Yesterday was the first walk we’ve done this summer that actually felt like a summer’s day. We walked from Sizergh, up to St John’s Church at Helsington, then back through Brigsteer Wood. Really warm day and a real feel of summer. I’ve blogged about this walk before (see blogs passim) so won’t repeat myself here. Sadly, there was no cuckoo to be heard – we’ve only heard one distant cuckoo this year, which is very concerning.
But I never walk in Summer without thinking of the medieval song that gives this blog its title. Sumer is icumen in is a roundelay, a polyphony, sung by several voices all coming in at different points. I give it here in the original Middle English and an updated take on the old song.
It is at least 800 years old, and one of the first songs for which we have the tune given, thanks to a manuscript owned by William of Winchester, a monk from Reading, who allegedly – liked to put it about a bit. Naughty William was brought before the Bishop of Hereford in the 1270s to investigate charges that he’d slept with a number of women, including a nun! William’s manuscript is now in the British library.
Interestingly, the song may not be as innocent as it sounds. Some academics have speculated that it may not just be a song about the joys of nature, but a subtle take on adultery, cuckoo not being that different from cuckold. It also contains the first mention of fart in English, for which Geoffrey Chaucer in later years was no doubt duly grateful.
There are lots of versions of people singing the old song online, so do seek them out. It is, of course, used with great effect in the cult film The Wicker Man, where Christopher Lee leads it in lusty chorus as the wicker man goes up in flames.
Do enjoy your summer and belt out the song at some point in your rambles…
Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med
And springþ þe wde nu,
Awe bleteþ after lomb,
Lhouþ after calue cu.
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ,
Murie sing cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu, wel singes þu cuccu;
Ne swik þu nauer nu.
Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu!
Summer has come in,
Loudly sing, cuckoo!
The seed grows and the meadow blooms
And the wood springs anew,
The ewe bleats after the lamb
The cow lows after the calf.
The bullock stirs, the goat farts,
Merrily sing, Cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo, well you sing, cuckoo;
Don’t ever you stop now,
Sing cuckoo now. Sing, Cuckoo.
Sing Cuckoo. Sing cuckoo now!