The Great Festival of May

"Raising the Maypole" by Frederick Goodall, 1855.

“Raising the Maypole” by Frederick Goodall, 1855.

Snippets 68A Country Book: for the field, the forest, and the fireside by William Howitt was published in 1859.  This charming book contains one chapter per month, each focussing on country life at the relevant time of the year. You can read more quotes from this book about November in Snippets 38, January in Snippets 51 and April in Snippets 61. For this snippet let’s look at Howitt’s thoughts on the month of May, a month he felt was full of joy and free from care:

Go out all ye who can into the country and see the great festival of May! See the village greens, where the maypoles once collected about them all the population of the place to rejoice. See the woods to which the young people used to go out before daylight, a-maying. See the fields, deep with richest grass and flowers, where children, in this beautiful holiday of Nature, have from age to age run and gathered pinaforesful of perishable beauty and fragrance. Pace the river-sides, where poets have walked and mused on songs in honour of May. Sit on stiles where lovers have sat, and dreamt that life was a May month, to be followed by no autumn of care, no winter of death. Gaze on the clear sky, where, spite of death and care, the word “Immortality” is written in the crystal dome of Heaven. Enjoy that beauty which can come only from an eternal source of beauty; listen to that joy singing from the throats of birds and the hum of insect wings — joy that must come from an eternal source of joy; and let the holiday heart strengthen itself in the assurance that all this scene of enjoyment is meant to be enjoyed, and not in vain.

The young people going out “a-maying” is an expression that might require some explanation. As part of the May Day celebrations, young people would go out picking flowers. Robert Herrick (1591-1674) wrote the poem Corinna’s Going A-Maying which gives a good example of the phrase:

Come, we’ll abroad; and let’s obay
The Proclamation made for May:
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;
But my Corinna, come, let’s goe a Maying.

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About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
This entry was posted in 19th Century, Books, Britain, Christianity, England, History, Inspiration, Nature, Snippets and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Great Festival of May

  1. Midwestern Plant Girl says:

    We used to play ‘May poles’ in school. Never got explained why we were doing it, but had fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it is fair to say that dancing around the maypole is not as common as it used to be, even since I was a child. It used to be a common sight in British villages. The origins of the ceremony are lost in the mists of time. One of my favourite Doctor Who stories, The Daemons, shows a typical example of an English village enjoying a maypole dance, at the end of the fifth episode. Thanks for your comment! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Midwestern Plant Girl says:

        Love Dr. Who! I remember that episode. I’m just a fan, hubby is a fanatic. We even have a bumper sticker on our camper that says, “Bigger in the inside” 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • I fall into the “fanatic” category, to be honest! When my son was newborn I used to look after him evenings while my wife had a sleep and I kept myself sane by watching every Doctor Who episode in order. The end result was that my son heard the theme tune so much that putting it on would be guaranteed to stop him crying immediately if he was ever upset, and it would also settle him off to sleep. Now he is nearly 2 and still loves the opening credits, and will sit happily and watch every version! It is the one thing that he will drop everything and watch if I put it on. Once the theme tune is finished he loses interest! In fact, he even likes the announcement at the start of the DVDs “to select audio navigation press enter now” and whenever we go up in a lift he seems to think it is the same lady saying “please mind the doors” etc. So he expects me to say “to select audio navigation press enter now” when we get in a lift 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Midwestern Plant Girl says:

        That’s hilarious! Whatever works to quiet a crying child, is a miracle drug, IMO. I used to watch back in the day and then missed about 4 Doctors. I have watched it with hubby since it started up again. Anything Scifi is of interest to me. 👽👾

        Liked by 1 person

      • My wife likes all the recent episodes and also doesn’t mind the early stories, particularly the first couple of Doctors, but she can’t stand anything from the 80s!


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