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The Owl and the Nightingale
London, British Library, MS Cotton Caligula A.ix (C), ff. 233ra--246ra
Oxford, Jesus College MS 29 (J), ff. 156ra--168vb


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This is where the argument between the Owl and the Nightingale starts.

I was in a valley in springtime; in a very secluded corner, I heard an owl and a nightingale holding a great debate. [5] Their argument was fierce, passionate, and vehement, sometimes sotto voce, sometimes loud; and each of them swelled with rage against the other and let out all her anger, and said the very worst she could think of about the other's character, [10] and especially they argued vehemently against each other's song.

The nightingale began the argument in the corner of a clearing, [15] and perched on a beautiful branch---there was plenty of blossom around it---in an impenetrable thick hedge, with reeds and green sedge growing through it. She was all the happier because of the branch, [20] and sang in many different ways; the music sounded as if it came from a harp or a pipe rather than from a living throat. [25] Nearby there stood an old stump where the owl sang her Hours, and which was all overgrown with ivy; this was where the owl lived. The nightingale looked at her, [30] and scrutinised her and despised her, and everything about the owl seemed unpleasant to her, since she is regarded as ugly and dirty. 
'You nasty creature!', she said, 'fly away! The sight of you makes me sick.
[35] Certainly I often have to stop singing because of your ugly face. My heart fails me, and so does my speech, when you thrust yourself on me. I'd rather spit than sing [40] about your wretched howling.'

The owl waited until it was evening; she couldn't hold back any longer, because she was so angry that she could hardly breathe, and finally she spoke:
'How does my song seem to you now? Do you think that I can't sing just because I can't twitter? You often insult me [50] and say things to upset and embarrass me. If I held you in my talons---if only I could!--and you were off your branch, you'd sing a very different tune!'

[55] The nightingale answered, 'As long as I keep out of the open, and protect myself against being exposed, I'm not bothered about your threats; [60] as long as I stay put in my hedge, I don't care at all what you say. I know that you're ruthless towards those who can't protect themselves from you, and that where you can you bully small birds cruelly and harshly. [65] That is why all kinds of birds hate you, and they all drive you away, and screech and scream around you, and mob you at close quarters; and for the same reason even the titmouse [70] would gladly rip you to pieces. You're ugly to look at, and hideous in all sorts of ways; your body is squat, your neck is scrawny, your head is bigger than the rest of you put together; [75] your eyes are black as coal, and as big as if they were painted with woad. You glare as if you want to bite to death everything that you can strike with your talons. Your beak is hard and sharp, and curved [80] like a bent hook. You often make a repeated clacking noise with it, and that's one of your songs. But you're making threats against my person, and would like to crush me with your talons; [85] a frog would suit you better, squatting under a mill-wheel; snails, mice, and other vermin would be more natural and appropriate for you. You roost by day and fly by night; [90] you show that you're an evil creature. You are loathsome and unclean---I'm talking about your nest, and also about your dirty chicks; you're bringing them up with really filthy habits. [95] You know very well what they do in their nest: they foul it up to the chin; they sit there as if they're blind. There's a proverb about that: 'Shame on the creature [100] which fouls its own nest'! The other year a falcon was breeding; she didn't guard her nest well. You crept in there one day, and laid your filthy egg in it. [105] When the time came that she hatched the eggs and the chicks emerged, she brought her chicks food, watched over the nest and saw them eat; she saw that on one side [110] her nest was fouled on the outer edge. The falcon was angry with her chicks, and screamed loudly, and scolded sternly: 'Tell me, who's done this? It was never your nature to do this kind of thing. [115] This is a disgusting thing to have happened to you. Tell me, if you know who did it!' Then they all said, 'It was actually our brother, the one over there with the big head--- [120] it's a pity nobody's cut it off! Throw him out as a reject, so that he breaks his neck!' The Falcon believed her chicks, and seized that dirty chick by the middle, [125] and threw it off that wild branch, where magpies and crows tore it to pieces. There's a fable told about this, though it's not entirely a fable: this is what happens to the villain [130] who's come from a disreputable family and mixes with respectable people; he's always letting his origins show, that he's come from a rotten egg even if he's turned up in a respectable nest; [135] even if an apple rolls away from the tree where it was growing with the others, although it's some distance from it it still reflects clearly where it's come from.' The nightingale replied with these words, [140] and after that long speech she sang as loudly and as shrilly as if a resonant harp were being played.

The owl listened to this, and kept her eyes lowered, [145] and sat puffed up and swollen with rage, as if she had swallowed a frog, because she was fully aware that the nightingale was singing to humiliate her. And nevertheless she answered: 
'Why don't you fly into the open and show which of us two is brighter in colouring and prettier to look at?'

'No! you have very sharp claws; I don't fancy being clawed by you. [155] You have very strong talons; you grip with them like a pair of tongs. You were planning---that's what your sort do---to trick me with flattery. I wouldn't do what you suggested to me; [160] I knew very well that you were trying to mislead me. You ought to be ashamed of your bad advice! Your deviousness has been exposed; hide your dishonesty from the light, and conceal that wickedness under good behaviour!  [165] When you want to practise your villainy, see that it's not obvious; because dishonesty brings down contempt and hatred if it's open and recognized. You didn't succeed with your cunning plans, [170] because I'm cautious and can easily dodge. It's no use your pushing too hard; I would fight better with cunning than you with all your strength. [175] I have a good castle, both in breadth and length, in my branch; the wise man says,
'He who fights and runs away,
Lives to fight another day.'
But let's stop this quarrelling, because speeches like this aren't getting us anywhere; and let's begin with reasonable procedure,
[180], and courteous and diplomatic language. Even if we don't agree, we can plead better politely, without quarrelling and fighting, properly and correctly; [185] and indeed each of us can say what she wants to fairly and reasonably.'

Then the owl said: 'Who is there to mediate between us; who is able and willing to give us a fair judgement?'

'I know very well', said the nightingale, [190] 'there's no need for discussion about it: Master Nicholas of Guildford. He is wise and weighs his words carefully; he has very sound judgement, and detests all vices. [195] He has a good understanding of singing, who is singing well, who badly; and he can distinguish wrong from right, darkness from light.'

The owl reflected for a while, [200], and and finally spoke as follows: 
'I'm quite willing that he should judge us, because although he was wild once, and fond of nightingales and other charming and dainty creatures,
[205] I know that he's cooled down considerably now; he's not so bewitched by you that he'll give you priority over me because of his old love for you. You'll never charm him so much [210] that he'd  give a false judgement in your favour. He's mature, and his judgement is sound; he has no desire for indiscretion now; he's no longer inclined to frivolity; he will take the right path.'

[215] The nightingale was quite ready; she had a wide range of experience. 
'Owl', she said, 'tell me the truth; why do you do what evil creatures do? You sing by night and not by day,
[220] and your whole song is "Woe! Woe!". You could frighten all those who hear your hooting with your song. You shriek and scream to your mate in a way that's horrible to listen to. [225] It seems to everyone, clever or stupid, that you're wailing rather than singing. You fly by night and not by day; I' wonder about that, and well I may, because every creature that avoids doing right [230] loves darkness and hates light; and every creature attracted by wrongdoing likes the cover of darkness for what it does. There's a wise, though coarse, proverb which is used by a lot of people, [235] because King Alfred said and wrote it: "Someone who knows he's fouled himself keeps out of the way." I think that's just what you're doing, because you always fly at night. Another thing occurs to me: [240] at night you have very sharp eyesight; during the day you're completely blind, so you can't see either branch or bark. There's a proverb which is used about that: [245] just as is the case with the villain who is up to no good, and is so full of malicious dishonesty that nobody can escape him, knows the dark path well [250] and avoids the well-lit one, so it is with those of your kind: they don't care at all for light.'

The owl listened for a very long time, and became really angry. 
[255] She said, 'You're called a nightingale, but you could better be described as a chatterbox because you talk too much. Give your tongue a rest! You think you've got the day to yourself. [260] Now let me have my turn! Be quiet now, and let me speak; I'll get my revenge on you. And listen to how I can defend myself by plain truth without verbiage. [265] You say that I hide myself by day; I don't deny that. And listen, I'll tell you why, the whole reason for it. I have a hard, strong beak [270] and good, long, sharp claws, as is proper for the hawk family. It is my wish and my desire to take after my own kind; nobody can blame me for it. [275] It's obvious in my case that I'm so fierce because of my proper nature. That's why I'm hated by the small birds that fly along the ground and through thickets. They scream and squawk at me [280] and fly in flocks against me. I prefer to have peace and quiet and sit still in my nest; because I would never be any better off [285] if I attacked them with scolding, abuse, and insults, as shepherds do, or with bad language. I don't want to quarrel with the wretched creatures, so I give them a wide berth. It's the opinion of the wise--- [290] and so they often say---that one shouldn't quarrel with fools, or compete with the oven in gaping widely. I've heard how Alfred once said in his proverbs, [295] "Take care to avoid anywhere where there are arguments and quarrels; let fools quarrel, and go on your way!" And I am wise, and do just that. And from another point of view, Alfred had [300] a saying which has spread far and wide: "Anyone who has to do with someone who is dirty will never come away from him with clean hands". Do you think that the hawk is the worse for it if a crow caws at him beside the marsh, [305] and swoops at him screaming as if she means to attack him? The hawk follows a sensible plan, and flies on his way and lets her scream. 
'And another thing: you raise another point against me,
[310] and accuse me of not being able to sing, saying that my only song is a dirge, and distressing to listen to. That isn't true---I sing harmoniously, with full melody and a resonant voice. [315] You think that all songs sound terrible if they're not like your piping. My voice is confident, not diffident; it's like a great horn, and yours is like a whistle made from a spindly half-grown weed. [320] I sing better than you do; you gabble like an Irish priest. I sing in the evening at the proper time, and afterwards when it is time to go to bed, [325] the third time at midnight; and so I regulate my song. When I see dawn coming far off, or the morning star, I do good with my throat [330] and call people to their business. But you sing all night long, from evening till dawn, and your song lasts as long as the night does, [335] and your wretched throat keeps on  trilling without stopping, night or day. You constantly assault the ears of those who live around you with your piping, and make your song so cheap [340] that it loses all its value. Every pleasure can last so long that it ceases to please; because harp and pipe and birdsong all grow tiresome if they last too long. [345] However delightful a song may be, it will seem very tedious if it goes on longer than we would like. In this way you can devalue your song; because it is true---Alfred said so, and it can be read in books: [350] "Everything can lose its value through lack of moderation and restraint." You can glut yourself with pleasure, and surfeit makes you sick; [355] and every enjoyment can pall if it is pursued constantly---except for one. That is God's kingdom, which is always full of delight and always the same; even if you drew constantly on that basket, [360] it would constantly be full to overflowing. God's kingdom is something to marvel at, always giving and always unchanged.
'And you reproach me with a further point, that I have poor eyesight,
[365] and say that because I fly by night I can't see in daylight. You're lying! It's obvious that I have good eyesight, because there's no darkness so thick that my sight is obscured. [370] You think I can't see because I don't fly by day; the hare lies low all day, but nevertheless he can see. [375] If hounds run towards him, he dodges away at top speed, and turns sharply down very narrow paths, and keeps his tricks ready, and hops and leaps very fast, [380] and looks for ways to the wood. His eyesight wouldn't be up to this unless he could see really well. I can see as well as a hare, even though I stay hidden all day. [385] Where brave men are at war, and travel everywhere, and overrun many countries, and do good service at night, I follow those brave men, [390] and fly at night in their company.'

The nightingale kept all this in her mind, and considered for a long time what she might say to follow it; because she could not refute [395] what the owl had said to her, since what she said was true and accurate.  And she regretted that she had let the argument get so far, and was afraid that her answer [400] would not be effectively delivered. But nevertheless she spoke out boldly; because it is wise to put on a brave show in front of one's enemy rather than giving up out of cowardice, [405] since someone who is bold if you take to flight will run away if you don't lose your nerve; if he sees that you're not cowardly he'll turn from a boar into a barrow-pig. And therefore, although the nightingale [410] was nervous, she made a bold speech.
'Owl,' she said, 'why do you behave like this? In winter you sing "Woe! Woe!' You sing like a hen in snow---everything that you sing comes out of misery.
[415] In winter you sing sullenly and gloomily, and you are always dumb in summer. It's because of your wretched malice that you can't be happy with us, since you practically burn up with resentment [420] when our good times arrive. You behave like a mean-spirited man: every pleasure displeases him; complaining and scowling come easily to him if he sees that people are happy; [425] he would like to see tears in everyone's eyes; he wouldn't mind if whole troops of men were fighting each other hand-to-hand. You do the same for your part; [430] because when deep snow is lying far and wide, and every creature is miserable, you sing from evening to morning. But I bring every delight with me; every creature is glad on my account, [435] and rejoices when I come, and looks forward to my arrival. The flowers begin to open and bloom, both on the trees and in the fields. The lily with her fair complexion welcomes me, I'll have you know, [440] and invites me with her beautiful appearance to fly to her. The blushing rose, too, springing from the briar, [445] tells me to sing a joyful song for love of her. And so I do, night and day---the more I sing, the more I can---and serenade them with my singing, [450] but even so, not for too long. When I see that people are happy I don't want them to feel overloaded; when what I've come for is done, I go back, and it's sensible for me to do that. [455] When men's thoughts turn to their sheaves, and the green leaves begin to fade, I travel home and take my leave. I don't care for the deprivations of winter; when I see that harsh weather is coming, [460] I go home to my own country, and am both loved and thanked for having come and done my task here. When my work's finished, should I stay on? No! why should I? After all, anyone who stays on for a long time when they're not needed [465] is neither clever nor sensible.'

The owl listened, and took in all this argument word for word, and then considered how she might [470] best find a defensible answer; because anyone who is afraid of being tricked when arguing a case must consider things very carefully.
'You ask me', said the owl, 'why I sing and cry out in winter.
[475] It's customary---and has been since the world began---for every good man to acknowledge his friends and entertain them for a time in his house, at his table, [480], with friendly talk and kind words. And especially at Christmas, when rich and poor, greater and lesser, sing carols night and day, I help them as far as I can. [485] And also I'm concerned with other things than  having fun and singing. I have a good answer to this point, all ready and waiting. For summertime is far too heady, [490] and makes a man's thoughts go astray; since he loses interest in chastity, he's entirely concerned with lechery. For no animal waits any longer, but each one mounts the other; [495] even the stallions in the stud go wild after the mares. And you are like them yourself, because your song is all about lechery, and towards the time you breed [500] you're very arrogant and aggressive. As soon as you've mated, you lose your voice, and instead chirp like a titmouse, squeaking hoarsely. [505] What's more, you sing worse than the hedge-sparrow, which flies along the ground among the stubble; when your desire has passed, so has your song.  In summer the peasants go wild, and contort themselves into strange postures; [510] it isn't because of love, however, but the peasant's basic instinct. For as soon as he's done the deed, all his ardour collapses; [515] once he's got under a woman's skirt and shot his bolt, his love doesn't last any longer. That's what your character is like: as soon as you're sitting on your eggs, you lose your song completely. [520] That's how you behave on your branch: when you've had your fun, your voice is ruined. But when the nights draw in and bring sharp frosts, [525] only then is it clear who's got what it takes; when the going is tough, you can see who presses forward and who hangs back. It's obvious in hard times [530] when good service needs to be offered; then I'm ready and entertain and sing, and am happy to offer my performance. Winter doesn't trouble me, since I'm not a feeble wretch; [535] and also I give comfort to many creatures which have no strength of their own. They are anxious and wretched, and search desperately for warmth; I sing more often to them, [540] to lessen some of their misery. What do you think of that? Have you been cornered yet? Have you been fairly beaten?'

'Not at all!' said the nightingale; 'You must listen to the other side. [545] This debate hasn't been submitted to judgement yet. But keep quiet and listen to me now! I'll see to it that your speech is refuted by a single statement.'

'That wouldn't be fair', the owl said. [550] 'You've brought a charge as you proposed to, and I've given you an answer. But before we set off for our judgement, I want to argue against you as you argued against me, [555] and you answer me if you can. 
Tell me now, you miserable creature, do you have any use apart from having a musical voice? You're no good for anything
[560] apart from knowing how to warble, because you're small and weak and your coat of feathers is scanty. What good do you do for humanity? No more than a wretched wren does! [565] Nothing useful comes from you, except that you make as much noise as if you were mad; and once your twittering is finished, you don't have any other skill. Alfred the wise said ([570] quite rightly, since it's true), 'Nobody is loved or valued very long for their singing alone', because someone who doesn't know how to do anything but sing is good for nothing. You're just a useless creature; [575] there's nothing to you but twittering. Your colouring is dark and dull; you look like a little sooty bundle. You aren't pretty, you aren't strong, [580] you aren't broad, you aren't tall. You've missed out completely on good looks, and you haven't done much good either. 
I've another point to make about you: you're not clean or decent
[585] when you visit human enclosures, where thorns and branches are woven together alongside hedges and thick weeds, where people often go to relieve themselves. You're attracted there, you hang around there, [590] and you avoid other, clean places. When I fly out after mice at night, I can find you at the privy; among the weeds and nettles, you sit and sing behind the seat. [595] You can most often be found where people park their bottoms.
What's more, you criticize me for my diet, and say that I eat vermin; but what do you eat---don't try to deny it!---
[600] but spiders and filthy flies and worms, if you can find them in the crevices of rough bark? But I cando very good service, because I can look after human dwellings; [605] and my services are excellent, because I help with people's food supply. I can catch mice in a barn, and also at church in the dark, [610] because I like to visit Christ's house to clear it of filthy mice, and no vermin will enter it if I can catch them. 
And if I don't feel like staying anywhere else,
[615] I have huge trees in the wood, with thick branches, not bare but all overgrown with green ivy, which always stays in leaf and never loses its colour [620] when it snows or when it freezes. In it I have a good shelter, warm in winter, cool in summer; when my house stands bright and green, [625] yours has disappeared.
But you also accuse me of other things. You slander my chicks, saying that their nest isn't clean. That's also true of a lot of other creatures, since the horse in its stable and the ox in its stall
[630] do everything that they have to there; and little children in their cradles, not just commoners but aristocrats, do everything in their youth that they give up when they're older. [635] How can the young creature help it? If it offends, it's forced to. There's a proverb which has been running for a long time, that "Need makes the old woman trot." What's more, I have a second answer. [640] Do you want to visit my nest and see how it's laid out? If you have any sense, you can learn from it. My nest is hollow and wide in the middle, so it's as soft as possible for my chicks; [645] there's a woven lattice all round it, extending outwards from the nest itself. That is where they go to relieve themselves; but I forbid them to do what you claim they do. We pay attention to human living-quarters, [650] and model ours on theirs. Humans have, among other arrangements, a privy at the far end of their bedchamber, because they don't want to go too far; and my chicks do the same. Sit still now, you chattering female! [655] You were never so tightly tied up; you'll never find an answer to this. Hang up your axe! It's time for you to be on your way.'

At these words the nightingale [660] was almost entirely lost for inspiration, and searched desperately for ideas, to see if there was anything else she could do, apart from singing, which might be useful for other purposes. [665] She had to find an answer to this point, or fall behind completely; and it is very hard to fight against truth and justice. [670] Someone who finds himself in dire straits must tackle the problem by resorting to cunning, and is forced to dissimulate; he has to embroider and wrap things up, if the mouth is to gloss things over so the heart inside can't be seen. [675] And it is easy for a speech to go wrong where the mouth is saying something inconsistent with the heart [the point is repeated in slightly different wording].  But nevertheless, in spite of this, [680] there is a possible way out if anyone can make use of it, because intelligence is never so sharp as when its best plan is in doubt; it reaches its height of cunning when it feels most at risk. [685] For Alfred said in an old proverb, which is still remembered, "When the disaster is greatest, the remedy is closest"; because intelligence increases when it is in difficulties, [690] and becomes sharper as a result. So a man is never at a loss as long as he keeps his wits about him, but if he loses them, his bag of tricks is slit right open; [695] if he can't hold on to his wits, he won't find a plan in any corner of it. So it was said by Alfred, who knew what he was about and always spoke the truth, "When the disaster is greatest, the remedy is closest." [700] The nightingale had wisely made good use of all her trouble; among the difficulties and the tensions, she had given the matter prudent and careful thought, [705] and had found a good answer in her time of crisis.
'Owl,' she said, 'you ask me if I can do anything apart from singing in summertime,
[710] and bringing happiness far and wide. Why are you interrogating me about my skills? My one skill is better than all of yours; one song from my mouth is better than everything your kind was ever able to do. [715] And listen! I'll tell you why: do you know why man was born? For the bliss of the kingdom of heaven, where there is always the same level of singing and rejoicing; [720] everyone who has any idea of what is good aspires to that. That is why there is singing in Holy Church, and clerics compose songs, to remind people of where they are destined to be, and to remain eternally, so that so that they shouldn't forget the joy, [725] but think about it and obtain it, and understand from the singing in church how delightful the bliss of heaven will be. Clerics, monks, and canons [730] in good communities get up at midnight and sing about the light of heaven, and country priests sing when the dawn breaks. [735] And I help them as far as I can; I sing with them night and day, and they are in better spirits because of me, and more willing to sing. I give people a preview of the future for their good, [740] to give them comfort, and encourage them to pursue the song which is eternal. Now, Owl, you can sit there and wither away; this isn't just warbling; [745] I'm prepared to agree that we should go to judgement before the Pope of Rome himself
But wait---you must listen to something else on this subject. You won't be able
[750] to resist me in this argument, not for the whole of England. Why do you criticise me for my weakness, my small size and my short stature, and say that I'm not strong because I'm not broad or tall? [755] You've got no idea what you're talking about, and are just telling me lies, because I'm capable of deviousness and cunning, and that's why I am so confident. I know plenty of tricks and songs, [760] and don't rely on any other strength, because it's true what Alfred said: "Strength is useless against intelligence." Often a little cunning succeeds where great strength would fail; [765] castles and citadels can be won with a minimum of force; walls can be destroyed by cunning, and brave knights knocked off their horses. Brute force is of little value, [770] but wisdom never loses its value. You can see in all kinds of things that wisdom has no equal. A horse is stronger than a man, but because it has no intelligence [775] it carries heavy loads on its back, and pulls in front of large teams, and endures both stick and spur, and stands tethered at the door of the mill; and it does what it's told, [780] and because it has no understanding its strength can't protect it from having to submit to a small child. Man brings it about, by strength and intelligence, that nothing else is his equal; [785] even if all kinds of strength were combined, human intelligence would still be greater, because human skill dominates all earthly creatures. In the same way,  I do better with my song [790] than you do throughout the year; I'm loved because of my skill, you're shunned because of your strength. Do you think less of me because I have only one skill? [795]  If two men go to the wrestling and each of them presses the other hard, and one knows a lot of throws, and can disguise his tactics very well, and the other only knows a single throw, [800] but that works with everybody, and with that one throw he brings down all his opponents, one after another, in a short space of time, why need he bother about having a better throw than the one which is so effective for him? [805] You say that you can do a lot of services. But I'm at a different level from you; even if you combined all your skills, my single skill is still essentially better. Often, when hounds are hunting down foxes, [810] the cat survives very well, even though he only knows one trick. The fox doesn't know any trick as good as that, even though he knows so many that he thinks he can escape all the hounds, [815] since he knows straight and crooked paths, and he can hang from a branch, so the hound loses the trail and turns back to the moorland. The fox can creep along the hedge, [820] and turn off from his earlier route, and shortly afterwards double back on it. Then the hound is thrown off the scent; he doesn't know from the mingled scents whether he should go onwards or back. [825] If the fox runs out of all these ruses, he finally creeps back to his hole; but nevertheless, with all his tricks, he can't plan well enough---bold and quick as he is--- [830] to avoid losing his red pelt. The cat knows only a single trick, by hill or by dale---that he can climb very well; that's why he's still wearing his grey pelt. [835] I say just the same about myself: my one skill is worth better than twelve of yours.'

'Hold on! Hold on!' said the owl, 'Your whole approach is dishonest. You manipulate all your words [840] so that everything you say seems right; you gloss over everything, and what you say is so plausible and charming that everyone who hears it thinks that you're telling the truth. [845] Hold on! Hold on! you'll meet resistance; now it will become very clear that you've told a pack of lies, when your dishonesty's exposed. You say that you sing to humankind, [850] and teach them that they are headed out of this world, up to the song that lasts for ever. But it's really astonishing that you dare to tell such an obvious lie. Do you expect to bring them so easily [855] to God's kingdom, all singing? No, no, they'll surely realize that they must pray for a remedy for their sins with copious weeping before they can ever get there. [860] So I advise that those people who hope to reach the King of Heaven should be prepared, and weep more than they sing, because no man is without sin; and so, before he departs, he must [865] make amends with tears and weeping, so that what was once sweet to him becomes bitter. I help with this, God knows. I don't sing to ensnare them, because all my song is about longing, [870] and mingled to some extent with lamentation, so that a man should be moved by me  to realize that he should bewail his guilt. [875] If you take this as a starting-point for argument, I weep better than you sing; if right goes ahead and wrong behind, my weeping is better than your singing. Although some people are thoroughly good, [880] and thoroughly pure in heart, nevertheless they long to leave this world; they regret that they are here because, although they themselves are saved, they see nothing but misery here; [885] they weep bitterly for other people, and pray for Christ's mercy on their behalf. I help both kinds of people; my mouth offers two kinds of remedy. I help the good man in longing, [890] because when he feels that desire I sing to him; and I help the sinful man as well, because I show him where misery lies.
What's more, I'd argue against you from another point of view, because when you sit on your branch,
[895] you entice those people who are willing to listen to your songs to the joys of the flesh; you're hopeless on the bliss of heaven, since you don't have the voice for it. Everything you sing is about lechery, [900] as there is no holiness in you; nobody's reminded by your chirping of a priest singing in church.
And I'll put a further point to you, to see if you can explain it away.
[905] Why won't you sing to other nations where it's needed much more? You never sing in Ireland, nor do you visit Scotland. Why don't you travel to Norway, [910] and sing to the folk of Galloway, where there are people who have little experience of any song under the sun? Why won't you sing to the priests and teach them through your chirruping, [915] and show them with your voice how angels sing in heaven? You behave like a useless spring, which comes up beside a swift stream, and lets the slope dry out [920] and flows uselessly down it. But I travel both north and south; I am known in every country; east and west, far and near, I do my job very well, [925] and warn people with my cries, so that your beguiling song doesn't mislead them. I guide people with my singing so that they don't sin for too long. I tell them that they should stop so that they don't get themselves trapped; [930] because it's better that they should weep in this world than be the companions of devils in the next.'

The nightingale was furious, and also rather embarrassed, [935], because the owl had criticized her for the place she sat and sang in, behind the bedchamber, among the weeds, where people go to relieve themselves; and she sat and thought for a time, [940] and was well aware in her reflection that anger deprives a man of his wits, for King Alfred said so: "The man who is hated rarely intercedes successfully, and the man who is angry rarely pleads successfully"--- [945] because anger stirs up the blood in the heart so that it flows like a raging torrent and overwhelms the heart completely, so that it can't do anything but feel, and so loses all its insight, [950] so it cannot see what is true or right. The nightingale considered, and let her anger subside; it would be better for her to speak calmly than to use angry words.
[955] 'Owl,' she said, 'now listen here! You'll fall, you're on a slippery slope. You say I fly around behind the bedchamber; it's true, the bedchamber is our territory. Where a lord and lady are lying, [960] I have to sing to them and perch near them. Do you think that sensible people abandon the right road because of dirty mud, or that the sun is more reluctant to shine if it's filthy in your nest? [965] Should I, because of a board with a hole in it, abandon my proper place, so that I don't sing beside the bed where a lord has his lover as a bedfellow? It is my duty, it is my rule, [970] that I should follow the highest.
Furthermore, you boast about your song, that you can screech angrily and harshly, and say that you encourage humankind to weep for their sins.
[975] If everybody howled and screamed as if they were damned, if they screeched as you did, they might scare the wits out of their priest. A man should keep quiet and not make an outcry; [980] he may weep for his sins, but the proper place for praying aloud and loud singing is where Christ is worshipped; singing in church at the right time can't be too loud or too long. [985] You screech and wail, and I sing; your song is lamentation, and mine celebration. I hope you screech and weep till you drop dead, and I hope you scream so loudly [990] that both your eyes pop out!  Which is better of these two things, that someone should be happy or sad? I hope that in our case you'll aways be sad, and I'll be happy. 
[995] And another thing: you ask why I don't travel into another country and sing there. No! What could I do among people who have always been wretched? That country isn't agreeable or pleasant; [1000] on the contrary, it's wilderness and wasteland, crags and rocky hills reaching to the sky; snow and hail are what they're used to. That country is horrible and depressing. The inhabitants are savage and miserable; [1005] they don't live in peace or harmony. They don't care how they live. They eat raw fish and meat, ripping it apart like wolves. They drink milk and whey with it--- [1010] they don't know what else to do. They don't have either wine or beer, but live like wild animals; they go round dressed in shaggy animal skins, as if they'd come out of hell. [1015] If any good man visited them---as one did recently from Rome---to teach them to behave properly, and to give up their vices, he'd be better off staying put, [1020] because he wouldn't be able to do anything he planned; he would have more chance of teaching a bear to use a shield and spear than of persuading that savage nation to listen to me singing. [1025] What use would I be there with my song? However long I sang to them, my song would be completely wasted, since neither halter nor bridle could restrain them from their savage behaviour, [1030] nor could a man armed with steel and iron. But where a country is pleasant and agreeable, and where the natives are friendly, I exercise my throat among them, because I can do them good service there [1035] and bring them news of love, since my song includes hymns. It was said in an old proverb, and the same point is still true, that a man must harrow and sow [1040] where he expects to gain some benefit from reaping, as that man is mad who sows his seed where no grass or flowers ever grow.'

The owl was angry and ready for a fight when she heard this, her eyes bulging.
[1045] 'You say that you watch over people's bedchambers, among leaves and beautiful flowers, where two lovers lie in one bed in each other's embrace, well protected. Once you sang---I know well where--- [1050] beside a bedchamber, and wanted to encourage the lady into an illicit affair, and sang both low and high, and taught her to prostitute her body to shameful and disgraceful acts. [1055] The lord soon discovered that, and set and laid out lime and snares and all kinds of things to catch you. Soon you came to the window; you were caught in a snare--- [1060] your legs paid the penalty for it. Your only judgement and sentence was to be torn apart by wild horses. See if you can mislead whichever you like, married women or unmarried girls, after that; [1065] your song may be so effective that you end up flapping in a snare!'

Hearing this, the nightingale would gladly have attacked with sword and spear-point if she had been a man; [1070] but since she couldn't do anything better, she fought with her clever tongue. "Whoever speaks well, fights well", it says in the song. She resorted to her tongue; "Whoever speaks well, fights well", said Alfred.
[1075] 'What! Are you saying this to discredit me? The lord got into trouble for this. He was so jealous of his wife that he couldn't, to save his life, bear any man speaking to her [1080] without breaking his heart. He locked her in an inner chamber that imprisoned her strongly and securely. I had sympathy for her, and felt sorry for her unhappiness, [1085] and entertained her with my song as much as I could, early and late. Because of that the knight was angry with me; out of sheer malice he detested me. He inflicted his own shame on me, [1090] but it got him into trouble. King Henry discovered what had happened---may Jesus have mercy on his soul! He ordered the banishment of the knight who had committed such a great crime [1095] in such a good king's country: out of sheer malice and wretched envy he had arranged for the little bird to be captured and condemned it to death. It was an honour to my whole family, [1100] because the knight was deprived of his riches and gave a hundred pounds in compensation for me; and my chicks stayed safe and sound, and enjoyed prosperity afterwards, and were happy, as well they might be, [1105] since I was so well avenged. For ever afterwards I've been bolder in speaking out; since this thing happened once, I've been the happier for it ever since. Now I can sing when I want, [1110] and nobody will ever dare to trouble me again. 
But you, you wretch, you miserable creature, you've no idea where to find a hollow stump where you could hide to avoid people, so nobody tweaks your hide;
[1115] because children, servant-boys, villagers, and workmen all want to make you suffer. If they can see where you're sitting, they fill their pockets with stones, and throw them at you to injure you, [1120] and break your filthy bones. It's only when you're hit or shot that you become useful, as you're hung on a stick, and with your stinking carcase and your ugly neck, [1125] you guard people's corn against birds. Your life and your character are good for nothing, but you make a fine scarecrow. Now where seeds are sown, [1130] no hedge-sparrow, goldfinch, rook, or crow will dare come close if your carcase is hanging at the end of the row; when trees are flowering in Spring, and young seeds are sprouting and growing, [1135] no bird dares approach if you are hung over them. Your life is always evil and wicked; you're good for nothing unless you're dead. Now you can be sure [1140] that you look hideous while you're alive, because when you've been killed and are hanging up, the birds that screamed at you previously are still terrified of you. [1145] People are right to be hostile to you, because you're always singing about things which they hate; everything you sing, early or late, is always about people's misfortune; when you've been screeching during the night, [1150] people are really afraid of you. You sing where somebody is about to die; you're always prophesying some kind of bad luck; your song forecasts loss of property or some friend's ruin, [1155] or you predict a house fire, or an advancing army, or a hue and cry after thieves; or you predict that there will be an epidemic among cattle, or that the population will suffer, or that a wife will lose her husband; [1160] or you predict quarrels and conflict. You're always singing about people's suffering; because of you they're miserable and wretched. You never sing at all except about some disaster. [1165] That's why people give you a wide berth, and throw things at you and beat you with sticks and stones and turves and clods, so that you can't escape anywhere. A town-crier like you deserves to be cursed, [1170] always announcing misfortune, and always bringing bad news, and always talking about unpleasant things! May almighty God, and all those who wear linen, be his enemy!'

[1175] The owl did not pause for long, but came back with a bold and robust answer.
'What!' she said, 'are you ordained, or are you cursing quite without priestly authority? Because I'm sure that you're doing a priest's job.
[1180] I don't know if you were ever a priest, I don't know if you can sing Mass, but you do know a fair amount about cursing. But it's because of your old envy that you cursed me once again. [1185] There's an easy answer to that, though: "Keep to your own side!" said the carter. Why do you criticize me for my insight, my intelligence, and my power? For I am wise, no doubt about it, [1190] and know everything that is to come: I know about famine, about invasion, I know whether people will live a long time, I know if a wife has lost her husband, I know where there is going to be conflict and revenge, [1195] I know who is going to be hanged or otherwise suffer a shameful death. If men have joined in battle, I know which side will be beaten. I know whether disease will infect the cattle, [1200] and whether animals will die; I know whether trees will blossom, I know whether grain will grow, I know whether houses will burn down, I know whether men will walk or ride, [1205] I know whether the sea will overwhelm the ships, I know whether armourers will do their riveting badly. And I know much more still: I have a fair amount of book-learning, and also know more about the gospel [1210] than I'm prepared to tell you, because I often go to church and learn a great deal of wisdom. I know all about prophecy, and about many other things. [1215] If there is to be a hue and cry raised after anybody, I know all about it before it happens. Often, because of my great wisdom, I feel very saddened and angry. When I see that something bad [1220] is going to happen to someone, I cry out loudly; I ask people to be vigilant, and plan sensibly ahead, for Alfred uttered a wise saying----everyone should treasure it: [1225] "If you see a threat before it has arrived, it will lose almost all its strength."  And heavy blows lose their power if one is on the look-out for them; an arrow will miss its mark [1230] if you watch how it flies from the string, since you can easily duck and run if if you see it coming towards you. If any man runs into trouble, why should he blame his distress on me? [1235] Even if I see his harm coming to him in advance, that doesn't mean that it comes from me. If you see a blind man, who can't find his way, heading wrongly towards a ditch, [1240], and falling in and getting muddy, do you think, even if I saw it all, that it was more likely to happen because because of me? That's how it is with my knowledge. When I sit on my branch,  [1245] I see and realize very clearly that harm is about to come to someone. Should this man, who knows nothing about it, blame me because I do know about it? Should he blame me for his misfortune [1250] because I'm better-informed than he is? When I see that some disaster is approaching people, I cry out loudly enough, and tell them often enough that they should protect themselves, since they are threatened by serious harm. [1255] But whether I cry out loudly or softly, it all happens through the will of God. Why do people want to complain about me if I worry them with the truth? Even if I warn them for a full year, [1260] the disaster is no closer to them. But I sing to them because I want them to understand clearly that something bad is hanging over them when I hoot at them. [1265] Nobody has so much security that he can't expect and fear that some disaster is approaching him, even though he can't see it coming. That is why Alfred said very aptly--- [1270] and his word was gospel---that the better off a man is, the more he should plan ahead; no-one should trust too much to his prosperity, however much he has. [1275] "Nothing is so hot that it does not  grow cold, and nothing is so white that it does not grow dirty, and nothing is so much loved that it does not grow hateful, and nothing is so pleasant that it does not grow irksome; but everything which is not eternal [1280] must always pass away, and all the joy of the world".
Now you can see very well that your speeches have been consistently ill-judged, because everything that you say to insult me has always rebounded on yourself.
[1285] However it goes, with every hold you're brought down by your own throw; everything you say to discredit me ends up to my credit. Unless you want to make a fresh start, [1290] you won't get anything but humiliation.'

The nightingale sat and sighed, and felt worried, and with reason, because the owl had delivered and ordered her speech so well [1295] that she was anxious and uncertain about what she should say to her next; but nevertheless, she gave it careful thought.
'What!' she said, 'Owl, are you mad? You boast of your amazing wisdom;
[1300] you've no understanding of where you got it from---unless it was from witchcraft. You'll have to clear yourself from that charge, you miserable creature, if you want to live among men. Otherwise you'll have to flee the country, [1305] because all those who knew about these things were put under a curse by priests long ago; you're still doing this, you've never given up witchcraft. I was speaking to you a short while back, [1310] and you asked, as an insult, whether I'd been ordained as a priest; but the cursing is so widespread that even if there were no priests in the country you would still be damned, [1315] because every child calls you filthy, and every man a wretched owl. I've heard---and it's true---that man must be very skilled in astrology who knows the inner causes from which events develop. [1320] You say this is what you normally do; you miserable creature, what do you know about stars apart from looking at them from a distance? So do plenty of animals and humans who know nothing about such things. [1325] A monkey can look at a book, and turn over the leaves, and close it again, but he can't make head or tail of it, or pick up any more scholarship as a result; if you look at the stars in that way, [1330] you're none the wiser for it. 
What's more, you filthy creature, you criticize me and reproach me harshly for singing close to people's houses and teaching wives to commit adultery. [1335] That's a complete lie, you filthy creature; I've never undermined marriage. But it's true that I sing and call where there are ladies and beautiful girls, and it's true that I sing about love, [1340] because a good woman can love her own husband within marriage better than her lover, and an unmarried girl can choose a lover so as not to  lose her honour, [1345] and love with virtuous love the man who will be her master. I give teaching and instruction in that kind of love; all my song is about it. If a woman has a yielding character--- [1350] since women are gentle by nature---so that, talked into it by some foolish man who pleads eagerly with her and sighs deeply, she goes astray and misbehaves for a time, should I be held responsible for that? [1355] If women have a tendency to act foolishly, why do you blame their bad behaviour on me? Even if a woman is planning some illicit lovemaking, I can't refrain from singing. A woman can have a good time in bed [1360] in whichever way she chooses, licitly or illicitly, and she can act out my song in whichever way she chooses, properly or improperly, since there's nothing in the world so good that it can't do some harm [1365] if it's deliberately misused; for gold and silver are good, and nevertheless you can buy adultery and injustice with them; weapons are good for keeping the peace, [1370] but nevertheless people are killed by them illegally in many countries when thieves carry them. So it is with my song: although it's good, it can be misused, [1375] and used for indiscretion and other misbehaviour. But, you wretch, must you put the blame on love? All love between man and woman, of whatever kind, is good; [1380] but if it is stolen, then it is wicked and corrupt. May the wrath of the Holy Cross fall on those who corrupt their true nature in this way! It's surprising that they don't go mad---and in a way they do, because it's madness [1385] to start a brood without a nest. A woman's flesh is frail, and it's hard to control the desires of the flesh; it's no wonder if she hesitates, [1390] because the desires of the flesh make her slip. She isn't completely lost if she finds the flesh a stumbling-block, for many women have misbehaved and climbed up out of the mud. [1395] Not all sins are equal, as they are of two types: one arises from the desire of the flesh, the other from the disposition of the spirit. Where the flesh entices people to drunkenness, [1400] and to sloth and to lechery, the spirit sins through malice and envy, and then by pleasure in other people's misfortune, and hungers for more and more, and cares little for pity and mercy, [1405] and rises high through pride, and then lords it over inferiors. Tell me the truth, if you know what it is: which does the worse, flesh or spirit? You might say, if you like, [1410] that the flesh is less culpable; many people are chaste in the flesh, but companions of the devil in spirit. Nor should any man loudly condemn a woman and reproach her for physical desires; [1415] he may blame such a woman for lechery while sinning worse himself through pride.
Another point: if I should bring a lover to a married woman or an unmarried girl when I sing, I would side with the girl. If you can consider it properly,
[1420] listen now! I will tell you why, from beginning to end: if a girl has a secret affair, she stumbles and falls in the course of nature; for although she may run wild  for a time, [1425] she hasn't gone very far astray; she can free herself from her guilt in an approved way through the Church's marriage-bond, and afterwards have [1430] her lover as her husband without being blamed, and go in daylight to the man she crept to earlier in the dead of night. A young girl doesn't realize what's going on; her young blood leads her astray, [1435] and some foolish man entices her into it by every means in his power. He visits her frequently, and cajoles and presses, and stands and sits close to her, and gives her lingering looks. [1440] What can the child do if she does go wrong? She didn't understand what it was, and so she set out to try it, and discover the nature of the sport which tames such wild men. [1445] I can't restrain myself for pity, when I see the drawn expression that love brings to the young, from singing to them about pleasure. I teach them by my song [1445] that love of this kind doesn't last long; because my song lasts only a little while, and love does nothing but rest on such children, and soon passes, and its hot breath subsides. [1455] I sing with them for a while; I start high and end low, and let my songs fade away quickly. The girl realises, when I fall silent, [1460] that love is like my songs: for it is only a little breath, which comes quickly and goes quickly. The child understands it through me, and turns from folly to good sense, [1465] and sees clearly from my singing that foolish love doesn't last long. 
But I really want you to be clear on this: I disapprove of married woman having affairs, and a married woman can note
[1470] that I don't sing when I'm breeding. A wife should ignore a fool's proposals, even if her marriage-bond seems oppressive. It strikes me as a quite extraordinary and shocking thing, how any man could go so far as to decide [1475] to make love to another man's wife, because only one of two alternatives is possible, and no-one can imagine a third: either her lord is a brave man, [1480] or he's inadequate and worthless. If he's an honourable and brave man, no sensible man will want to dishonour him through his wife, because he has reason to fear personal injury, [1485] and losing his tackle so he has nothing left; and even if he's not afraid of this, it's wicked and very stupid to do wrong to a good man, [1490] and seduce his wife away from him. If her lord is inadequate, and has little to offer in bed and at the table, how could there be any love when such a churl's carcase was lying on top of her? [1495] How can there be any love when a man like that is pawing her thigh? You can understand from this that the first alternative is dangerous, the second disgraceful, when stealing into another man's bed; [1500] because if her husband is a brave man, you can expect to come to grief when you're lying beside her, and if her lord is a wretch, what pleasure can you get from it? [1505] If you consider who's sleeping with her, you might pay for the pleasure with disgust. I don't know how any respectable man can pursue her after that; if he considers who she's sharing a bed with, [1510] his love may disappear completely.'

The owl was pleased at this speech; she thought that the nightingale, though she had spoken well at first, had made an error at the end, [1515] and she said, 'Now I've found out about your views on girls: you take their side, and defend them, and praise them a great deal too much. The ladies turn to me, [1520], and tell me about their feelings. For it very often happens that a wife and husband are out of sympathy with each other, and because of that the husband strays, preferring to chase another woman, [1525] and spends all that he has on her, and pursues her when he has no right to, and keeps his proper wife at home in an empty house with bare walls, poorly dressed and badly fed, [1530] and leaves her without food and clothing. When he comes back home to his wife, she doesn't dare say a word; he complains and shouts like a madman, and brings nothing else worth having home with him. [1535] Everything she does he objects to, everything that she says irritates him, and often, when she's not doing anything wrong, she gets a punch in the mouth. There's no man who can't lead [1540] his wife astray with this kind of behaviour; she can be ill-treated so often that she resolves to satisfy her own needs. God knows, she can't help it if she makes him a cuckold. [1545] For it happens time and time again that the wife is very refined and gentle, good-looking and well-dressed; so it's all the more unfair that he gives his love to a woman [1550] who isn't worth one of her hairs. And there are plenty of men like this, who can't treat a wife properly; no man is allowed to talk to her; he thinks she'll instantly commit [1555] adultery if she looks at a man or speaks politely to him. He keeps her under lock and key; adultery often happens as a result, because if she's brought to that point, [1560] she does what would never have occurred to her before. A curse on anyone who gossips too much about it, if such wives take their revenge! The ladies complain about it to me, and distress me a great deal; [1565] my heart practically breaks when I see their suffering. I weep bitterly with them, and pray for Christ's mercy on them, that he may shortly rescue the lady [1570] and send her a better partner. 
I can tell you another thing, for which you won't find an answer to save your skin; all your arguments will fade away.
[1575] Many merchants and many knights love their wives and treat them properly, and so do many peasants. The good wife acts accordingly, and serves her husband in bed and at table [1580] with docile behaviour and pleasant conversation, and tries hard to make herself useful to him. Her lord travels out into the country on behalf of both of them, [1585] and the good wife is distressed when her husband leaves, and sits and sighs, missing him very much, and, grieving deeply on her lord's account, [1590] is sad by day and sleepless by night, and the time seems to her to pass very slowly, and every step seems like a mile. When other people around her are asleep, I alone listen to her outside, [1595] and know about her unhappiness, and sing at night for her benefit; and for her sake I modify my excellent song to some degree into a lament.  I take on some of her misery, [1600] and so I am very welcome to her; I help her as far as I can, because she wants to follow the right path.
But you've really made me angry, so I'm all choked up
[1605] and can hardly speak; even so, though, I want to go on. You say that people hate me, and they're all hostile to me, and threaten me with stones and sticks, [1610] and hit me and beat me, and when they've killed me, they hang me on their hedge, so I can scare off magpies and crows from what is sown there. [1615] Although it's true, I am useful to them, and shed my blood for their sake. I am useful to them through my death, which is difficult for you because if you're lying dead and shrivelling up, [1620] your  death serves no useful purpose. I don't know at all what you could do, because you're just a miserable creature; but even if I've lost my life, I can still do good service. [1625] People can set me up on a little stake in the depths of the wood, and so lure and catch small birds; and so through me they can get [1630] good roast meat to eat. But you've never been of good service to man, alive or dead. I don't know what you raise your brood for; it does no good, alive or dead.'

[1635] The nightingale heard this, and hopped on to a flowering branch, and sat higher than she did before. 
'Owl,' she said, 'be careful now! I won't plead against you any longer,
[1640] because here the right line of argument is escaping you. You boast that people hate you, and every creature is hostile to you, and you complain that you're miserable with hooting and wailing. [1645] You say that boys catch you and hang you high on a pole, and pull you to pieces and shake you to bits, and some make a scarecrow out of you. It seems to me that you're losing the game completely; [1650] you're boasting of your own humilation. It seems to me that you're submitting to me; you're boasting about your own shame.'

When she had said this, she perched in a beautiful spot, [1655], and then tuned her voice and sang so piercingly and so clearly that it was heard far and near. And so thrushes and throstles and woodpeckers [1660] and birds both large and small flew to her at once; because it seemed to them that she had defeated the owl, they cried out and sang in all kinds of ways, and there was rejoicing in the branches, [1665] just as people jeer at a man who plays at dice and loses the game.

When the owl heard this, she said, 'Have you mobilized an army, and do you mean to fight with me, you miserable creature? [1670] No, no! You haven't got the strength! What are these new arrivals shouting? It seems to me that you're leading an army against me; you'll learn before you take to flight what kind of strength my family have, [1675] since those birds which have a hooked beak and sharp and curving talons are all related to me, and would come if I asked them. Even the cock, which is good at fighting, [1680] could legitimately take my side, because we both have clear voices and sit under the stars at night. If I call up a hue and cry against you, I'll lead such a strong army against you [1685] that your pride will collapse. I don't give a turd for the lot of you! And before darkness falls, there won't be a wretched feather remaining on you. But it was our agreement [1690] when we came here that we should keep to the terms which would give us a fair judgement. Do you want to break the agreement now? I suspect that judgment seems too  demanding to you; [1695] because you daren't submit to judgement, you wretched creature, now you want to fight and quarrel. But I would advise you all, before I call up a hue and cry against you, that you leave our quarrel alone [1700] and fly away quickly; for by my talons, if you wait around for my army you'll sing a very different song and curse all fighting, [1705] since none of you is so brave that you dare face me down.'
The owl spoke very aggressively, since although she hadn't resorted to her own army so quickly, she nevertheless wanted to respond
[1710] to the nightingale with what she said; for many men are not very effective with a sharp spear and shield, but nevertheless on a battlefield they make their enemies sweat with terror [1715] by bold speeches and behaviour.

The wren, because she could sing, had arrived there in the morning to support the nightingale, [1720] since although she had a small voice, her throat could produce a good clear song, which gave many people pleasure. The wren was considered very wise, as although she'd been bred in the woods, [1725] she had been reared among humans, and brought her wisdom from there. She could speak wherever she wanted, even if she were in the presence of the king.
'Listen!' she said, 'Let me speak!
[1730] What, do you want to break this peace, and do the king such dishonour? Yes, he's not either dead or crippled. You'll be ruined and disgraced if you case a breach of the peace in his country. [1735] Let it be, and come to an agreement, and go straight to your judgement, and let the sentence put an end to this argument, just as it was previously agreed.'

'That's fine with me,' said the nightingale, [1740] 'but, wren, I'm not doing it because of your speech, but because of my respect for the law; I wouldn't want injustice to defeat me in the end. I'm not afraid of any judgement. [1745] I've promised, it's true, that the wise Master Nicholas should judge between us, and I still think that he will. But where might we find him?' 

[1750] The wren sat in a lime-tree; 'What!' she said, 'didn't you know his home? He lives at Portesham, in a village in Dorset, near the sea on an inlet. [1755] There he makes a lot of sound judgements, and composes and writes all kinds of ingenious works; and through his words and his writing, things are better as far as Scotland. It's easy to find him; [1760] he has only one residence. That's a great disgrace to the bishops, and all those who've heard of his reputation and achievements. Why won't they make a decision [1765] to have him often in attendance, to advise them from his wisdom, and give him income from numerous benefices so he could often be with them?'

'To be sure.' said the owl, 'that's true; [1770] these powerful men act very wrongly when they neglect that good man who knows about so many things, and distribute income very unfairly, and don't take him seriously. [1775] They are more lenient to their families, and give out incomes to small children; their reason tells them that they're wrong, since Master Nicholas is still waiting. But still, let's go and visit him, [1780], because our judgement is ready and waiting there.'

'Let's', said the nightingale; 'but who will read our pleas, and speak in the presence of our judge?'

'I'll give you satisfaction in that,' [1785] said the owl, because I can repeat it all, beginning to end, word for word. And if it seems to you that I'm going astray, you can object and make me stop.'

With these words they set off, [1790] without any kind of army, till they came to Portesham; but I can't tell you any more about how they succeeded with their judgement. That's all, folks!

The End

Set up by Bella Millett, enm@soton.ac.uk. Last updated 28 May 2003 .