Cuckoo Clocks Symbology

Published: 05th February 2009
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The cuckoo has been a symbol of spring and fertility in Europe for at least 800 years. It makes perfect sense that the Black Forest clock makers chose a cuckoo to come out of their clocks. What could be more wonderful than the end of dark winter and the arrival of spring? How clever it was to have a cuckoo pop out of a house and sing about the time of day. It's as if every hour of life should be happy as the arrival of spring and babies.

Cuckoos have continued to be a symbol in our culture. The "Cuckoo Song" has been sung as a round since the 13th century. In Middle English,the first line of the song is: "Summer is Icumen in." The modern version of the song retains that line and then translates the rest of the song into regular English:

Summer is Icumen in,

Loudly sing, cuckoo!

Grows the seed and blows the mead,

And springs the wood anew;

Sing, cuckoo!

The "Cuckoo Song" has been used in movies as diverse as:

• "Shadowlands," the 1993 film about C.S. Lewis, starring Anthony Hopkins

• "Sarah, Plain and Tall," the 1991 television movies starring Glen Close

• "The Flight of the Dragons," a 1982 animated Rankin/Bass film

• "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, 1982 by Woody Allen.

The cuckoo has also evolved into a symbol of craziness, but it's a happy kind of crazy. This is not surprising since we often talk of spring fever, which means we get a little crazy with joy at the end of winter. An example of this is "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," a famous book written by Ken Kesey in 1962 and award-winning movie of 1975 starring Jack Nicholson. The movie is about an insane asylum (a group of cuckoos is known as an asylum or cooch). The hero of the story is a small-time crook who pretends to be crazy so he will not have to go to jail. He spends his time in the asylum teaching the inmates how to have fun even in their circumstances.

In "1001 Symbols," the author Jack Tressidor points out that "in European folklore, the call of the cuckoo in springtime presaged riches.. In France, it was considered lucky to have coins in your pocket when you heard the cuckoo's call...The cuckoo's prosperity symbolism may have arisen from songs and poems in which the bird was the harbinger of spring fertility or simply from its repetitive call, prompting the wishful idea of coins being multiplied. "

An interesting thing about cuckoos is that they lay their eggs in other bird's nests, thereby leaving their babies to be raised by other parents. This is one reason why the cuckoo is a symbol of fertility. Since they aren't busy taking care of babies, the cuckoos have more time for baby making.

Thus, cuckoo clocks bring the bird that symbolizes the joys of spring, prosperity, and fertility into peoples' homes. No wonder millions of people love their cuckoo clocks!

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