Sumer is icumen in

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Summer is spreading across England, with much greening and quickening. The sky is alive and dancing with floating fluffy seedheads, crisscrossed with with birds in flight, focused and intent upon arriving. Rich and warm air, perfumed with birdsong and flowers and cut grass, at times empty and blue, sometimes heavy with thunderfilled clouds.

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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 singes þu cuccu;
Ne swik þu nauer nu.
Pes:
Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu!

[Modern English]

Summer has arrived,
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 ever you stop now,
Sing cuckoo now. Sing, Cuckoo.
Sing Cuckoo. Sing cuckoo now!

“Sumer Is Icumen In” is a traditional English medieval round, and possibly the oldest such example of counterpoint in existence. The title might be translated as “Summer has come in” or “Summer has arrived”.
The round is sometimes known as the Reading rota because the manuscript comes from Reading Abbey though it may not have been written there. It is the oldest piece of six-part polyphonic music (Albright, 1994). Its composer is anonymous, possibly W. de Wycombe, and it is estimated to date from around 1260. The manuscript is now at the British Library. The language is Middle English, more exactly Wessex dialect.

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4 thoughts on “Sumer is icumen in

  1. Thanks so much Melinda. I knew the first part of this but didn’t realise it was longer! Happy Summer time to you!

    • You’re welcome. One of the best classes I took as an undergrad was History of Music when I was a Junior. It kindled a lifelong love and appreciation of Classical Music for me.

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