Loudly Sing Cuckoo

Copyright © Isabella Dalzell 2017. All RIghts Reserved.


I heard the slap of leather upon cold stone flags coming up the passageway long before I saw him. Entering through the doorway he swept back the heavy, red velvet curtain, its brass hoops jangling. The large, wood panelled room was pleasantly perfumed with the aroma of clean bullrushes and lavender strewn upon the floor, and the soft murmur of conversation rippled through the air as anticipation mounted. Turning my head to the shrouded rostrum at the far end of great hall I could see the line of shoes peeping out beneath its ruffled drape and hear the occasional cough as we all waited. The Bard took up position some ten feet in front of the makeshift stage and, gently holding the striped wooden gourd in front of him, he rested it upon his pleated tunic and began to strum melodiously, humming to himself.


We waited eagerly for the entertainment to begin. The ladies either side of me were dressed in fantastical costumes and crowned with elaborate headdresses suspending embroidered veils, their hair flashing sparkling jewels. The gentlemen attended them in courtly manner, their faces flushed and glowing in the soft candlelight.


"La! Lala Lala Lala la!"


All eyes swivelled towards the lute player as he bowed low and then taking up a more formal pose, sang out,

"Sumer is icumen in", and again, "sumer is icumen in".

The audience stirred, wrapped in silence as the curtains swathing the rostrum drew back. A line of courtiers dressed in the most bizarre of fashions, in the manner of woodland creatures was revealed, one a mouse, one a deer, one an owl and so on. The spectators baited their breath as the creatures parted, making a pathway strewn with green, freshly plucked leaves. Nothing happened, but the lute player gamely sang gently on, his voice echoed by the woodland creatures onstage as they sang the round,

"Loudly sing Cuckoo
Grows the seed and blows the mead
And springs the wood anew.
Sing Cuckoo!
Ewe bleats harshly after lamb
Cows after calves make moo
Bullock stamps and deer champs
Shrilly sing Cuckoo..."


Again, the lute player looked towards the rostrum, waiting for someone to take their cue, his pointed toe, curled at the end tapping nervously on the flagstones. The woodland creatures grew mute. There was a massive groaning and creaking of wooden beams as suddenly from the ceiling out swung the immense figure of the King, old and fat, suspended from a golden rope and cloaked in feathers, red-faced, sporting an enormous curved beak strapped to his face, sweating yet beaming with joy as he finished the refrain,


"... Cuckoo... Cuckoo.
Wild bird are you! Be never still Cuckoo!


Aghast at this ridiculous display, the audience stared in horror, watching the King’s embarrassing spectacle. He clearly thought himself to be the embodiment of astonishing virtuosity, still grinning from ear to ear as the rope swung more slowly to and fro, and an unconscious feeling rippled through the audience that they must somehow respond before it came to a standstill. Panic caused them suddenly to burst forth with wild applause, and, gratified, the King loosed his yellow, slippered foot from the rope loop supporting his massive girth, clumsily sliding on the polished floorboards before bowing low and taking off his green feathered hat in acknowledgement of the audience and their appreciation.


Catherine, his teenage Queen, the object of this display of foolish, fond love stepped up to the rostrum and he kissed her hand, gratified by her acknowledgement of his performance and supported in his conviction of his lingering athletic prowess. Askance, too terrified to laugh, the courtiers observed her pink blush. Does it betoken maidenly modesty at the King’s attention, or overwhelming discomfiture? Taking their cue from her, and clapping their hands together fervently, the whole court then began to make the noises of the Forest, now hooting, now cooing, now cawing, now braying and on until the whole cacophony reached the rafters along with their tossed hats, and nosegays surrounded the smiling, beaming King.