The anonymous Owl and the Nightingale has received many responses from critics struck by the poem’s strange blend of ornithological accuracy and avian symbolism. This paper aims to cohere these sorts of discrepancies by suggesting, through an ecocritical approach, that the author of this text is largely concerned with sending up the literary fashion for treating birds and nature in an allegorical scheme. This is not simply about playing with genre, however; it exposes the constructed practice and ultimate fallacy of using nature as a form of intellectual property. Real birds and environments in this poem are, thus, given a new impetus in a growing critical context which places emphasis on the roles and agencies of non-human categories in medieval culture and texts.
‘Not al on slepe, ne fully waking’ – thus the narrator of the Cuckoo and the Nightingale describes himself; those of The Floure and the Leafe and the Complaint of a Lover’s Lyfe claim to be fully awake. The content of these poems is clearly fictional, fantastical, and highly imaginative, suggestive of the dream-vision genre, yet in the absence of a framing dream narrative to justify these fantastical elements, it is difficult to interpret how readers are expected to gauge them as representations of truth or fiction. This paper will read these hypnagogic and waking narrators in the light of contemporary medical, cognitive, and dream theories to interrogate alternative accounts of the physiological origins, intellectual genesis, role, and understanding of fiction in medieval culture.