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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

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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, and 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-walking 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.

Roud: 413 (Search Roud index at VWML) Take Six

Related Songs:  To All the Good Children, A Happy New Year (melodic)

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