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The Voice of the Nightingale

In Middle English Poems and Bird Debates

Josepha Gellinek-Schellekens

This study examines the symbolism of the nightingale in selected Middle English Literature of the 12th through the 15th century. The nightingale sings of the all-importance of religious as well as worldly love. It eloquently argues love's beneficial effects and takes on the function of teacher. Various strands of nightingale lore, based mainly on Graeco-Roman and Provençal traditions, merge to create a truly English symbol: the polyphonous nightingale.
Contents: In Middle English Literature the nightingale was traditionally called upon to judge the essence of love. In detail its many rôles are examined in selected lyrics and bird debates dating from the 12th through the 15th century.