Folk songs

The Poet and the Cuckoo


O little grey–blue cuckoo, where have you been so long,
So long without returning?
You have been silent.
So long without returning?
You have been silent.

O, don't misunderstand [me] now and have foolish thoughts,
It was the cold wind from the north that held me back.
It was the cold wind from the north that held me back.

April and May are my singing time,
And half June, as you all know.
And half June, as you all know.

Farewell to you this year, farewell to you all,
Before I return thousands will be lost.
Before I return thousands will be lost.

Many a young girl will hang her head
Before I return to sing in the tree.
Before I return to sing in the tree.

SFNHM Tape 820. Collected from 7.10.64 from William Jones (blacksmith, b. 1906), Gladstone, Aberdaron, Caernarvonshire.


The cuckoo features frequently in the large number of Welsh songs in which birds are addressed. 'Y Bardd a'r Gwcw' was written by Daniel Jones (1777?-–859), a mole–catcher who lived at 'Sgubor on the land of Castellhywel, near the main Llandysul–Lampeter road in Cardiganshire. In the text as published above, the poet enquires why the cuckoo is so late in arriving, and the bird, having blamed the cold northernly wind, promptly bids farewell once more, with the reflection that many will have died before its next visit. A lengthy middle section is missing here but the homely dialogue of the complete original can ^be seen in W. J. Davies, Hanes Plwyf Llandyssul (The History of the Parish of Llandysul. 1896), 267–8, or JWFSS, i; 205–6. Local allusion pertaining to southern Cardiganshire is prominent in the additional stanzas and this was one of several reasons which argued against dovetailing the Aberdaron example into the complete text for publication in the present volume.

As expected, perhaps, 'Y Bardd a'r Gwcw' has been especially popular in south–west Wales, but (with the middle section omitted, apparently) it wandered into north Wales also. In oral tradition it has often become interwoven with the text of another very similar song, 'Y Gog Lwydlas' ('The Grey Cuckoo'), and such is the case with the version recorded at Aberdaron. Cf. the tune in the present volume with variants previously published in JWFSS, i, 725, 205, and iv, 93.

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