“Sumer Is I-cumen In”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: fourteenth century or earlier (MS. Harley 978, generally dated c. 1225-1250)
Keywords: farming lyric nonballad

Description

"Sumer is i-cumen in, lhude [loud] sing cuccu!" A round celebrating the beginning of summer and the appearance of various symbols of fertility

Long description

Sumer is i-cumen in, Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweth sed [seed] and bloweth [blooms] meed
And spring[e]th w[oo]de nu [now].
Sing cuccu!
Awe [ewe] bleteth after lomb [lamb],
Lhouth [lows] after calve cu [cow]
Bulluc stereth [stirs], bukke [buck] verteth [frequents the fields]
Myrie [merry] sin cuccu....

Notes

Possibly the oldest pop song in the English language; it's a wide-open question whether the manuscript was a transcription of a piece from oral tradition, or the source. - PJS

Wooldridge observes that this song "contains the earliest canon, and the earliest persistently repeated bass, as yet discovered," and speculates (based on the several erasures clearly visible in the manuscript) that the scribe, probably John Fornsete of Reading, was personally responsible for the arrangement.

Personally, I'd be inclined to consider this a proto-classical piece (all the more so as it occurs only in the one manuscript), but I'm not going to be dogmatic about it.

Most scholars date the manuscript to the thirteenth century. Manfred Bukofzer, however, prefers the fourteenth. Looking at the facsimile, I wonder if he hasn't a point. I'm not a paleographer, and there wasn't that much difference between thirteenth and fourteenth century insular hands anyway -- but the manuscript does have several forms (notably spelling out the word "and," rather than using the upside-down L used as an ampersand at the time) more characteristic of late than early manuscripts. Of course, if the manuscript is a copy rather than the autograph, that doesn't mean much.

We should perhaps note that Harley 978 is not the more famous manuscript from the same collection, Harley 2253, which contains "King Horn" among many other famous poems. "Sumer Is I-cumen In" appears to be the only significant song in Harley 978. - RBW

References

  1. Stevick-100MEL 3, "(Sumer Is I-cumen In)" (1 text)
  2. Chappell/Wooldridge I, pp. 10-13, "Sumer Is Icumen In" (1 text, 1 tune; the frontispiece shows a facsimile of the neumed manuscript)
  3. Silber-FSWB, p. 260 "Summer Is A-Coming In" (1 text, modernized and otherwise fouled up)
  4. ADDITIONAL: Brown/Robbins, _Index of Middle English Verse_, #3223
  5. Maxwell S. Luria & Richard Hoffmann, _Middle English Lyrics_, p. 4, #3 (another text with facsimile)
  6. Noah Greenberg, ed., An Anthology of English Medieval and Renaissance Vocal Music, pp. 35-41 (1 text plus modern arrangement)
  7. DT, ICUMSUM
  8. BI, FSWB260B