The Owl and The Nightingale: Summary and Analysis

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Summary
      The Owl and The Nightingale is an important and interesting poem that sprang up after the Norman conquest of England and which was inspired by the French works of chivalry. It was written about 1220 and attributed to Nicholas de Guildford. It is cast in the form of a debate, a heated argument between two birds. The origin of the form Disputoisons very popular with the French and Provencal poets may be traced back to the classical eclogue of Theocritus and Virgil which sometimes portrays a contest of skill between two shepherds.

The Owl and The Nightingale

      In the poem, The Owl and The Nightingale the contention is between the two birds on the relative merit of their song. The Owl accuses the Nightingale of singing songs of love and joy and enticing men and women to sin. The Nightingale retorts that the Owl is a bird of ill omen whose song is ever of sorrow and misfortune. In the end, the birds set out to lay their case before the judge. But the debate remains inconclusive.

Critical Analysis
      The poem has been interpreted as symbolising the conflict between pleasure and asceticism, joy and sadness, art and philosophy, Most recently it has been viewed as a conflict between the ideals of the newer poetry of courtly origin and the religious, didactic poetry so prominent in mediaeval verse. There is, however, no necessity of seeing in the poem anything more than a lively debate between two birds, with the poet's skill sufficiently revealed in the matching of wits. Written in regular octosyllabic couplets, the well-turned rhymes lend point to its thought, satire and irony.

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