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Why does the cuckoo lead a restless life?

The Story of the Cuckoo and the Wonderful Bush.

               Many a tale is told about the origin of the cuckoo. Curiously enough, they generally agree in seeing in the cuckoo a man punished for his wickedness and cruelty, or for his faithlessness against his companion or brother whom he is now seeking in vain.

               There are, however, also other tales and legends in which the cuckoo is the victim of the cruelty of others; one is the preceding one, and others now follow: in the first place, one which tells also of the greed of the wife--The Story of the Cuckoo and Hoopoe.

ONCE upon a time there lived in a village a man who was so poor that sometimes days passed and he could not get a crumb of bread. So one day he said to his wife, "What is the good of my stopping here any longer. We are both dying of hunger; I will go away into the wide world and see what luck may bring." So he took up his axe and went along. Before he left, his wife said to him: "Do not go far away, and do not forsake me and the children, for we have no one else to look to for help." So he went away. Walking alone, he came to a forest. At the edge of the forest he saw a beautiful bush with shining leaves, and all the twigs of equal length. It was so beautiful that the man thought, "I will just cut it up." When he drew near, how great was his astonishment when he saw the bush bending its boughs towards him, and speaking with a human voice, it said, "Do not touch me, do not hurt me, for I will do you much good."

               "What good can you do me?" enquired the man.

               "Go back to the village and they will appoint you headman. Just go and try."

               Amazed as he was on hearing the bush speak, he said to himself, "I lose nothing if I go back; I shall see whether the bush is speaking the truth. If not, woe unto it," and so he returned. No sooner had he come near the village, when he saw the people coming out to meet him, and without asking him any questions, they, for reasons of their own, appointed him to be their headman. His poverty was now a thing of the past, and he lived in cheer and comfort. This went on for three years, and then, for the same reasons unknown to him, the people changed their minds, and without saying anything to him one day he was the headman, the next he was so no longer. They had put another man in his stead. So he returned to his want, and again began to feel the pinch of poverty. For a time he went on as best he could, but not being able to stand it any longer, he again took his axe, and going into the forest he went to the bush and said, "Now I am going to cut you down." The bush again began to speak, and said to the man, "Do not touch me; I will do you much good. You have seen what I have done before. You go now to that and that town and they will appoint you to be judge."

               Believing the words of the bush, the man continued his journey, and came to the town of which the bush had spoken to him; and there, as had been foretold, without asking him a single question, the people appointed him mayor over the place. The man now lived in affluence and comfort, forgetting his time of poverty and suffering he had gone through. Here, again, after three years, just as he was appointed without a question, so he was dismissed by the people without a question.

               The evil days came back, and he was looking about for a crust of bread, but could not find any for himself and his family. He bethought himself again of the bush, and, taking his axe upon his shoulder, he went away to find it. The bush said to him: "Don't touch me; much good will I do you, still more than I have done hitherto. You go to such and such a kingdom, and there they will appoint you to be their emperor."

               He did as he was bid, and as he came near the town, all the people came out to meet him, and they appointed him to be their emperor. He took his wife and children with him, and there he lived in great state, great power and riches. The law of that land was that no man could be emperor for more than three years, so when the three years came round he lost his position and another emperor was appointed in his stead. He had meanwhile amassed great fortune and no longer feared poverty. But his wife was ambitious, and was not satisfied at living in affluence and wealth. Envious of the other emperor, she nagged the man and worried him and sneered at him for being so meek and being satisfied with his lowly state, and made him go to the bush to ask for something more. She wanted him to be even better treated than any emperor. The poor man, what was he to do? he could not stand the trouble in his house, so again taking his axe upon his shoulder, he came for a fourth time to the bush. When the bush saw him, it said:

               "What has brought you hither? You are no longer in want of anything." "Well," he said, "my wife has sent me to you. She says you must make me as great as God, greater than all emperors."

               The bush grew angry, and said to him: "O miserable wretch, always dissatisfied! I have made thee headman and judge and emperor, and thou lackest nothing. Thou art not in want of anything. Now, because thou hast become impudent and insolent, for thy impious wishes thou shalt be punished. From the man thou hast been thou shalt henceforth be a bird, restless, without peace, and without quiet, flitting from tree to tree, and from branch to branch, always dissatisfied, without a home, without a family, and thy name shall be Cuckoo. Tell thy wife, who, because she had been urging thee on and driving thee to do this impious thing, that she shall become the hoopoe; puffing herself up she shall cry whoop, whoop." And so it has remained to this very day. 


Cf. Story in Grimm, No. 19.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Why does the cuckoo lead a restless life?
Tale Author/Editor: Gaster, Moses
Book Title: Rumanian Bird and Beast Stories
Book Author/Editor: Gaster, Moses
Publisher: Sidgwick & Jackson
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1915
Country of Origin: Romania
Classification: ATU 555: The Fisherman and His Wife

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