One of the traditions of May whose loss I have always personally lamented is dancing around the Maypole. When I was a child, I saw photos of young women in white dresses dancing around the tall flower-covered pole. The dancers carefully threaded the ribbons together, eventually covering the pole as they danced around in a circle. I wondered why we no longer celebrated the same way. Although when we were young, we did make May baskets to deliver secretly to neighbors.
Later in life, I learned that May Day celebrations are an ancient European holiday celebrating the return of warm weather and nature’s fertility to assure a good harvest for the year. Even today, the Swedes continue to celebrate the coming summer with adults and children circling a pole decorated with flowers. Pre-Columbians had similar ceremonies. And, still later, I learned that a massacre of workers became the basis for establishing International Works Day on May first, eclipsing this meaningful ancient tradition.
Derivations of “May”
One derivation of the name of the month of May goes back to the name of the Greek goddess of fertility, Maia. It is uncertain but assumed that the name means “increase” because of the blossoming and growth of plants at this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. The Romans called the month “Maius”. A non-complementary second derivation of the name known to Romans was “maiories” which referred to the elder generation. The following month, June, then, celebrated the “iuniories” or the youth.
In the Anglophone tradition, the only month that has its own verb is the month of May. In early England, “to go a-maying” meant to get up at dawn on the first of May, go out to the forest, pick flowers and branches, set up the May tree or the Maypole, and celebrate the return of the blossoms.
May in Fiction
While doing my research to write this blog, I was delighted to discover the work of Margaret Osgood Wright, an American writer from the Northeast who lived from 1859–1934. She wrote a fictional piece entitled, The Open Window: Tales of the Months. In the section about the month of May, “The Tree of Life”, she recalls the Maypole of yore. She begins the chapter with “One day, Evan and I played make believe and went a-Maying”. Wright’s use of the verb demonstrates the importance of this month in history. The text continues: “We wait for the first blooming of an apple tree to tell us that the springtide is at its height. Not one of the opulent, well-fed orchard trees, having all the advantages of a protected location, but a wayside, ungrafted scion of the old orchard standing alone in a field, on the north side of the spruce windbreak… When this tree opens its buds, we know that its kindred of the hill country will also be decked, and it is our time to go forth, for here the Maying is the festival of the Apple Blossoms…”
Another use of the month of May occurs in the novel Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. The novel progresses through a series of characters’ thoughts and actions with little punctuation and no capitalization. About halfway through the book on page 225, a paragraph begins “this late May afternoon/after the sound of a thousand pairs of feet have stampeded out of the building and down the drive leaving the school in a post-traumatic silence/Penelope addressed the issue of the school’s poor exam performance, declaring that half the kids are so thick and badly behaved they should be suspended or expelled from school”. I found this use of the month of interest because the author ties a habitual occurrence that all school children have experienced to the inequities that exist in the American social structure. The month of May means different things to diverse individuals if social justice does not reign.
May in My Fiction
One of my novels takes place from the late 1960s into the early 1970s. This novel has an important scene that occurs in May after the college students have returned to their homes for the summer vacation.
Writing Goals for 2022
Publish my second book of poetry:
The manuscript still needs work.
Finish, request feedback, and send my first novel out for review:
This month, I read another book to learn more about the bucket that holds the story.
Continue to work on my other novels:
The first critique group met today. We workshopped about 1200 words of our novels.
Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:
Boulder Writers Alliance: I presented one workshop on Professional Development for Writers and a second one on Lyric Poetry. I also held a Steering Committee meeting.
Denver Women’s Press Club: I read the newsletter.
Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: I communicated with members that I know.
Women Writing the West: I attended the April planning meeting for the critique groups and the first meeting of our small critique group.
Document my writing progress through my blog and post it on the seventh day of each month, one blog per month in 2022:
Today is May 7, 2022, I am posting my fifth blog of 2022. Because the weather finally turned cloudy with a bit of rain, this has been a good month for writing. While I did not go a-maying, I certainly have enjoyed the tulips blooming in my garden.
May 7th in history: The birth of Robert Browning, the English poet, occurred on May 7, 1812.