By Derek Brewer (auth.)
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5] The pleasing absurdity is calmly announced and sets the tone. The light bright metre also makes us prick up our ears. This four-stress rhyming verse, with its basis of regularly stressed and unstressed syllables (final -e being usually pronounced) is something genuinely new in English, quite different from the syllabically irregular four-stress alliterative verse without rhyme of Old English, which Layamon still hankered after even when seduced by rhyme. Beside the thick hedge, from whose security the Nightingale pours out her mellifluous abuse, is an old tree-stump overgrown with ivy where the Owl, whom many people think so disgusting, is perched.
He came himself in the end, showed her his beautiful face, as he who was the most beautiful of all men to see. He spoke so very sweetly and words so pleasant that they might raise the dead to life; he performed so many miracles and did great works of power in her sight, showed her his might, told her of his kingdom, offered to make her queen of all that he possessed. All this went for nothing. Isn't this contempt astonishing? ) The author tells how the king wooed the lady, fought for her, put her foes to ftight, was himselfkilled, and by a miracle rose from the dead.
The Cotton manuscript continues with two religious poems in AngloNorman by a poet called Chardry, followed by an account in Anglo-Norman of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman kings down to the accession of Henry III. Then comes The Owl and the Nightingale. Seven religious poems in English folIowand the last item is another devout poem in Anglo-French by Chardry. The Jesus College manuscript is partly made up with another manuscript of the fifteenth century in mixed paper and parchment containing an English chronide, written in Latin, but the thirteenth-century portion in parchment begins with a poem in couplets in English on the Passion of our Lord, continues with The Owl and the Nightingale, follows with Poema Morale and other religious poems, The Proverbs of Alfred, then an account of the shires and hundreds of England, and finally the same French poems (apart from a missing leaf) by Chardry.