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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

"Laüstic", also known as "Le Rossignol", Le Laustic", "Laostic", and "Aüstic", is a Breton lai by the medieval poet Marie de France. The title comes from the Breton language word for "nightingale", a symbolic figure in the poem. Laüstic is the eighth poem in the collection known as the Lais of Marie de France, and the poem is only found in the manuscript known as Harley 978 or manuscript H. Like the other poems in this collection, Laüstic is written in the Anglo-Norman dialect of Old French, in couplets of eight syllables in length. This lai is a short, poignant tale about an affair.

Plot summary

Two knights live in adjoining houses, in the vicinity of Saint-Malo in Brittany. The wife of one knight shares an unconsummated love with the other, they habitually look at each other through their bedroom windows, and she takes advantage of the proximity of the houses to exchange gifts with her lover. When her husband asks her why she repeatedly goes to the window, she tells him that it is to better see and hear a nightingale. The knight becomes frustrated by his wife's frequent absences from bed, and so he orders his servants to capture the nightingale. When the nightingale is captured, he presents it to his wife and tells her that her sleep need not be interrupted again. She begs to be given the bird, but he kills it and tosses its body at her; the blood spatters above her heart. Saddened that she no longer has an excuse to visit her lover by the window, she wraps the nightingale's body within a cloth embrodiered with gold and has a trusted servant send it to the other knight, as a sign that her husband has discovered their affair. Her regretful lover has a jewel-encrusted coffin made for the nightingale, in remembrance of what has been lost.

Analysis and significance

  • The reference to a nightingale alludes to the tale of Philomela in Ovid's Metamorphoses on several levels. Philomela embroiders her story in a tapestry much like the lady of Laustic; Philomela herself is transformed into a nightingale at the end of Ovid's story; and as Michelle Freeman suggests, the broken body of the nightingale, which signifies the end of the lovers' communication, is symbolic of the cutting out of Philomela's tongue, which effectively silences her.
  • The servants hide traps for the nightingale in hazel trees, a plant that is also found in Chevrefoil and Le Fresne, two of Marie's other Lais.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Laüstic" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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