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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in May songs

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 Over native land Painting by Oleg Shupliak | Saatchi Art


It's always a somber note in the otherwise joyful May Festivities.

The May song “Unite and Unite”, originally from Cornwall, accompanies a processional dance that usually includes the Hobby Horse. Its verses recall the regular Maytide doings in the town of Padstow, where the song is from: gathering flowers, weaving garlands, singing, dancing.

One verse remembers the soldiers: local boys who should be here, and part of the fun, but instead are off in foreign parts, fighting someone else's war.


O where are the young men that now here should dance?

(For Summer is a-come unto day)

O some, they are in England, and some they are in France

(in the merry morn-ing of May).


At one point, the procession pauses, and the Hobby Horse—around here it's usually the Green Man—dies. Then—this being May and the point thereof, after all—he springs back to life, and the procession continues.

These decades past, here in Paganistan—this is, after all, a living tradition, not a museum piece—we've updated the verse to match the current war(s).


O where are the young men that now here should dance?

(For Summer is a-come unto day)

O some are in Afghanistan, and some are in Iraq

(in the merry morn-ing of May).


I regret to say that our youngest coven kid knows only these lyrics. Always, another war.

This year, alas, yet more new words. How long, O Lady, how long?

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A Sprinkling for the May Queen: Nine Songs That It Wouldn't Be Beltane Without

Lady be praised for Beltane: after Yule, the singing-est of holidays. Winter's finally over: the spring peepers are singing, the birds are singing, and so are we.

Forthwith, nine songs that it wouldn't be Beltane without. Really, we all should know them all.


Hal an Tow

If Beltane has an anthem, Hal an Tow is it. This English folk classic—Shakespeare even cites it—has a million different covers, but the hottest, sexiest, rocking-est of them all has got to be the Oyster Band version.

As for the title: yes, haul means “Sun” in Welsh, but there's no need to go looking that far. “Heel and toe”: it's a dance song.

So get up and dance, already.

Padstow Morning Song

Also known as Unite and Unite and The Merry Morning of May, this carol from the Cornish village of Padstow is yet another indispensable May folk classic, with some surprising depths: it's one of the few May songs to treat—inter alia—with war and death.

It's Beltane and we should all be out in the woods, making merry together. But some of our boys (and—these days—girls) are off fighting someone else's wars.

O where are those young men that now here should dance

(for Summer is a-come unto day)?

O some, they are in England, and some, they are in France,

in the merry morning of May. 

Ever since the beginning of Bush 2's ill-considered Endless War in the Middle East, here in Paganistan we've been singing:

O some are in Afghanistan, and some are in Iraq,

in the merry morning of May.

But doubt not the power of May. The Hobby Horse rises again, and our brave boys (and girls) will come back home, hale and whole.

And let us all say: so mote it be.

Sumer Is Icumen In

Forget the embarrassingly bad update version from Wicker Man: Sumer Is Icumen In is the oldest (circa 1350) song in English to which we have both words and tune, and limns the beauties of Spring incomparably. Really, there's no need for updates: the 700-year old Middle English still reads (and sings) refreshingly comprehensibly.

I'd never understood just what a he-goat farting had to do with Spring, until an uncle of mine who hunts explained it to me. After a winter diet of bark and dried grass, the deer gorge on fresh greens and they all get diarrhea: a sure sign of Spring.

Oh, those earthy ancestors.

Bird in the Bush

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    You wouldn't just happen to have a playlist of these songs up on YouTube would you?

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
American May Song

Called the “father of American music,” Pittsburgh-born songwriter Stephen Foster (1826-1864) wrote more than 200 popular songs, including such classics as Camptown Races, Way Down Upon the Swanee River, and Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair.

Sharing both a name and a hometown with him, I grew up with Foster's music: I sang his songs at school, and on road-trips with my parents and grandparents. I learned to play the piano from a book of his music.

Much of Foster's repertoire sang of life in the Old South, which makes it an uncomfortable fit today. Much of it, frankly, makes for difficult listening. To his credit, one must at least acknowledge that, in his songs, Foster again and again sympathetically depicts the humanity, dignity and deep sorrow of the enslaved.

In The Merry, Merry Month of May we see Foster in age looking back nostalgically at his youth. It's not his best song, but it is, nonetheless, an American May song.

And you gotta love that “May/gay” thing.


The Merry, Merry Month of May

(published by Daughaday & Hammond, Philadelphia, 1862)


We roamed the fields and river-sides

when we were young and gay;

we chased the bees and plucked the flowers,

in the merry, merry month of May.


Oh yes, with ever-changing sport

we whiled the hours away;

the skies were bright, our hearts were light

in the merry, merry month of May.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Gently Johnny

Gently Johnny is a Beltane classic. (You can hear Paul Giovanni's setting from The Wicker Man here.) What follows is my male-male version, singable (of course) to the same tune. If we're true to the Old Ways, we will invariably find that the Lore can expand to include the entire range of human experience.


Gently Johnny


I put my hand upon his shoulder,

and he said: Be a little bolder.

I put my hand upon his knee,

and he said: Do you want to see?


Gently, gently, gently Johnny,

gently Johnny, my jingolo;

gently, gently, gently Johnny,

gently Johnny, my jingolo.


I put my hand upon his chest,

and he said: Do you want the rest?

I put my hand upon his waist,

and he said: Do you want a taste?


Gently, gently, gently Johnny,

gently Johnny, my jingolo;

gently, gently, gently Johnny,

gently Johnny, my jingolo.

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Beltane's Flower: In Appreciation of Ian Anderson's 'Cup of Wonder'

If the modern Beltane has an anthem, it must surely be Ian (“Jethro Tull”) Anderson's Cup of Wonder.

When I first heard the song in 1977, it came as something of a revelation, managing (in what is surely the cultural and aesthetic touchstone of the New Paganisms) to sound both ancient and modern simultaneously. Of course, at the time we took it entirely for granted. Youthful arrogance has a beauty all its own.

If you haven't heard Cup of Wonder before, it's well worth a listen. If—like me—you haven't heard it recently, let me recommend a revisit. While very much of its own time, Anderson's sight remains true, his vision crisp, and his truth as deep as it ever was.

Wishing you joy of Beltane and a Merry May.


Cup of Wonder


May I make my fond excuses for the lateness of the hour,

but we accept your invitation, and would bring you Beltane's flower;

for the May Day is the great day, sung along the old straight track,

and those who ancient lines did "ley" will heed the song that calls them back:


Pass the cup, and pass the Lady,

pass the plate to all who hunger;

pass the wit of ancient wisdom,

pass the Cup of Crimson Wonder.


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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Hail! Hail! The First of May-O

Inspired by the May traditions of Padstow, Cornwall, Dave Webber's May Song is a fine modern Beltane song in traditional idiom, heard here in a rousing performance by Magpie Lane.

The traditional May Day Hobby Horse's dance of sex, death, and resurrection has no known historical connection with the widespread and deeply sacred horse-sacrifices of the ancient Indo-European world.

None whatsoever.

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