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The Thrush and the Nightingale
Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Digby 86, ff. 136vb-138rb

Text and translation

Ci comence le cuntent parentre la Mauuis et la Russinole

Somer is comen with loue to toune
With blostme and with brides roune,

The note of hasel springeth,
The dewes [danketh] in the dale;

This is where the debate between the Thrush and the Nightingale begins

Spring has arrived, with love,
With blossom and with birdsong
The hazelnut tree is in leaf,
The dews are falling in the valley,

For longing of the nightegale
This foweles murie singeth.

Hic herde a strif bitweies two,
That on of wele, that other of wo,
Bitwene two ifere;

Out of longing for the nightingale
The birds sing sweetly.

I heard a dispute between two views,
One positive, one negative,
Between a couple of birds;

10    That on hereth wimmen, that hoe beth hende,
That other hem wole with mighte shende;
That strif ye mowen ihere.
One praised women for their courtesy,
The other tried to bring them down by force;
You can hear that argument.
The nightingale is on bi nome
That wol shilden hem from shome;
One of them was the nightingale,
Who wanted to protect them from shame;
15  Of skathe hoe wole hem skere.
The threstelcok hem kepeth ay;
He seith bi nighte and eke bi day
That hy beth fendes ifere,

For hy biswiketh euchan man

She wanted to save them from damage.
The male thrush constantly attacked them;
He said by night and also by day
That they are all demons,

Because they deceive every man

20 That mest bileueth hem ouppon;
They hy ben milde of chere,
Hoe beth fikele and fals to fonde,
Hoe wercheth wo in euchan londe---
Hit were betere that hy nere!
Who puts most faith in them;
Although they are gentle in manner,
They are fickle and false when tried,
They cause misery in every country---
It would be better if they didn't exist!
25 'Lo, it is shome to blame leuedy,
For hy beth hende of corteisy;
Ich rede that thou lete.
Ne wes neuere bruche so strong
Ibroke with righte ne with wrong
'It's shameful to criticize ladies,
Since they are well-bred and courteous;
I advise you to leave off.
There was never so great a breach
Caused rightly or wrongly
30 That [wimon] ne mighte bete.

Hy gladieth hem that beth [wrowe],
Bothe the heye and the lowe,
Mid gome hy cunne hem grete;
This world nere nout yif wimon nere,

That a woman could not heal.

They cheer up those who are angry,
Both the high and the low,
They can greet them pleasantly;
This world would be nothing without woman,

35 Imaked hoe wes to mones fere;
Nis nothing also swete.'

'I ne may wimen herien nohut,
For hy beth swikele and false of thohut,
Also Ich am ounderstonde.

She was created as man's companion;
There is nothing so sweet.'

'I cannot praise women at all,
Since they are treacherous and false-minded,
As I understand.

40 Hy beth feire and bright on hewe,
Here thout is fals and ountrewe,
Ful yare Ich haue hem fonde.

Alisaundre the king meneth of hem;
In the world nes non so crafti mon,

They are beautiful and radiant to look at,
Their minds are false and untrue,
I have long experience of them.

King Alexander complains about them;
There was no man so wise in the world,

45 Ne non so riche of londe.
I take witnesse of monie and fele
That riche weren of worldes wele,
Muche wes hem the shonde.'

The Nightingale, hoe wes wroth:

Or so rich in land.
I take witness of many men
Who were rich in worldly possessions,
That they were cruelly humiliated.'

The Nightingale was angry:

50 'Fowel, me thinketh thou art me loth,
Sweche tales for to showe.
Among a thousent leuedies itolde
Ther nis non wickede iholde
Ther hy sitteth on rowe.
'Bird, it seems to me that you are hateful
To tell such stories.
Among a thousand ladies all told,
Not one has a reputation for wickedness
Where they sit in a row.
55 Hy beth of herte meke and milde,
Hemself hy cunne from shome shilde
Withinne boures wowe,
And swettoust thing in armes to wre,
The mon that holdeth hem in gle,
They are meek and mild of heart,
They can protect themselves from dishonour
Within the chamber walls,
And are most delightful to embrace
For the man who gladly holds them;
60 Fowel, wi ne art thou hit icnowe?'

'Gentil fowel, seist thou hit me?
Ich habbe with hem in bour ibe;
I haued al mine wille.
Hy willeth for a luitel mede

Why don't you admit it, bird?'

'Fine bird, do you say this to me?
I have been with them in their chamber;
I had all my desire.
For a small reward, they are willing

65 Don a sunfoul derne dede
Here soule for to spille.

Fowel, me thinketh thou art les;
They thou be milde and softe of pes,
Thou seyst thine wille.

To do a sinful secret deed
To destroy their souls.

Bird, it seems to me that you are a liar;
Although you are gentle and conciliatory,
You say what you want to.

70 I take witnesse of Adam,
That wes oure furste man,
That fond hem wycke and ille.'

'Threstelcok, thou art wod,
Other thou const to luitel goed

I take witness of Adam,
Who was our first man,
Who found them wicked and evil.'

'Thrush, you are mad,
Or too ignorant

75 This wimmen for to shende.
Hit is the swetteste driwerie
And mest hoe counnen of curteisie;
Nis nothing also hende.

The mest murthe that mon haueth here

In slandering these women.
They are the sweetest object of love,
And know most about courtesy;
There is nothing so well-bred.

The greatest happiness that man has on earth

80 Wenne hoe is maked to his fere
In armes for to wende.
Hit is shome to blame leuedi;
For hem thou shalt gon sori,
Of londe Ich wille the sende!'
[Is] when a woman becomes his mate,
To be embraced in his arms.
It is shameful to criticize ladies;
You will be sorry for their sake,
I'll send you out of the country!'
85 'Nightingale, thou hauest wrong,
Wolt thou me senden of this lond,
For Ich holde with the rightte.
I take witnesse of Sire Wawain,
That Iesu Crist yaf might and main
'Nightingale, you are wrong
If you want to send me out of the country,
Because I am on the right side.
I take witness from Sir Gawain,
To whom Jesus Christ gave power
90 And strengthe for to fightte.

So wide so he heuede igon
Trewe ne founde he neuere non,
Bi daye ne bi nightte.'
'Fowel, for thi false mouth,

And strength to fight.

Far as he had travelled,
He never found one faithful woman,
By day or night.'
'Bird, because of your lying mouth,

95 Thi sawe shal ben wide couth;
I rede the fle with mightte!

Ich habbe leue to ben here,
In orchard and in erbere
Mine songes for to singe.

What you say will be widely known;
I advise you to take flight as fast as you can!

 I have leave to be here,
In orchard and in arbour,
To sing my songs.

100  Herdi neuere bi no leuedi
Bote hendinese and curteysi,
And ioye hy gunnen me bringe.'

'Of muchele murthe hy telleth me,
Fere, also I telle the,

I have never heard of any lady
Anything other than good breeding and courtesy,
And they have given me delight.'

'They tell me of much pleasure,
My friend, as I tell you,

105   Hy liuieth in longinge.'
'Fowel, thou sitest on hasel bou,
Thou lastest hem, thou hauest wou,
Thi word shal wide springe.'

'Hit springeth wide, wel Ich wot,

They live in desire.'
'Bird, you sit on a hazel branch,
You blame them, you are in the wrong,
What you say will spread widely.'

'It spreads widely, I know well,

110  Thou tel hit him that hit not,
This sawes ne beth nout newe.
Fowel, herkne to mi sawe, 
Ich wile the telle of here lawe;
Thou ne kepest nout hem, I knowe.
You tell the man who doesn't know it;
These sayings are not new.
Bird, listen to what I say,
I will tell you about their law;
I know you don't attack them.
115  Thenk on Costantines quene--
Foul wel hire semede fow and grene--
Hou sore hit gon hire rewe,
Hoe fedde crupel in hire bour,
And helede him with couertour---
Consider Constantine's queen---
Fine clothing suited her well---
What a high price she paid for it,
She fed a cripple in her chamber
And hid him under the bedcover--
120  Loke war wimmen ben trewe!'

'Threstelkok, thou hauest wrong,
Also I sugge one mi song,
And that men witeth wide;
Hy beth brighttore ounder shawe

See whether women are faithful!'

'Thrush, you are wrong,
As I say in my song,
And people know that far and wide;
They are more radiant in the grove

125  Then the day wenne hit dawe
In longe someres tide.

Come thu heuere in here londe,
Hy shulen don the in prisoun stronge,
And ther thou shalt abide;

Than the day when it dawns
In the long summertime.

If you ever come into their territory,
They will put you in a secure prison,
And there you will stay;

130  The lesinges that thou hauest maked
Ther thou shalt hem forsake,
And shome the shal bitide.'

'Nighttingale, thou seist thine wille,
Thou seist that wimmen shulen me spille---

The lies you have told
You will recant there,
And you will be humiliated.'

'Nightingale, you say what you want,
You say that women will kill me---

135  Datheit wo hit wolde!
In holi bok hit is ifounde
Hy bringeth moni mon to grounde
That prude weren and bolde.

Thenk oupon Samsun the stronge,

To hell with anyone who would do it!
It is found in Holy Scripture
That they brought down many men
Who were proud and bold.

Consider Samson the strong man,

140  Hou muchel is wif him dude to wronge;
Ich wot that hoe him solde.
Hit is that worste hord of pris
That Iesu makede in Parais
In tresour for to holde.'
How much harm his wife did him;
I know that she sold him.
It is the worst treasure
That Jesus made in Paradise
To be held in a treasury.'
145  Tho seide the Nighttingale, 
'Fowel, wel redi is thi tale;
Herkne to mi lore.
Hit is flour that lasteth longe,
And mest iherd in eueri londe,
Then the Nightingale said,
'Bird, you're very ready to talk;
Listen to what I have to teach.
Woman is a flower that lasts a long time,
And most honoured in every country,
150  And louelich under gore.

In the worlde nis non so goed leche,
So milde of thoute, so feir of speche,
To hele monnes sore.
Fowel, thou rewest al mi thohut,

And beautifully-formed.

There is not such a good doctor in the world,
So gentle-minded, so courteous in speech,
To heal a man's suffering.
Bird, you cause me great distress,

155  Thou dost euele, ne geineth the nohut,
Ne do thou so nammore!'

'Nightingale, thou art ounwis
On hem to leggen so muchel pris;
Thi mede shal ben lene.

You're doing harm, it does you no good,
Don't behave like this any more!'

'Nightingale, you are unwise
To set so much value on them;
Your reward will be meagre.

160  Among on houndret ne beth fiue,
Nouther of maidnes ne of wive
That holdeth hem al clene,

That hy ne werchethe wo in londe
Other bringeth men to shonde---

Among a hundred there are not five,
Either of unmarried girls or wives
Who keep themselves completely chaste,

That they do not cause general trouble
Or bring men to disgrace---

165  And that is wel iseene.
And they we sitten therfore to striuen
Bothe of maidnes and of wiue,
Soth ne seist thou ene.'

'O fowel, thi mouth the haueth ishend

And that is clearly seen.
And though we sit here to argue about it,
Both about unmarried girls and wives,
You aren't telling the truth at all.'

'Oh, bird, your mouth has disgraced you

170  Thoru wam wel al this world iwend,
Of a maide meke and milde;
Of hire sprong that holi bern
That boren wes in Bedlehem,
And temeth al that is wilde.
Through the one who changed all this world,
A maiden, meek and mild;
From her came that holy child
Who was born in Bethlehem,
And tames all that is wild.
175  Hoe ne weste of sunne ne of shame,
Marie wes ire righte name,
Crist hire ishilde!
Fowel, for thi false sawe
Forbeddi the this wode shawe,
She knew nothing of sin or shame,
Mary was her true name,
May Christ protect her!
Bird, because of your lying speech,
I forbid you this forest grove,
180  Thou fare into the filde!'

'Nightingale, I wes woed,
Other I couthe to luitel goed
With the for to striue.
I suge that Icham ouercome

Go away into the field!'

'Nightingale, I was mad,
Or too ignorant,
To argue with you.
I say that I am overcome

185  Thoru hire that bar that holi sone
That soffrede woundes fiue.

Hi swerie bi his holi name,
Ne shal I neuere suggen shame
Bi maidnes ne bi wiue.

Through the woman who bore that holy son
Who suffered five wounds.

I swear by his holy name
That I will never slander
Unmarried women or wives.

190  Hout of this londe willi te,
Ne rechi neuere weder I fle,
Awai Ich wille driue!'


I will leave this country,
And I don't care where I fly to,
I'm getting out of here!'

Set up by Bella Millett, enm@soton.ac.uk. Last updated 30 May 2003 .