Today in History: May Day

| May 1, 2017

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….Round them and above,
Glitter, with dark recesses interposed,
Casement, and cottage-roof, and stems of trees
Half-veiled in vapoury cloud, the silver steam
Of dews fast melting on their leafy boughs
By the strong sunbeams smitten. Like a mast
Of gold, the Maypole shines; as if the rays
Of morning, aided by exhaling dew,
With gladsome influence could re-animate
The faded garlands dangling from its sides.

Said I, “The music and the sprightly scene
Invite us; shall we quit our road, and join
These festive matins?”

—William Wordsworth, The PreludeThe Excursion, Book Second, The Solitary, lines 128-140

The traditional May Day is celebrated on May 1st to herald in the Spring. It brings festivities, dancing (Morris and other), singing, maypoles, and small baskets with flowers and treats. Now a popular holiday throughout Europe and North America, May Day has its roots in ancient times, with the festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers. Since the 1700’s, it has become associated with Catholic devotions to Mary. In the late 1800’s May Day also became International Workers’ Day, arising from the Haymarket labour riots in Chicago.

The following articles are selected from Proquest Historical Newspapers, which informs and inspires classroom teaching and learning.

On another note:

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  • Check out Nathaniel Hawthorn’s classic story, The Maypole of Merry Mount, which was first published in 1832 in The Token and Atlantic Souvenir, and set in the what is now known as Quincy, Massachusetts (formerly Mount Wollaston). It tells the take of a betrothed couple who dance like spirits around a maypole, only to be stopped by the Puritans.
  • Remember Hermia’s scathing words to Helena?

And are you grown so high in his esteem,
Because I am so dwarfish and so low?
How low am I, thou painted maypole? speak;
How low am I?… –William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s DreamAct III, sc. ii., ll. 310-313

Happy May Day!

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