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Cuckoo Song -- Anonymous

Guest poem submitted by Bill Whiteford :
(Poem #1709) Cuckoo Song
 Sumer is icumen in,
   Lhude sing cuccu!
 Groweth sed, and bloweth med,
   And springth the wude nu-
           Sing cuccu!

 Awe bleteth after lomb,
   Lhouth after calve cu;
 Bulluc sterteth, bucke verteth,
   Murie sing cuccu!

 Cuccu, cuccu, well singes thu, cuccu:
   Ne swike thu naver nu;
 Sing cuccu, nu, sing cuccu,
   Sing cuccu, sing cuccu, nu!
-- Anonymous
GLOSS:  lhude] loud.  awe] ewe.  lhouth] loweth.  sterteth] leaps.  swike]

I stumbled across this the other day, while trying to find out more about
cuckoos; why they sing, that sort of thing. I now realise it's the origin of
the phrase most usually rendered as "summer is a-comin' in", which is
interesting.  What I like about it is that the anonymous author (or more
likely, authors) was hearing the same noise that I am, some 800 years later.

Here in Scotland the cuckoos call most insistently in the month of May.
Since they sing as long as there's daylight, that's a long time this far
north. The minstrels who would have passed this around would tap into the
same feelings we have when we we're outdoors now at this time: it's nice to
hear the cuckoo song  ("well sings thu, cuccu") but they don't half go on
("ne swike thu naver nu")! Hope it's not too obscure.

Bill Whiteford.

[Links and Stuff]

Here's the Columbia Encyclopedia on today's poem:

"Sumer Is Icumen In", an English rota or round composed c.1250. It is the
earliest extant example of canon, of six part music, and of ground bass.
Four tenor voices are in canon and two bass voices sing the pes, or ground,
also in canon. The secular text is in Wessex dialect, and in the same
manuscript source, from Reading Abbey in England, is a Latin text to adapt
the tune for church use. The attribution to the monk John of Fornsete, who
kept the records of Reading Abbey, is no longer credited.

For a picture of the original illuminated manuscript, follow this link:
The above website also includes a translation into "modern" English, notes,
a full glossary, and a lengthy bibliography. Plus instructions on how to
sing the song karaoke-style, from the original manuscript.

Richard Thompson opened his "1000 Years of Popular Music" tour with a
version of this song; see

43 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Mallika Chellappa said...

I couldn't resist sharing this interpretation
of the poem with all of you:

><much snippage>
>>The song is several thousands of years old, and record an attack on
>>the British isles by the ancient Sumerians. The mighty armada of Sumer
>>is sailing towards the British coast (Sumer is icumen in), and the
>>warning cries and call to arms, like the cries of the cuckoo, must be
>>sounded loudly (llude sing cucu!). At first people grow sad (groweth
>>sed), but then they get raging mad and angry (bloweth med). With loud
>>cries of 'Cuckoo' they spring out of the woods to meet the invader
>>Sumerians (and springeth the wude nu, Sing cucu!)
>With all due respect, I must point out a slight misinterpretation here: the
>phrase "springeth wude nu" in fact refers to the springing of the
>woad-covered, nude Britons [upon the muddy, maddened Mesopotamian maritime
>military]. Hope this helps!

A most interesting interpretation. The constantly repeated "cucu"
bring the listener's attention to the woods, however. Could this be an
instance of subtle double-meanings, where several meanings are packed
into one single word?

One additional piece of information should also be brought to your
attention. Since the British men fought so valiantly for their wives
and children under the war-cry "Cucu" during this renowned battle, it
has later become one of the highest honours to be bequeathed upon a
British husband to wear the title "Cuckoo", or, for the older
"Cuckoos", "Cuckold".

see more at
[broken link]

Here is my own rendition

Summer is acoming in
Loud sings the cuckoo
The sedge grows, the meadow blows
And springs the wood anew
Sing cuckoo!

The ewe bleats after the lamb,
Lows after calf the cow;
The bullock starts, the buck ..,
Merry sing cuckoo!

cuckoo, cuckoo, well sing you, cuckoo:
Don't cheat thou never now;
Sing cuckoo, now, sing cuckoo,
Sing cuckoo, sing cuckoo, now!



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