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THE cuckoo,—“the plain-song cuckoo ” of Bottom the weaver,-the “ blithe new-comer,” the “darling of the spring,” the “ blessed bird" of Wordsworth,—the “beauteous stranger of the grove,” the “messenger of spring” of Logan,—the cuckoo coming hither from distant lands to insinuate its egg into the sparrow's nest, and to fly away again with its fledged ones after their cheating nursing-time is over, little knows what a favourite is her note with school-boys and poets. Wordsworth's lines to the cuckoo
“O blithe new-comer! I have heard,
I hear thee and rejoice —" are familiar to all. The charming little poem of Logan, which preceded Wordsworth's, is not so well known :
“ Hail, beauteous stranger of the grove !
Thou messenger of spring!
Now Heaven repairs thy rural seat,
And woods thy welcome sing.
What time the daisy decks the green,
Thy certain voice we hear;
Hast thou a star to guard thy path,
Or mark the rolling year?
Delightful visitant! with thee
I hail the time of flowers,
And hear the sound of music sweet
From birds among the bowers.
The school-boy, wandering through the wood
To pull the primrose gay,
Starts the new voice of spring to hear,
And imitates thy lay.
What time the pea puts on the bloom
Thou flyest thy vocal vale,
An annual guest in other lands,
Another spring to hail.
Sweet bird ! thy bower is ever green,
Thy sky is ever clear;
Thou hast no sorrow in thy song,
No winter in thy year!
Oh, could I fly, I'd fly with thee!
We'd make, with joyful wing,
Our annual visit o'er the globe,
Companions of the spring.”
LOGAN. The Swallow has been another favourite of the poets, even from the days of the Greek Anacreon :
“ Once in each revolving year,
Gentle bird ! we find thee here:
When Nature wears her summer vest,
Thou com'st to weave thy simple nest;
But, when the chilling winter lowers,
Again thou seek'st the genial bowers
Of Memphis, or the shores of Nile,
Where sunny hours of verdure smile.
And thus thy wing of freedom roves,
Alas! unlike the plumed loves
That linger in this helpless breast,
And never, never change their nest!"
ANACREON, translated by MOORE. But “the bird of all birds” is the Nightingale. Drummond of Hawthornden, though he never heard the "jug-jug” in his northern clime, has left a beautiful tribute to this noblest of songsters :. “Sweet bird, that sing'st away the early hours
Of winters past or coming, void of care,
Well pleased with delights which present are,
Fair seasons, budding sprays, sweet-smelling flow’rs :
To rocks, to springs, to rills, from leafy bow'rs,
Thou thy Creator's goodness dost declare,
And what dear gifts on thee he did not spare :
A stain to human sense in sin that low'rs.
What soul can be so sick, which by thy songs
(Attired in sweetness) sweetly is not driven
Quite to forget earth's turmoils, spites, and wrongs,
And lift a reverend eye and thought to heaven.
Sweet artless songster, thou my mind dost raise
To airs of spheres, yes, and to angels' lays.” DRUMMOND. Milton came after Drummond, with his sonnet to the nightingale :
“O Nightingale, that on yon bloomy spray
Warblest at eve, when all the woods are still,
Thou with fresh hope the lover's heart dost fill,
While the jolly hours lead on propitious May!” In the 'Il Penseroso,' the poet, dramatically speaking, addresses the nightingale:
“Sweet bird, that shunn'st the noise of folly,
Most musical, most melancholy!” The general propriety of the epithet has been controverted in one of the most delightful pieces of blank verse in our language:
“No cloud, no relique of the sunken day
Distinguishes the West, no long thin slip
Of sullen light, no obscure trembling hues.
Come, we will rest on this old mossy bridge.
You see the glimmer of the stream beneath,
But hear no murmuring: it flows silently
O'er its soft bed of verdure. All is still:
A balmy night! and though the stars be dim,
Yet let us think upon the vernal showers
That gladden the green earth, and we shall find
A pleasure in the dimness of the stars.
And hark! the Nightingale begins its song,
• Most musical, most melancholy' bird !
A melancholy bird! Oh, idle thought !
In nature there is nothing melancholy.
But some night-wandering man, whose heart was pierced
With the remembrance of a grievous wrong,
Or slow distemper, or neglected love,
(And so, poor wretch! filled all things with himself,
And made all gentle sounds tell back the tale
Of his own sorrow)-he, and such as he,
First named these notes a melancholy strain.
And many a poet echoes the conceit;
Poet who hath been building up the rhyme
When he had better far have stretched his limbs
Beside a brook in mossy forest-dell,
By sun or moonlight, to the influxes
Of shapes and sounds and shifting elements
Surrendering his whole spirit, of his song
And of his fame forgetful! so his fame
Should share in Nature's immortality,
A venerable thing! and so his song
Should make all Nature lovelier, and itself
Be loved like Nature ! But 'twill not be so;
And youths and maidens most poetical,
Who lose the deepening twilights of the spring
In ball-rooms and hot theatres, they still
Full of meek sympathy must heave their sighs
O’er Philomela's pity-pleading strains.
My Friend, and thou, our Sister! we have learnt
A different lore: we may not thus profane
Nature's sweet voices, always full of love
And joyance ! 'Tis the merry Nightingale
That crowds, and hurries, and precipitates
With fast thick warble his delicious notes,
As he were fearful that an April night
Would be too short for him to utter forth
His love-chant, and disburthen his full soul
Of all its music!
And I know a grove Of large extent, hard by a castle huge, Which the great lord inhabits not; and so This grove is wild with tangling underwood, And the trim walks are broken up, and grass, Thin grass, and king-cups, grow within the paths.
But never elsewhere in one place I knew
So many nightingales; and far and near,
In wood and thicket, over the wide grove,
They answer and provoke each other's songs
With skirmish and capricious passagings,
And murmurs musical and swift jug-jug,
And one low piping sound more sweet than all-
Stirring the air with such a harmony,
That should you close your eyes, you might almost
Forget it was not day! On moon-lit bushes,
Whose dewy leaflets are but half disclosed,
You may perchance behold them on the twigs,
Their bright, bright eyes, their eyes both bright and full,
Glistening, while many a glow-worm in the shade
Lights up her love-torch.
A most gentle Maid,
Who dwelleth in her hospitable home
Hard by the castle, and at latest eve
(Even like a lady vowed and dedicate
To something more than Nature in the grove)
Glides through the pathways; she knows all their notes,
That gentle Maid! and oft a moment's space,
What time the moon was lost behind a cloud,
Hath heard a pause of silence, till the moon,
Emerging, hath awakened earth and sky
With one sensation, and these wakeful birds
Have all burst forth in choral minstrelsy,
As if some sudden gale had swept at once
A hundred airy harps! And she hath watehed ::
Many a nightingale perched giddily
On blossomy twig still swinging from the breeze,
And to that motion tune his wanton song
Like tipsy joy that reels with tossing head.” COLERIDGE.
But the chorus of birds, the full harmony of the grove, is the great charm of a sunny spring-time. Old Drayton has made his rough verse musical with the ever-varied songs of the leafy Arden :