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"By the mere inspection of this brittle monument we are enabled to tell to what tribe it belonged; what were the bird's costume and habits; if it passed its days amid the dangers of the seas, or amid the calm of pastoral life; if it was tame or wild; if it inhabited the mountain crag or the valley. Neither does the hand of Time change the universal
works of nature, however perishable are those of man. He has destroyed the annals of the sovereigns of Memphis on their funereal pyramids, but has not effaced a single hieroglyphic scrawl on the egg-shells of the Egyptian ibis."
THE POETS AND THE CUCKOO.
Thrice welcome, darling of the spring!
Even yet thou art to me
A voice, a mystery.
The same whom in my schoolboy days
I listen'd to; that cry
In bush, and tree, and sky.
To seek thee did I often rove
Through woods and on the green:And thou wert still a hope, a love;Still longed for, never seen.
And I can listen to thee yet;
Can lie upon the plain
That golden time again.
0 blessed bird ! the earth we pace
Again appears to be
That is fit home for thee!
Then Kirke White said to William Howitt, "You,
It was (and here me-thought I might espy
A sort of under-twinkle in his eye)
Touching the singular catastrophe
That once befel the cuckoo; for that he
Formerly had but one long shout, in lieu
Of the two short ones which so well we knew;
Till fate to take his voice's penny came,
And gave him change in halfpence for the same.
For one day, as it happened, Mrs. Eve,
Cutting her hair, her scissors chanced to leave.
Where, too, the hungry cuckoo chanced to get them,
And rather fancying he might like them, ate them;
But the twin blades, his throat in passing through,
Unfortunately snipped his shout in two.
"Well done !" said Miller; and " Well done, well done!"
Hall shouted, and the hugest smiles of fun
His face into deep furrows ploughed amain.
For the following curious and elaborate paper on the Cuckoo we are indebted to the pen of a clever lady.
The cuckoo comes in April,
says the Gloucestershire peasant, and this—like all our quaint old popular sayings—is a correct, if not an elegant, account of that of which it treats. It alludes, however, only to the old birds, which leave us at the end of June or in the beginning of July; but there is another version, which, with various verbal alterations carries on the story to the end of the scene, to the flight of the young birds, thus:—
Come she will,
In flowery May
She doth sing all day,
In leafy June
She doth change her time
In bright July
She doth begin to fly,
Go she must .
In spite of which generalisation, a stray young bird will, now and then, linger on until September, as we have ourselves occasionally seen. In April, however, " Come she will," and her persistence has given rise in Wales to the following observation;—" It is unfortunate to hear the cuckoo before the 6th of April, but you will have prosperity for the whole of the year if you first hear it on the 28th. This we can perfectly understand without the necessity of referring the notion to superstition, for the arrival of the bird before the first period named would indicate such an unnaturally forward spring, as must presage the late frosts and cruel blights, which invariably injure premature vegetation: while the very late day given as the day of "luck" shows the proverb to have originated in a land of cloud-arresting mountains, and of damp sea-borne breezes; this inference is strengthened by another Welsh distich:—
The first week of May
An assertion which would strike with amazement the "highfarming" and "early-cropping" agriculturist of the present day. It is a somewhat curious coincidence that the earliest and latest days, noticed by the observant White of Selborne, as those of the cuckoo's arrival, were the 7th and 26th of April.
While on the subject of Cambrian sayings respecting this bird, we may mention that, partly from its very frequent occurrence in mountainous districts—partly, perhaps, from other causes—it has, in all ages, been a great favourite with the Welsh, who are very much averse to injuring it, and whose poetry and prose abound in pleasant allusions to the "Cuckoo with the cheerful note." To this circumstance we have heard ascribed the expression of Middleton,
Thy sound is like the cuckoo, the Welsh ambassador.
Trick to Catch the Old One, Act. iv. scene 5.
But he evidently had no such meaning. We know that Wahch signifies, far-off, strange, wild, perhaps barbarous; and, that even to this day the Italians are so designated in some parts of Germany: there can therefore be—as, if we remember rightly, was suggested by a correspondent of "Notes and Queries,"—no doubt that he thought of the bird as the strange ambassador from the far-off summerland, come to announce his heaven-sent message; to tell us that "the winter is past, the rain is over and gone,"—that the warm, bright summer days are nigh—and that the glad earth shall be once more decked with flowers. None we believe, can hear his first notes without in some measure regarding him as such an ambassador; and for our own part, though we watch for the early song of birds, though our heart leaps up with joy to welcome the first swallow which comes to us from over the sea, yet it remains for the cuckoo to call the warm glow of pleasure to our cheek. Shall we go even farther than this, and acknowledge that one of the many mysterious imaginings of childhood yet hangs around us (whence the idea arose we know not) and that now, as then, we cannot hear the voice of the cuckoo without some vague and momentary [thought of ministering angels; angels, materialised perchance by childish imagination, yet shadowed forth in all the bright and holy purity of love.
When the dark night of the middle ages, which closed in upon the light of early science and knowledge was gradually dispersing its clouds before the sun of truth,—and when men were beginning to read the book of nature without the interposition of human translators, they commenced certain speculations as to the ..destination of our migratory birds; and amongst other curious blunders, which their own sense and observation soon began to correct, we find them depositing the poor cuckoo in a decayed tree, or some such damp and ungenial place, and asserting that the summer bird lay sleeping like a dormouse all the winter long; in fact Browne, in his "Pastorals," makes him the companion of this little sleepy creature:—
For in his hollowe trunk and perish'd graine,
Even the observant and nature-loving Willoughby actually