounds theory, but I likes even better to show
idealism confounding worldly common sense, so my poems swing to and fro
between extremes, harsh prophecy or solemn warnings. For me, in my age,
life is a shifting turbulent thing and multi-dimensional and as I
occasionally lift my head from the toil of the plough I sense yours is
too?" He went on and on, through the night and into the next sunset. I
could not stop his flow. He was a man afield. (Thomas Hardy)

Finally and at last he drew to a close, I found I had been sat upon the
plough and we had turned the last corner of that field.

I thought to give him a gift, so I gave him a lighter, so that he could
make a fire to warm himself at a fire whenever he pleased.

"That is a kind gift, let me give you an allegory to go home with. You
have seen my plough and you know how heavy it must be to guide it through
the deep soil. But I sense you see a greater heaviness, a load borne that
might be lightened through learning? (All men carry loads they can hardly
carry often unseen in a cloth sack slung over their shoulders). For years
I struggled with Thought, Study, Intelligence and Imagination, etc. then I
met a being called Anima, in whom all the powers of the human soul were
combined. Then I met the Samaritan who assisted me in uniting entire God's
given 'graces' into one unity or attribute called Love."

The Samaritan then dissolved into the figure of Piers-Christ. "In my poems
Christ appears as an allegorical personage, representing the god-like
potentiality of the soul," -"for I share something with Meister Eckhart,
the knowledge that man is the only begotten Son of God."

As I wandered off in a bit of a daze he called out after me, " -And if you
long to possess livings, think what Nature teaches; for she shows how God
made all kinds of creatures in due proportion, fixing a limit to their
number- He telleth The Number of the Stars, And calleth them all by their

I turned.

Best wishes

Andrew Campbell

Material about Piers is found in (Langland. Piers the Plowman. ISBN 14
044087 9 Translated by J F Goodridge) It was the work of an unknown minor
cleric of the late fourteenth century who wrote all I that have attributed
to him and all else is from commentary based on the highest scholarship
available to me. In English literature he is compared with Milton,
Shakespeare and Blake in European literature almost the equal of Dante.
His work fell into obscurity for two hundred years or more. While he lived
his work was the single most read and living expression of the age. I
wonder if anyone on the list has heard of him?


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