The Cuckoo Song (Early English Lyric – 1)

“Sumer is icumen in” (also called “The Cuckoo Song” or “Sumer Canon” or “thr Reading Rota”) – Anonymous (speculated to be W. de Wycombe) – early English ms  (copied c.1262) – British Library, London, MS Harley 978

AG: So, let’s get on to the 13th Century. Now let’s get back to some pretty poetry, after all that. Do you know The Cuckoo’s Song ? – that’s page three [of the Norton Anthology], the very beginning. Does anybody know this stuff? Has anybody read these before? – Cuckoo? – Yeah – Where?

Student: At school.
AG: Which school?
Student : University of Western Ontario
AG: Pardon me?
Student : University of Western Ontario
AG: What town is that?
Student: It’s the other side of London, London, Ontario
AG: Yeah. Who were your teachers?
Student:  Er… I don’t remember..
AG: Did they teach you how to pronounce it?
Student: They did, but I was never very good at it.

AG: Anybody want to try that?  The first two lines? Has anybody got any idea how you do it? The first two lines of that Cuckoo Song – to get it rythmical. It’s a song, remember, so how would you do if you were rhymicizing it..?  Anybody want to make a.. just beginning, at the beginning with our own senses.

Student (1): “Sing cuccu, nu. Sing cuccu,/Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu, nu”

AG: Well, anybody else got an idea? – In a way.. That was one way

Student (2):Sing cuccu, nu. Sing cuccu./Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu, nu”

AG: Yeah, that’s pretty good..  I..  The way I heard it (I don’t think I ever heard it but I may have heard it once) Sing cuccu, nu/ Sing cuccu/Sing cuccu nu..” – no, Sing cuccu, nu/ Sing cuccu./Sing cuccu./ ‘Sing cuccu, nu” –   “Sing cucco, nu/Sing cuccu/Sing cuccu. /’Sing cuccu, nu” Something like. It’s possible. It’s just symmetrical like that.

Student: (It’s) like a football cheer!

AG: Yeah, well, where do you think those football cheers come from?

AG: “Svmer is i-cumin in/Lhude sing, cuccu!/Groweth sed and bloweth med/And springeth the wude nu./Sing cuccu!/ Awe bleteth after lomb/ Lhouh after calve cu/ Bulluc sterteth/ bucke verteth – /Murie sing, cuccu!/ Cuccu, cuccu,/ Wel singes thu, cuccu/ Ne swik thu naver nu/ Sing, cuccu, nu./ Sing, cuccu./ Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu, nu
I can’t… I dunno.. the.. you’ve got a translation there – “Groweth seed and bloweth meadow/ Springeth the woods new green again (the woods green new)/ the ewe bleats after the lamb/ lowing after calf cu (lowing after the calf,  the cow – lowing after calf cow – lowing after calf cu) – “Bulluc sterteth/bucke verteth” – (“the bullock starts, the buck farts” -verteth” – “breaking wind” – that’s what it is – “bullock starts, buck farts”) – Merry, merry sing cuckoo/ merry sing cuckoo cuckoo cuckoo/ Well sing thou cuckoo  – “Ne swik thu naver nu” – and then I haven’t been able to pronounce it..I haven’t been able to pronounce it organically  (probably did about five times(in my life) –  (it’s) probably impossible!
What else is there that’s interesting?  “Bishop, Lawless” on (page) six I like

to be continued

[Audio for the above can be heard herestarting at approximately eleven minutes in and concluding at approximately fourteen-and-a-half minutes in]

Three pretty different versions. And if you want more, try

here  here here and  here, here and here

Sumer is Icumen in,
Loudly sing, cuckoo!
Grows the seed and blows the mead,
And springs the wood anew;
Sing, cuckoo!
Ewe bleats harshly after lamb,
Cows after calves make moo;
Bullock stamps and deer champs,
Now shrilly sing, cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo
Wild bird are you;
Be never still, cuckoo!

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