The Cuckoo

: Popular Rhymes And Nursery Tales

We are usefully reminded of the season of the cuckoo by the following

homely proverbial lines:

In April,

The cuckoo shows his bill;

In May,

He sings all day;

In June,

He alters his tune;

In July,

Away he'll fly;

Come August,

Away he must!

In some dialects

In April,

'A shake 'as bill;

In May,

'A pipe all day;

In June,

'A change 'as tune;

In July,

Away 'a fly;

Else in August,

Away 'a must.

Of the "change of tune" alluded to in these verses, it has been remarked

(Trans. Linn. Soc.) that in early season the cuckoo begins with the

interval of a minor third, proceeds to a major third, then to a fourth,

then to a fifth; after which his voice breaks, never attaining a minor

sixth. This was observed by old John Heywood, Workes, 1576, vi. 95:

In April the koo-coo can sing her note by rote,

In June of tune she cannot sing a note;

At first, koo-koo, koo-coo, sing shrill can she do;

At last, kooke, kooke, kooke, six cookes to one koo.

The following proverbial verses relating to this bird are current in the

North of England:

The cuckoo comes in April,

Stops all the month of May,

Sings a song at Midsummer,

And then he goes away.

When the cuckoo comes to the bare thorn,

Sell your cow and buy your corn;

But when she comes to the full bit,

Sell your corn and buy your sheep.

The following "tokens of love and marriage by hearing the cuckow, or

seeing other birds first in the morning," are extracted from an old

chap-book entitled, the Golden Cabinet, or the Compleat Fortune-teller,

n. d.: "When you walk out in the spring, as soon as you hear the cuckow,

sit down on a bank or other convenient place, and pull your stockings

off, saying,--

May this to me,

Now happy be.

Then look between your great toe and the next, you'll find a hair that

will easily come off. Take and look at it, and of the same colour will

that of your lover be; wrap it in a piece of paper, and keep it ten days

carefully; then, if it has not changed, the person will be constant: but

if it dies, you are flattered." Gay alludes to this method of divination

in his Fourth Pastoral, ed. 1742, p. 32.