Friday, December 11, 2009

April Come She Will

I head once that this song was based on an 18th Century nursery rhyme. I could not find any corroboration for this suggestion, and Simon takes credit for it in the album's liner notes. But it does seem to have many of those elements-- a simple structure and rhyme scheme, a bit of education in that it names the months, and a general innocence in the tone. [Note: The origin of the poem and how it became a song was filled in by astute readers in the comments below.]

And there is nothing wrong with lamenting a love that, or a lover who, has died. But how much of a love is this? The girl in the song arrives in April, and starts having doubts in June. Only for the month of May does she "stay."

Then, for another month, she wanders around, unsure of what she wants. But it's not like she just avoids the speaker. She "prowls the night," as if she were skulking or even hunting. She then decides she at least doesn't want our man, here, and so runs away, with no farewell. We have to start doubting her mental stability at this point.

By August, only four months after she appeared on the scene, she is dead. The song indicates that she "must" die. Why? Because such troubled women always die in such stories. They give the speaker a brief glimpse of deep love, only to drift inexplicably away... away... like an escaping sigh... leaving doubts, bewilderment, heartbreak, and grief in their wake.

And we idolize them for it.

But the speaker takes until September to realize his love has "grown old." Really? She starting having second thoughts back in June, wandering around the city all night. Then by July she was gone. By August, she has died. So the idea that the love has "grown old" in September is a bit disingenuous. It didn't live long enough to get "old," and it was over months ago as it was.

The song has a lovely melody, and is sung very prettily by Garfunkel. So many probably take it as a love song.

But upon reading Simon's lyrics, we see that it works best as a warning to those young poets who get caught up with winsome, but ultimately worrisome, women. For another take on this, read the classic Onion article headlined "Totally Hot Chick Also Way Psycho." (

Too often, we see troubled people-- especially girls and women-- turned into objects of adoration in literature and film. The idea of an actually unwell person being psychically gifted or granted "other sight" is ancient. People with deep psychological problems or neurochemical imbalances used to be seen as prophets, their incoherent babbling taken for communication channelled from another plane.

These days, they are put on pedestals as "the only ones who truly see the world the way it is," etc. in films like The Hours, Mad Love and Benny and Joon. When what they need is medication and therapy. (The Brad Pitt character in the film 12 Monkeys is an excellent case study in this "raving madman/ prophetic genius" dichotomy.)

When an askew personality resides in the form of a lithe woman, the combination can be almost overwhelmingly attractive, especially to misfit young men. I once saw a T-shirt that put it more bluntly, stating: "Let's face it, crazy chicks are hot."

Which may be true, but it's much too easy a way to get burned.

(Compare this ephemeral relationship to "Kathy's Song," also about missing a lover, to see the difference between an immature and mature love. And for another of Simon's hurt, angry songs clothed-- make that disguised-- in beauty, we will soon discuss "Scarborough Fair."

Next Song: We Got a Groovey Thing Goin'


  1. i always took the "die she must" line as meaning, his love for her must die, he needs to get over her, than she actually dying.
    i never go the feeling that she was a psycho either, just that this was one of those short summer loves that only last about 5 months, they were never set to last, and so after a month or so she was already restless.

  2. The Cuckoo

    In April
    Come she will,
    In flowery May
    She doth sing all day,
    In leafy June
    She doth change her tune
    In bright July
    She doth begin to fly,
    In August
    Go she must.

  3. As I mentioned, I did hear that this song was based on an existing rhyme. A post I just read in trying to find its author claims that Simon, in a concert,said that a British friend told it to him, and that he understood it to be a nurserry rhyme. I did not know it was an poem, and am glad to now have it. Do you know who wrote it, and what year? Or is it an anonymous folk poem?

  4. The idea of this song being about a cuckoo might be significant. A cuckoo layes an egg in another bird's nests and leaves. This egg hatches, and the chick instinctively squirms, muscling the other eggs and chicks out of the nest. The mother bird instinctively feeds the chick in her nest, not realizing it is not her own. Thus, the cuckoo became a symbol of adultery; a married man was said to be "cuckolded" by his cheating wife. Not sure what all this means in regard to the song; the subject woman is inconstant, but there is no suspicion of unfaithfulness as such.

  5. I always thought this was a perfect song for Art, after having lost his girlfriend form suicide. I think even though it wasn't written for that purpose, it really works. Art has a love who has come and will stay for a short while, then she begins to change (her tune), July she will fly and in August she will die, Art's girlfriend has "flown" away because she was mentally not okay and committed suicide. And September is when he remembers her.

  6. Anonymous: Thanks for the insight. While I do know some of Garfunkel's bio, I admit I did not know this rather salient, if sad, point. It certainly adds another shade of meaning to the piece. Thanks so much for the submission.

  7. I think that the song is based on a poem of Jane Taylor a poet from the 18th century. Benjamin Britten composed a song for children with this poem "Cuckoo". Maybe Paul Simon had heard this song, or just know the rhyme. But thank you, with your post I have the confirmation that Paul Simon and Britten based their songs on this poem. (sorry for my english, I'm french)


    The least little pause on the ins in this first old rhyme and also on
    the second syllables of April' and of August' improves its lilt.

    He sings Cuck-oo; she takes an egg out of some other bird's nest
    and lays one of her own in its place. She is like a hawk in flight
    and of a bright ash-grey where the light shines on her.

    This is from a long poem called 'The Living Spring' by Jane

  9. I am going to assume the above Anonymouses (Anonymi?) are not the same person, so I will refer to them as A1 and A2:
    A1: First, your English is excellent! If I have the story straight, first it was a poem by Jane Taylor, then fashioned into a children's song by Britten. We know Simon spent some time in the UK and learned songs there. So this seems to be the backstory on April Come She Will.
    A2; Thank you for confirming A1 and sharing some of the original piece. I can see why Simon decided to make the song about a woman and not a bird!
    I think this makes for the longest thread on the blog so far, and certainly one that will help future visitors. Who knew there was so much to unpack in this simple ditty? Thanks to all for your information and input.

  10. Another Paul, It seems to me that (unless I am missing the humor) your interpretation of this song as the description of a short term relationship lasting but a few months is way too literal. Instead, these are poetic representations of the stages of failed relationships, and tellingly (the first line of the song repeats at the end) our inclination to hope and start over with another even though there is a chance that the cycle will repeat itself with our next relationship. Instead of saying something like "In the Spring of our relationship it was like this, In the Summer of our relationship it is like this..." Simon breaks it up further into representative months.

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  12. Prentice, Thanks for your comment. There was no humor intended in my analysis. I understand that one way to look at this is a symbolic representation of what we can call "the relationship cycle" that goes through stages just as a year or cycle of season does. However, I feel that this is a unique relationship; hopefully not all of this person's girlfriends will die within the course of courtship! I maintain that the person in question is like that described by Don MacLean in "Vincent": "This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you." Her life was a tempest in a too-fragile teacup.

  13. At the above link is a story,by Paul, about the nursery rhyme. "We went out at dawn and she recited an English nursery rhyme, it was a children's rhyme and it was about a cuckoo, a bird. It went "April come she will. May she will stay, June she'll change her tune. July she will fly. August die she must."' - Hollywood Bowl 1968"

  14. Thanks. I'll have to find that concert. I assume it is online, but I'll want a copy if it is available on DVD.

  15. I have another, very personal take on this song. Our baby April was born on April 8, 1975. Through May we were overjoyed in having her become part of our lives. In June, we discovered that she was born with a heart defect which was more pain that I could hardly bare. I barely slept and prowled the nights. In July we were in Rochester, MN praying for her survival. By August we were told that she would die. We held her ever so closely ad drove back to IA with her. All of us having broken hearts. In September, the love that was to be with us a lifetime, passed from our arms into the arms of Jesus. This song is a part of my very soul.

  16. Anonymous, thank you for sharing your heart-rending story. While your story is decades old, please know that I am crying as I type this in 2014. I have children of my own, and I don't think I will ever hear this song again without thinking of your precious little April.

  17. I took 'her' as love and the months and seasons as metaphorical rather than literal - a love that comes, stays (but never certain) and then, regretfully, 'dies'.

  18. Anon-- I see what you are getting at, that he is talking about the relationship and not the person. But the line "resting in my arms again" makes me think this is about a person, real or fictional, and not an emotion or relationship. Still, it is an interesting reading of the song, and not without merit, I think.