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Going a-Maying, Roger Pringle

Greville Press Pamphlets, 2020   £5.00

Love, whose month is ever May

Which season do you love most? I’ve always loved autumn, but this slim, elegantly produced pamphlet, makes a good case for spring. The pamphlet consists of a single, six-page poem in praise of May. It is beautifully illustrated, in full colour, with sixteenth century images from woodcuts and books of hours.

The poem explains the history of the word, May (from the Greek goddess Maia), before moving on to celebrate May’s importance throughout history. The poem acknowledges the fact that May manifests differently across the globe. What is being eulogised here is May as experienced in ‘the more temperate zones.’

The poem delights, unapologetically, in the language of a bygone age: ‘parlance’, ‘congenial’, ‘amorous’, ‘hailed’, ‘burgeoning’, ‘merriment’, ‘mirth’. It reminded me of old school text books:

The hawthorn mocks winter’s decorative frieze
with starry, sweet-smelling trimmings of its own,
(happily named after the month herself);
bluebell hazed woods are loud with warblers’ chatter

At times it reads very much like prose, but maybe this is an intentional reflection of our dumb-headed destruction of the planet:

our madcap misuse of the planet’s resources
which, unless reversed, will likely undermine
the season’s inveterate patterns and rhythms

The greater part of the poem is a love song to May and her festivities:

May the morris troupes never be on their last legs
but always around, ready to stamp and jingle,
clash sticks and twirl and flutter handkerchiefs,
while fiddle and melodeon do overtime,
the hobby horse prances and nods approval,
and the red-cheeked piper’s puff is not yet spent

And the poem concludes by urging us to preserve May’s ancient traditions, assuring us that May herself:

will be turning a deaf ear or a blind eye
if the music seems raucous, or the dancing crazy,
or the beer too strong, or the talk too racy,
or someone sniggers how silly it is,
or if a poem penned in her honour
falls short of expectations.

I was touched by the gracious humility of those last two lines.

Annie Fisher

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