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The Cuckoo Y Gog


Source: Welsh Folk-lore

The cuckoo is a sacred bird. It is safe from the gamekeeper's gun. Its
advent is welcomed with pleasure. Have you heard the cuckoo? is a
question put by the fortunate person who first hears its notes to every
person he meets. When it is ascertained that the cuckoo has arrived,
parents give their children pence for luck, and they themselves take care
not to leave their houses with empty pockets, for should they do so,
those pockets, if the cuckoo is heard, will be empty all the year. Those
who hear the cuckoo for the first time thrust immediately their hand in
their pockets, and turn their money, or toss a piece into the air, and
all this is for luck for the coming year ushered in by the cheering sound
of the cuckoo's notes.

It is believed that the cuckoo is in our country for several days before
its welcome two notes are heard, and that the cause of its huskiness is,
that it is tired, and has not cleared its voice by sucking birds' eggs.

Generally the cuckoo is heard for the first time yearly about the same
place, and the hill tops not far from the abodes of man are its favourite
resort. Thus we have the ditty:--

Cynta' lle y can y cogydd,
Yw y fawnog ar y mynydd.

The place where first the cuckoo sings,
Is by the peat pits on the hills.

The cuckoo is supposed to be accompanied by the wry-neck, hence its name,
Gwas-y-gog, the cuckoo's servant. The wryneck was thought to build the
nest, and hatch and feed the young of the cuckoo.

Many superstitions cluster round the cuckoo; thus, should a person be in
doubt as to the way to take, when going from home, to secure success in
life, he, or she, waits for the cuckoo's return, and then should the bird
be heard for the first time, singing towards the east, as it flies, that
is the direction to take, or any other direction as the case may be; and
it is, or was, even thought that the flight of the cuckoo, singing as it
flies before a person, for the first time in the year, indicated a change
of abode for that person, and the new home lay in the direction in which
the cuckoo flew.

Should the cuckoo make its appearance before the leaves appear on the
hawthorn bush, it is a sign of a dry, barren year.

Os can y gog ar ddrain-llwyn llwm,
Gwerth dy geffyl a phryn dy bwn.

If the cuckoo sings on a hawthorn bare,
Sell thy horse, and thy pack prepare.

The Welsh words I heard at Llanuwchllyn, a good many years ago, just as
the cuckoo's voice was heard for the first time in those parts, and there
were then no leaves out on the hedgerows. I do not recollect whether the
prophecy became true, but it was an aged Welshman that made use of the
words. Another version of the same is heard in Llanwddyn parish:--

Os can y gog ar bincyn llwm,
Gwerth dy geffyl a phryn dy bwn.

If the cuckoo sings on a sprig that's bare,
Sell thy horse, and thy pack prepare.

The latter ditty suits a hilly country, and the former applies to the low
lands where there are hedgerows.

The early singing of the cuckoo implies a plentiful crop of hay, and this
belief is embodied in the following ditty:--

Mis cyn Clamme can y coge,
Mis cyn Awst y cana' inne.

That is:--

If the cuckoo sings a month before May-day,
I will sing a month before August.

Calan Mai, May-day, abbreviated to Clamme, according to the Old
Style, corresponds with our 12th of May, and the above saying means, that
there would be such an abundant hay harvest if the cuckoo sang a month
before May-day, that the farmer would himself sing for joy on the 12th of
July. It was the custom in the uplands of Wales to begin the hay harvest
on the 1st of July.

The above I heard in Montgomeryshire, and also the following:--

Mis cyn Clamme can y coge,
Mis cyn hynny tyf mriallu.

That is:--

If the cuckoo sings a month before May-day,

Primroses will grow a month before that time.

I do not know what this means, unless it implies that early primroses
foretell an early summer.

But, speaking of the song of the cuckoo, we have the following lines:--

Amser i ganu ydi Ebrill a Mai,
A hanner Mehefin, chwi wyddoch bob rhai.

This corresponds somewhat with the English:--

The cuckoo sings in April,
The cuckoo sings in May,
The cuckoo sings to the middle of June,
And then she flies away.

In Mochdre parish, Montgomeryshire, I was told the following:--

In May she sings all day,
In June she's out of tune.

The following Welsh lines show that the cuckoo will not sing when the hay
harvest begins:--

Pan welith hi gocyn,
Ni chanith hi gwcw.

When she sees a heap,
Silence she will keep.

In certain parts of Wales, such as Montgomeryshire, bordering on
Shropshire, it is thought that the cuckoo never sings after
Midsummer-day. This faith finds corroborative support in the following

The cuckoo sings in April,
The cuckoo sings in May,
The cuckoo sings in Midsummer,
But never on that day.

In Flintshire, in Hawarden parish, it is believed that she mates in June,
as shown by these words:--

The cuckoo comes in April,
The cuckoo sings in May,
The cuckoo mates in June,
And in July she flies away.

In Montgomeryshire I have often heard these lines:--

The cuckoo is a fine bird,
She sings as she flies,
She brings us good tidings,
And never tells us lies;
She sucks young birds' eggs,
To make her voice clear,
And the more she sings Cuckoo,
The summer is quite near.

The last two lines are varied thus:--

And then she sings, Cuckoo
Three months in every year.


And when she sings Cuckoo
The summer is near.

The cuckoo was credited with sucking birds' eggs, to make room for her
own, as well as to acquire a clear voice. Perhaps the rustic belief is
at fault here. The writer has seen a cuckoo rise from the ground with an
egg in her mouth, but he has seen it stated that the cuckoo always lays
her eggs on the ground, and carries them in her mouth until she discovers
a nest wherein to deposit them, and when she has done this her mother's
care is over.

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