Birds in Medieval English Poetry

First full-length study of birds and their metamorphoses as treated in a wide range of medieval poetry, from the Anglo-Saxons to Chaucer and Gower.

 

 

Birds in Medieval English Poetry. Metaphors, Realities, Transformations
By Michael J. Warren
Boydell & Brewer 2018

First full-length study of birds and their metamorphoses as treated in a wide range of medieval poetry, from the Anglo-Saxons to Chaucer and Gower.

Birds featured in many aspects of medieval people’s lives, not least in their poetry. But despite their familiar presence in literary culture, it is still often assumed that these representations have little to do with the real natural world. By attending to the ways in which birds were actually observed and experienced, this book aims to offer new perspectives on how and why they were meaningful in five major poems: The Seafarer, the Exeter Book Riddles, The Owl and the Nightingale, The Parliament of Fowls and Confessio Amantis. In a consideration of sources from Isidore of Seville and Anglo-Saxon place-names to animal-sound word lists and Bartholomew the Englishman, the author shows how ornithological truth and knowledge are integral to our understandings of his chosen poems.

Birds, he argues, are relevant to the medieval mind because their unique properties align them with important religious and secular themes: seabirds that inspire the forlorn Anglo-Saxon pilgrim; unnamed species that confound riddling taxonomies; a belligerent owl who speaks out against unflattering literary portraits. In these poems, human actions and perceptions are deeply affected by the remarkable flights and voices of birds.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Introduction
  • Native Foreigners: Migrating Seabirds and the Pelagic Soul in The Seafarer
  • Avian Pedagogies: Wondering with Birds in the Exeter Book Riddles
  • A Bird’s Worth: Mis-Representing Owls in The Owl and the Nightingale
  • ‘Kek Kek’: Translating Birds in The Parliament of Fowls
  • Birds’ Form: Enabling Desire and Identities in Confessio Amantis
  • Epilogue
  • Glossary: Old and Middle English bird names
  • Bibliography

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Michael Warren has studied Medieval English at Royal Holloway as well as Magdalen College, Oxford. In 2017 he obtained his Phd with the thesis, Bird Kind: Avian Transformations, Species and Identities in Medieval English Poetry, was submitted in December 2016 and succesfully passed in April 2017. He is now a visiting lecturer at Holloway, teaching on the first year an undergraduate course on medieval poetry whilst continuing to work as an English teacher at Cranbrook School in Kent. His research focuses on birds, environments and the natural world generally, as depicted in medieval poetry (Anglo-Saxon to 15th century).

FEATURED PHOTO:

From The Lovell Lectionary. Between c. 1400 and c. 1410. Harley 7026, f. 5  © The British Library, London

 

 

 

 

 

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