Friday, 1 May 2020

May

May at last, after an April that few of us will forget, for all manner of reasons, some bad but many good. May has always been a month that gets the poets busy, as Leigh Hunt notes, a touch sardonically, in this little poem:

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.


  A heartfelt lockdown Amen to those last four lines.

In the May of 1652, Milton wrote a poem of a very different kind, a magisterial sonnet addressed to Cromwell which, after celebrating the great man's victories over the Scots and all other foes, ends with a plea to preserve freedom of conscience from its enemies:

To the Lord General Cromwell, May 1652

Cromwell, our chief of men, who through a cloud,
Not of war only, but detractions rude,
Guided by faith and matchless fortitude,
To peace and truth thy glorious way hast ploughed,
And on the neck of crownèd Fortune proud
Hast reared God’s trophies, and His work pursued,
While Darwen stream, with blood of Scots imbrued,
And Dunbar field, resounds thy praises loud,
And Worcester’s laureate wreath: yet much remains
To conquer still; peace hath her victories
No less renowned than war: new foes arise,
Threatening to bind our souls with secular chains.
Help us to save free conscience from the paw
Of hireling wolves, whose gospel is their maw.

  Again Amen to that closing couplet. Freedom of conscience has been seriously eroded in recent years, with many finding out that 'wrong thinking' can carry heavy penalties – and we've just surrendered another chunk of our traditional freedoms in the cause of 'saving lives' and 'protecting the NHS'. Let's hope they are soon restored, and that the sacrifice will have been worthwhile.

But enough of that. It's time for something both beautiful and seasonal. Here is a Schubert's Fruhlingsglaube, a spring song that is full of hope – something we could all do with plenty of in these strange times...





5 comments:

  1. And may is my birthday ( the30 th)

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  2. And Mrs Nige, and my brother, and two of my best friends – quite a month, May... Enjoy yours when it comes, Ricardo.

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  3. "To peace and truth thy glorious way hast ploughed,
    And on the neck of crownèd Fortune proud
    Hast reared God’s trophies, and His work pursued,
    While Darwen stream, with blood of Scots imbrued,
    And Dunbar field, resounds thy praises loud,"

    The Romans only called the wilderness peace, and didn't move on to truth. But as Samuel Johnson said, a man is not on oath in a lapidary inscription.

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  4. Very true. Thanks George.

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