Sumer is icumen in

sumer is icumen in - farting stagI am reading Melvyn Bragg’s insanely excellent book, The Adventure of English: The biography of a language these days, and I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t already had the pleasure. It traces the evolution of English from “an obscure Germanic dialect” to the global and diverse organism that it is today, and it is, as they say, excessively diverting.

I listen to Bragg’s equally excellent podcast, In Our Time (which I just noticed in that link is labeled “tremendously cerebral” — woo!) when I commute from Cape Cod to Cambridge for work, and I can enthusiastically recommend that as well. Recent topics have included William James, Queen Bodicea, and The Scientific Cavendishes. The best part is how Bragg makes his (often somewhat self-important) academic panelists quit droning on, hurry the fuck up and get to the point already, tell us about the neat stuff… and all in the most charming possible manner.

Anyway, I was delighted the other night when I came across this poem in The Adventure of English.  I had a close friend in college — a medieval studies major — who used to recite it every spring, when the smell of all the blooming everything on campus would make her giddy with joy. She’d literally belt it out as we crossed the waterfall on our way to the last week of classes, or to our final exams, or — once — to commencement ceremonies.

I’ve tried to find it since then, and never quite was able to — probably because I couldn’t get the spelling of the old words right enough to make them come up in a Google search.

Now that it is the first official day of summer, I give it to you:

Sumer Is Icumen In

Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med
And springþ þe wde nu,
Sing cuccu!
Awe bleteþ after lomb,
Lhouþ after calue cu.
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ,
Murie sing cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu, wel þu singes cuccu;
Ne swik þu nauer nu.
Pes:
Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu!

Modern English Translation

Summer has come in,
Loudly sing, Cuckoo!
The seed grows and the meadow blooms
And the wood springs anew,
Sing, Cuckoo!
The ewe bleats after the lamb
The cow lows after the calf.
The bullock stirs, the stag farts,
Merrily sing, Cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo, well you sing,
cuckoo;
Don’t you ever stop now,
Sing cuckoo now. Sing, Cuckoo.

Sing Cuckoo. Sing cuckoo now!

Apparently, a stag farting is a sign of great virility and life.

Sing cuckoo!

Image by stanmartson

1 Thought.

  1. my grandmother — a latin and english teacher and lover of language — used to recite this with great trilling enunciation…. but knowing her, she wasn’t clued in to the bit about the stag — such language would never have sprung from her ladylike lips!

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