Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Sumer Is Icumen In

It's the oldest surviving song in English to which we have both words and tune, an earthy and exuberant hymn to spring. It's also a delight.

Sumer Is Icumen In

Sumer is icumen in;

lhude sing, cuckoo.

Groweth sede and bloweth mede,

and springth the wode nu;

sing cuckoo.


Yowe bleteth ofter lomb,

lhuth ofter calve cu;

bullock sterteh,

bucke verteth,

murie sing, cuckoo.

Sing cuckoo, well singst thou, cuckoo:

ne swic the nevere nu.


For something written circa 1240, it's amazing how readily comprehensible it is. A few cribs:


lhude: loud   bloweth mede: meadow blooms   yowe bleteth: ewe bleats   lhuth: lows   cu: cow    sterteth: starts [i.e. jumps]   murie: merry   ne swic the nevere nu: don't you ever stop, now


You've got to love bucke verteth. The buck in question here is specifically a he-goat. Squeamish commentators gloss verteth as “jumps,” presumably in tandem with the starting bullock of the previous line. More honestly—but still, to my mind, over-delicately—The Oxford Book of English Poetry translates, “breaks wind.”


The he-goat farts. Yes siree, must be spring.


Scholars trying to reconstruct Proto-Indo-European society from the surviving vocabulary were stymied left and right by lack of information. What we do know about the ancient Indo-Europeans is that they had two words for breaking wind: one for breaking wind quietly, the other for breaking wind loudly. This latter is the ancestor of our word fart. The ancestors were earthy people.

It took a hunter to explain to me why farting goats would be a sign of spring. “Oh, deer are like that too,” he said. “After eating nothing but dry stuff all winter, they all get diarrhea in the spring when there are finally fresh greens to eat.”

Those earthy ancestors.

Ezra Pound—poet, pagan, anti-Semite—has left an amusingly modern companion piece to Sumer Is Icumen In; two songs for the price of one. Its urban, thoroughly humano-centric perspective contrasts strikingly with (and comments ironically on) the original, which is entirely about the natural world and never mentions people at all (or rather, is itself the human commentary on that which it observes).


Antient Music


Winter is icumen in;

lhude sing, goddam.

Raineth drop and staineth slop,

and how the wind doth ram.

Sing goddam.

Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,

an ague hath my ham;

freezeth river, turneth liver,

damn you, sing, goddam.

Sing goddam, against the winter’s balm,

lhude sing goddam.    


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Tagged in: song spring
Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Ian Phanes
    Ian Phanes Thursday, 12 March 2015

    Of course, most modern Witches are familiar with the song from the classic holiday movie for Bealtaine, The Wicker Man. ;)

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Thursday, 12 March 2015

    Next year in Summerisle!

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