29 May 2012

"Stag farts" - a traditional sign of summer


In the United States, summer unofficially begins well before the solstice - typically after the Memorial Day holiday at the end of May (coinciding with the meteorological "summer"  months of June, July, and August).  That's a good-enough excuse to post about "Sumer Is Icumen In."  Wikipedia provides an extensive review of the piece, including the Middle English text -
Sumer 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!...
- and the Modern English equivalent -
Summer has arrived,
Loudly sing, Cuckoo!
The seed grows and the meadow blooms
And the wood springs anew,
Sing, Cuckoo!
The ewe bleats after the lamb
The cow lows after the calf.
The bullock stirs, the stag farts,
Merrily sing, Cuckoo...
- and this clarification:
The translation of "bucke uerteþ" is uncertain. Some translate as "the buck-goat turns", but the current critical consensus is that the line is "the stag farts", a gesture of virility indicating the stag's potential for creating new life, echoing the rebirth of Nature from the barren period of winter.
A hat tip to Adrian for finding an mp3 of the round that you can listen to.

10 comments:

  1. This was one of the first songs I ever did in school choir, all the way back when I was 9 or 10! Only we had "sing loud cuckoo" and I think the stags might've been jumping....

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  2. One of the things I learned listening to (audio) college courses concerns your Middle English text - the characters Þ & þ are called _thorn_ and are a lo0aner letter from runic alphabets. The character replaces the 'th' sound.

    So, 'springþ' can be spelled as springth or springs. :-)

    I know, not much, but it's seldom I get a chance to show off...

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    1. Þhank you, Dutch. Every contribution countþ.

      BTW, "Dutch" was my father's nickname as a schoolchild in the 1920s (because his family were "Deutsch.")

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  3. I learned this in a choir when I sat in on some music classes at college (lo those many years ago!) What really surprises me is my retained ability to sight-sing the music in the picture you've shown, and that it matches the tune I learned for the song!

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  4. Your blog post is missing a link to an audio recording. Try this one.

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    Replies
    1. Or here's the direct link.

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    2. Thank you, Adrian. I was wondering what the round would sound like. Now if only I knew how to embed an mp3.

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    3. I knew where to find the recording because I've heard that group (Lumina Vocal Ensemble) perform it live. :-)

      I know how to embed mp3s in Wordpress blogs, but not elsewhere. (In any case, I have the Quicktime plugin installed for my browser, which makes a simple link to a file as good as embedding it.)

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  5. Richard Thompson does a terrific version of this on his album, "A Thousand Years of Popular Music". Highly recommend it!

    Here's a slightly different live version: http://youtu.be/ZiauqwQIdnw

    (I need to learn how to embed mp3s, too.)

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