The Poetry of May

Illustration © 2018 by DM Denton

There is but one May in the year,
And sometimes May is wet and cold;
There is but one May in the year
Before the year grows old.
Yet though it be the chilliest May,
With least of sun and most of showers,
Its wind and dew, its night and day,
Bring up the flowers.
~ Christina Rossetti (1830-1894, English poet of romantic, devotional, and children’s poems)

 

 

But I must gather knots of flowers,
And buds and garlands gay,
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother,
I’m to be Queen o’ the May.
~ Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892, Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland during much of Queen Victoria’s reign)

 

 

 

Oh! that we two were Maying
Down the stream of the soft spring breeze;
Like children with violets playing,
In the shade of the whispering trees.
~ Charles Kingsley (1819-1875, social reformer, historian and novelist)

 

Wreaths for the May! for happy Spring
Today shall all her dowry bring
The love of kind, the joy, the grace,
Hymen of element and race,
Knowing well to celebrate
With song and hue and star and state,
With tender light and youthful cheer,
The spousals of the new-born year.
Lo love’s inundation poured
Over space and race abroad
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882, American essayist, lecturer, philosopher and poet)

 

A delicate fabric of bird song
Floats in the air,
The smell of wet wild earth
Is everywhere.
Red small leaves of the maple
Are clenched like a hand,
Like girls at their first communion
The pear trees stand.
Oh I must pass nothing by
Without loving it much,
The raindrop try with my lips,
The grass with my touch;
For how can I be sure
I shall see again
The world on the first of May
Shining after the rain?
~ Sara Teasdale (American poet, 1884 – 1933)

 

Illustration © 2018 by DM Denton

Now the bright morning-star, Day’s harbinger,
Comes dancing from the East, and leads with her
The flowery May, who from her green lap throws
The yellow cowslip and the pale primrose.
Hail, bounteous May, that dost inspire
Mirth, and youth, and warm desire!
Woods and groves are of thy dressing;
Hill and dale doth boast thy blessing.
Thus we salute thee with our early song,
And welcome thee, and wish thee long.
~ John Milton (1608-1674, English poet, polemicist, man of letters, and civil servant)

 

 

Illustration © 2018 by DM Denton

 

Winds of May, that dance on the sea,
Dancing a ring-around in glee
From furrow to furrow, while overhead
The foam flies up to be garlanded,
In silvery arches spanning the air,
Saw you my true love anywhere?
Welladay! Welladay!
For the winds of May!
Love is unhappy when love is away!
~ James Joyce (1882-1941, Irish novelist, short story writer, and poet)

 

Illustration © 2018 by DM Denton

 

Yes, I will spend the livelong day
With Nature in this month of May;
And sit beneath the trees, and share
My bread with birds whose homes are there;
While cows lie down to eat, and sheep
Stand to their necks in grass so deep;
While birds do sing with all their might,
As though they felt the earth in flight.
~ William Henry Davies (1871-1940, Welsh poet and writer)

 

Illustration © 2018 by DM Denton

Queer things happen in the garden in May. Little faces forgotten appear, and plants thought to be dead suddenly wave a green hand to confound you.
~ W. E . Johns (1893-1968, English First World War pilot, and writer of adventure stories)

 

The fair maid who, the first of May
Goes to the fields at break of day
And washes in dew from the hawthorn tree
Will ever after handsome be.
~ Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme

 

Illustration © 2018 by DM Denton

 

When April steps aside for May,
Like diamonds all the rain-drops glisten;
Fresh violets open every day:
To some new bird each hour we listen.
~ Lucy Larcom (1824-1893, American teacher, poet, and author)

 

 

 

Illustration © 2018 by DM Denton

 

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
a cloud come over the sunlit arch,
And wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.
~ Robert Frost (1874-1963, American poet)

 

 

 

 

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May.
~ William Shakespeare

Illustration © 2018 by DM Denton

I cannot tell you how it was,
But this I know: it came to pass
Upon a bright and sunny day
When May was young; ah, pleasant May!
As yet the poppies were not born
Between the blades of tender corn;
The last egg had not hatched as yet,
Nor any bird foregone its mate.

I cannot tell you what it was,
But this I know: it did but pass.
It passed away with sunny May,
Like all sweet things it passed away,
And left me old, and cold, and gray.
~ Christina Rossetti (1830-1894, English poet of romantic, devotional, and children’s poems)

Simply speaking … it’s May! It’s Daisy May!

Illustration © 2018 by DM Denton

In forgotten places
there are daisies
to love
whether I am
or not
call them dogged or
ox-eyed or
Marguerite
by any name
they are still
a treat.

~ DM Denton
from A Friendship with Flowers

 

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

Midsummer Music and a Little Madness

Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

Here’s the summer, sprightly, gay
Smiling, wanton, fresh and fair,
Adorned with all the flowers of May,
Whose various sweets perfume the air.

from the opera The Fairy Queen, Music by Henry Purcell, Libretto by ‘anonymous’,
based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Title page of original printed edition

Title page of original printed edition

Midsummer celebrations take place around the summer solstice (in the northern hemisphere, about June 21st). In England, from the 13th century, Midsummer’s Eve, also called St. John’s Eve,  was celebrated on June 23rd as the following day marked the feast of John the Baptist. In the 14th century John Mirk of Lilleshall Abbey, Shropshire, left us this insight: “At first, men and women came to church with candles and other lights and prayed all night long. In the process of time, however, men left such devotion and used songs and dances and fell into lechery and gluttony turning the good, holy devotion into sin.

In rural England, large bonfires were built and this practice was called “Setting the Watch”, a reference to the idea that fire would keep the evil spirits away. I used this phrase to title the final pages of my novel, To A Strange Somewhere Fled. You’ll have to read the novel to find out why, but I will offer a little teaser:

The Captain greeted someone coming from the Abbey grounds who raised a lantern. “Good evening, Tobias. The devil’s not afoot tonight, I trust?”

It was obvious he had upset the old man, who took his light away as quickly as he could.

In the novel, the Midsummer’s Eve celebrations begin with the music of friends, a concert featuring some of the top musicians – English, Italian, and French – of late Restoration England, many employed in the Court of Charles II.  Francis North (1st Baron Guildford; Keeper of the Great Seal, 1682 – 1685) and his brother Roger North (King’s Counsel, 1682 – 1684; Solicitor General to the Duke of York 1684; Attorney General to Queen Mary of Modena 1686) host the musical evening in and around their Oxfordshire country home, Wroxton Abbey.

Cover Artwork cropped resized_pe cropped

Wroxton Abbey, Copyright 2015 by DM Denton

More excerpts, Maestro, please …

 

Roger North_pe_pe

Roger North, 1651 – 1734, English lawyer, biographer, and amateur musician

On the day of midsummer’s eve the Great Hall gleamed with polish and high sunlight, its woolen rugs taken up and flagstones scrubbed, regal-red upholstered chairs borrowed from Broughton Castle arranged in two short-rowed sections separated by an aisle wide enough for layers of skirts. The fireplace was filled with a display of larkspur, lilies, gilliflowers, ferns and branching honeysuckle picked and presented by Tobias, and arranged by Lidia under his fussy direction. Tobias also brought sweet peas from “his most successful crop ever” to make nosegays for the ladies while single blooms would suffice for the gentlemen and their buttonholes. The flowers were kept fresh by being kept cold along with the sorbet made possible because of the ice-house Roger had been experimenting with.

The dais at the north end was designated for the music of friends. Roger worried over the personalities that would perform, a program created that listed them in alphabetical order except Master Purcell was acknowledged first to perform last. The chairs and music stands were set up with the expectation they would be moved around to accommodate one complaint or other. Donatella tried to reassure Roger that musicians would always reconcile for the sake of the music, as she had seen Alessandro and Lonati do.

A month and a half earlier, they had walked through the Abbey to consider the layout of the event and how many guests could be accommodated. Some would need to stay overnight. Roger formally introduced Donatella to the kitchen and household staff who hardly looked willing to take orders from her. Most of the planning took place in the garden parlor where Mama had recovered from fainting and Donatella had English lessons. It had almost completely evolved into a study and library, fitted with more shelves that still weren’t enough to prevent the stacking of books on the floor and deep windowsill. Its pretty couch, once for posing and swooning and dying, was just another place for the unmanageable range of Roger’s interests.

“The … domestics must … curse … you,” Donatella struggled to find the English words.

Roger wasn’t upset or apologetic. “They know better than to disturb anything in here.”

The dust that caused her fits of sneezing and Roger to open the window even though it wasn’t warm enough to confirmed no one had cleaned in there for quite some time.

“This is a little madness, don’t you think?” Roger was full of ideas for the concert, including a bonfire for the villagers behind the Abbey with a table set out on the terrace for sweetmeats and cider.

Old Depiction of the Great Hall, Wroxton Abbey

Old Depiction of the Great Hall, Wroxton Abbey

By six o’clock sunshine defined the high heraldic windows at the west end of the dais and streamed down upon it. The crowd was steeped in musky fragrance, clashing colors, watchful flirtation, conversational anticipation, and consuming more drink than food, seemingly oblivious to the performers as they tuned up. Outside behind the house, after a rowdy parade, villagers enjoyed the chance to feast at the Norths’ expense. They danced to their own fiddlers and waited for the sun to set and flames to rise up from the mountain of logs and brash so high a ladder had been needed to put the last bundles on top. Sir Francis wondered where his son and John Lely were, Anne’s shoulders rising and falling with either disapproval or envy for her brother’s ease of escape. Donatella could only imagine the boys preferring to play according to their age rather than privilege by rolling down banks, climbing trees, throwing stones and even wading in the fish pond, which Roger should not know about. Fortunately, he was preoccupied with Master Purcell setting the stage with an eye and ego for making sure he was positioned front and center.

Henry Purcell, 1659 - 1695, English Composer

Henry Purcell, 1659 – 1695, English Composer

Master Purcell nodded to Sir Francis who wasn’t quite invisible in the shadows under the gallery, and then to Roger, who was much closer to him.

“To my hosts, benefactors, and dear friends, I thank you for opening your doors and purses to my music and self, and especially for giving me a reason to escape the tyranny of London.”

There were gasps and murmurings that Master Purcell enjoyed for a few moments. “I refer only to the courtly chains of service I put upon myself.”

It was as if his shocking and relieving confession was rehearsed when there was a playful burst on the recorder from “James Peasable” as Master Purcell announced him.

“Jacques Paisible,” the young Frenchman corrected, without a hint of hostility.

“How’s Moll, Jack? Did she have another engagement? Perhaps, at Whitehall?” The theorbo player mocked him.

Paisible’s face tightened. “No. She’s at home.”

“On Suffolk Street?”

“Yes.”

“Well, within reach of … Whitehall.”

With a little stamp of his right foot, Master Purcell allowed nothing more to be said except as he introduced “the conspirators in making music worth listening to.”

Thomas Eccles and Thomas Farmer stood to attention with their violins in position to be played at a moment’s notice, but Matteo Battaglia hadn’t yet picked up his. Robert Carr and William Gregory straddled their viols. With the theorbo resting against his chest and reaching off to one side with his arm, Charles Coleman also sat, as did John Abell, encircling his lute. Jacques Paisable answered his second introduction with another seeming impossible flourish on the recorder, while Bartolomeo Albrici and Giovanni Battista Draghi exchanged vulgarities in the Italian style at the announcement that they would take turns on the harpsichord.

Master Purcell waved the singers forward and kissed the hand of Leonora, “an angel who could not leave England again, even if Matteo must go without her.” He showed more reserve with Henrietta Bannister, the wife of the late John and mother of the younger, and called William Turner an accomplished composer himself, a fine countertenor, and true gentleman of the Chapel Royal.

Master Purcell bowed to them all, the back of his wig matted and his coat creased, the ribbons undone on the bottom of his breeches, evidence of a mend here and there in his hose, and his ankles leaning out due to the wear on his shoes. As he straightened, his arms lifted up until his hands were close together above his head, reminding Donatella of a priest celebrating the Eucharist, his congregation silent in preparation for the miracle they were about to receive.

His arms fell and the strings began with a pavan in G minor that was reflective and hesitant but gradually rose to the occasion and opened the mood for what came next. A chacony did, in the same key, pulsating with bowing stokes up and down and brief pauses in slowly intensifying obstinato. The bass dropped out and came back in, its rhythm processional and melody clear with fleeting variations, its development quickening and relieving while weaving possibilities into a conclusion that couldn’t be more simple.

06-midsummer.jpg Bonfire

Donatella felt cold despite the very warm evening and bonfire that, kindled with conifer brash, eagerly blazed up through the center of precisely piled hazel, oak, alder, holly, willow, and ash logs as Roger had recommended for steady burning and tradition. By the time she was abandoned to the crowding on the terrace, the inferno was collapsing inwards to grow higher and higher. It was unapproachable by those with trailing silk and satin, flounces of lace and dangling ribbons, and anything else about their appearances to consider. A beacon to the villager revelers, it illuminated their senses, superstitions, and faith as their children played too close to it. Old and young alike joined in its leaping twirling dance, their voices also crackling, fiddlers and drummers making music that had never been written down. Some carried cressets lit from the fire and ran close to the ladies and gentlemen on the terrace to terrify or tempt them.

Casee's Book Photo on Dark Blue Background with Text_pe

 

 

All excerpts from To A Strange Somewhere Fled, published by All Things That Matter Press, are copyrighted (2015) by DM Denton

I hope your summer is full of joy and peace and love!

 

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Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.