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AY-DAY is a word which used to awaken in the minds
of our ancestors all the ideas of youth, and verdure,
and blossoming, and love, and hilarity ; in short, the union of the two best things in the world, the love of nature, and the love of each other. It was the day on which the arrival of the year at maturity was kept, like that of a blooming heiress. They caught her eye as she was coming, and sent up hundreds of songs of joy.
"Now the bright morning-star, day's harbinger,
Comes dancing from the east, and leads with her
These songs were stopped by Milton's own friends the Puritans, whom in his old age he again differed with, most likely on these very points, among others. But till then they appear to have been as old, all over Europe, as the existence of society. The Druids are said to have had festivals in honour of May. Our Teutonic ancestors had undoubtedly; and in the countries which had constituted the Western Roman Empire, Flora still
saw thanks paid for her flowers, though her worship had gone away.*
The homage which was paid to the Month of Love and Flowers may be divided into two sorts, the general and the individual. The first consisted in going with others to gather May, and in joining in sports and games afterwards. On the first of the month, “the juvenile part of both sexes," says Bourne, in his “Popular Antiquities,” . were wont to rise a little after midnight, and walk to some neighbouring wood, where they broke down branches from the trees, and adorned them with nosegays and crowns of flowers. When this was done, they returned with their booty about the rising of the sun, and made their doors and windows to triumph in the flowery spoil. The after part of the day was chiefly spent in dancing round a May-pole, which, being placed in a convenient part of the village, stood there, as it were, consecrated to the Goddess of Flowers, without the least violation offered to it in the whole circle of the year.” Spenser, in his “Shepheard's Calendar," has de tailed the circumstances in a style like a rustic dance.
“ Youth's folke now flocken in-everywhere,
Sicker this morowe, no longer agoe,
* The great May holiday observed over the west of Europe was known for centuries, up to a late period, under the name of the Beltein or Beltane. Such a num. ber of etymologies, all perplexingly probable, have been found for this word, that we have been surprised to miss among them that of Bel-temps, the fine time or
Thus Printemps, the first time or prime season, is the spring. + Buskets-Boskets-Bushes-from Boschetti, Ital.
# Yode, went. & Tabrere, a tabourer.
To see these folks make such jovisaunce,
The day was passed in sociality and manly sports ;-in archery, and running, and pitching the bar,-in dancing, singing, playing music, acting Robin Hood and his company, and making a well-earned feast upon all the country dainties in season. It closed with an award of prizes.
" As I have seen the Lady of the May,
Set in an arbour (on a holyday)
Among the gentry and at court, the spirit of the same enjoyments took place, modified according to the taste or rank of the entertainers. The most universal amusement, agreeably to the general current in the veins, and the common participation of
† Attone, at once-with him. 1 Britannia's Pastorals, by William Browne. Song the 4th. Browne, like his friend Wither, wanted strength and the power of selection; though not to such an extent. He is, however, well worth reading by those who can expatiate over a pastoral subject, like a meadowy tract of country; finding out the beautiful spots, and gratified, if not much delighted, with the rest. His genius, which was by no means destitute of the social part of passion, seems to have been turned almost wholly to description by the beauties of his native county, Devonshire.
Aesh and blood (for rank knows no distinction of legs and kneepans), was dancing. Contests of chivalry supplied the place of more rural gymnastics. But the most poetical and elaborate entertainment was the Mask. A certain flowery grace was sprinkled over all; and the finest spirits of the time thought they showed both their manliness and wisdom in knowing how to raise the pleasures of the season to their height. Sir Philip Sydney, the idea of whom has come down to us as a personification of all the refinement of that age, is fondly recollected by Spenser in this character.
“ His sports were faire, his joyance innocent,
Sweet without soure, and honey without gall:
Merrily masking both in bowre and hall.
Amongst the shepheards in their shearing feast;
The dawning day forth comming from the East.
Astrophel, St. 5-6. Individual homage to the month of May consisted in paying respect to it though alone, and in plucking flowers and flowering boughs to adorn apartments with.
“ This maiden, in a morn betime,
To get sweet setywall,
Drayton's Pastorals, Eclog: 4.
But when morning pleasures are to be spoken of, the lovers of poetry who do not know Chaucer are like those who do not know what it is to be up in the morning. He has left us two exquisite pictures of the solitary observance of May, in his “Palamon and Arcite.” They are the more curious inasmuch as
the actor in one is a lady, and in the other a knight. How far they owe any of their beauty to his original, the “ Theseide” of Boccaccio, we cannot say; for we never had the happiness of meeting with that very rare work. The Italians have so neglected it, that they dave not only never given it a rifacimento or re-modelling, as in the instance of Boiardo's poem, but are almost as much unacquainted with it, we believe, as foreign countries. Chaucer thought it worth his while to be both acquainted with it, and to make others so ; and we may venture to say, that we know of no Italian aster Boccaccio's age who was so likely to understand him to the core as his English admirer, Ariosto not excepted. Still, from what we have seen of Boccaccio's poetry, we can imagine the “Theseide” to have been too lax and long. If Chaucer's “Palamon and Arcite” be all that he thought proper to distil from it, it must have been greatly so; for it was a large epic. But at all events the essence is an exquisite one. The tree must have been a fine old enormity, from which such a honey could be drawn.
To begin, as in duty bound, with the lady. How she sparkles through the antiquity of the language, like a young beauty in an old hood!
“ Thus passeth yere by yere, and day by day,
ones, in a morowe of May,
That Emelie But we will alter the spelling where we can, as in a former instance, merely to let the reader see what a notion is in his way, if he suffers the look of Chaucer's words to prevent his enjoying him.
“ Thus passeth year by year, and day by day,