Pedigree: “The Churl and the Bird” was written by creator of epic poems (and mummings) John Lydgate in the fifteenth century. Mr. Furnivall cited numerous manuscript copies of the work, and printings by William Caxton (c.1479 and 1480), Wynken de Worde (c. 1500), Richard Pinson, Johan Mychell (c. 1540), and Wyllyam Copland (c. 1562).
Synopsis: The Churl of the title captures a lovely golden bird which has been singing in the Churl’s beloved garden. He means to keep the bird captive to sing for him alone, but the bird claims it can only sing when it is free. The bird promises to come and sing every day for the Churl, and further vows to impart “thre grete wysdoms…more of valewe…thane al the golde that is shet in (the Churl’s) cofre.” Once the Churl liberates the bird, the bird shares that
1) Don’t believe everything you hear,
2) Do not long for what you cannot get,
3) “For tresoure loste, maketh never to(o) gre(a)t sorowe.” ,
and further, calls the Churl a fool for freeing it and losing a powerful magical stone which the bird has inside itself. When the Churl begins loudly lamenting this lost prize, the bird returns and mocks him (the bird lied), rebuking him for immediately forgetting the “wisdoms” the bird had just shared. After remarking that there’s no use teaching a churl terms of gentleness, the bird departs.
Availability: Google books has an online copy of James O. Halliwell ‘s “Minor Poems of Dan John Lydgate” here: