Resolution of the Debate in the Medieval Poem the Owl and the Nightingale

Author: Gasser, Karen
Drawing upon epistemological and linguistic criteria, Gasser convincingly argues that the poem captures that precarious moment within the psychological history of the West when people move from a religious into a humanistic world view.


“Gasser’s analysis of The Owl and the Nightingale is brilliantly and dynamically immersed in the central and abiding dilemma of the avian speakers in the poem: the elusiveness of moral certainty and the problem of knowledge in western culture. Throughout her streamlined and highly cogent commentary, Gasser remains directly and intriguingly focused on the central dilemma and mutual concern of the eponymous characters. . . . far from leading us into further ambiguity, Gasser offers a solid rationale based on close examination of words and their subtle import. Disconcerting only inasmuch as she is uncompromising and forthright, Gasser’s exegesis reflects the pithiness of the speakers themselves, and we never feel the text has left the room. The serious scholar and reader of Old and Middle English cannot do without Gasser’s comprehensive, but pointed and practical exposition.” – Peter John Fields

“Dr. Gasser’s contribution to the scholarly tradition is her insight that the poem through its inconclusiveness and emphasis on the indeterminacy of the avian world-views actually teaches the importance of a charitable acceptance of human limitations and the inevitability of death. . . . Dr. Gasser examines the language of the poem with considerable acumen and shows that the birds’ view of the world undermine the value system expressed by their language.” – Alexandra H. Olsen

“Karen Gasser’s epistemological approach to The Owl and the Nightingale is notable and exceptional on several levels. . . . Indeed, Gasser’s book is a ‘must’ for any serious scholar on the subject of Middle English poetry, and certainly one that should be on the shelf of every college library. It is a wonderful primer on the poem and can do yeoman service as a companion text for the student who is wading into the original Middle English for the first time. In all, it is hard to imagine anyone setting out to study, or write on, the subject of The Owl and the Nightingale without also consulting Karen Gasser’s book.” – Geardagum