The Early Modern & Modern Era

The Modern Era is rife with examples of the owls significance as a piece of iconography, showing that the traits associated with the bird still thrive to this day.  Popular pieces of literature such as A. A. Milne’s book Winnie the Pooh, Edward Thomas’ poem The Owl, and the Brothers Grimm fairytale, The Owl, all display the attributes of wisdom, knowledge, and mortality that have long been related to owls.   These works demonstrate the persistence of these traits in relation to the owl.

"The Owl" by Edward Thomas

"The Owl" by Edward Thomas

Edward Thomas was an English writer who died during the First World War. He wrote a poem called "The Owl" in 1915, in the early years of the war. The poem focuses on the subject, a person, rather than it's titular bird. Here the owl is a sort of ominious presence, with the owl's noise inflicting the subject as a reminder of a soldier's trauma and poverty. This relentless crying of the owl is something the soldier seems to tie to how the feelings of the war reflect on all of it's participants 

Winnie the Pooh "Owl"

"Owl" Character in "Winnie the Pooh"

A prime example of the owl’s representation in twentieth century media comes in the form of the character “Owl” in A. A. Milne’s 1926 book, Winnie the Pooh.  In the book, Owl is portrayed as being very wise and sagacious enough to be the go-to source for advice amongst Winnie the Pooh and his friends.  In this way, the depiction acts as a continuation of the owl’s long maintained association with knowledge and wisdom.  The success of the book and its subsequent integration into popular culture show that the archetype of the owl as a symbol of wisdom is alive and well in the Modern Era.

Grimm's Complete Fairytales

Collection of The Brother Grimm Fairytales

The Brothers Grimm fairytale, The Owl, acts as yet another valuable piece of insight into the owl’s symbolic status in literature.  In the story, an owl’s sounds from a barn mortally terrifies a group of townsfolk to the extent that they burn the barn down with the owl within it (The Owl).  Although this depiction differs slightly from some of the other depictions of owls in the modern era as being symbols of wisdom, this fairytale is still consistent with historical views that owls are harbingers of death.  Furthermore, if one is to further analyse the story as being an analogy for the great costs of blind prejudice, one could find a marriage between the two prevailing traits associated with owls (wisdom and looming death) through the fact that, although the townsfolk were driven to kill the owl they were fearful of, simultaneously they killed a creature that is of great value through its wisdom.

The Garden of Earthly Delights

The Garden of Earthly Delights

The Garden of Earthly Delights is a wood panel oil painting by the Dutch painter Bosch Hieronymus with debated symbolism, though all interpretations are tied to the Christian afterlife. Hieronymus is known to frequently depict the owl throughout many of his works, with The Garden of Earthly Delights being no exception, depicting the owl six times between it's panels.  On the left panel, an owl can be seen in the centre hollow of the pink fountain, perhaps symbolizing its retreat from the light around it and the rejection of Christ for spiritual darkness instead.

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