Dearest sweetheart –
Another fresh start this morning, dear, this time from the Castle. Perhaps I can finish this in one sitting and make the letter sound a bit more connected. At the moment it is quiet here, and I’ve just been sitting by the window looking out over the back lawn and lake and thinking hard of you, darling. It’s really a continuation of my thoughts last night. I felt particularly mellow then. I was alone in my room for most of the evening – and as usual – I got to thinking of home, and you, and us and I felt so nice about everything. It’s really paradoxical, dear, how I can feel so contented about things, and yet be in the Army and 3000 miles from those I love. I guess it’s because I feel so certain that everything will work out so well for us once I get back. It is absolutely the most satisfying and comforting feeling imaginable to realize that I have you to come home to, – a sweetheart, a fiancée, a girl who loves me as I love her – who wants to be married to me and is willing to wait for me. Well, darling, I just can’t tell you what that all means to me. Only after the war, when we’re married and alone, when we’re sitting around of an evening relaxing – then I’ll close my eyes, sit close to you with my arms around you and think back to these days in England. I’ll tell you then what I used to think on these quiet nights; I’ll tell you what the knowledge of your love meant for me, and how the war and separation were tolerable to me because of what I knew was in store for me when I finally got home.
I have no fear or apprehension of what may lie ahead because my mind seems to transcend that and jumps beyond it, and even when the immediate future becomes the present – I won’t be living in the present – but only in our future. And I owe all this ability to you, sweetheart. And again I say I’m thankful –
It didn’t get dark last night until 2230 and soon it will be 2300 and more before it gets dark outside. It is most peculiar – and quite difficult to think of going to bed. If it weren’t for the shutters that we have for black-out – I don’t know what we would do. And it gets light out very early too. I awaken each morning to the sound of cuck-coos (if that’s the way you spell it) right outside my window. I don’t recall ever hearing that bird in the States. There are many of them here and their notes are soft and musical. The whole countryside is really beautiful here and I know what they meant when they wrote about England in the Spring. It really has something.
Well, darling, I’m afraid I didn’t write much in the line of news – but the truth is – there isn’t any. The only news I’m interested in is you, anyway, and that’s the way it will always be. I’ll close now, dear. Love to the folks – and to you
Greg mentioned listening to the cuckoos each morning, saying that their notes are soft and musical.
The cuckoo is vanishing. But its loss isn’t merely a wildlife tragedy – it’s the clearest possible sign that the natural world is changing for ever. In his moving new book, Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo, Michael McCarthy counts the cost.
"In two or three weeks' time, you should be hearing it if you get out into the countryside – the unmistakable two-note call, perhaps the most distinctive sound in all of the natural world, that tells you spring is well and truly under way. Even people who have never heard the real thing know the call of the cuckoo.
It's partly its sheer musicality, for those two abrupt, liquid notes – cuck-coo! – form an exact musical interval in a way hardly any other bird calls do: it is a descending minor third. At its simplest, in the key of C major, it is G to E. (And C major, you may be interested to learn, is a favourite cuckoo key.)
It's partly also its ethereal, disembodied nature. The cuckoo is a shy, secretive bird. You don't often glimpse it, you simply hear it, so you can't see where the call is coming from; but it also has a sort of ventriloquial quality, so you can't hear where it's coming from, either. It doesn't seem to come from anywhere. It exists, disembodied, in the landscape, in a quite magical way, captured by Wordsworth, who called it "the wandering voice". Put them together – perfect musicality and a mysterious, floating resonance – and you have something unique: there is nothing else like the wandering voice in nature. And when, down the years, it was paired, as an aural signal, with the eagerly awaited change of the turning year, the coming of spring, it's not an exaggeration to say that in Europe it became one of the most significant, evocative sounds in human life. It produced a stream of folklore in every country, sayings and stories, proverbs and legends; it inspired composer after composer, from Handel in his The Cuckoo and the Nightingale to Beethoven in his Pastoral Symphony, to Saint-Saëns in his Carnival of the Animals, to Delius with On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring. In Britain, it was firing musical imaginations more than six centuries before Frederick Delius; the cuckoo inspired the oldest extant song in English, "Sumer is icumen in" (with its rousing chorus of "Lhude sing cuccu!") written in about 1250, probably by a monk in Reading Abbey. And in this country it did still more: it triggered what is perhaps the most celebrated newspaper correspondence in history, the "first cuckoo" letters to The Times, those succinct missives from gentlemen who, for a century or so, from about 1840 to 1940, laid claim to being the first to hear the double note echo across the woods and fields in any given year. These engaging pronouncements – sometimes challenged, sometimes topped by rivals – are evidence above all of the real elation produced by hearing the call, the supreme signal of the soft days coming again and the burgeoning of new life, usually in the first two weeks of April. From about the 10th onward, say. A typical date would be 14 April. Two or three weeks from now, you should be hearing it."