TOPICS > Arts

May Day

May 1, 1998 at 12:00 AM EDT
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TRANSCRIPT

ROBERT PINSKY, Poet Laureate: For the 17th century poet Robert Herrick the word “May” was a verb. In his poem “Corinna’s Going A-Maying” he urges his girlfriend to get out of bed so they can go maying, enjoy themselves with the other lovers, who are decorating town and field with flowering branches. Here are some passages from the poem:

Each flower has wept and bowed toward the east
Above an hour since, yet you not drest;
Nay! not so much as out of bed?
When all the birds have matins said
And sung their thankful hymns, ’tis sin,
Nay, profanation, to keep in,
When as a thousand virgins on this day
Spring sooner than the lark, to fetch in May.

Rise and put on your foliage, and be seen
To come forth, like the springtime, fresh and green,

Come, my Corinna, come; and coming, mark
How each field turns a street, each street a park,
Made green and trimmed with trees! see how
Devotion gives each house a bough
Or branch! each porch, each door, ere this,
An ark, a tabernacle is,
Made up of whitethorn neatly interwove,
As if here were those cooler shades of love.
Can such delights be in the street
And open fields, and we not see’t?
Come, we’ll abroad; and let’s obey
The proclamation made for May,
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;
But, my Corinna, come, let’s go a-Maying.

ROBERT PINSKY: Even when Herrick ends his poem with a reminder that nobody is young forever, there’s a springtime freshness to how he says it:

Come, let us go, while we are in our prime,
And take the harmless folly of the time!
We shall grow old apace, and die
Before we know our liberty.
Our life is short, and our days run
As fast away as does the sun.
And, as a vapor or a drop of rain,
Once lost, can ne’er be found again,
So when you or I are made
A fable, song, or fleeting shade,
All love, all liking, all delight
Lies drowned with us in endless night.
Then, while time serves, and we are but decaying,
Come, my Corinna, come, let’s go a-Maying.