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Birdsong, Brassica said,  It’s so lovely to hear the wildlife out and about,

making their nests.  I could have sworn that I heard a cuckoo when I was

out walking Andy with Castor and Pollux at the weekend.

(The dog has the more sensible name.  Mythology only affected her

twins.  Badly, some might say, as their nicknames at school are Bastard

and Bollocks!)

People were always competitive to report the first time a cuckoo was heard in

a given year, I remarked.  I saw a posting on YouTube which demonstrated a

very early instance on the first of March this year.

Isn’t there a piece of music about skylarks which was voted the most

popular choice for the nation’s Desert Island Discs? mused Brassie,

nibbling a watercress scone.

Yes, The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams, I informed her.  But I

once sang a lot of Delius under the baton of Richard Hickox and it stirred

my interest in the latter composer.  Of course, he was not the only

musician interested in birdsong.  Messiaen was the one who most obviously

springs to mind, with his precise references to garden warblers, orchard

orioles and laughing thrushes.

Wasn’t he the one who was able to have his work performed in Stalag

VIII-A camp, near Dresden?  Brassie asked.

Yes, under the auspices of a sympathetic guard.  But we were talking of

Delius, I reminded her.  I was so surprised to learn that he had been born

in Bradford.

A lot of people are, Brassie munched on.

She is incredibly fatuous at times!

Anyway, when I heard a cuckoo the other day, it reminded me that I


written a poem about one, said Brassie laughing and showing that she

is fairly perceptive after all.  E-mail it to me later tonight if you want. 

I haven’t read one of your poetic compositions for a while.

Okay, I promised. I had the idea when I was walking by The River Test

one day a few years ago.  Just to let you know: his wife was called Jelka.

My Lit Theory teacher, the great Philip Hobsbaum, would have challenged

that the poem should be clear in its meaning without notes, Brassie


Thomas Stearns Eliot by Lady Ottoline Morrell (1934).jpg

Well, that writes off T S Eliot then, I countered.  So, I will just have to be of

the devil’s party!

On Hearing My First Cuckoo in Spring


Two notes transported me to Picardy,

for this birdcall, with its insistency

was a clarinet conceptualised

by a syphilitic man, who, near-blind,

was propped in his wheelchair in Grez-sur-Loing.

His Gaugin Nevermore had then been sold;

Grieg’s Scandinavian scenery mere

pointilliste impressions.  Now sound was all-

the lapping of the river at the end

of his garden; his giggle at the church

when he broke out at his confirmation;

the rhythms of his poet friend, Verlaine;

those Negro spirituals he’d overheard

through the cigarillo smoke in Solano,

when the grove could have been a kind of grave;

Grainger’s laugh; Heseltine’s accusation;

Fenby’s chords; a populous city’s noise;

the barking of the dachshund he once gave

to a favourite sister those years ago;

the rustle of his father’s Yorkshire Post:

(I see that Fritz has given a concert);

the sound of spiteful stones smashing shutters

and soldiers’ boots searching out their wine hoard.

In the New Year they made his cuckoo sing,

but by Autumn it sang over his plot,

laurel-lined in Lingfield.  Jelka heard it,

tumour-riddled, from the nursing home.

That day they sent her a boxed-set greeting

on a gramophone recording, but found

she’d already heard it; flown to meet him.

Now as I walk along this river bank,

the trite threnody does not interrupt

the inexorable ongoing flow

of Life itself.  This is what makes us rapt:

what Delius sensed, and helped us to know-

that two notes must not usurp the whole scale.