The translation of "bucke uerteþ" is uncertain. 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 or goat "farts" (Millett 2003c; Wulstan 2000, 8).
Christian version in Latin
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).
- 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
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.
The song can be heard sung by a children's choir in the "Kingmaker" exhibition at Warwick Castle.
Cardiacs side project Mr and Mrs Smith and Mr Drake recorded an arrangement of the song on their self-titled album in 1984.
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).
The song is also used as the introduction to the neofolk band, Sol Invictus's, song "Kneel to the Cross" on their albums, Lex Talonis and Death of the West. This song was later covered by the Portland, Oregon-based black metal band, Agalloch's album, Of Stone, Wind, and Pillor.
Film and television
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 song is also played in several episodes of the 1950's television show also named The Adventures of Robin Hood. Sometimes the song features prominently in the episode: for example, in the episode Carlotta, Little John (Archie Duncan) sings it to his beloved, and in The Betrothal, Sir Richard of the Lea's son plays it on the flute and his betrothed sings it. Other times it is heard in the background while nobles are having party or even sung while the merry men are doing chores.
The rendition sung in the climax of the 1973 British film The Wicker Man is a mixed translation by Anthony Shaffer:
Sumer is Icumen in,
Loudly sing, cuckoo!
Grows the seed and blows the mead,
And springs the wood anew;
Ewe bleats harshly after lamb,
Cows after calves make moo;
Bullock stamps and deer champs,
Now shrilly sing, 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 insanity-inducing chattering of the ratlike creatures called "sandmirks". 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 (Anon. 2014).
This piece was parodied as "Ancient Music" by the American poet Ezra Pound (Lustra, 1916):
Winter is icumen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm,
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
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.
Sing, cuckoo sing,
Death is a-comin in,
Sing, cuckoo sing.
death is a-comin in.
- ^ While Middle English sumer literally translates as "summer", Crystal (2004, 108) translates "spring". Millett (2003c) notes that the Middle English word "sumer" "extends over a longer period than the modern one".
- Albright, Daniel (2004), Modernism and Music: An Anthology of Sources, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-01267-0
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- Crystal, David (2004), Stories of English, New York: Overlook Press
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