In a Word . . . May

The beloved month is much celebrated, including by Christy Moore in song

May, the beloved month. When the year is in its sweetest youth. No wonder it is so celebrated, including by Christy Moore in song, if indirectly. “As I roved out on a bright May morning/To view the meadows and flowers gay/Whom should I spy but my own true lover/As she sat under yon willow tree.”

As Moore explained it, he was taught the song “at the Boyle Fleadh in 1964” by a man who “mistakenly polished off my carry-out at a coming-out party in Jack Reddy’s to mourn the loss of Jack’s jinnet, who had fallen into a boghole on the way home after a, particularly bawdy, Comhaltas night in Pat Dowling’s.”

Only Christy!

I expect the "coming out" referred to had nothing to do with sexuality either, there being no sex in the Ireland of 1964.

To raise the tone a tad, it was probably English poet Leigh Hunt who most successfully captured the influence of May on his trade down the ages. "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", he wrote.

Not quite up there with the loss of Jack Reddy’s jinnet, but you get the drift.

Then there's poet Robert Browning and his Home Thoughts from Abroad, where he contemplated his native England, from Italy, at this time of year when "the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!/Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge/Leans to the field and scatters on the clover/Blossoms and dewdrops – at the bent spray's edge".

He continued: “And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,/All will be gay when noontide wakes anew/The buttercups, the little children’s dower.” Let’s forgive him. He was born on this day in 1812, so couldn’t possibly have forseen how gay “gay” would become.

Sadly, for me and myriad others, his most famous poem has been corrupted for ever by Clifford T Ward’s Home Thoughts from Abroad, which begins with the line “I could be a millionaire if I had the money.”

I think I know how Robert Browning would have felt, reading that.

May, from Latin Majus, possibly from Maja, Roman earth goddess and wife of Vulcan.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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