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Featured Poem: To the Cuckoo by William Wordsworth

Written by Lisa Spurgin, 25th March 2019


The Reader's Head of Publications, Amanda Brown, shares her thoughts on this week's Featured Poem, To the Cuckoo by William Wordsworth.

I always smile when I hear a cuckoo - I wonder why that is.  I love the way this poem starts with the old-fashioned word 'blithe,' (which reminds me of the end of the nursery rhyme about birthdays on different days of the week: 'But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day, is bonny and blithe and good and gay.'). Is there anything which stands out for you in the first verse? I am very struck by the thought expressed in this first verse of the person listening to the cuckoo:

O Cuckoo! shall I call thee Bird,
Or but a wandering Voice?

Why 'wandering voice,' I wonder?

There's something about the second verse which makes me feel like I'm the one lying in the grass listening to the cuckoo.  What's a 'twofold shout'?  I guess the bit I most want to discuss are the lines at the heart of the poem, in the third verse:

Thou bringest unto me a tale
Of visionary hours.

I'm so intrigued by this and long to know what others think about it.  Why do you think the cuckoo would affect the listener in this way? Would it have the same effect on you? What do you make of the phrase 'visionary hours?'

When I first read the fourth verse, I thought it was just an affectionate welcome to the cuckoo, but reading it again, I think there's more here - what do you think?  Why 'thrice welcome?' And in what sense 'a mystery?'

In the fifth and sixth verse, I really like the things he says about 'my schoolboy days.'  What sort of boy do you think he was? What do you make of the phrase 'beget that golden time again' in verse seven? I loved this phrase - set me thinking about my own 'golden time' and the way little things can, sometimes unexpectedly, trigger memories.  And the last verse!  Talk about saving the best ‘til last!  What do you make of this?

I hope you enjoy reading this spring-filled poem as much as I have.

To the Cuckoo

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

O blessèd Bird! the earth we pace
Again appears to be
An unsubstantial, faery place;
That is fit home for Thee!

by William Wordsworth

Would you like the opportunity to read this or other poems in a Shared Reading group?

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