May Day

May Day:

May and October are the finest of months.

One morning in May by chance I did rove,
I sat myself down by the side of a grove,
And there did I hear the sweet nightingale sing,
I never heard so sweet as the birds in the Spring.

All on the green grass I sat myself down
Where the voice of the nightingale echoed around;
Don't you hear how she quivers the notes? I declare
No music, no songster with her can compare.

Come all you young men, I'll have you draw near,
I pray you now heed me these words for to hear,
That when you're grown old you may have it to sing,
That you never heard so sweet as the birds in the Spring.

-Traditional English ballad
Robin Hood is said to have died on May Day. That is a tragedy considering how much all the old tales suggest he enjoyed the month.
But how many months be in the year?
There are thirteen, I say;
The midsummer moon is the merryest of all
Next to the merry month of May.

IN summer time, when leaves grow green,
And flowers are fresh and gay,
Robin Hood and his merry men
Were [all] disposed to play.

Then some would leap, and some would run,
And some use artillery:
'Which of you can a good bow draw,
A good archer to be?

'Which of you can kill a buck?
Or who can kill a doe?
Or who can kill a hart of grease,
Five hundred foot him fro?

In honor of the old greenwood, and the beginning of summer, let me encourage you all to follow a piece of advice. Get some good beer or some sweet wine. Get away to the forest as much as you can before the heat of summer.

The birds still sing for us, after all. Grim's Hall is devoted, in part, to the heroic life. It used to be that learning to understand the speech of birds was the mark of a hero. Sigurd gained the ability after tasting the blood of a dragon slain. Fionn Mac Cumhaill had the same ability from tasting a magic fish. Rigsthula tells us that the Norse god Heimdall fathered a son destined to give rise to the lords of the North, who had this ability from youth. J.R.R. Tolkien invoked these old legends in The Hobbit, where Bard the Bowman, unknowingly the son of kings, finds a thrush whispering in his ear.

Many believe that these old stories arise from a woods-lore that was taught among the Northmen, which allowed them to anticipate ambushes. It may also be related to the interpretation of bird-flight that plays so strong a role in the other Indo-European epics, especially the Odyssey.

In any event, it is a skill that is worth cultivating. It is no small thing, these days, to be able to identify a bird by her song. There is a great deal to learn, and we have in May a few fine days to spend. Such days are too rare, and such joys, too few.

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