L’ouseau – a modern chanson de’ toile based on the “Laustic” of Marie la France by Aneleda Falconbridge 2016

Out in the forest as the gold moon sets

the young knight goes riding, his hound by his side.

I walk to the window, so softly, to watch him

wishing, with sorrow, that I’d been his bride.


He stops in the moonlight and stares at my window,

as if he sees me, and holds out his hand

toward the dark stones behind which I’m hidden,

I move and the nightingale sings o’re the land


ah l’oiseau ah l’oiseau, so sweetly singing

ah l’oiseau ah l’oiseau swiftly there winging

ah l’oiseau ah l’oiseau merci for bringing

a song to my love.


Many days pass with my fine companion

I think of him often  and it makes me smile

I dream of the darkness when I may go fleetly

off to the window to wait for a while.


My love comes riding past on a fine warhorse

I dream of joining him there at his side.

He knows that I love him though he cannot hear me

I dare not speak for my husband’s fierce pride.


ah l’oiseau ah l’oiseau, so sweetly singing

ah l’oiseau ah l’oiseau swiftly there winging

ah l’oiseau ah l’oiseau merci for bringing a song to my love.


Summer has blossomed and gone in the forest

the woods are so quiet adrift with white snow

Soft as its falling I rouse from my slumber

to watch for my true love from my cold window


Snow melts to flowers, night song fills the woodlands

my heart is longing to see him again

as the dawn rises my husband awakens

and asks why my slumber is ever in vain.


ah l’oiseau ah l’oiseau, so loudly singing

ah l’oiseau ah l’oiseau ever there winging

ah l’oiseau ah l’oiseau wakefulness bringing with songs from above.


That will not do, says my husband so fiercely

set and determined to right perceived wrongs

he takes to the forest, his yeoman goes with him

with a score of hunters to catch its sweet songs.


from my high vantage I watch them go flying

I pray with all goodness that my love will hide

for to live ever cast from my beloved

shall bring me a sorrow I cannot not abide.


ah l’oiseau ah l’oiseau, so sweetly singing

ah l’oiseau ah l’oiseau swiftly there winging

ah l’oiseau ah l’oiseau merci for bringing a song to my love.


At last it is evening, the stars are appearing

over the greenwood, I see them come now

when they return my husband comes to me

he stands as he glowers beneath furrowed brow.


Within his hand lies a body so tiny

this delicate creature whose voice sang my love

“Here, you may take now the whole night unbreaking

without being wakened by noise from above”


ah l’oiseau ah l’oiseau, so sweetly singing

ah l’oiseau ah l’oiseau swiftly there winging

ah l’oiseau ah l’oiseau merci for bringing a song to my love.


The light, feathered creature he threw hard upon me

I see its head hanging, like it I am slain.

it struck like a stone where my own soul lay beating

leaving my white breast set with a red stain.


I took its small body and wrapped it in linen

placed in a jeweled casket, my heart full sore.

this, my beloved, I have sent as my message

That you shall know why you see me no more.


ah l’oiseau ah l’oiseau never more singing

ah l’oiseau ah l’oiseau done is you winging

ah l’oiseau ah l’oiseau no longer bringing

a song of my love.


L’ouseau – a modern chanson de’ toile  

based on the “Laustic” of Marie la France (12th century)

Aneleda Falconbridge

This song is a modern retelling of a story by Marie la France, based on her poem, Laustic. 1

The original work is in the Breton language, and the title, Laustic, is the Breton word for nightingale. This particular piece is only found in the manuscript known as Harley 978, or manuscript H.

The story is of two Barons, the lady wife of one is unhappy and loves the other Baron. They visit at a window, and the Baroness uses the excuse of the nightingale’s song waking her when discovered and questioned by her jealous husband. Her husband captures and kills the nightingale, and presents it to the lady by throwing it at her. When it hits her body, it leaves a blood stain. She sends its body to her lover in a small casket, its body wrapped in a piece of cloth embroidered with the story to explain her absence to him. He carries it as a reminder of her.

Marie, whose actual identity is unknown, wrote in the 12th century. Her work focused on themes of courtly love (often tragic) with a strong Celtic influence. She lived in England but is believed to have been born in France.

In the same period, courtly women who were working on handiwork tasks –  particularly embroidery, or fine needlework or weaving – were said to have sung as they worked. The songs which remain of this style of work were recorded in the 12th and 13th centuries and were called “chanson de toile” — song of the cloth — and often had similar themes. Frequently, the basic plot of these narratives was one of longing. A woman might be away from her beloved or perhaps married to someone who is not her romantic ideal. In these verses, the women dream of their lovers as they work and sing sad songs about their situations.

The works surviving are written in Old French and were said to have been set to music, though no surviving link to the tunes survived.

I felt the story by Marie de France was a perfect topic for this kind of modern chanson. The repeating verse echoes the repetitive motion of cloth work, spinning or sewing, as the rhythm of work sets solidly in. These works were also noted for having a refrain, which my version also includes.

The final piece is that the woman in the story, who embroiders the cloth that will wrap the small body, may also sing a chanson de toile as she sews this very story – which is my inspiration for telling this lay in this fashion.

The musical setting is my own creation. The swooping chorus is evocative of flight and the beating of wings as the nightingale flies in the forest between the lovers.



1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La%C3%BCstic

Laustic, like many other lais by Marie de France, tells of a woman who is heavily monitored by her husband (or some other oppressive authority figure) and has a secret love life which consumes all of her attention. And, like in the other stories, the malicious husband attempts to destroy her happiness. (In some lais such as Laustic, it is unclear whether the oppressive authority forces the woman to have a secret affair or her secret affair causes her to be oppressed.)

Laustic (or ‘Nightingale‘ in English) takes place in an unnamed town with two barons. One baron has married a wise, refined and elegant woman, and the other baron falls in love with her. Since the latter baron has such a good reputation and lives so conveniently close, the wife falls for him as well and they spend as much time as possible standing by their respective windows, talking and tossing little presents to each other. One night, as the wife rises from bed to go to the window, her husband asks why she often gets up in the middle of the night. She responds that she cannot resist listening to the nightingale’s song, which is more beautiful than any other sound. The jealous husband then sets a trap for the bird, kills it violently in front of his wife and throws it at her. Saddened by the nightingale’s death and afraid that by no longer appearing at the window her lover will think less of her, she sends the dead bird to him with an explanation of what happened. The baron then puts the body in a casket made of gold and keeps it with him forever.

The nightingale represents the beauty of love and also its fragility. (The same metaphor is used in Yonec when Muldamarec is mortally wounded in his bird form by the jealous husband.) When the second baron preserves the bird’s body in a casket of gold and always keeps it with him, he is only representing his devotion and love with a physical reminder.[34]” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_de_France

2. The Harvard Dictionary of Music By Don Michael Randel

3. Burns, E. Jane (2002). “3. Love’s Stitches Undone”. Courtly love undressed: reading through clothes in medieval French culture. U of Pennsylvania P. pp. 88–118. ISBN 978-0-8122-3671-2.