Author Topic: Add: The Cuckoo


Posted - 13 Feb 03 - 12:56 pm

Cuckoo, The

The cuckoo is a pretty bird,
She sings as she flies;
She bringeth good tidings,
She telleth no lies;
She sucketh sweet flowers
To keep her voice clear,
And when she sings Cuckoo,
The summer draweth near.

O meeting is a pleasure
And parting is a grief;
An inconstant lover
Is worse than a thief;
A thief can but rob me
Of all that I have,
But an inconstant lover,
Will bring me to the grave.

The grave it will recieve me
And bring me to dust.
An inconstant lover
No maiden can trust;
He'll court you, cajole you
Poor maids to decieve;
There is not one in twenty
A maiden can believe.

Come all you sweet maidens
Wherever you be,
Your hearts - do not hang them
On a sycamore tree.
The leaf it will wither,
The root will decay;
Alack! I'm foresaken
And wasting away

Source: Baring-Gould, 1895, A Garland of Country Song, London, (reprinted Llanerch 1998)


Baring-Gould wrote:

This charming little song is known throughout England. It is to be found, the verses strangely inverted, in an old Garland, "The Sailor's Return", Glasgow, 1802 (B.M. 11621, b 13). Halliwell, in his "Nursery Rhymes," quotes the first verse only. This same verse has got worked into "The Seasons," in "Songs from the West," No 19. Dr Barrett in his "English Folk Songs" includes "The Cuckoo" No 47. But the words as he collected them are confused. The "sycamore tree" is converted into "a sailor so free," and the order with the sanzas is 4,1,2, and a verse that is quite unknown to us. The Glasgow Garland also opens with a verse which we do not think belongs to the song:-

A-walking and a-talking, and a-walking was I,
To meet my sweet Billy, he'll come by and bye.
To meet him in the meadows is all my delight,
A-walking and a-talking from morning till night.

The significance of the little song seems to be this. The inconstant lover is likened first to a cuckoo that is a rover, ad lastly to a sycamore that so early drops its leaves.

In Devon the first verse is sung thus:-

The cucku is a purty bird
Her zingith as her vlies;
Her bringeth gude tidings,
Her telleth no lies.
Her zucketh sweet vlowers, &c

In the Glasgow song the order is "A-waling and a-talking" the 2, 3, 1, 4. The air in Dr. Barrett's book is the same as ours, but in the minor; we have never heard the air otherwise than in a major. It is so sung throughout the West of England.

Database entry is here.

Guest Account
Posted - 15 Jun 05 - 07:46 pm

From: falooley

Doc Watson perfermed this song as "Trouble" I transcribed his lyrics:

a meeting is a pleasure
and a parting is grief
but a false hearted lover
is worse than a thief

a thief can but rob you
and take what you say
but a false hearted lover
take you to your grave

I'm trouble I'm touble
I'm touble in mind
if touble don't kill me lord
i'll live a long time

the grave will detain you
and turn you to dust
ain't a girl in a million
that poor boy can trust

they'll hug you, thell kiss you
they'll tell you more lies
then the cross ties on the rail road
or the stars in the sky

I'm trouble I'm touble
I'm touble in mind
if touble don't kill me lord
i'll live a long time

I'm going to georgi
I'm going to roam
I'm going to georgi
gonna make it my home

gonna build me a cabin
on a mountain so high
where the wild birds and the tutrle dove
can hear my sad cry

I'm trouble I'm touble
I'm touble in mind
if touble don't kill me lord
i'll live a long time


Posted - 19 Jun 05 - 10:52 am

I learned a version of this from a Pentangle album.

Oh the Cuckoo is a pretty bird,
She sing as she flies,
She bringeth good tidings,
She telleth no lies,
She suppeth wild flowers,
To keep her voice clear,
And the more she sing cuckoo,
The summer draweth near.

As I was a-walking,
and a-talking one day,
I met my own true love,
as he came that way,
The meeting was a pleasure,
But the parting was a woe,
I found him false hearted,
He kissed me, and then did go.

I wish I was a scholar,
who could handle a pen,
I'd write to my true love,
And to all false young men,
I'd tell them of the grief and woe,
That attend on their lies,
I woud wish they'd have pity
On a flower as it dies.

The three verses were repeated (probably just to boost the track time).

I've sung this as a contrast to the humourous tenor of my act, for many years now. I simply transpose the gender.

Don T.

masato sakurai

Posted - 21 Jun 05 - 05:25 am

I often listened to the Osborne Brothers' version. The sound clip is here (DISC 3: 3. Cuckoo Bird, The ).

Michael Morris

Posted - 08 Jul 05 - 09:18 am

"The Cuckoo is a Pretty Bird"

Oh, Johnny is on the water,
Let him sink or let him swim.
For if he can live without me,
I can live without him.

Johnny is a young boy,
But still younger am I.
But how often has he told me,
He'd wed me or die.

Oh meeting is a pleasure,
And parting is grief.
But an unconstant true love
Is worse than a thief.

A thief can but rob you,
And take what you have.
But an unconstant lover
Will take you to your grave.

I'll take off this black dress
And flourish in green,
For I don't care if I'm foresaken
I'm only nineteen.
Hiccough, Oh Lordy, how bad do I feel,
Hiccough, Oh Lordy, how bad do I feel.

The grave it will rot you
And turn you to dust;
There ain't one out of twenty
That a young girl can trust.

They will court you and kiss you
And get your heart warm,
But as soon as your back is turned
They'll laugh you to scorn.

The Cuckoo is a pretty bird
She sings as she flies;
She brings us good tidings
And tells us no lies.

Foresaken, foresaken,
Foresaken am I.
He is certainly mistaken
If he thinks I will cry.

From the singing of Bradley Kinkaid, printed by W.K. McNeil in Southern Mountain Folksongs (Little Rock: August House Publishers, 1993)

"This song has a variety of titles, of which the most common is simply 'The Cuckoo'. Several singers also use the longer name given here. The songs 'The Unconstant Lover', 'Old Smokey', and 'The Wagoner's Lad' are also thought to derive from 'The Cuckoo'. The parent number has yet to be definitively traced, but it dates at least from the eighteenth century and is probably considerably older.
According to Vance Randolph, a stanza about the cuckoo and its glad tidings appears in a song given in David Herd's Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs (1776). A nursery form of the song can be dated 1796, while another form of the lyric song was published in Glasgow in 1802. Of course, the single verse about the cuckoo and its glad tidings appears in a number of songs, such as that printed in Belden's Missouri collection (p.476). That verse is the one constant in versions of the song.

The cuckoo is a lowly regarded bird that is used symbolically in many ways in western Europe. Because it lays eggs in the nests of other birds, it often stands for adultery. It is also considered a harbinger of summer in Britain, and perhaps both this seasonal and a sexual sense are evident in most versions. Clearly, the latter is more prominent in the text given here. This text is from the singing of Bradley Kinkaid, who learned it from his father. Kinkaid is one of many commercial country artists who recorded the song, his version being cut July 12, 1928, in Chicago for the Starr Piano Company and later released on the Gennett label. The first two verses are uncommon and possibly derive from the British broadside ballad sometimes known as 'Green Beds'. Also uncommon are the last two lines of the fifth verse, which seem to be borrowed from 'Rye Whisky'. Verses four, six and seven are usually associated with 'Old Smokey', while verses three and nine are generally part of 'The Unconstant Lover'."

Edited By Michael Morris - 08-Jul-2005 09:31:51 AM

Edited By Michael Morris - 08-Jul-2005 09:33:33 AM

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