May Day

It’s a strangely confused date. We have the modern era ‘s International Workers’ Day celebrated on May 1st in honor of the working class and labor movements. But much before that, we had the May Day of Maypoles and Beltane. It was a seasonal celebration of transition and purification practiced by the pre-Christian Irish. May Day and Beltane fall near a “cross-quarter” date, one of the midpoints in the progress of the sun from the spring equinox to the summer solstice. As they say in music,

Summer is a-coming in
Loudly sing cuckoo
Groweth seed and bloweth mead
and springs the wood anew
Sing cuckoo!

Ewe bleateth after lamb,
Calf loweth after cow,
Bullock starteth, buck farteth,
Merry sing cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo!
Well singest thou cuckoo,
Nor cease thou never now!
Sing cuckoo now, Sing cuckoo!

Sing cuckoo, Sing cuckoo now!

And this, to me, is May Day.

Years ago, when I was attending university, on a beautiful May Day afternoon, two friends and I decided to cut classes and make our way into the Washington Park Arboretum in the hills above Portland, Oregon. We thought it in keeping with the season that we took a bottle of mead with us, and we sat on the grass admiring the sunshine. We felt bold in our disregard for schedules and grade point averages, joyfully disobedient. It was the 1970’s. Somehow we were unsurprised to see a young woman come riding along the path astride a tall palomino horse, her ’70’s style long hair blowing behind her in the breeze. We smiled at her and lifted our bottle in greeting. She smiled at us, and said not a word as she passed us by. She likely thought we were a bunch of sots in jeans and t-shirts. We all thought she was probably a myth lady.

In memory of that May Day past, I offer this lady:

John Collier’s Lady Godiva

She is, of course, Lady Godiva, by John Collier, painted about 1897.

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Published in: Uncategorized on May 1, 2007 at 2:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

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