Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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THE BIRDS BEES AND THE SPIDERS OF NICHOLAS GUILDFORD AND JONATHAN SWIFT

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Kamlesh Tripathi revisits the iconic works of English bards to dig deep into the relevance of their works through the foresight of conveying a lesson.

    Authors are generally a sensitive lot. They catch a moral storm much before others. But their direct advice may not be adhered to by normal people so they web stories around insects, birds and animals to create a moral fable to be adopted by human beings. Greek philosopher Aesop is famous for his fables but he is not the case in point here.

    The Birds, Bees and Spiders created by authors teach us a lot. They symbolise as the quintessential metaphors. ‘The Owl and the Nightingale’ the authorship of which is still doubtful, was probably written in the early part of the thirteenth century by one Nicholas Guildford. It consists of a long argument between a Nightingale, representing the lighter joys of life, and an Owl that stands for wisdom and sobriety. The poem is lively and the argument is partially heated.

    There is a fierce debate between the eponymous owl and the nightingale which is overheard by an unidentified narrator. The Nightingale is perched on a branch and the Owl is sitting on a bough flushed with ivy. The Nightingale comments on the Owl’s physique calling her ugly and unclean. The Owl counters that they proceed courteously and reasonably in their debate. A suggestion is made by Nightingale to consult Nicholas of Guildford, who is young and frivolous, but he could be a reasonable judge. The Nightingale further goes on to shame the Owl for the screeches she produces and labels her active time of the night as vices. The Owl in turn bemoans that the Nightingale’s non-stop noise is excessive and boring.

    ‘The Nightingale contends that the song of the Owl brings about unwanted gloom, while her own melodious voice reflects the beauty of nature. The Owl responds by saying that Nightingales only sing in summer when men’s minds get filled with lechery. Further, the Nightingale only knows how to sing. The Owl has more valuable talents, like servicing churches by ridding them of rats. Responding, The Nightingale claims she too is helpful to the Church, since her songs invoke the glories of Heaven and encourage churchgoers to be more devout. The Owl counters that by saying that before people can reach Heaven, they must repent of their sins. Her mournful, haunting song forces them to reconsider their actions. She further says that Nightingale’s gay melodies can entice women to adultery and promiscuity. It is the nature of women to be frail, claims the Nightingale and any sins they might commit in maidenhood are forgiven once they are married. It is rather the fault of men, for taking advantage of this weakness in maidens’.

    The Nightingale, contesting the point, claims that the Owl is of no use except when dead as farmers use her corpse as a scarecrow. The Owl gives a positive slant to this charge by inferring that she helps men even after death. This is not seen as a sufficient defence by the Nightingale, and she calls other birds to jeer at the Owl. The Owl too threatens to assemble her predatory friends, but before the tension can escalate further, a Wren descends to dissolve the quarrel. The birds ultimately decide to defer the judgment of their case to Nicholas of Guildford, who lives at Portesham in Dorset. However, the reader never learns which bird bests her opponent at the debate. The poem ends with the two flying off in search of Nicholas after displaying their spite for each other.

        During the period of Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift almost in one bound, attained mastery over English prose. Though he is better known for his novel Gulliver’s Travel, his first noteworthy work was ‘The Battle of Books’ published in 1704. The theme of this work is a well-worn one, being the dispute between ancient and modern authors.

    Swift’s work is a partial allegory in which the books in a library contend with one another. In this contention, the famous conversation is between a bee who accidentally blunders into a spider’s web, and argues down the bitter remarks of the spider.

    It narrates a literal battle between books in the King’s Library housed in St James’s Palace at the time of the writing, as ideas and authors struggle for supremacy. Because of the satire, “The Battle of the Books” has become a term for the Quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns.

    In the past, renowned writers have used insects, birds and animals to convey messages of morality and civility to society. In this story, Swift brings forth one of the most celebrated metaphors of Western literature which is the dispute between the spider who personifies the Modern thinkers and the bee who represents the ancient school of thought. The spider which spins a sophisticated web from its own innards is truly scientific and modern. In the words of Swift, the spider is “swollen up to the first magnitude, by the destruction of an infinite number of flies, whose spoils lay scattered before the gates of his palace, like human bones before the cave of some giant.” When the bee happens “to alight upon one of the outward walls of the spider’s citadel” and breaks the web, the spider angrily responds: “What art thou, but a vagabond without house or home, without stock or inheritance? Born to no possessions of your own, but a pair of wings, and a drone-pipe. Your livelihood is a universal plunder upon nature; a freebooter over fields and gardens; and for the sake of stealing, will rob the nettle as readily as a violet. In contrast, I am a domestic animal, furnished with a native stock within myself. This large castle is all built with my own hands, and the materials extracted altogether out of my own person.”

    The bee, an adherent of ancient learning, responds on how it creates objects of great beauty – sweetness and light – honey and wax: “I visit, indeed, all the flowers and blossoms of the field and the garden, but whatever I collect from thence, enriches myself without the least injury to their beauty, their smell, or their taste…You boast, indeed, of being obliged to no other creature, but of drawing and spinning out all from yourself” The bee further goes on to say,  “In short, the question comes to this; whether is the nobler being of the two, that which by a lazy contemplation of four inches round; by an overwhelming pride, which feeding and engendering on itself, turns all into excrement and venom; produces nothing at last, but fly-bane and a cobweb: or that, which, by a universal range, with long search, much study, true judgment, and distinction of things, brings home honey and wax.”

    Like the Owl and the Nightingale, even the Bee and the Spider contend their point of view and pass wisdom lessons to human beings. Couldn’t the renowned authors pass a straight message to human beings without using analogies of birds, bees and spiders? Perhaps not because human beings understand analogies better than direct conversation.

THE BIRDS BEES AND THE SPIDERS OF NICHOLAS GUILDFORD AND JONATHAN SWIFT

Kamlesh Tripathi revisits the iconic works of English bards to dig deep into the relevance of their works through the foresight of conveying a lesson.

    Authors are generally a sensitive lot. They catch a moral storm much before others. But their direct advice may not be adhered to by normal people so they web stories around insects, birds and animals to create a moral fable to be adopted by human beings. Greek philosopher Aesop is famous for his fables but he is not the case in point here.

    The Birds, Bees and Spiders created by authors teach us a lot. They symbolise as the quintessential metaphors. ‘The Owl and the Nightingale’ the authorship of which is still doubtful, was probably written in the early part of the thirteenth century by one Nicholas Guildford. It consists of a long argument between a Nightingale, representing the lighter joys of life, and an Owl that stands for wisdom and sobriety. The poem is lively and the argument is partially heated.

    There is a fierce debate between the eponymous owl and the nightingale which is overheard by an unidentified narrator. The Nightingale is perched on a branch and the Owl is sitting on a bough flushed with ivy. The Nightingale comments on the Owl’s physique calling her ugly and unclean. The Owl counters that they proceed courteously and reasonably in their debate. A suggestion is made by Nightingale to consult Nicholas of Guildford, who is young and frivolous, but he could be a reasonable judge. The Nightingale further goes on to shame the Owl for the screeches she produces and labels her active time of the night as vices. The Owl in turn bemoans that the Nightingale’s non-stop noise is excessive and boring.

    ‘The Nightingale contends that the song of the Owl brings about unwanted gloom, while her own melodious voice reflects the beauty of nature. The Owl responds by saying that Nightingales only sing in summer when men’s minds get filled with lechery. Further, the Nightingale only knows how to sing. The Owl has more valuable talents, like servicing churches by ridding them of rats. Responding, The Nightingale claims she too is helpful to the Church, since her songs invoke the glories of Heaven and encourage churchgoers to be more devout. The Owl counters that by saying that before people can reach Heaven, they must repent of their sins. Her mournful, haunting song forces them to reconsider their actions. She further says that Nightingale’s gay melodies can entice women to adultery and promiscuity. It is the nature of women to be frail, claims the Nightingale and any sins they might commit in maidenhood are forgiven once they are married. It is rather the fault of men, for taking advantage of this weakness in maidens’.

    The Nightingale, contesting the point, claims that the Owl is of no use except when dead as farmers use her corpse as a scarecrow. The Owl gives a positive slant to this charge by inferring that she helps men even after death. This is not seen as a sufficient defence by the Nightingale, and she calls other birds to jeer at the Owl. The Owl too threatens to assemble her predatory friends, but before the tension can escalate further, a Wren descends to dissolve the quarrel. The birds ultimately decide to defer the judgment of their case to Nicholas of Guildford, who lives at Portesham in Dorset. However, the reader never learns which bird bests her opponent at the debate. The poem ends with the two flying off in search of Nicholas after displaying their spite for each other.

        During the period of Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift almost in one bound, attained mastery over English prose. Though he is better known for his novel Gulliver’s Travel, his first noteworthy work was ‘The Battle of Books’ published in 1704. The theme of this work is a well-worn one, being the dispute between ancient and modern authors.

    Swift’s work is a partial allegory in which the books in a library contend with one another. In this contention, the famous conversation is between a bee who accidentally blunders into a spider’s web, and argues down the bitter remarks of the spider.

    It narrates a literal battle between books in the King’s Library housed in St James’s Palace at the time of the writing, as ideas and authors struggle for supremacy. Because of the satire, “The Battle of the Books” has become a term for the Quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns.

    In the past, renowned writers have used insects, birds and animals to convey messages of morality and civility to society. In this story, Swift brings forth one of the most celebrated metaphors of Western literature which is the dispute between the spider who personifies the Modern thinkers and the bee who represents the ancient school of thought. The spider which spins a sophisticated web from its own innards is truly scientific and modern. In the words of Swift, the spider is “swollen up to the first magnitude, by the destruction of an infinite number of flies, whose spoils lay scattered before the gates of his palace, like human bones before the cave of some giant.” When the bee happens “to alight upon one of the outward walls of the spider’s citadel” and breaks the web, the spider angrily responds: “What art thou, but a vagabond without house or home, without stock or inheritance? Born to no possessions of your own, but a pair of wings, and a drone-pipe. Your livelihood is a universal plunder upon nature; a freebooter over fields and gardens; and for the sake of stealing, will rob the nettle as readily as a violet. In contrast, I am a domestic animal, furnished with a native stock within myself. This large castle is all built with my own hands, and the materials extracted altogether out of my own person.”

    The bee, an adherent of ancient learning, responds on how it creates objects of great beauty – sweetness and light – honey and wax: “I visit, indeed, all the flowers and blossoms of the field and the garden, but whatever I collect from thence, enriches myself without the least injury to their beauty, their smell, or their taste…You boast, indeed, of being obliged to no other creature, but of drawing and spinning out all from yourself” The bee further goes on to say,  “In short, the question comes to this; whether is the nobler being of the two, that which by a lazy contemplation of four inches round; by an overwhelming pride, which feeding and engendering on itself, turns all into excrement and venom; produces nothing at last, but fly-bane and a cobweb: or that, which, by a universal range, with long search, much study, true judgment, and distinction of things, brings home honey and wax.”

    Like the Owl and the Nightingale, even the Bee and the Spider contend their point of view and pass wisdom lessons to human beings. Couldn’t the renowned authors pass a straight message to human beings without using analogies of birds, bees and spiders? Perhaps not because human beings understand analogies better than direct conversation.

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