Welcoming the first day of spring, with songs from Bob Dylan, a Russian folk group and Shakespeare

Much folklore surrounds cuckoo birds in many cultures.  They welcome in the first day of spring – which in New Zealand is 1 September.

The cuckoo is a pretty bird is a very old English song, brought to life in a Bob Dylan interpretation:

Bob Dylan The cuckoo is a pretty bird

Cuckoos are mischievous.  They can symbolise untrustworthiness.  A cuckoo lays its egg in another bird’s nest. The cuckoo chick hatches before those of the host bird, and it then ejects the other eggs from the nest so it gets undivided attention from its adoptive parents.

This Russian folksong, with its delicate melody and harmony asks a cuckoo bird where it is flying to:

Russian folk song Where are you flying to cuckoo bird?

The cuckoo bird’s two-note call symbolised infidelity in Shakespeare’s song from Love’s Labour’s Lost, sung by the extraordinary counter-tenor Gábor Birta:

Gábor Birta, countertenor sings Shakespeare’s Spring Song from ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost”

Being Shakespeare’s words, they are beautiful read as well as sung:

Spring song

When daisies pied and violets blue
And lady-smocks all silver-white
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he:
“Cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo!” O, word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!

When shepherds pipe on oaten straws,
And merry larks are ploughmen’s clocks,
When turtles tread, and rooks, and daws,
And maidens bleach their summer smocks,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he,
“Cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo!” O, word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!

Spring is not forever, and as counterpoint to the Spring song Love’s Labour’s Lost finishes with the Winter song. When spoken out aloud it makes you shudder with cold.

Winter song

When icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail;
When blood is nipped, and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
“Tu-whit, Tu-whoo!” –
A merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doth blow,
And coughing drowns the parson’s saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marian’s nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
“Tu-whit, Tu-whoo!”—
A merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

About Peter Winsley

I’ve worked in policy and economics-related fields in New Zealand for many years. With qualifications and publications in economics, management and literature, I take a multidisciplinary perspective to how people’s lives can be enhanced. I love nature, literature, music, tramping, boating and my family.
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2 Responses to Welcoming the first day of spring, with songs from Bob Dylan, a Russian folk group and Shakespeare

  1. David Lillis says:

    Nice blog, Peter.

    I had to commit the Winter Song to memory as a student at Saint Andrews College, Dublin, around 1976. Brings back memories.

    Why not try this song? Barbara Bonney does it beautifully.

    David

  2. David Lillis says:

    By the way – you, the reader of Peter’s blog, probably guessed that those crabs hissing in the pot are not crabs from the sea but something much sweeter – crabapples (of course!).
    David

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