THE CUCKOO COMES IN APRIL

The time of the apple-bloom is the most delicious season in the village. It is scarcely possible to obtain a view of the place, although it is built on the last slope of the downs, because just where the ground drops and the eye expects an open space plantations of fir and the tops of tall poplars and elms intercept the glance.

In ascending from the level meadows of the vale thick double mounds, heavily timbered with elm, hide the houses until you are actually in their midst. Those only know a country who are acquainted with its footpaths. By the roads, indeed, the outside may be seen; but the footpaths go through the heart of the land.

There are routes by which mile after mile may be travelled without leaving the sward. So you may pass from village to village; now crossing green meads, now cornfields, over brooks, past woods, through farmyard and rick. But such tracks are not mapped, and a stranger misses them altogether unless under the guidance of an old inhabitant.

Why were you born when the snow was falling?
You should have come to the cuckoo’s calling,
Or when grapes are green in the cluster,
Or, at least, when lithe swallows muster
For their far off flying From summer dying

CHRISTINA G ROSSETTI 1876

He walked under the elm trees while the sun was going down; they were bursting into blossom and covered with a rufous haze, as though the spirit of sunlight were loath to leave the bloom it had called forth. High above the ploughlands a lark was singing, for he too felt happy, and a small flock of great titmice, a family of six, were searching for grubs in the elms.

He did not know why the lark sang, but, it was for the same reason that the lambs on the hillside jumped into the air and flung their heads about as thought they were mazed.

The birds around me hopp’d and play’d;
Their thoughts I cannot measure
But the least motion which they made It seem’d a thrill of pleasure

WILLIAM WORDSWORTH 1798

Here the bloom is rosy, there white prevails: the young green is hidden under the petals that are far more numerous than leaves. Though the path really is in shadow as the branches shut out the sun, yet it seems brighter here than in the open, as if the place were illuminated by a million tiny lamps shedding the softest lustre.

On the cool flowery lap of earth;
Smiles broke from us and we had ease,
The hills were round us, and the breeze
Went o’er the sun-lit fields again

MATTHEW ARNOLD 1850

A robin sang on a dull brown furrow in the field behind the elms. The lark had dived to earth, and was chasing a crested rival, the tomtits were silent. Alone sang the robin on his dull brown furrow. The genius of the woodland was expressed in birdsong; and like genius in this too, it told the dreamer of sad beauty, of the drifted sorrow of centuries in spite of the willingness of the earth to give all that man required.

RICHARD JEFFERIES 1879 and HENRY WILLIAMSON 1929

FOOTNOTE:
So doth the woodbine the sweet honeysuckle
Gently entwist; the female ivy so
Enrings the barky fingers of the elm

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 1594/5

With the loss of the once widespread elm the large tortoiseshell butterfly is a noted casualty for its caterpillars feed on this tree. Dutch elm disease was first recognised in 1930 but made catastrophic in-roads into the English elm population notably since 1970.