The Owl and the Nightingale

Middle English poem

The Owl and the Nightingale is a Middle English poem in the form of a debate between the two title characters; it was probably written between 1189 and 1216. The author's name may have been Nicholas of Guildford, but this is far from certain.

The translations used here are taken from Brian Stone (trans.) The Owl and the Nightingale, Cleanness, St. Erkenwald (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971).

  • Dahet habbe that ilke best
    that fuleþ his owe nest.
    • Ill fortune take that thing unblest,
      The bird who fouls his own nest.
    • Line 99
  • Wel fiзt that wel fliзt.
    • He fights well who shrewdly flies.
    • Line 176
  • He is him ripe & fast-rede,
    ne lust him nu to none unrede:
    nu him ne lust na more pleie,
    he wile gon a riзte weie.
    • His mind is settled and mature
      And proof against the pleasure lure.
      No more he seeks diversions gay,
      For he pursues the righteous way.
    • Line 211
  • Ne bo the song neuer so murie,
    þat he ne shal þinche wel unmurie
    зef he ilesteþ ouer unwille.
    • However glad the song may be,
      It brings delight in no degree
      To him who hears against his will.
    • Line 345
  • Vor sumeres-tide is al to wlonc,
    an doþ misreken monnes þonk:
    vor he ne recþ noзt of clennesse,
    al his þoзt is of golnesse.
    • The summer time's too full of pride:
      It turns a good man's thoughts aside
      From wholesomeness and purity
      To concentrate on Lechery.
    • Line 489
  • Vor neuer nis wit so kene
    so þane red him is a-wene.
    þanne erest kumeþ his yhephede
    wone hit is alre-mest on drede.
    • For human wit is never so keen
      As when the problem's unforeseen.
      It's when the mind is most in fear
      That guile and cunning first appear.
    • Line 681
  • Selde erendeð wel þe loþe,
    an selde plaideð wel þe wroþe.
    • The hated man can't intercede;
      The angry man's not fit to plead.
    • Line 943
  • 3ef thu isihst er he beo icume,
    his strencþe is him wel neh binume.
    • Foresee your trouble in its course:
      You thereby take away its force.
    • Line 1225
  • Ne truste no mon to his weole
    to swiþe, þah he habbe ueole."
    "Nis nout so hot þat hit nacoleþ,
    ne noзt so hwit that hit ne soleþ,
    ne noзt so leof that hit ne aloþeþ,
    ne noзt so glad that hit ne awroþeþ.
    • Let no man trust
      Too much to wealth that's on him thrust.
      There's none so hot but comes to cold,
      So white but turns to soiled and old,
      So dearly loved but comes to hate,
      So genial but turns irate.
    • Line 1273
  • Moni man is of his flesche clene,
    þat is mid mode deouel-imene.
    • For many a man is pure of flesh
      Whose spirit's in the devil's mesh.
    • Line 1411
  • Ich singe mid heom one þroзe,
    biginne on heh & endi laзe,
    an lete mine songes falle
    an lutle wile adun mid alle.
    Þat maide wot, hwanne ich swike,
    þat luue is mine songes ilike.
    • I still sing with them, even so;
      Beginning high and ending low,
      I gently let my music fall
      Until it makes no sound at all.
      Girls know, who hear that ending sigh,
      That love, like song, is quick to die.
    • Line 1455

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