287. (anonymous)


Summer is icumin in–

Lhude sing, cuccu!

Groweth sed and bloweth med   [blows mead]

And springth the wude nu.  [the wood now]

Sing, cuccu!


Awe bleteth after lomb,  [Ewe bleats after lamb]

Lhouth after calve cu,      [Cow lows after calf ]

Bulluc sterteth, bucke verteth.  [buck farts]

Murie sing, cuccu!

Cuccu, cuccu,

Wel singes thu, cuccu!

Ne swik thu never nu!   [Do not let off ever now]


Sing, cuccu, nu! Sing, cuccu!

Sing, cuccu! Sing, cuccu, nu!


The mid-13th century lyric celebrates an end of winter, the return of life, and sings along with the cuckoo, and implores it to sing “now.” It is relievedly in the present moment. It is not a lyric of verbal ambiguity, or conflict, and analysis feels misdirected, but the oscillation from observation to invocation of the bird provides a balance of ideal, pantheistic fervor and grounded, georgic earthiness (most vivid in the farting); it is a promise being realized so as to release further promise, and the bird’s signing is emblematic of the whole, responsible somehow for it, as the singer of the lyric is also; the one sings, the other follows, and in following implores more song, more growth, forever, but also now.

But the lyric depends more for its seeming itself to warm to life as the world warms, for the momentum it gains from the first line, as if it were the first time that year it were being observed that summer is coming in, to the “and” in the fourth line, to charge of affect in “Murie,” and the praise that encourages in the following line, and the imploring it not to stop ever, which moves, and here the surprise is greatest, the desperation felt most keenly, to an imploring for it to sing now, which is redundant but also fervently hopeful for all that “nu” can hold, and for the consummation and climax of the moment of singing and springing alike; it is a coming into warmth of wording as the year moves from winter.

As a matter of rhymes, the parts of nature talk back and forth, both in what they are (seed and mead) and in what they do (sterteth and verteth), so nature harmonizes as it awakes; and cuccu and nu rhymes too of course, and must, if sung, collapse into one another, a gibberish of uncertain stress, a song meaningless but expressive of the fact that it is being expressed, the human voices animating in the thought of the cuckoo’s animation; the song becomes a sort of incidental attuning of human and nature where the human capacity to name becomes identical with the meaningless sound of the bird that is named.




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