May Day, the middle of the year, is a special moment in folk culture. It falls half way between the Winter and Summer Solstices and, certainly, in England, is one of the most beautiful times of the year. Spring is definitely sprung, the trees are greened with new, vibrantly light coloured leaves and the most evocative of our natural flowers is in full bloom.
The English Bluebell speaks of so many things: Nature adorned and bursting, the ancient woodland at its most magical, and man’s own celebration of fertility.
Morris Dancing, one of England’s last surviving folk traditions is usually ridiculed by self-styled sophisticates but it has always appealed to me with its lusty good humour and submerged paganism. Just as I have always loved the idea of that giant phallic May Pole with its dancing couples intertwining with their brightly coloured ribbons in a disguised form of sublimated sexual intercourse.
“Now is the month of maying, when merry lads are playing. With a fa la la la la la la. With a fa la la la la”.
Don’t you love the way the words ‘fa’ and ‘la’ fill in the gaps whenever you can’t think of anything else to say.
Those merry lads are not thinking about poetry of course as they frolic “on the green grass.” Thomas Morley though, the great English composer of Madrigals caught the mood perfectly.
May Day is also Labour Day when, instead of singing Now Is the Month of Maying, we should really join in a chorus of that rousing anthem, The Internationale. I am, of course, on the side of the workers here but, I have always had a sinking feeling that Labour Day took a bit of the ginger out of the much more wickedly pagan May Day celebrations that have been leading young folk astray since the Romans decided to have a day of celebrations in honour of Flora, the goddess of flowers.
I know I shouldn’t say this, but marching men in jack boots with tanks and nuclear missiles walking past old men from the politburo, just isn’t as much fun as frolicking on the green grass.
Well Happy Labour Day everyone but also welcome all you wonderful vibrant bluebells – you send all our juices rising.
Bluebells have begun to flower on the ancient mound behind my house which is now recovering from its winter shave and a sprinkling of them are in bloom in my garden as well. They look fine against my flint wall.
My mind goes back though to the ancient woodland which adjoined my old house, some ten miles away from here which in May is transformed into a sea of blue.
I went back the other day to witness this high point in England’s natural beauty. I used to walk every day in these woods with my old, now deceased dog, a joyfully merry Springer Spaniel. Never was it more joyful than when the bluebells created an exotic sky blue mist over the scene loved and better known for its gnarled tree trunks and peaceful shade.
If you live in England, then maybe you can find your own woodland and then you too, can wander in freedom, celebrating man’s natural environment and his ancient freedoms when we all celebrated the rising of the sap and the potent promises of the Goddess Flora.
It is in moments like those that Labour Day should really be remembered. It would be so much better to celebrate the Rights of Man by walking in a Bluebell Wood than marching behind weapons which could wipe out us and all of Nature with us.