Saturday, 18 February 2012

Sumer Is Icumen In

Picked up a 1900 first-edition of this old warhorse from a charity short (£2), and have decided to work through it, poem by poem, on this blog -- though not, obviously, on consecutive days, since that would turn the Europrog wholly over to the project for years to come. But from time to time, starting with AQC's first poem:
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.
Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu!
There's a whole wikipedia page devoted to this poem, I discover, including a modern English version:
Summer has arrived,
Loudly sing, Cuckoo!
The seed grows and the meadow
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,
Don't ever you stop now,
Sing cuckoo now. Sing, Cuckoo.
Sing Cuckoo. Sing cuckoo now!
But I prefer the original (could anything be flatter than 'summer has arrived'?). I remember my first-year-poetry-course lecturer dilating upon the farting buck of line 8 -- he told us that when the grazing animals get onto the fresh green grass in later spring it makes them much fartier than old grass, or hay, which seemed to me an Interesting Fact, and certainly one that has stuck with me.

But now I'm wondering: is this a lewd poem? Is it a poem singing the delights of early summer shagging, 'cuckoo' sounding through it rather as the refrain does in Joyce's Ulysses? The virile stag and bullock, the female who groweþ sed as a result of the man who, cum-ishly, 'bloweþ med'? Perhaps 'murie' is not merrily so much as Mary, the girl with whom the narrator is enjoying his roll in the hay? Or maybe I have a dirty mind.

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