Where the Forest Murmers 
Vol VI,  by Fiona Macleod

The Cuckoo's Silence

There is silence now in the woods. That spirit of the south wind, that phantom voice of the green tides of May, has passed: that which was a wandering dream is become a haunting memory. Whence is the cuckoo come, whither does the cuckoo go? When our leaves grow russet and the fern clothes herself in bronze and pale gold, what land hears that thrilling call in ancient groves, or above old unvisited forests, or where and declivities plunge into the gathering sands of the desert? Whither is gone Sinlinda, the summer bird, as the Esthonians call her: she who has been a voice in the far Orkneys (a daughter, it may be, of that cuckoo-queen who bore Modred to King Arthur, Modred the Pict who afterward wrought so great evil upon Arthur and his knights), or cried the sighing of vain love above the hills of the Gael, or in Sweden swung on the north wind as the sorg-gk, uttering "sorrow," or floated out of the east as the trste-gk, calling "consolation"? When Finland loses her, and the Baltic peasant no more counts with dread the broken cries, and she has passed from the Irish valleys, so that men and women are safe for another year from the wildness of wild love, whither is she gone? Like a dream her voice fades from Broceliande, is heard no more by Fontarabia, has no echo in the wood of Vallombrosa. In the last reaches of the Danube she no longer mocks love; above the Siberian steppe the exile no more hears her ironic Go! Go! from the dim Campagna she is lifted into silence, sospir d'amore: she is not heard across the waters of Corinth from that fallen temple where Zeus took her form upon him, nor is the shadow of her wings in that wild mountain-valley of Mykenai, where Agamemnon and Klytaimnestra sleep, where once the marble statue of divine Hera stood bearing on a sceptre her perilous image. Where, then, is she gone, she who from the dim Asian valleys to the Aztec wilderness, from one world to another, is the mysterious voice of wandering love; she who is, in one place, to be hailed with hymns of gladness, in another to be hearkened to with bowed head or averted eyes? For thus it is, even to-day, among the ancient remnant in Mexico and the Californian wilds, who hear with terror that foreboding flute-like voice calling out of the unseen world: thus it was in the Himalayan solitudes of old when the Sanskrit villagers hailed the cuckoo as a divine tnessenger, Kakila, the bird who knows all things, not only what has happened, but what shall happen.
She has troubled many minds, this wanderer. It could not be otherwise. What mysterious music, this, when through the grey lands of the north the south wind went laughing on a vast illimitable surge of green and foam of blossom? One morning, when the missel-thrush was silent and even the skylarks sank through the hazy stillness, a far cry would be heard, a sound from the unknown, a bell out of heaven. It would float bodiless through the blue air, or call softly like an imprisoned echo in the coverts of grey cloud. Then those who heard would know that Summer had ceased from wearing her robe of white and green and yellow, and with sun-browned hands was gathering roses for her May garland, her June coronal. The bird of love is come. The sighing heart, the beating pulse, know it. She is come, voice out of the sea, voice across waters, Aphrodit of sound. Long, long ago this voice, this dimremembered myth, was transmuted into Orpheus in the south, into Lemminkainen by the singers of the Kalevala, into Sigurd across the Scandinavian fjords, into Kukkolind along the Esthonian wastes into Cuchulaind among the Irish hills, into Coohoolin beside the foam of the Hebrides. My old nurse had a Gaelic song I have forgotten, all save its refrain, which was

"G-G, G-G,
A cuisilin a-ghridh,
Cuishlin mo-chrdhe!"

"Cuckoo! Cuckoo!
O Pulse of love,
Pulse of my heart!"

In the first movement of the oran the singer called to the cuckoo to come, "Blue-bird of love." Why "blue-bird" I am unaware, though among the Finns and Esths "blue-bird" is a poetic analogue for the cuckoo. In the second lift of the oran, the singer cried, "It is come, it is come, bird of love, bird of joy." In the third fall the singer crooned, "It is gone, bird of sorrow, bird of foam, bird of the grey wind." And after each the swift and passionate or long, melancholy, and sorrowful refrain

"G-G, G-G,
A cuisilin a-ghridh,
Cuishlin mo-chrdhe!"

"The returning one" the cuckoo is called in an old saga. It is the ancient mystery, Love, the son of Earth: the wildwood brother of him, that other Love, who puts aside the green branches of home to long for the shining stars, whose sighs unappeased by white breasts and dreams of one beautiful and faroff, made of the wandering rainbow, of the dew, of the fragrance of flowers. The one comes with the green wind. and goes with the grey wind: the other puts on blindness as divine vision, and deafness as a sacred veil, and wooes Psyche.
All old primitive tales know the advent of this mysterious bird. Was not, as I have said, the divine Hera herself wooed thus by Zeus? In that ancient Heraion, in the heart of the Peloponnesos which Pausanias saw, he tells us of a statue of the goddess whose sceptre bore the image of this spring-born voice of eternal love and eternal illusion. The people loved it not, for in their eyes the story covered an evil thing: but the priests bowed before an ancient mystery, and the poets smiled, and the musicians paused and wondered and struck a new vibrant note. In every country there are oldtime tales of the cuckoo with the attributes of a god, or demigod, or at least of magic and illusion. When, in the great Northern saga, Ilmarinen, the son of Wondersmith and the Air, goes north to woo the snow-bound princess . . . what but another lovely metaphor of Spring calling to the North to cover herself with the snow blossom of betrothal and the.roses and honeysuckles of procreant love . . . he orders thus the outbringing of his sleigh:

"Take the fleetest of my racers,
Put the grey steed in the harness,
Hitch him to my sledge of magic:
Place six cuckoos on the break-board,
Seven blue-birds on the crossbow,
Thus to charm the northland maidens,
Thus to make them look and listen
As the cuckoos call and echo."

The wind, that grey steed, fleetest of racers, the calling of cuckoos, the northland maidens charmed to silence among awakening fields or amid the first green stirring of grass-blades and pointed leaf: is not Ilmarinen, son of Wondersmith and the Air, the veritable cuckoo-god?
If ever the cuckoo-myth find its historian one will learn how widespread and basic it is. We follow it from Orpheus himself to the myth of Saturn and Rhea, to that of Faunus and Fauna, to Siegfried in the north, to Cuchulain in the west---for the famous hero of the Gaels is, for all the bardic legends as to Setanta being Cu-chulain, the hound of Culain, as unmistakably a cuckoo-god as his Finnish or Esthonian namesake, Kukkolind. The base of all is the divine inspiration, the mysterious wandering Breath, the incalculable Word, "the heroic cuckoo," who awakens the green world, the world of blossom and leaf and the songs of birds and the sap in the trees and the mounting warmth in the blood, who, as the chroniclers say, "rouses the enchanted maid of spring from her long sleep." Of all these, whether it be Faunus, or Kullervo, or Kalevipoeg, or the Son of Mananan, or Cuchulain, the same thing may be said: they are bringers of Spring, champions of the sun, rhapsodes of the immemorial ecstasy, bacchids of the ancient intoxication.
One of the loveliest of these mythopoeic dreams I heard first, at the break of June, years ago, at Strachur of Loch Fyne, in a season of cloudless blue by day and mellow amber by night, and when in the long-delaying dusk the voices of many cuckoos floated across the narrow loch from the shadowy woods of Claondiri. It was of Manan, the son of that ancient Manan the Gaelic Poseidon; and how he went to the north to woo his beautiful sister, and strew her way with the petals of wild-rose, and fill her ears with the songs of birds, and the sighing of waters, and the longing of the wind of the west. But that I have told, and am more fully telling, elsewhere. Two summers ago, on'the Sound of Morven, I was told a fragmentary legend of Conlay (Connleach), the son of Cuchulain, when a youth in Skye, and how he went to Ireland and, all unwitting, fought to the death with his father---as in the Greek tale of Oidipus, as in the Persian tale of Sohrab: and, unknowing relevancy or keeping to the ancestral word, the teller emphasised this old myth-tale of the cuckoo that knows not and is not known by its own offspring, by adding: "Aye, it was a meeting of cuckoos, that: father and son, the one not knowing the other any more than a cuckoo on the wind knows father or mother, brother or sister."
Of all the cuckoo-tales there is none lovelier than that told of our Gaelic hero in   "The Wooing of Blathmaid." This sleeping queen or lost princess, whose name signifies "Blossom," lives on a remote island. With the Gaelic teller this island will be the Isle of Man, home of Mananan, that ancient god whose cold bands grope blindly along the shores of the world: with the Swede or Finn or Esth it will be that other city set among cold forgotten waters, that other Mana. Cuchulain loves Blathmaid, and their wooing is so sweet that fragrance comes into flowers, and birds break into song. The voice of Cuchulain is the music of the world. Blathmaid hears it, awakes, moves to it in wondering joy. But a rival lord, Curoi the king, carries Blathmaid away. Cuchulain is left bound, and shorn of his long yellow hair. But he regains his strength and freedom, and follows Blathmaid. Her sign to him from the Dun where she is kept a prisoner is milk poured into the water that makes a gulf between the fortress and the leaning banks. In the end, Curoi is slain or driven away;  Blathmaid hears the call of Cuchulain, and wanders into the beautiful green world with her lover. Here, every touch is symbolical. Cuchulain is the breath of returning life, Spring, symbolised in the Cuckoo, that "child of air" as the old northland poet calls his dream. Blathmaid is the awakening world: Blossom. Curoi is the wind of autumn, the fierce and silent magician Winter. The milk is but the emblem of melting streams, of the fluent sap.
But now, as I write, already midsummer is gone. The cuckoo is silent. The countryfolk still think it is become a hawk. The old Cymric Gwalchmei (the cuckoo-son of Arthur and twin brother of Modred is, Professor Rhys tells us, but an analogue of the Hawk of May. So, once more, We see the incalculable survival of tradition, Some say that the wandering clan has dispersed on the four winds. The sweet mysterious voice will be heard no more in the world till the wind of the south crosses the sea next far-off Spring, and the sound of the wings of swallows is come again. But "the bird of the sevens" is not yet gone. Seven weeks from the coming of the Voice to the hunger of the fledgeling seventeen weeks, and the fledgeling has left foster-parents and gone out upon the wind; seven and twenty weeks, and the bird fades away from the woodlands like mist.
It is gone: Midsummer, the songs of birds, the "wandering Voice." Already, with that old insatiate passion of the soul, we long for Blathmaid, so soon taken from us: long for that divine call to youth and love: long for Spring that shall come again, though it shall be but a sweet wandering voice, the call of the unknown, the promise of the unfulfilled. For we thirst for that invisible mystery whose voice floats above the veils of the world, and we would drink again of the old wonder and the old illusion.