Summer in Sydney has arrived, with a scorching day sending us in search of the nearest beach. It’s great to shake off every trace of winter so decisively and in our embracing of the (very) warm air and clear skies we’re no different from those who have gone before us.
In the Middle Ages, in Western Europe, the end of the long, hard winter was greeted with joy and celebration. In fact, one of the earliest surviving English songs is in praise of the arrival of summer. “Sumer is icumen in” was composed by an unknown composer in about 1260 in the Wessex dialect. In form the song is a “rota” which means that it is designed to be sung by two or more singers in a “round”, the first singer performing the first part just ahead of the second who, in turn, is just ahead of the next singer, and so on. You can hear a very merry version of it by the Lumina Vocal Ensemble at http://youtu.be/ZWWEHAswpFI or you might like the slower version with its clear Middle English pronunciation at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMCA9nYnLWo
And, in case you want to sing along, here are the words in both Middle and Modern English.
Sumer is icumen in,
And springþ þe wode nu,
Ne swik þu nauer nu.
Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu.
Summer has come in,
Sing cuckoo now. Sing, Cuckoo.