Friday, June 24, 2005

Sumer Is Icumen In

Well, this morning I checked my blog to find out that for some strange reason the topmost entry on every page was starting halfway down the page. I pasted the back up of my template into Blogger's template section and republished my blog, but the topmost entry on each page still started halfway down the page. I can only figure that Blogger has either changed the way it interprets XML and CSS, or else my PC is just messing up in how it interprets it. Either way, as a temporary measure I've switched to Minima Black until such time as I can figure out how to correct the problems with my old template or get a new one. Sad, as it means for now I have no room for my blinkies! At any rate, it was nice having a template that looked like no one else's. Now it is just one of many blogs that uses Minima Black for its template.

Midsummer's Day was Tuesday, so I thought I might discuss a summertime song. That song is "Sumer Is Icumen In," also known as "The Cuccu Song." Here are the lyrics in Middle English and modern English (my translation):

Sumer is icumen in;
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweth sed, and bloweth med,
And springeth the wude nu,
Sing cuccu!

Ewe bleteeth after lomb,
Lhouth after calve cu,
Bulluc sterteth, bucke verteth,
Murie sing cuccu!

Cuccu, cuccu, well singest thu, cuccu:
Ne swike thu naver nu;
Sing cuccu, now sing cuccu,
Sing cuccu, sing cuccu nu!

(The Translation)

Summer is a'coming in;
Loud sing cuckoo!
Seed grows, and meadow blows,
and the wood spring new.
Sing cuckoo!

Ewe bleets after lamb,
Cow lows after calf;
Bullock leaps, buck hides,
Merry sing cuckoo!

Cuckoo, cuckoo, well you sing cuckoo:
Don't you ever stop now;
Sing cuckoo, now, sing cuckoo,
Sing cuckoo, sing cuckoo, now!

"Sumer Is Icumen In" is thought by some to be the oldest surviving song in the English language. Some scholars date it to as early as 1250 CE. We have many poems from the Old English period (Beowulf and "Deor" among them), but no songs (not unless many of the poems we had were set to music, which I doubt--Old English poems don't seem to lend themsevles to singing...). As to my thoughts on the matter, it seems unlikely to me that the Anglo-Saxons had no songs as we know them; it is simply a case that they were not written down. I rather suspect that songs similar to "Sumer Is Icumen In" could have existed in some form even before the Norman Invasion, maybe even "Sumer Is Icumen In" itself. True, some of the words ("verteth" for instance) date only to Middle English, but then the lyrics of songs can change dramatically over time and even from region to region. Just look at the ballad "Barbara Allan." In 1932, Arthur Kyle Davis Jr. did a study of the folk songs of Virginia and found 92 versions of "Barbara Allan" alone!

Of course, I guess some people might have to question what "Sumer Is Icumen In" has to do with pop culture, which is the raison d'etre of this blog. Didn't pop culture arise with the advent of newspapers, magazines, books, and other mass media? Well, in my opinion, no. Mass culture (the culture generated by mass media) did, but not pop culture. The way I see it, pop culture being short for popular culture and the word popular in its most basic sense meaning "of the people," pop culture would include anything that has been widely accepted by the people (that is, it is "popular"). "Sumer Is Icumen In," having long been a popular song is then part of pop culture. Beyond which, it appears in at least one movie (The Wicker Man) and one telefilm (Sarah Plain and Tall) that I know of.

As to "Sumer Is Icumen In" itself, I can only think that medieval England (or modern England for that matter) has a lot milder summers than Missouri has. Otherwise "Sumer Is Icumen In" would not be nearly so happy....

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