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"Sumer is icumen in" (also called the Summer Canon and the Cuckoo Song) is the first line of a medieval English round or rota of the mid-13th century.

Canon by Unknown;
speculated to be W. de Wycombe
Sumer is icumen in - Summer Canon (Reading Rota) (mid 13th C), f.11v - BL Harley MS 978.jpg
Harley 978, folio 11v, British Library (Harley 978, BL)
speculated to be W. de Wycombe
LanguageWessex dialect of Middle English

The line translates approximately to "Summer has come in" or "Summer has arrived" (Roscow 1999,[page needed]). The song is written in the Wessex dialect of Middle English. Although the composer's identity is unknown today, it may have been W. de Wycombe. The manuscript in which it is preserved was copied between 1261 and 1264 (Wulstan 2000, 8).

This rota is the oldest known musical composition featuring six-part polyphony (Albright 2004,[page 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 (Millett 2004). The British Library now retains this manuscript (Millett 2003a).



A rota is a type of round, which in turn is a kind of part song. 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:

"Hanc rotam cantare possunt quatuor socii. A paucio/ribus autem quam a tribus uel saltem duobus non debet/ dici preter eos qui dicunt pedem. Canitur autem sic. Tacen/tibus ceteris unus inchoat cum hiis qui tenent pedem. Et cum uenerit/ ad primam notam post crucem, inchoat alius, et sic de ceteris./ Singuli de uero repausent ad pausaciones scriptas et/non alibi, spacio unius longe note." Four companions can sing this round. But it should not be sung by fewer than three, or at the very least, two in addition to those who sing the pes. This is how it is sung. While all the others are silent, one person begins at the same time as those who sing the ground. And when he comes to the first note after the cross [which marks the end of the first two bars], another singer is to begin, and thus for the others. Each shall observe the written rests for the space of one long note [triplet], but not elsewhere.
First line of the manuscript

"Sumer is icumen in" in modern notation:

The song in modern staff notation


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"). However, there are reasons to doubt such a straightforward and naïve interpretation. The language used lacks all of the conventional springtime-renewal words of a reverdie (such as "green", "new", "begin", or "wax") except for springþ, and elements of the text, especially the cuckoo and the farmyard noises, potentially possess double meanings. "It is the wrong bird, the wrong season, and the wrong language for a reverdie, unless an ironic meaning is intended" (Roscow 1999, 188, 190, 193).

Middle English
Svmer 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 (Millett 2003b)

Modern English
Summer[a] has arrived,
Sing loudly, 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! (Millett 2003d)

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 LatinEdit

Beneath the Middle English lyrics in the manuscript (Millett 2004), there is also a set of Latin lyrics which consider 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

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.

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

Renditions and recordingsEdit

Studio albumsEdit


In the 1938 film, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Little John (Alan Hale Sr.) is whistling the melody of the song just before he first meets Robin Hood played by Errol Flynn (Curtiz & Keighley 1938, 20:37–20:44). According to Lisa Colton, "Although it appears only this once, in that fleeting moment the tune serves to introduce the character through performance: the melody was presumably sufficiently recognisable to be representative of medieval English music, but perhaps, more importantly, the fact that Little John is whistling the song emphasizes his peasant status...In Robin Hood, Little John's performance of 'Sumer is icumen in' locates him socially as a contented, lower class male, a symbol of the romanticized ideal of the medieval peasant" (Colton 2017, 31).

The rendition sung in the climax of the 1973 British film The Wicker Man (Minard 2009) is a mixed translation by Anthony Shaffer (Anon. n.d.):

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 children's television programme Bagpuss, the mice sing a song called "The Mouse Organ Song: We Will Fix It", to a tune adapted from "Sumer is icumen in" (Rogers 2010).


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!
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" (Peter Schickele) as "Summer is a cumin seed" for the penultimate movement of his Grand Oratorio The Seasonings.

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.

Another parody is Plumber is icumen in by A. Y. Campbell:

Plumber is icumen in;
Bludie big tu-du.
Bloweth lampe, and showeth dampe,
And dripth the wud thru.
Bludie hel, boo-hoo!

Thawth drain, and runneth bath;
Saw sawth, and scruth scru;
Bull-kuk squirteth, leake spurteth;
Wurry springeth up anew,
Boo-hoo, boo-hoo.

Tom Pugh, Tom Pugh, well plumbes thu, Tom Pugh;
Better job I naver nu.
Therefore will I cease boo-hoo,
Woorie not, but cry pooh-pooh,
Murie sing pooh-pooh, pooh-pooh,


  1. ^ While Middle English sumer is related to Modern English "summer", Crystal (2004, 108) states it means "spring". Millett notes that the Middle English word "sumer" "extends over a longer period than the modern one" Millett (2003c).
  2. ^ "1000 Years of Popular Music kicks off with 'Summer is icumen in', which is the original summer anthem and could be heard blasting from many a tavern and castle during the balmy middle months of 1260."


Further readingEdit

  • Bukofzer, Manfred F. (1944) "'Sumer is icumen in': A Revision". University of California Publications in Music 2: 79–114.
  • Colton, Lisa (2014). "Sumer is icumen in". Grove Music Online (1 July, revision) (accessed 26 November 2014)
  • Duffin, Ross W. (1988) "The Sumer Canon: A New Revision". Speculum 63:1–21.
  • Falck, Robert. (1972). "Rondellus, Canon, and Related Types before 1300". Journal of the American Musicological Society 25, no. 1 (Spring): 38–57.
  • Fischer, Andreas (1994). "'Sumer is icumen in': The Seasons of the Year in Middle English and Early Modern English". In Studies in Early Modern English, edited by Dieter Kastovsky, 79–95. Berlin and New York: Mouton De Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-014127-2.
  • Greentree, Rosemary (2001). The Middle English Lyric and Short Poem. Annotated Bibliographies of Old and Middle English Literature 7. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer. ISBN 0-85991-621-9.
  • Sanders, Ernest H. (2001). "Sumer is icumen in". Grove Music Online (20 January, bibliography updated 28 August 2002) (accessed 26 November 2014).
  • Schofield, B. (1948). "The Provenance and Date of 'Sumer is icumen in'". The Music Review 9:81–86.
  • Taylor, Andrew, and A. E. Coates (1998). "The Dates of the Reading Calendar and the Summer Canon". Notes and Queries 243:22–24.
  • Toguchi, Kōsaku. (1978). "'Sumer is icumen in' et la caccia: Autour du problème des relations entre le 'Summer canon' et la caccia arsnovistique du trecento". In La musica al tempo del Boccaccio e i suoi rapporti con la letteratura, edited by Agostino Ziino, 435–46. L'ars nova italiana del Trecento 4. Certaldo: Centro di Studi sull'Ars Nova Italiana del Trecento.

External linksEdit