"hedge in the cuckoo"

Charles C Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Mon Sep 9 22:21:29 UTC 2013

The quotations are from EEBO.

Numerous written and oral versions and variants of the little narrative exist.  An old collection and study was John Edward Field's _Myth of the Pent Cuckoo_ (1913).  (No modern folklorist would use the term "myth" that way.)

Folklorists refer to the incident as Type 1213 and Motif J1904.2.  (For the sake of brevity!)


From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of ADSGarson O'Toole [adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM]
Sent: Monday, September 09, 2013 5:40 PM

Thanks for sharing that intriguing information, Charlie. Are those
citations available in a searchable database online?

The entry for "Wise Men of Gotham" in the 1910 Encyclopaedia
Britannica included an interesting variant of the tale. The Gothamite
villagers did not use a hedge to entrap the cuckoo; instead, they
joined hands in a perimeter surrounding the bird. The date for this
story was not clear in the encyclopedia entry.


[Begin excerpt]
As typical of the Gothamite folly is usually quoted the story of the
villagers joining hands round a thornbush to shut in a cuckoo so that
it would sing all the year.
[End excerpt]


On Mon, Sep 9, 2013 at 4:18 PM, Charles C Doyle <cdoyle at uga.edu> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Charles C Doyle <cdoyle at UGA.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: "hedge in the cuckoo"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Below is from a bit of off-list correspondence with Joel, which may be of interest to others.
> "Pen (or Hedge) the cuckoo" was (or became) one of those proverbial impossibilities--like "number the stars in the sky" or "carry water in a sieve" or "saw the air" or "make a rope of sand."
> --Charlie
> ________________________________________
> From: Charles C Doyle
> Sent: Monday, September 09, 2013 1:55 PM
> Hey, Joel--
> First, I made a mistake:  Greville's poem, beginning "Away with these self-loving lads / Whom Cupid's arrow never glads,"  (or maybe it's "those self loving lads"--I'm quoting those lines from memory), was published prior to the rest of the "Caelica" sequence.  The poem appeared in John Dowland's _First Booke of Songes and Ayres_, 1597.  Here are the lines in question:  "For many run, but one must win, Fooles only hedge the Cuckoo in" (sig L1V).
> From _Merie Tales of the Made [sic] Men of Gotham_ by "A.B.," 1565:
> <<On a time the men of Gotam, wold haue pynned the Cockow, that she should sing all the yeare and in the myddest of the towne they dyd make a hedge (round in compas,) and they had got a Cocow, and put her in it and sayde, singe here all the yeare, and thou shalte lacke neyther meate nor drincke. The Cocow as soone as shee was set wyth in the hedge, flew her waye. A vengeaunce on her sayde they, we made not our hedge high ynough.>> (sig. A3v-A4r).
> So the proverbial phrase does not appear there--though I am guessing that it's already proverbial in the Greville poem.
> I hope this helps!
> Charlie
> ________________________________________
> From: Joel S. Berson [Berson at att.net]
> Sent: Monday, September 09, 2013 1:11 PM
> To: Charles C Doyle
> Subject: [off-list]  Re: [ADS-L] "hedge in the cuckoo"
> Charlie,
> Do you know if the phrase itself is used in either of these?  Either
> would antedate the OED's two quotations.
> And one would have to turn up an imprint from the early date -- which
> may be difficult, since _Merrie Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham_ seems
> not to appear in ESTC.
> Joel
> At 9/9/2013 10:26 AM, Charles C Doyle wrote:
>>The old tale of the foolish Gothamites' effort to pen the cuckoo was
>>published in 1565, in _Merrie Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham_, often
>>attributed to Andrew Borde (1490?-1543).  Greville's poem, which (as
>>Garson has noted) seems to use the expression proverbially, was
>>first published (posthumously) in 1633.

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