This month of early morning forays into the countryside to bring home branches of the May, to decorate the may-pole and to dance around it, forms part of our vision of Merry England. It is well portrayed in Beaumont and Fletcher’s play, “The Knight of the Burning Pestle” printed in 1613, when the aspiring apprentice, Ralph, costumed as a May Lord, thus addresses the citizens:
London, to thee I do present the merry month of May;
Let each true subject be content to hear me what I say:
For by the common counsel of my fellows in the Strand
With gilded staff and crossed scarf, the May Lord here I stand.
Rejoice, oh, English hearts rejoice! rejoice, oh lovers dear,
Rejoice ,oh, city, town, and country, rejoice eke every shire!
For now the fragrant flowers do spring and sprout in seemly sort,
The little birds do sit and sing, the lambs do make fine sport;
And now the birchen-tree doth bud, that makes the schoolboy cry;
The morris rings, while hobby-horse doth foot it feateously;
The lords and ladies now abroad, for their disport and play,
Do kiss sometimes upon the grass, and sometimes in the hay;
March out and show your willing minds, by twenty and by twenty
To Hoxton or to Newington, where ale and cakes are plenty;
And let it ne’er be said for shame that we, the youths of London;
Lay thrumming of our caps at home, and left our custom undone.
Up then, I say, both young and old, both man and maid a-maying,
With drums and guns that bounce aloud, and merry tabor playing.
Previous poem The legend of Good Women by Geoffrey Chaucer