Category Archives: May Day

Robert Herrick, and Your May Book of Days

Welcome May! Here’s your Convivio Book of Days Calendar for the month. It looks a bit different than usual, but it still prints on standard US Letter size paper. I was in an analog mood when I designed this month’s calendar: I wrote it out with pen and ink. You get my less-than-stellar handwriting and you get a misspelling or two to boot.

And since it is May Day, Margaret next door asked me to share this with you. She says you should read it aloud.

Corinna’s Going a-Maying
by Robert Herrick

Get up, get up for shame, the blooming morn
Upon her wings presents the god unshorn.
See how Aurora throws her fair
Fresh-quilted colours through the air :
Get up, sweet slug-a-bed, and see
The dew bespangling herb and tree.
Each flower has wept and bow’d toward the east
Above an hour since : yet you not dress’d ;
Nay ! not so much as out of bed?
When all the birds have matins said
And sung their thankful hymns, ’tis sin,
Nay, profanation to keep in,
Whereas a thousand virgins on this day
Spring, sooner than the lark, to fetch in May.

Rise and put on your foliage, and be seen
To come forth, like the spring-time, fresh and green,
And sweet as Flora. Take no care
For jewels for your gown or hair :
Fear not ; the leaves will strew
Gems in abundance upon you :
Besides, the childhood of the day has kept,
Against you come, some orient pearls unwept ;
Come and receive them while the light
Hangs on the dew-locks of the night :
And Titan on the eastern hill
Retires himself, or else stands still
Till you come forth. Wash, dress, be brief in praying :
Few beads are best when once we go a-Maying.

Come, my Corinna, come ; and, coming, mark
How each field turns a street, each street a park
Made green and trimm’d with trees : see how
Devotion gives each house a bough
Or branch : each porch, each door ere this
An ark, a tabernacle is,
Made up of white-thorn neatly interwove ;
As if here were those cooler shades of love.
Can such delights be in the street
And open fields and we not see’t ?
Come, we’ll abroad ; and let’s obey
The proclamation made for May :
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying ;
But, my Corinna, come, let’s go a-Maying.

There’s not a budding boy or girl this day
But is got up, and gone to bring in May.
A deal of youth, ere this, is come
Back, and with white-thorn laden home.
Some have despatch’d their cakes and cream
Before that we have left to dream :
And some have wept, and woo’d, and plighted troth,
And chose their priest, ere we can cast off sloth :
Many a green-gown has been given ;
Many a kiss, both odd and even :
Many a glance too has been sent
From out the eye, love’s firmament ;
Many a jest told of the keys betraying
This night, and locks pick’d, yet we’re not a-Maying.

Come, let us go while we are in our prime ;
And take the harmless folly of the time.
We shall grow old apace, and die
Before we know our liberty.
Our life is short, and our days run
As fast away as does the sun ;
And, as a vapour or a drop of rain
Once lost, can ne’er be found again,
So when or you or I are made
A fable, song, or fleeting shade,
All love, all liking, all delight
Lies drowned with us in endless night.
Then while time serves, and we are but decaying,
Come, my Corinna, come, let’s go a-Maying.


May Be Welcome

Traditional reckoning of time would have us turn our thoughts toward summer tonight with Walpurgis Night and May Eve, but spring has been slow to come this year. Perhaps on this particular revolution around the sun we are better off enjoying spring now that it’s here and the daffodils, too, now that they are blooming. But this time of year is like this, isn’t it? A bit unpredictable––we never know just what it will bring.

Still, here are the things that some folks will be doing on this Walpurgis Night, this Eve of May… and perhaps you’d like to join in: They’ll be building bonfires. They’ll be drinking sparkling wine. They’ll be dining on bread and gravlax––a cured smoked salmon. Here’s what I’ll be doing: I’m stopping by the local Finnish bakery today and picking up a couple of those wonderful open-face sandwiches they make: a dark hearty Scandinavian rye, baked right there, spread with a homemade mustardy sauce then topped with sliced hard boiled eggs, smoked salmon and fresh dill, with a lemon wedge ready for squeezing. I’m getting one for me and one for Seth, and I’m getting sparkling wine to put in the fridge, just one bottle. And late Monday night, we will light a little fire in the backyard, pop open the wine, and enjoy those sandwiches in the firelight. With that, we will welcome May, and begin to turn our thoughts to summer… which is never very far away here in Lake Worth.

Though this night (named for St. Walpurga, whose feast day comes tomorrow) is a big deal in many places––particularly in Scandinavia and Northern and Eastern Europe––it’s not such a big deal here in the States. But this is our loss, and I think marking it in some small way would do us all good. Especially after a long winter. Surely there’s some sparkling wine to be found near you tonight, and as for the gravlax, well, if you served smoked fish dip and saltines, the spirit is still there. No bonfire to attend or backyard fire in the fire pit? An illuminated candle certainly will do the trick. There’s nothing wrong with simplifying celebrations if it helps us keep the day (or night, in this case).

It is a night rich in meaning, an important juncture of the year. It is a time of emerging, the opposite spoke of the wheel from Halloween, when we began our descent down, down into the earth. That juncture in late October in the Celtic tradition is known as Samhain, a Celtic cross quarter day. It marked the descent into winter, with growth happening slowly below ground, in roots. This one we come to now is known as Beltane. It marks the ascent into summer. Growth is more apparent, for it is visible and happening all around us in every budding tree and blooming flower and growing grass.

It was a few years ago on Walpurgis Night that Convivio Book of Days reader (and fellow letterpress printer) Leonard Seastone gave us a pointer in the blog comments about a good song for this night. It’s a traditional Swedish song called “Maj vare välkommen” (May Be Welcome), and that song will be part of our quiet celebration tonight, too, even if it’s just playing in my head. Leonard signed off on that Walpurgis Night using his proper Swedish name––Lennart Einar Sjösten––so he seems to me a good authority on these matters. I hope he’ll be celebrating tonight as Seth and I will be, and I hope you will, too, in some way, grand or small. Welcome May!


Image:Nature’s own Valborgsmässoafton in Vaxholmby Bengt Nyman. Valborgsmässoafton is the Swedish name for Walpurgis Night. The photograph was shot in Vaxholm in Sweden on April 30, 2009. [Creative Commons] via Wikimedia Commons.


Your May Book of Days or, Welcome to the Gentle Time of Year

Welcome to May and, by traditional reckoning of time, to summer. Welcome to the gentle time of year. I’ve approached May with a paperback copy of the poetry of Robert Herrick in my hands for the past few days, reading while I walk down sidewalks and up and down stairs. It’s dangerous, I know, but no more dangerous than walking while texting, and I feel so much better walking and reading Robert Herrick than I feel walking and texting. I was looking for a certain poem, the one that Herrick wrote for May Day (“Corinna’s Going a Maying”) and in my search stumbled upon so many that pleased me. Like this one:

Breathe, Julia, breathe, and Ile protest,
   Nay more, Ile deeply sweare,
That all the Spices of the East
   Are circumfused there.

That’s it, just four lines. It’s called “On Julia’s breath.” The book is filled with gems like that. And then there is the book itself: small, thin, flexible. It fits nicely in my hands and is not cumbersome nor at all obtrusive. A simple companion on my walks and what more could you ask for in a book or a walking companion? I am a bit in love with the book and the poems it contains. But this is what May does to us, when it is at its most powerful. May calls us to the things of this world. Valentine’s Day may corner the market on romance commercially, but May Day, if you ask me, is where the passion is at. The rivers are a’running, the bees are a’buzzing, the loving cup overflowing.

May was, in my years in graduate school, the time of year I would leave Alabama and head to Maine. There was romance in Maine and there was work to be done, too: internships with letterpress printers. Some were in Portland but most were with the Shaker Press in New Gloucester, at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community, where I would work with Brother Arnold Hadd. May would come and suddenly my life was immersed in Shaker music, Shaker spirituality, Shaker herbs (“all the spices of the East, circumfused there”)… all things Shaker. Shaker gift drawings fascinated me the most: Images delivered to Shaker brothers and sisters from the spirit world, which they then transferred to paper using inks and paints. One of those Shaker gift drawings, a drawing of an angel, is the cover star of this month’s Convivio Book of Days calendar. It’s our monthly gift to you, a printable PDF, and a fine companion to this Book of Days blog.

But these are the things of my world right now: poetry, spices, angels. If you see me out there, say hello. I’m the guy who could’ve used a haircut at least a week or two ago by now, the one with his nose in a paperback book, falling in love a bit with the little things. Happy May.