the eve of May Day we wrap up this blog’s annual National Poetry Month series. Before that train leaves the station, I want
to thank the folks who have shown a steadily building interest in this project
over the years. When I started this six
years ago my already tiny readership shrank each year—folks seemed to be just bored, scared, or scarred by poetry. Perhaps I
have won some of you over. This year,
for the first time, readership is significantly up from the rest of the year
and some posts have spiked with considerable interest. I’ll
flatter myself that I have. More likely,
folks who are interested in verse
have found the joint. If that is you, I hope you will continue to
stop by the rest of the year. Other
interesting crap transpires here.
year we were more diverse than ever
in the poets included by race, gender,
ethnicity, and age. Hell, we even
kicked things off with a transgender eco-anarchist
class war prisoner. Thanks to
suggestions from readers, we were able to introduce new poets and voices—keep that
up! And we found some past poets who
might have flown under your radar. By
doing more theme posts we were able
to link famous and classic poets to Jacks and Jills whose
work is fresh and immediate.
will close out with some May Day poetry.
Tomorrow there will be my annual comprehensive history of May Day post—which will give me a chance to celebrate
and rest up from an almost exhaustive posting schedule in April.
|A Maypole dance for Beltane.|
there are multiple events celebrated on the First of May. First are the
so-called pagan observances of Europe which divide the year between
the seasons of light and dark. Celebrated roughly half way between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice, these ancient
festivals celebrated, above all else, fertility
and abundant life. Known as Walpurgisnacht in Germanic and Norse
traditions, it was celebrated as Beltane
by the Celts beginning this
evening. The Catholic Church, where it could not squelch the associated folk traditions, transformed May Day
into the Crowning of the May Queen—a
celebration of Mary.
|Ralph Waldo Emerson |
1854 Ralph Waldo Emerson published a
new poetry collection. He hoped it would
revive his reputation as a poet. He had
always self-identified mostly as poet, but had risen to fame as a minister, essayist, lecturer, philosopher and the hub of the wheel of Transcendentalism. Although a few of his poems, particularly
his patriotic ode The Concorde Hymn had attracted public admiration, his serious
poetry had not. For a bid to re-assert
himself as a poet the topic of May-Day
and Other Pieces was still controversial
in Evangelical Christian circles and
a bit subversive, even
own Puritan ancestors had made remorseless war on May Day rituals, which persisted in secret. Some of the victims of the infamous Salem Witch Trials were accused of
holding May Pole dances in the woods and personally consorting with Satan. Observances were
officially banned throughout New England,
and although unenforced remained on the books.
But as late as the 1840s there had been riots over Catholic May Queen
crownings—if there was anything linger Puritans hated more that Pagans, it was
was not one to embrace idolatry, but
he recognized the great symbolism of May Day and its place in the eternal rhythms of the seasons. Reconnecting with the seasons was
reconnecting with nature and the divine itself, a core belief of Transcendentalism.
we have Emerson and the Transcendentalists for planting the philosophical seeds
of the modern environmental
title poem of Emerson’s collection, May-Day, was very long indeed. Emerson sometimes got carried away with
himself and could use a good editor. The following are key excerpts of the poem, but contain most
of its intent and meaning.
The robins know
the melting snow;
Her nest beside
the snow-drift weaves,
Secure the osier
yet will hide
Her callow brood
in mantling leaves,—
And thou, by
science all undone,
Why only must
thy reason fail
To see the
southing of the sun?
The world rolls round,—mistrust it not,—
what once befell;
return, both sphere and mote,
And I shall hear
my bluebird’s note,
And dream the
dream of Auburn dell.
April cold with dropping rain
lilacs brings again,
The whistle of
trumpet-lowing of the herds.
blood hath modest May,
What fiery force
the earth renews,
The wealth of
forms, the flush of hues;
What joy in rosy
Flows from the
heart of Love, the Lord…
Where shall we keep the holiday,
And duly greet
the entering May?
Too strait and
low our cottage doors,
And all unmeet
our carpet floors;
court, nor monarch's hall,
Suffice to hold
Up and away!
where haughty woods
We will climb
the broad-backed hills,
Hear the uproar
of their joy;
We will mark the
leaps and gleams
murmuring rivers of sap
Mount in the
pipes of the trees,
Giddy with day,
to the topmost spire,
Which for a
spike of tender green
And the colors
of joy in the bird,
And the love in
its carol heard,
Frog and lizard
in holiday coats,
And turtle brave
in his golden spots;
cries of crag and plain
Reply to the
thunder of river and main…
Wreaths for the May! for happy Spring
To-day shall all
her dowry bring,
The love of
kind, the joy, the grace,
Hymen of element
Knowing well to
With song and
hue and star and state,
light and youthful cheer,
The spousals of
the new-born year…
Ah! well I mind the calendar,
a thousand years,
Of the painted
race of flowers,
Exact to days,
exact to hours,
Counted on the
I know the
Of the punctual
On their due days,
of the birds.
I marked them
A flock of
Piping, as they
flew, a march,—
Belike the one
they used in parting
Last year from
yon oak or larch;
in a crowd,
Every one to his
hole in the wall,
Or to his niche
in the apple-tree.
I greet with joy
the choral trains
Fresh from palms
and Cuba’s canes.
Best gems of
With dews of
tropic morning wet,
children, bards and Spring,
O birds, your
perfect virtues bring,
Your song, your
forms, your rhythmic flight,
Your manners for
the heart's delight,
Nestle in hedge,
or barn, or roof,
Here weave your
harms, and condescend
To man, as to a
teach his awkward race
probity and grace!
and Other Pieces, 1854
|One of Walter Crane's famed May Day Posters.|
Walter Crane, born in Liverpool, England in
1845 is best remembered as an artist and
book illustrator. His lush work, including famed
illustrations of classic children’s
books connected a Pre-Raphaelite sensibility
to the Arts and Crafts movement. He was also a dedicate member of the international socialist movement and
often contributed images to their publications
and created classic poster art. He also contributed verse, short stories,
and essays to the Socialist press.
When Crane penned this
for the journal Justice in 1894 May Day as the Workers’ Holiday was in its infancy. It had first been declared as a one day event
in memory of Chicago’s Haymarket Martyrs
at a Congress of the Socialist International in Paris in 1890 and proclaimed an annual
celebration of world labor at another Congress the following year.
Crane naturally tied the
new worker’s celebration to the traditional folk customs of the spring
celebrations and its central image, the Maypole.
World Workers, whatever may bind ye,
This day let your work be undone:
Cast the clouds of the winter behind ye,
And come forth and be glad in the sun.
Now again while the green earth rejoices
In the bud and the blossom of May
Lift your hearts up again, and your voices,
And keep merry the World’s Labour Day.
Let the winds lift your banners from far
With a message of strife and of hope:
Raise the Maypole aloft with its garlands
That gathers your cause in its scope.
It is writ on each ribbon that flies
That flutters from fair Freedom’s heart:
If still far be the crown and the prize
In its winning may each take a part.
Your cause is the hope of the world,
In your strife is the life of the race,
The workers' flag Freedom unfurled
Is the veil of the bright future's face.
Be ye many or few drawn together,
Let your message be clear on this day;
Be ye birds of the spring, of one feather
In this--that ye sing on May-Day.
Of the new life that still lieth hidden,
Though its shadow is cast before;
The new birth of hope that unbidden
Surely comes, as the sea to the shore.
Stand fast, then, Oh Workers, your
Together pull, strong and united:
Link your hands like a chain the world round,
If you will that your hopes be requited.
When the World’s Workers, sisters and
Shall build, in the new coming years,
A lair house of life--not for others,
For the earth and its fullness is theirs.
From Justice, 1894
Alfred Hayes, born in Britain in 1911 and who worked mostly in Italy
and the United States was still
a very young man at the beginning of his career as a writer when he contributed
this heart-felt and stirring call to the streets for a May Day during the Great Depression in 1932. He was writing in The New Masses, one of
the most influential radical magazines of the.
By then May Day had been adopted not only by the world labor movement, anarchists, and socialist, but
by the Communists. Hayes would be associated with the Communists
throughout his career as a screenwriter,
television writer, novelist, and poet. He is best remembered for the for poem Joe Hill
which was later set to music by Earl
Robinson and made famous in performances by Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger,
and Joan Baez.
Into the Streets
streets May First!
Into the roaring Square!
Shake the midtown towers!
Shatter the downtown air!
Come with a storm of banners,
Come with an earthquake tread,
Bells, hurl out of your belfries,
Red flag, leap out your red!
Out of the shops and factories,
Up with the sickle and hammer,
Comrades, these are our tools,
A song and a banner!
Roll song, from the sea of our hearts,
Banner, leap and be free;
Song and banner together,
Down with the bourgeoisie!
Sweep the big city, march forward,
The day is a barricade;
We hurl the bright bomb of the sun,
The moon like a hand grenade.
Pour forth like a second flood!
Thunder the alps of the air!
Subways are roaring our millions—a
Comrades, into the square!
From The New Masses 1934