Happy May Day!

A new month already? I’ve been so busy getting Awakened launched and then making Devices and Desires fit to be seen, that I completely neglected to note such April occurrences as Easter, Earth Day, Shakespeare’s birthday, and National Poetry Month! Not to mention being largely absent from this blog. I hope to be less distracted in future.

Hobby Hoss pursues maiden at Padstow festival
Hobby Hoss pursues maiden at Padstow festival

So, to start things off fresh, here’s a May Day carol from Cornwall, which is the setting for my first two historicals. Padstow is located further up the coast from my fictional village of St. Perran, but it’s famous for its traditional May Day celebrations, during which a large “Hobby Horse” (or ‘Obby ‘Oss)–formed by a mask mounted on a circular frame covered in a black skirt–runs and dances through the streets while the villagers sing some version of the following song. During the “Where is King George?” verse, the Horse sinks to the ground pretending to die, but leaps up in the next verse to show how spring in the season of renewal.

So, all together now, to herald the Hobby Horse’s entrance: “Oss, Oss, Wee Oss!”

Padstow May Carol
(traditional; from the singing of Steeleye Span)

Unite and unite, and let us all unite
For summer is a-comin’ today.
And whither we are going we all will unite,
In the merry morning of May.

The young men of Padstow, they might if they would,
For summer is a-comin’ today.
They might have built a ship and gilded it with gold
In the merry morning of May.

The young women of Padstow, they might if they would,
For summer is a-comin’ today.
They might have built a garland with the white rose and the red
In the merry morning of May.

Rise up, Mrs Johnson, all in your gown of green
For summer is a-comin’ today.
You are as fine a lady as waits upon the Queen
In the merry morning of May.

Oh where is King George? Oh where is he-O?
He’s out in his longboat, all on the salt sea-O.
Up flies the kite, down falls the lark-O.
Aunt Ursula Birdhood, she has an old ewe,
And she died in her own park-O.

With the merry ring and with the joyful spring,
For summer is a-comin’ today.
How happy are the little birds and the merrier we shall sing
In the merry morning of May.

Oh where are the young men that now do advance
For summer is a-comin’ today.
Some they are in England and some they are in France
In the merry morning of May.

640px-New_York_RenFaire_2004_maypole-1
Maypole dancers at Renaissance Faire

Happy St. Lucy’s Day

800px-Adèle_Söderberg_-_Christmas_card
This isn’t exactly a jolly holiday poem, but it is a beautiful one, in its melancholy way, written the year that Donne lost two important Lucys in his life: a good friend and his eighteen-year-old daughter. St. Lucy’s Day seemed to hold a particular significance for him ever after: he composed his will on that day, three years later.But if St. Lucy’s Day was sad for Donne, it doesn’t have to be for everyone else. Most often, the day is celebrated–especially in Scandinavia and Italy–as a festival of light. In Norway and Sweden, young girls would dress as Lucy in white gowns sashed with red and a crown of candles on their heads. On December 13, the girls would rouse their families with song, then serve them coffee and saffron buns made just for the occasion. (I just hope the buns were good enough to compensate for being awakened that early in the morning!)

Happy St. Lucy’s Day!

A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day, Being The Shortest Day

 

‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
The world’s whole sap is sunk;
The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed’s feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compar’d with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness;
He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;
I, by Love’s limbec, am the grave
Of all that’s nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown’d the whole world, us two; oft did we grow
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death (which word wrongs her)
Of the first nothing the elixir grown;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love; all, all some properties invest;
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light and body must be here.

But I am none; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all;
Since she enjoys her long night’s festival,
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year’s, and the day’s deep midnight is.

–John Donne (1572-1631)

Happy Labor Day!

For those who celebrate it, have a wonderful holiday weekend!
 
 Vintage_Labor_Day_Card-02
 I Hear America Singing.
 
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deck-hand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The woodcutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work,
or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young
fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

–Walt Whitman (1819-1892)