Sing cuckóu, nou! Sing cuckóu!

This is as much a song as a poem. It comes from the mid-13th century, and is usually know either as the Cuckoo Song, or as Summer is i-comen in. It is still performed today by folk singers and the like

Sing cuckóu, nou! Sing cuckóu!
Sing cuckóu! Sing cuckóu nou!

Somer is y-comen in,
Loudë sing, cuckóu!
Growëth sed and blowëth med
And springth the wodë nou
Sing cuckóu!

Ewë bletëth after lamb,
Lowth after cálve cóu;
Bullok stertëth, bukkë vertëth,
Merye sing, cuckóu!
Cuckóu, cuckóu,

Wél singést thou, cuckóu,
Ne swik thou never nou!

From <;

The poem celebrates the arrival of summer by exhorting the cuckoo to sing and sing loud. Other lines of the poem call attention to growth of plants and trees, sheep with their lambs, cows with their calves, the bullock rampant – and all the time the cuckoo sings merrily.

On this You Tube you can hear it being sung

The Poetry Dude


Ya toda me entregué y di,

Santa Teresa de Avila was writing poetry at the same time and of the same type as San Juan de la Cruz – poems of strong transcendent faith, sometimes mystical and sometimes, like in this poem, directly following the style and content of a secular love poem. The impact of a religious poem was clearly greater if it could adopt the language of great love poetry.

I do not know what the title refers to, perhaps some words from the Bible or another well-known religious text perhaps?

Sobre aquellas palabras “Dilectus “meus mihi”
Santa Teresa de Ávila

Ya toda me entregué y di,
y de tal suerte he trocado,
que es mi Amado para mí,
y yo soy para mi Amado.

Cuando el dulce Cazador
me tiró y dejó rendida,
en los brazos del amor
mi alma quedó caída,
y cobrando nueva vida
de tal manera he trocado,
que es mi Amado para mí,
y yo soy para mi Amado.

Hiriome con una flecha
enherbolada de amor,
y mi alma quedó hecha
una con su Criador;
ya yo no quiero otro amor,
pues a mi Dios me he entregado,
y mi Amado es para mí,
y yo soy para mi amado.

From <;

Looking at the poem on the page, it seems to have two and a half stanzas, with the half-stanza kicking things off, and introducing the theme which will be repeated n the following two complete stanzas, “es mi Amado para mi, y yo soy para mi Amado” – my Lover is for me and I am for my Lover. This could be a strong declaration of physical love, but in the hands of this poet, it is a statement of mystical union between the poet and God.

The second stanza introduces Cupid as the “dulce Cazador:, the gentle hunter sending his arrow to make the poet fall in love. Again this image could be taken from almost any secular love poem of the period.

But the third stanza removes all ambiguity about the nature of this love. Cupid’s arrow has made her one with her Creator – she wants no other love because she is dedicating her life and her self to God. The final repetition of the theme reinforces the declaration of love, somehow reinforced now that it has made clear without a doubt that it is divine love.

The lines are short, the language is clear and simple, clearly intellectual wordplay was not the intent here, but simple expression of love and religious fervour.

The Poetry Dude

`Lily of the Valley (Convalaria Majalis, fam. Lilliaceae). Grows wild in N. England. Commonly cultivated.

In this poem, Adrian Henri, the poet of Liverpool, goes out into the country and reveals the beauty and the dark side of the country and by analogy the wonder and despair of love. It is a Country Song in contrast to his urban poems, but there is still a subtle reference to Liverpool itself

Country Song
`Lily of the Valley (Convalaria Majalis, fam. Lilliaceae). Grows wild in N. England. Commonly cultivated. Flowers in May. Berries red when ripe. Leaves particularly poisonous because three constituents depress the heart, like Foxglove.’

What are the constituents that depress the heart?
the scent of lilies in dark green silences under trees
milkweed and ragwort and sunshine in hedges
small flowers picked amongst trees when it’s raining

A year ago
You planted lilies in the valley of my mind
There were lilies at the bottom of my garden
And ferrys at the bottom of my street

I sit here in sunlight with the smell of wild garlic
Trying to tape record the sound of windflowers and

What are the three constituents that depress the heart
Without you here in the country?

Adrian Henri
From <;

The poem begins with a definition. It is Lily of the Valley and most people probably immediately leap to consideration of its beautiful colour and scent. But the defiinition then goes in a different direction, it is not the beauty of the colour or the sweetness of the cent, but the poison that comes from the leaves which can cause the heart to stop.

The poem then becomes versified with the stanza beginning “What are the constituents that depress the heart?”, perhaps already linking the plant’s actual effects with the danger of disappointed love. There follow three lines of bucolic musing around the calm and beauty of a country scene with hedges and wild flowers.

The next stanza directly brings in the personal experience of a love affair – the poet’s lover planted lilies in his mind a year ago – to captivate him or to poison him, that is the question raised by what has gone before. The ferries at the bottom of the street here are presumably the Mersey ferries sailing between the Pier Head and Birkenhead (I’ve taken those many a time to cross the River Mersey).

The final two stanzas are wistful and regretful – the poet Is trying to tape record the sound of wild flowers – a futile exercise, perhaps like love itself; and he is wondering how his love has failed, what are the constituents o fthe loly of the valley which have stopped his heart, now that the lover has left the country.

The Poetry Dude

‘Jack fell as he’d have wished,’ the mother said,

Siegrfried Sassoon’s World War 1 poems sometimes point out the horror and suffering of war, sometimes its futility and sometimes its pathetic absurdity. This poem is in the third category, with the title “The Hero” completely ironic, following the wishful thinking of society in categorizing all who fought, were wounded or killed in the war as heroes, irrespective of whether they took part willingly and irrespective of the manner of their injury or death. Regrettably, this attitude still prevails today when the slightest hint of calling into question the contribution and conduct of members of the military is immediately stigmatised as unpatriotic.
The poem describes the scene when the mother of the soldier, Jack, receives the news that her son has been killed in the war. The story is told simply, increasing its effectiveness in conveying the huge divide between self-deception and reality.


The Hero

‘Jack fell as he’d have wished,’ the mother said,
And folded up the letter that she’d read.
‘The Colonel writes so nicely.’ Something broke
In the tired voice that quavered to a choke.
She half looked up. ‘We mothers are so proud
Of our dead soldiers.’ Then her face was bowed.

Quietly the Brother Officer went out.
He’d told the poor old dear some gallant lies
That she would nourish all her days, no doubt
For while he coughed and mumbled, her weak eyes
Had shone with gentle triumph, brimmed with joy,
Because he’d been so brave, her glorious boy.

He thought how ‘Jack’, cold-footed, useless swine,
Had panicked down the trench that night the mine
Went up at Wicked Corner; how he’d tried
To get sent home, and how, at last, he died,
Blown to small bits. And no one seemed to care
Except that lonely woman with white hair.
Siegfried Sassoon

From <;

The first stanza describes the reaction of Jack’s mother on hearing the news. It is full of genteel respectability, imagining her son has died a noble and worthwhile death, grateful for the attention of a letter from his
Colonel, convincing herself that she is proud of her son. That is too often what people do in the face of such news, they find comfort in acceptance and admiration rather than let their hurt and anger come forth.

The second stanza reveals that the Office who brought the news knows that it is all deception, empty words which must be said so as not to confront the realities of death in war and so as not to provoke a questioning of the whole enterprise.

And then the third stanza reveals the actual truth about the death of Jack – killed in a panic while trying to get out of the way of the conflict, to get sent home, to avoid the mine that killed him. In the game of survival he lost, and everybody will convince themselves that he was a hero. Sassoon knew that being a hero was irrelevant, only death counted.

The Poetry Dude

Tras de un amoroso lance

San Juan de la Cruz, was probably the most consistently mystical poet of the Caholic priest-poets of the 16th century (compared, say, to Fray Luis de Leon) and this poem provides a great example of the transcendent power of faith experienced by the poet. The experience described is relentlessly uplifting as the poet pursues his faith ever higher.

The lover’s challenge (amoroso lance) which the poet pursues throughout this poem is of course his love of God. There is little ambiguity here..

Tras de un amoroso lance
y no de esperança falto
volé tan alto tan alto
que le di a la caça alcance.

Para que yo alcance diesse
a aqueste lance divino
tanto bolar me convino
que de vista me perdiesse
y con todo en este trance
en el buelo quedé falto
mas el amor fue tan alto
que le di a la caça alcance.

Quanto más alto suvía
deslumbróseme la vista
y la más fuerte conquista
en escuro se hazía
mas, por ser de amor el lance
di un ciego y oscuro salto
y fuy tan alto tan alto
que le di a la caça alcance.

Cuanto más alto llegava
de este lance tan subido
tanto más baxo y rendido
y abatido me hallava
dixe: No abrá quien alcance.
Abatíme tanto tanto
que fuy tan alto tan alto
que le di a la caça alcance.

Por una estraña manera
mil buelos pasé de un buelo
porque esperança de cielo
tanto alcança quanto espera
esperé solo este lance
y en esperar no fuy falto
pues fuy tan alto tan alto,
que le di a la caça alcance.

From <;

The poem has a four line introduction to present the theme, and then four stanzas of eight lines each to develop it. The theme is of the poet pursuing his lover’s challenge ever higher, full of hope. Hs faith and love lifts him higher and higher throughout the poem, there is a recurring series of images of flight and elevation, interrupted sometimes by doubt and darkness. But it is the power of love and faith which dominates as the poet soars higher and higher, driven on by his faith and love of God which keep him rising up to an elevated plane. The poet is totally absorbed in the heavens, in his faith and there is no place here for the mundane or the earthly.

The Poetry Dude

Miss Nancy Ellicott

Today we have a short and relatively uncomplicated poem by TS Eliot, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek poetic portrayal of his Cousin Nancy. It sounds like it was written in the first quarter of the 20th century when women were breaking out of domesticity, campaigning for the vote and beginning to live independent lives of work and leisure. The reaction from men in positions of power and influence could be resistance, ridicule, vague amusement or support. I think this poem puts Eliot in the vague amusement category, which is really just as demeaning to women as outright opposition.

Cousin Nancy

Miss Nancy Ellicott
Strode across the hills and broke them,
Rode across the hills and broke them —
The barren New England hills —
Riding to hounds
Over the cow-pasture.
Miss Nancy Ellicott smoked
And danced all the modern dances;
And her aunts were not quite sure how they felt about it,
But they knew that it was modern.
Upon the glazen shelves kept watch
Matthew and Waldo, guardians of the faith,
The army of unalterable law.

From <;

Cousin Nancy is portrayed as a modern woman, full of energy and resolve, striding across the hills without regard to people’s opinion. She rides in foxhunts, probably not sitting side-saddle; she smokes and dances, which causes her more traditional aunts to raise their eyebrows.

I’m not sure what is meant by the references to Matthew and Waldo at the end of the poem, presumably they might be some iconic representations of traditionalism, put there to remind cousin Nancy that a woman’s place is in the home.

I wander if Nancy appreciated the poem?

The Poetry Dude

Detente, sombra de mi bien esquivo,

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, everyone’s favourite late Golden Age Mexican female poet, (ask your friends and neighbours), here writes a love sonnet in the style of the times, full of paradox and wordplay. Inventiveness and playfulness were much prized and mostly carry the poems of this period rather than intensity of feeling and expression.

The poem is about love in the shadows, perhaps real, perhaps just a fantasy. Is there an actual lover, or is this all in the poet’s mind? The reader must decide … or not.


Detente, sombra de mi bien esquivo,
imagen del hechizo que más quiero,
bella ilusión por quien alegre muero,
dulce ficción por quien penosa vivo.

Si al imán de tus gracias, atractivo,
sirve mi pecho de obediente acero,
¿para qué me enamoras lisonjero
si has de burlarme luego fugitivo?

Mas blasonar no puedes, satisfecho,
de que triunfa de mí tu tiranía:
que aunque dejas burlado el lazo estrecho

que tu forma fantástica ceñía,
poco importa burlar brazos y pecho
si te labra prisión mi fantasía.

From <;

The first four lines evoke the shadow of the poet’s lover, is it real or not, she refers to it as illusion and fiction, but the effect on the poet is real, she is dying from love. Here is the paradox and verbal trickery beloved of Baroque poets.

The second four lines put the poet as an unwilling participant in this game – she is the metal while her lover is the magnet – but then why has he made her fall in love with him if he is to remain elusive.

The final six lines turn the table somewhat – he cannot proclaim his triumph in love if it is the poet’s own fantasy which is pulling the strings.

This is playful and inventive verse – the object is to create surprise and admiration for the success of the paradox, not to move with emotion – and I think Sor Juana succeeds quite well.

The Poetry Dude