Sumer Is Icumen In

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"Cuckoo Song" redirects here. For the folk song, see The Cuckoo (song). For the Mike Oldfield single, see Cuckoo Song (song).
"Sumer Is Icumen In"
Language Wessex dialect of Middle English
Length indeterminate
Writer Unknown;
speculated to be W. de Wycombe
Composer Unknown;
speculated to be W. de Wycombe

"Sumer Is Icumen In" is a medieval English rota of the mid-13th century.

The title translates approximately to "Summer Has Come In" or "Summer Has Arrived".[1] The song is composed in the Wessex dialect of Middle English. Although the composer's identity is unknown today, it may have been W. de Wycombe. The year of composition is estimated to be c. 1260.[citation needed]

This rota is the oldest known musical composition featuring six-part polyphony (Albright, 1994), and is possibly the oldest surviving example of independent melodic counterpoint.[citation needed]

It is sometimes called the Reading Rota because the earliest known copy of the composition, a manuscript written in mensural notation, was found at Reading Abbey; it was probably not drafted there, however.[2] The British Library now retains this manuscript.[3]


A rota is a type of round, which in turn is a kind of partsong. To perform the round, one singer begins the song, and a second starts singing the beginning again just as the first got to the point marked with the red cross in the first figure below. The length between the start and the cross corresponds to the modern notion of a bar, and the main verse comprises six phrases spread over twelve such bars. In addition, there are two lines marked "Pes", two bars each, that are meant to be sung together repeatedly underneath the main verse. These instructions are included (in Latin) in the manuscript itself.

First line of the manuscript.

"Sumer Is Icumen In" in modern notation:

The song in modern staff notation

As six-voice round (four in melody, two in "pes")

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Lyrics translations[edit]

The celebration of summer in "Sumer Is Icumen In" is similar to that of spring in the French poetic genre known as the reverdie (lit. "re-greening").

Middle English[edit]

Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing, cuccu;
Groweth sed
and bloweth med,
And springth the wode nu;
Sing, cuccu!

Awe bleteth after lomb,
Lhouth after calue cu;
Bulluc sterteth,
Bucke uerteth,

Murie sing, cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu,
Wel singes thu, cuccu;
Ne swic thu naver nu.

Sing, cuccu, nu; sing, cuccu;
Sing, cuccu; sing, cuccu, nu![4]

Modern English[edit]

Spring[5] has arrived,
Loudly sing, cuckoo!
The seed is growing
And the meadow is blooming,
And the wood is coming into leaf now,
Sing, cuckoo!

The ewe is bleating after her lamb,
The cow is lowing after her calf;
The bullock is prancing,
The billy-goat farting,

Sing merrily, cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo,
You sing well, cuckoo,
Never stop now.

Sing, cuckoo, now; sing, cuckoo;
Sing, cuckoo; sing, cuckoo, now![4]

The translation of "bucke uerteþ" is uncertain.[4] Some translate the former word as "buck-goat" and the latter as "turns" or "cavorts", but the current critical consensus is that the line is "the stag farts".[4]

Christian version in Latin[edit]

A later version of the song with Latin lyrics reflects on the sacrifice of the Crucifixion of Jesus:


Perspice Christicola
que dignacio
Celicus agricola
pro vitis vicio
Filio non parcens
exposuit mortis exicio
Qui captivos semiuiuos a supplicio
Vite donat et secum coronat
in celi solio

written "χρ̅icola" in the manuscript (see Christogram).

Modern English[edit]

Observe, Christian,
such honour!
The heavenly farmer,
owing to a defect in the vine,
not sparing the Son,
exposed him to the destruction of death.
To the captives half-dead from torment,
He gives them life and crowns them with himself
on the throne of heaven.

Renditions and recordings[edit]

A boys' choir sings the rota at the climax of Benjamin Britten's Spring Symphony (Opus 44 first performed 1949).

The opening ceremony of the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich included a performance of this rota. Children danced to the music around the track of the stadium.

Studio albums[edit]

Richard Thompson's own arrangement is the earliest song on his album 1000 Years of Popular Music (2003 Beeswing Records).

Emilia Dalby and the Sarum Voices covered the song for the album Emilia (2009 Signum Classics).

Post-punk band The Futureheads perform the song a cappella for their album Rant (2012 Nul Records).

Film and television[edit]

The song is heard and mentioned in Episode 2 of Melvyn Bragg's 2003 documentary The Adventure of English as being part of how the English language survived among the peasants of Medieval England between 1066 and 1340, when the Norman French ruled the country.

In the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood, Little John (Alan Hale, Sr.) whistles the melody just before he meets Robin Hood.

The rendition sung in the climax of the 1973 British film The Wicker Man is a mixed translation by Peter Shaffer:

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!

In the 1974 British children's television series Bagpuss, a mischief of mice sing a high-pitched pastiche of the song with alternative lyrics.

In the American animated film The Flight of Dragons (1982), Sir Orrin Neville-Smythe (Bob McFadden) sings the song to drown out the chattering of the ratlike creatures called "sand merks". It was also recited in Woody Allen's 1982 film A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy by the character Leopold (José Ferrer).

Glenn Close, in the role of Sarah Wheaton, sings the song In the 1991 American television film Sarah, Plain and Tall.

In the 1993 English film Shadowlands, the story of the romance between C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman, a choir of men and boys sing the rota to greet the dawn sun on May Day. The film's soundtrack album (1994 Angel Records) features a recording of a choir from Magdalen College, Oxford.

The Christian version (Perspice Christicola) appears in the ITV television series Cadfael, also appearing on the series' soundtrack.[6]


This piece was parodied as "Ancient Music" by the American poet Ezra Pound (Lustra, 1913–1915):

Winter is icumen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm,
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Sing: Goddamm.
Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham.
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
Damm you; Sing: Goddamm.
Goddamm, Goddamm, 'tis why I am, Goddamm,
So 'gainst the winter's balm.
Sing goddamm, damm, sing goddamm,
Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM.

The song is also parodied by P. D. Q. Bach as "Summer is a cumin seed" for the penultimate movement of his Grand Oratorio The Seasonings.

Mark Alburger's Mary Variations includes a movement titled "Mary Is Icumen In", which sets Lowell Mason's "Mary Had a Little Lamb" to the melody.

Vernon Duke gently parodied and paid homage to the round with his song "Summer is A-Comin' In," with the verse making reference to "a troubadour / Way back in 1226." Each refrain of the song begins with the phrase "Summer is icumen in / Lhude sing cucu." The song has been recorded by Charlotte Rae (twice) and Nat King Cole, among others.

The song is also referenced in "Carpe Diem," by The Fugs on their 1965 debut album, The Fugs First Album.

Carpe diem,
Sing, cuckoo sing,
Death is a-comin in,
Sing, cuckoo sing.
death is a-comin in.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Roscow, G. H. (1999). "What is "Sumer is icumen in"?". Review of English Studies (Oxford University Press) 50 (198): 188–95. doi:10.1093/res/50.198.188. JSTOR 518895. 
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c d "Sumer is icumen in: Notes". Wessex Parallel WebTexts. Retrieved 2008-09-18. 
  5. ^ Crystal 2004, 108.
  6. ^


  • Albright, Daniel (2004). Modernism and Music: An Anthology of Sources. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-01267-0.
  • Crystal, David. (2004). Stories of English. New York: Overlook Press.

External links[edit]