TO THE CUCKOO

To The Cuckoo

About the poet:

William Wordsworth is well known for establishing a Romantic movement in the English world with the help of the famous poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the 18th century. The British romantic poet was born on 7th April 1770 in England. His mother died leaving him alone at the age of eight and this experience is seen in his later works. His love for poetry was firmly established after he attended Hawkshead Grammar School. His father too left the world leaving him and his four siblings orphaned. His tour of Europe had a great influence on his poetry and his political sensibilities. He fell in love with a French lady and had a daughter Caroline with her but he couldn’t marry her because of the tensions between England and France at that time.

His notable works include Lyrical Ballads, The prelude, An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches, and the love letters of William and Mary Wordsworth.

About the poem:

A quatrain consisting of eight stanzas, To the Cuckoo, is a lyrical pastoral poem with elaborate stanzaic formations. Hence, it can be called an ode to the Cuckoo bird. The poet has directly addressed this poem to the cuckoo and expresses his love, devotion, and yearning to visually glimpse the cuckoo throughout the poem. Here the writer addresses a cuckoo. The poet hears the cuckoo and is in awe and wonder on the off chance that it is something more than a winged animal. His marvel ascends from the memory of his youth when the cuckoo opens up the universe of creative energy to him. The cuckoo bird is an arranged image of innocence, gaiety, purity, and boyhood.

Stanza Wise explanation

O Blithe New-comer! I have heard,
I hear thee and rejoice.
O Cuckoo! Shall I call thee Bird,
Or but a wandering Voice?

Wordsworth welcomes the cuckoo bird with a sense of familiarity, as he says he has heard him before. Calling the cuckoo a “blithe” new-comers alludes to the fact that the cuckoo is free and is not subject to the restrictions of human life. The cuckoo is merry and free from all worldly worries. The first stanza itself sets the tone for the rest of the poem as the poet makes it clear that he is addressing the cuckoo. The cuckoo bird’s voice brings back joyous memories to the poet and thus, he rejoices. The third and the fourth line of the poem are suggestive of the idea that the poet has never actually seen the bird, and knows him only by his voice. He expresses this when he asks the cuckoo whether he should call him a bird or his identity will remain as that of a wandering voice. The third line can also be interpreted as Wordsworth wonders whether calling the cuckoo a bird encompasses his sentiments or if the cuckoo extends beyond his realms of comprehension.

While I am lying on the grass
Thy twofold shout I hear,
From hill to hill it seems to pass,
At once far off, and near.
Wordsworth is lying on the grass when he hears the cuckoo’s call. The effect of echoing has been spoken about in this stanza. The cuckoo’s voice echoes across hills and reaches the poet. This gives the impression of the voice being once close, then again far off. The fact that the poet is lying on the grass while hearing the cuckoo’s song gives the reader an idea of how close and deeply attached to nature the poet is. The wandering cuckoo’s song is everywhere and it submerges the entire milieu in its melody. The poet also reveals to the reader how he discovers that the voice is that of a cuckoo. The twofold shout that he hears is something that is exclusive to the cuckoo, hence the poet reaches his conclusion.

Though babbling only to the Vale,
Of Sunshine and of flowers,
Thou bringest unto me a tale
Of visionary hours.

 

Despite singing to the valley, talking about sunshine and flowers, the cuckoo bird’s voice brings back many memories to the poet. The cuckoo birds wander about in the valley that is brimming with flowers and sunshine, thus the bird’s songs too are an ode to these aspects of nature. But, to Wordsworth, these songs have a completely different relevance. They act as an element of nostalgia, transporting the poet to days of his past. He calls those times “visionary hours” as he cannot go back to them in person, and can only envision them from his memory. This indicates that the poet remembers the cuckoo from his childhood, which is alluded to in the first stanza when he says he has heard the cuckoo’s song before, and the cuckoo’s voice now acts as a catalyst in bringing back the poet’s memories of his childhood.

Thrice welcome, the darling of the Spring!
Even yet thou art to me
No bird, but an invisible thing,
A voice, a mystery;

 

The poet welcomes the cuckoo thrice, indicating his excitement and eagerness. The cuckoo is addressed as the darling of the spring he arrives with the genesis of spring, singing about valleys, flowers and other beauties of nature. This is where the poet clearly states that he has never seen the cuckoo in reality. He recognizes him by his voice. Thus, to the poet, the cuckoo is less of an actual living bird and more of a mysterious voice whom he wants to see. The bird has been visually hidden from the poet through all these years, yet his song strikes such emotions in him that the poet remembers the cuckoo bird by his voice.

The same whom in my school-boy days
I listened to; that Cry
Which made me look a thousand ways
In the bush, and tree, and sky.

 

In this stanza, the poet is transported to days of his childhood when he used to listen to the cry of the cuckoo and go a thousand ways to place the source of the voice. He left no possible place undiscovered, be it the bushes, the trees, or the sky. The tone of the poet is overtly nostalgic in these lines as he clearly expresses his unfulfilled desire to get a glimpse of the origin of the voice that he remembers from his boyhood. So desperate was the poet to locate the bird that he scourged all possible nooks and crannies in his endeavor to get visual satisfaction. The cuckoo’s voice had fascinated the poet and fired his need to locate the bird so that he could see for himself, the source of such melody.

To seek thee did I often rove
Through woods and on the green;
And thou were still a hope, a love;
Still longed for, never seen.

 

Wordsworth addresses the bird, telling him how much finding him means to him. The poet wandered constantly, looking for the bird in woods, anywhere, and everywhere. This is an indication of the poet’s dedication towards locating the source of the voice. Despite being unsuccessful in the past, the poet hasn’t given up and says that he still hopes to find the bird. Wordsworth has also confessed his love for the cuckoo bird. This is actually a good indicator of the attachment he had with the cuckoo’s voice as the fact that he has never seen the bird doesn’t deter him from loving the cuckoo. In the last line of the poem, the poet states that he still yearns to find the word and see for himself that there is more to the cuckoo than just his voice. The poet hasn’t lost hope yet and still wants to find his love.

And I can listen to thee yet;
Can lie upon the plain
And listen, till I do beget
That golden time again.

 

With this stanza, the poet again travels back to the present and says that he can still listen to the cuckoo, lying on the ground and produce memories of his childhood. This stanza is in actuality a whole sentence, and cannot be interpreted line wise. Wordsworth was a romantic poet, and by labeling his childhood as the “golden time” he confines this to his romantic genre of poetry. Like gold, he implies that his childhood was precious to him and that he wants to relive the moments of his schoolboy days by lying down on the grass and listening to the voice of the cuckoo. The poet is nostalgic and wants to conjure up memories of his childhood by relying on the cuckoo’s cry.

O blessed Bird! the earth we pace

Again appears to be
An unsubstantial, faery place;
That is fit home for Thee!

 

“Blessed” encompasses the poet’s love and devotion towards the cuckoo. Wordsworth calls the earth “unsubstantial”, that is an unrealistic place of fairies. This could be because the earth has mesmerizing elements of nature, like the sky, woods, rivers, valleys, but at the same time is plagued by restrictions of industrial life which curbs the freedom of an individual. A place with such enchanting contradictions is a place that is fit for the cuckoo. The use of the term “again” alludes to the fact that with the arrival of the cuckoo, the earth takes on such a guise. He poet could also be saying that the earth, that is so versatile, is the perfect dwelling for the cuckoo as he too is full of contradictions. He stirs visions from the poet’s childhood and makes him nostalgic, but is himself never to be seen.

Critical analysis
The poet laureate who launched the romantic age in Britain with themes of nature in his poetry, William Wordsworth’s To the Cuckoo is a classic example of his style of poetry. Consisting of 8 quatrains, this poem is directly addressed to the cuckoo bird. The poet’s tone throughout the poem is reverential and nostalgic. To the cuckoo begins in a very conventional manner, with the poet welcoming the bird, calling him a “blithe new-comer”, hence projecting an image of a carefree, merry bird who is disconnected from the restraints of the human materialistic life, and who revels in his freedom. The poet is happy on seeing the bird, but calls the bird “wandering voice” as he has only heard his voice, but never seen the cuckoo in person. The poet then begins narrating how he came across the cuckoo’s song, while he was lying on the grass. He recognizes the bird by his distinguishable twofold cry which echoes across hills and valleys, submerging the poet in his voice. In the third stanza, the poet confesses how the bird’s songs about flowers and valleys actually transport him to his childhood days and acts as a catalyst in bringing back memories of his past. Then the poet moves on to clearly state that in actuality he has never seen the bird, but has only heard his voice. The cuckoo remains a mystery to the poet. Continuing with the nostalgic tones, the poet narrates how in his school days he used to desperately search for the cuckoo in every possible haunt, be it bushes or trees or the sky. The cuckoo’s melody enthralled the poet and awakened within him a desire to find the source of this enchantment. Wordsworth used to wander aimlessly in search of the cuckoo because he wanted to see his object of devotion with his own eyes. In this stanza itself, the poet declares his love for the cuckoo and gives the reader an insight as to what the bird truly meant to him and how he still hopes and yearns to see the bird. Even though a lot of time has passed since his boyhood, he hasn’t given up and believes that he will succeed in locating his cuckoo bird. The poet travels back to the present with the seventh stanza as he informs the cuckoo bird that he still listens to his voice while lying down on the grass. Using the cuckoo’s voice as a porthole, the poet travels back to the golden days of his childhood. Referring to his childhood as golden, the poet explains how precious his past memories are to him. In the final stanza, the poet States the two contradictory pictures of the earth, as a place filled with restrictions of materialistic life and as a place that is brimming with mystical wonders of nature. Such a versatile place is fit for the cuckoo’s dwelling as it too is mysterious, having such a voice, yet hidden from the poet’s view. Wordsworth’s to the cuckoo is an ode to the mysterious nature of the cuckoo bird, and at the same time, it celebrates the beauty of nature. Wordsworth lives up to his reputation of being a romantic poet as he refers to the days of his childhood as “golden” and “visionary”. Directly addressed to the cuckoo, this poem has undertones of a reference to time as like the bird, its presence can be felt, but it is intangible and beyond the periphery of human vision.

Conclusion:

Written by William Wordsworth, To the Cuckoo captures Wordsworth’s love for nature and all the accompanying elements of nature. This is a lyrical pastoral poem that is an ode to the cuckoo bird. The poet describes the significance of the voice of the cuckoo bird in his life. His poem focuses on how the cuckoo bird in spring, a season that welcomes happiness and vitality, enters his life and takes him on a trip down the memory lane of golden times. The poet’s tone is merry and light. Wordsworth also uses imagery and other literary devices to convey the immortality and visionary gleam he feels when he hears the cuckoo.