“Sumer Is Icumen In”

Edited by Jack Lynch

One of the most famous Middle English poems is a song, written in or near Reading around the middle of the thirteenth century — say, 1240–60 — a bit more than a century before Chaucer started his career. The text appears in British Library MS Harley 978, fol. 11v. I’ve consulted images of the original and compared them to various published transcriptions.

Things that can’t be explained in a word or two get fuller treatment in the “Notes” section at the bottom of the text.

“Sumer Is Icumen In”

Sumer is icumen in has come
Lhude sing cuccu loudly
Groweþ sed
and bloweþ med mead bloweth (the meadow blooms)
and springþ þe wde nu sprouts — forest
Sing cuccu
Awe bleteþ after lomb ewe — bleateth
lhouþ after calue cu loweth — cow
Bulluc sterteþ leaps
bucke uerteþ stag
murie sing cuccu merry
Cuccu cuccu
Wel singes þu cuccu thou
ne swik þu nauer nu stop — thou — now
Sing cuccu nu · Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu · Sing cuccu nu.


Though it’s the source of our word summer, it seems the word also covered what we call spring.
Critics differ on how to translate this. The Middle English Dictionary speaks for the majority in reading uerteþ as a form of ferten, defined as “To break wind, fart; also, to make indecent or unseemly sounds.” Others, though, think it means something like “cavorts.”