Happy May Day!
Corinna's Going A-Maying
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 drest,
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,
Whenas a thousand virgins on this day
Spring, sooner than the lark, to fetch in May.
When I was a girl, our Sunday school class made and delivered May Day baskets. May Day is holiday I would love to bring back. With it's toes firmly dipped into sensuous waters, May Day is one of the sexiest of holidays. Damn those puritans and their fear of sensuality. Anyway, I digress... In contemporary America, if May Day is celebrated at all, it is usually associated with children. This ignores the fact that the young girls who were the original May Day Queens were in fact nubile and ready for a sexual awakening. It was their "Spring" if you will; but, now, we don't really remember that most girls are actually women by the time they are 12 or 13.
I am sure that my Sunday School teacher was oblivious of May Day's pagan beginnings when she planned our May Day adventure. The event took two weekends. On the first weekend we made May Day flower bouquets. They were little paper mache flower baskets. The next weekend was the first of May. Our class was divided into small gaggles of giggling girls and each of us was assigned to a jaded teenage girl who were either forced by their mothers, or had just gotten their driver's licences, and thus were eager to drive anywhere. We would park up the street a little ways and then this little gaggle of 8 year old girls would tiptoe, giggling loudly, as we tried to sneak up to the porch and place their flower basket on the doorknob. One brave girl, usually me, or my friend Michelle, would ring the doorbell, or knock. There was this fantastic moment of tension as I would linger on the porch my finger just hovering above the doorbell, and then, I would push the bell, or knock, and all of us would burst free and run back to the car squealing, running, panting, and laughing in a burst of released delight.
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.
While in college, my boyfriend and I decided to deliver May Day bouquets of our own. I was living in a small town just outside of Boston Massachusetts where spring's coming is celebrated enthusiastically after the long cold winter. We made tiny paper baskets and filled them with flowers stolen from the campus gardens. We walked to a neighborhood just west of town that was populated mostly by the townies. These were folks who had nothing to do with the college and were unlikely to know who we were. The first couple of doors we did together. Giggling and running just as I had as a girl. After a minor squabble, something our relationship was marked by, we split up and decided to each go our own ways.
I approached a house, on my own, carrying my tiny bouquet. As I could get nearer to the porch I heard the unmistakable sounds of a couple having sex. I froze in my steps. I was not sure what to do. A part of me was struck by how apropos it was to be leaving May Day flowers on the porch as a couple made love. The flowers historically were tokens of wooing and symbolic of the blooming of a young girl's readiness to lose her virginity. As I placed my flowers on the door knob, I heard a noise around the corner of the porch. I should have left then, but my curiosity led me around the corner of the house. As I peered around the corner I saw my friend peering into the bedroom window watching the couple have sex. Quickly, and quietly I turned and walked away. I grabbed my basket off the door and left without being seen.
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.
The first boy I ever kissed was killed in a motorcycle accident before he was old enough to be considered a man. It wasn't May Day when I learned that he died, but it was Spring. I was 11 when we kissed and 15 when he died. He a mere year and a half older. Eleven seems too young for kissing, and 15 far too young for mourning. That kiss was the most sexually charged kiss of my life, even now, I look back on that event with wonder. His experience with his tongue makes me think he probably wasn't a virgin when he died. Even though a little past 16 is far too young for a death of any kind; it gives me comfort to think that he lived a little older than other boys his age because somehow he knew he less time than the rest of us.
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.
It was in a Surevy of Early British Literature class where I first read this poem. My friends and I were quite romantic and loved the Carpe Diem poems. Herrick, Marvell, Jonson, et al. We were young and we thought of ourselves and Julia or Corinna. We wrote lovely little papers on these poems and their fresh sensuality and flirting of innocence. One day I was put in a group with an older woman. She was very smart, sassy, and I looked up to her. At the time she seemed much older than I, but now, I realize that she was prolly about the age that I am now. We were choosing poems to write about for a group project and I suggested Corrina's Going A-Maying and To the Virgins to Make Much of Time. As we were working, the light and fun mood surrounding these poems darkened. She read them with the eye of a woman nearing 40 who was losing her bloom. She pointed to line after line and read them as an indictment of the uselessness of an older woman. I remember her saying "These poems are about a bunch of old men who are telling young girls to just do it with them because soon they will be old dried up hags and no one will want them." She was angry. I learned later that her husband had recently left her, for a younger woman, of course.
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 drown'd with us in endless night.
Then while time serves, and we are but decaying,
Come, my Corinna, come, let's go a-Maying.
by Robert Herrick
While the Sun Shines
2 years ago