A Seasonal Collection: May

April advanced to May: a bright serene May it was; days of blue sky, placid sunshine, and soft western or southern gales filled up its duration.  And now vegetation matured with vigour; Lowood shook loose its tresses; it became all green, all flowery; its great elm, ash, and oak skeletons were restored to majestic life; woodland plants sprang up profusely in its recesses; unnumbered varieties of moss filled its hollows, and it made a strange ground-sunshine out of the wealth of its wild primrose plants: I have seen their pale gold gleam in overshadowed spots like scatterings of the sweetest lustre.  All this I enjoyed often and fully, free, unwatched, and almost alone: for this unwonted liberty and pleasure there was a cause, to which it now becomes my task to advert.

From ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte

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‘Hyde Park in May’ by Mary Rose Barton

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The next morning, when Thomasin withdrew the curtains of her bedroom window, there stood the Maypole in the middle of the green, its top cutting into the sky. It had sprung up in the night, or rather early morning, like Jack’s bean-stalk. She opened the casement to get a better view of the garlands and posies that adorned it. The sweet perfume of the flowers had already spread into the surrounding air, which, being free from every taint, conducted to her lips a full measure of the fragrance received from the spire of blossom in its midst. At the top of the pole were crossed hoops decked with small flowers; beneath these came a milk-white zone of Maybloom; then a zone of bluebells, then of cowslips, then of lilacs, then of ragged-robins, daffodils, and so on, till the lowest stage was reached. Thomasin noticed all these, and was delighted that the May revel was to be so near.

From ‘The Return of the Native’ by Thomas Hardy

* * * * * * *‘May Flower Fairy’ by Cicely Mary Barker

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Into the scented woods we’ll go,
And see the blackthorn swim in snow.
High above, in the budding leaves,
A brooding dove awakes and grieves;
The glades with mingled music stir,
And wildly laughs the woodpecker.
When blackthorn petals pearl the breeze,
There are the twisted hawthorne trees
Thick-set with buds, as clear and pale
As golden water or green hail-
As if a storm of rain had stood
Enchanted in the thorny wood,
And, hearing fairy voices call,
Hung poised, forgetting how to fall.

‘Green Rain’ by Mary Webb

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Illustration by Charles LeRoy

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 May 28th, 1876

On coming in from our walk, I went to my room and sat in the window, It’s odd that nothing seems changed; it seems as if we were back in last year. The songs of Nice have never seemed so charming before; the croaking of the frogs, the murmur of a fountain, a sound of singing in the distance, are desecrated by the noise of a prosaic carriange.

I am reading Horace and Tibullus. The latter only speaks of love, and that suits me. And I have the French text open opposite the Latin to give me practice. If only all this talk of marriage, which I have thoughtlessly set going, won’t injure me. I fear it.

I ought not to have promised A_____ anything. I ought to have answered him.

“I thank you, monsieur, for the honour you do me; but I can promise you nothing before consulting my parents, Let your family confer with mine and we shall see. As for me,” I might have said to soften my reply, “I would have no objection to you.”

This answer, accompanied by one of my sweet smiles, with my hand given him to kiss, would have sufficed.

And I should not have been compromised, and there would have been no gossip in Rome, and all would have been well.

I think of clever things, but always too late. I should have done better, no doubt, to make a fine speech like the one you have just read, but I should have economised so much pleasure, and besides …. life is so short ! ….and besides, there is always a – besides.

I did wrong in not making the above answer, but I was really so much moved; sensible people will say certainly; and sentimental ones, no.

From ‘The Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff’

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‘Ringelreihen’ by Franz Van Stuck

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IN the greenest growth of the Maytime,
I rode where the woods were wet,
Between the dawn and the daytime;
The spring was glad that we met.

There was something the season wanted,
Though the ways and the woods smelt sweet;
The breath at your lips that panted,
The pulse of the grass at your feet.

You came, and the sun came after,
And the green grew golden above;
And the flag-flowers lightened with laughter,
And the meadow-sweet shook with love.

Your feet in the full-grown grasses
Moved soft as a weak wind blows;
You passed me as April passes,
With face made out of a rose.

By the stream where the stems were slender,
Your bright foot paused at the sedge;
It might be to watch the tender
Light leaves in the springtime hedge,

On boughs that the sweet month blanches
With flowery frost of May:
It might be a bird in the branches,
It might be a thorn in the way.

I waited to watch you linger
With foot drawn back from the dew,
Till a sunbeam straight like a finger
Struck sharp through the leaves at you.

And a bird overhead sang Follow,
And a bird to the right sang Here;
And the arch of the leaves was hollow,
And the meaning of May was clear.

I saw where the sun’s hand pointed,
I knew what the bird’s note said;
By the dawn and the dewfall anointed,
You were queen by the gold on your head.

As the glimpse of a burnt-out ember
Recalls a regret of the sun,
I remember, forget, and remember
What Love saw done and undone.

I remember the way we parted,
The day and the way we met;
You hoped we were both broken-hearted,
And knew we should both forget.

And May with her world in flower
Seemed still to murmur and smile
As you murmured and smiled for an hour;
I saw you turn at the stile.

A hand like a white wood-blossom
You lifted, and waved, and passed,
With head hung down to the bosom,
And pale, as it seemed, at last.

And the best and the worst of this is
That neither is most to blame
If you’ve forgotten my kisses
And I’ve forgotten your name.

‘The Interlude’ by Algernon Charles Swinburne

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‘ …. and behind me cliffs are slipping and whispering. Penarth. May 2013’ by Kurt Jackson

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Spring bloomed in all the dark houses, every rafter and every post were festooned with greenery. The girls wore wreaths of flowers in their hair, the men tucked flowers behind their ears and under their belts. They drank the May wine, perfumed with wild thyme and violets. And they went to dance and sing around the enormous gilded Maypole which each year was erected by St. Andrew’s church in Cornhill. So famous was this Maypole that it had given its name to the church, St. Andrew-under-shaft, at which some of the stricter clerics frowned, deeming the May frolics pagan things that lured the folk to licence. But most of the clergy thought no harm, and in the smiling ring of onlookers about the Maypole there was many a passing friar or parson, and even the black-garbed Benedictines stopped to watch. Ah, Katherine should have been May Queen, cried Hawise, for she was fairer than any other maiden! But the queen had been chosen long ago, and already sat on her flowery throne beside the dancing. The May Queen’s father was a goldsmith, and his metal seemed to shimmer in his daughter’s hair, while her eyes were round and blue as forget-me-nots, so that Katherine knew Hawise was but being kind in calling her the most fair. Still, this kindness warmed her, and added to the glory of the golden day the feeling that she had found a true friend.

From ‘Katherine’ by Anya Seton

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‘May Day’ by Walter Crane

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Last night after dinner, when we were in the garden, I said, “I want to be alone for a whole summer, and get to the very dregs of life. I want to be as idle as I can, so that my soul may have time to grow. Nobody shall be invited to stay with me, and if any one calls they will be told that I am out, or away, or sick. I shall spend the months in the garden, and on the plain, and in the forests. I shall watch the things that happen in my garden, and see where I have made mistakes. On wet days I will go into the thickest parts of the forests, where the pine needles are everlastingly dry, and when the sun shines I’ll lie on the heath and see how the broom flares against the clouds. I shall be perpetually happy, because there will be no one to worry me. Out there on the plain there is silence, and where there is silence I have discovered there is peace.”

“Mind you do not get your feet damp,” said the Man of Wrath, removing his cigar.

It was the evening of May Day, and the spring had taken hold of me body and soul. The sky was full of stars, and the garden of scents, and the borders of wallflowers and sweet, sly pansies. All day there had been a breeze, and all day slow masses of white clouds had been sailing across the blue. Now it was so still, so motionless, so breathless, that it seemed as though a quiet hand had been laid on the garden, soothing and hushing it into silence.

From ‘The Solitary Summer’ by Elizabeth Von Arnim

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There is May in books forever;
May will part from Spenser never;
May’s in Milton, May’s in Prior,
May’s in Chaucer, Thomson, Dyer;
May’s in all the Italian books:–
She has old and modern nooks,
Where she sleeps with nymphs and elves,
In happy places they call shelves,
And will rise and dress your rooms
With a drapery thick with blooms.
Come, ye rains, then if ye will,
May’s at home, and with me still;
But come rather, thou, good weather,
And find us in the fields together.

‘May and the Poets’ by Leigh Hunt

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6 thoughts on “A Seasonal Collection: May

  1. Lovely as ever! I recognised E von A’s writing before I got to the second sentence and before I’d skimmed down to see who that one was by.

    Fun fact: I’ve just started re-reading “The Sea, The Sea” for my Iris Murdoch re-reading project and it starts in May!


  2. What an absolutely lovely collection. I’ve copied the Leigh Hunt into my diary and bought The Solitary Summer, von Arnim is new to me so thank you for the introduction (and I see she wrote Enchanted April, which also sounds fantastic!)


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