1775
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

On first hearing the Cuckoo.

Town and Country Magazine 7 (July 1775) 382.

Edward Williams


A descriptive ode in nine octosyllabic Spenserians signed "E. W." The songbirds are emblematic of the lyric muse: "How sweetly swells the blackbird's note! | Sweet sing the woodlarks in the grove; | Hark how the linnet's tuneful throat | Warbles the melting strains of love! | But faintly strive the pinion'd choir, | Till the sweet Cuckoo strings the vernal lyre." The Welsh bard Edward Williams was working as a journey-mason in Kent at the time this early poem was published. While he may not have known Spenser at this time, the theme of mutability and the sententious moral are in accord with Spenserian verse. The poem was re-written in ten stanzas for Poems Lyrical and Pastoral (1794).

Edward Williams: "This piece was printed in the Town and Country Magazine, for July, 1775. It is here considerably altered; but the sentiments are still the same, and in the same arrangement. A piece on the same subject appeared in a small volume of Poems that was published about seven or eight years after; where the similarity appears so striking, that one of these Poems cannot well be considered but as a studied imitation of the other; how far this can be supposed to be incidental, must be left to the public imagination" Poems Lyrical and Pastoral (1794) 1:53n.

Elijah Waring: "I have heard the Bard speak of conversations with that truly great man Dr. Benjamin Franklin, also with Dr. Aikin, Bishop Percy, Mrs. Barbauld, Francis Douce, Horne Tooke, and others of distinguished name, not so distinctly remembered. The ingenious Lord Stanhope was fond of talking with him, and consulted him on some of his lordship's mechanical inventions. Those who were intimate with 'Old Iolo,' must have heard him repeat incidents connected with these and other eminent persons, whom he knew during his sojourn in London: and those who knew him not, can require no better evidence of his merits, than the attraction and cohesion they produced between him and such characters — between the finished scholars of an English University, and the self-taught mechanic of an obscure Welsh village, who had far too much honest pride, for any tendency to obtrude himself upon people, whose comparatively elevated station might lead them to look down upon him as an inferior" Edward Williams (1850) 50-51.

Another song-bird poem by Williams, "To the Nightingale," was published in the Scots Magazine 54 (June 1792) 295.



Hail, lovely harbinger of spring,
Sweet herald of the blooming May,
O! how I'm charm'd to hear thee sing,
Dear songster of the flow'ry spray;
Nature enraptur'd hears thy voice,
The groves are charm'd, the smiling vales rejoice.

Thine is the season of delight,
Thy notes revive the wak'ning flow'rs,
Thy ever charming songs invite,
Ere May leads on the smiling hours;
Joy ne'er salutes the youthful year,
Till in thy train the sportive loves appear.

Gay are the flow'r-enamell'd vales;
What verdant foliage decks the green!
Sweet odours wing the balmy gales;
Love's smiles adorn the charming scene;
Now hoary winter sculks away,
And yields the sceptre to the lovely May.

How sweetly swells the blackbird's note!
Sweet sing the woodlarks in the grove;
Hark how the linnet's tuneful throat
Warbles the melting strains of love!
But faintly strive the pinion'd choir,
Till the sweet Cuckoo strings the vernal lyre.

Say, lovely guest, oh! wilt thou stay!
Nor leave Britannia's favour'd isle,
So shall each joyful month be May,
Our landscapes wear the eternal smile:
Gladness still hail the new-born day,
And love shall bear an universal sway.

Ah! no, ere long thy pleasing note
No more shall make the groves resound;
No more the Cuckoo strain her throat,
And flow'rs shall cease to deck the ground;
Joy shall forsake the verdant lawn,
And mournful larks forget to hail the dawn.

These charming sweets will shortly fade,
Bright summer must resign her crown,
Winter will soon these scenes invade,
Will soon resume its wonted frown:
(Ah! gloomy scene) the tempests roar,
And warbling songsters charm the groves no more.

Attend, fond youth! the lesson's thine,
Thus fly thy gay, thy heedless hours;
Alas! thy bloom must soon decline,
And wither like the vernal flow'rs;
Thy May will shortly disappear,
And age will strew thy hoary paths with care.

Let me employ the present hour,
In works of sweet benevolence,
So may I hail that heav'nly pow'r,
That Angel sent to call me hence:
My raptur'd soul shall wing its way,
To those blest climes where ev'ry month is May.

[p. 382]