Closer Readings Commentary

"Come, let's goe a Maying!" -- Robert Herrick, early 17th-century Britsh poet

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.
- Philip Larkin, The Trees

As we enter the month of May, it's well to heed the advice of the poets and like the new spring-green tree canopy: "Begin afresh!"

Jennifer Cutting from the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress offers folk traditions around the custom known as "Bringing in the May." Jennifer shares the origins of the maypole and Morris dance along with other practices from the old world to help teachers and students celebrate this merry month. Listen to and watch as she relates the folklore and rituals surrounding this sacred Celtic quarter day, Beltaine, better known as May Day, which mark the beginning of summer.

Turning to a literary expression, a close reading of Nathaniel Hawthorne's,“The May-pole of Merry Mount” picks upon this theme. This short story illustrates the difficulty such old world customs as dancing around the maypole had finding a place in early American society. The Puritans authorities first frowned upon, then banned outright, what they saw as frivolous seasonal activities. EDSITEment Launchpad: "The May-pole of Merry Mount," by Nathaniel Hawthorne adapted from the What's so Proudly We Hail Curriculum provides a discussion guide with questions aligned to the Common Core State Standards. By framing the discussion around themes of Freedom and Religion | What So Proudly We Hail enhances students comprehension of the story. After thinking about and discussing the questions, students may click on the videos to hear editors Amy A. Kass and Leon R. Kass converse with guest host Yuval Levin (National Affairs) on this short story. These videos are meant to raise additional questions and augment discussion, not replace it.

The Autumn of the Middle Ages: Chaucer and Dante, a topical feature from EDSITEment, offers numerous resources related to the poetry of Chaucer and Dante. Though the title is "Autumn," the opening lines of the Canterbury Tales are essentially a "reverdi," a medieval lyric that heralds the coming of spring after the long severe winter. Songs like this go back to earliest antiquity. They provide assurance in the annual return of vegetation and fertility, and of the sustaining power of the sun!

When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower...
Medieval Sourcebook: Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales : Prologue [ParallelTexts]

For students of all ages, EDSITEment has a number of resources related to the Knights and Legends of King Arthur’s Court, a popular unit in ELA classes this time of year.

Exploring Arthurian Legend | EDSITEment This lesson surveys the stories surrounding Arthur from their beginnings in the oral tradition in Medieval Europe, through the Renaissance and Victorian England, and concludes with T. H. White's modern retelling The Once and Future King, which was the basis of the Lerner and Lowe musical. The story of Camelot is perhaps the most beguiling romantic dream of them all, persisting from the 5th century, when the historical Arthur may have lived, to present day stories, films, and even presidential administrations.

Le Morte Darthur: Sir Thomas Malory's Book of King Arthur and of his Noble Knights of the Round Table, Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library

Launchpad: Exploring Arthurian Legend Students resource to independently work through sources of myth and history in the world of the Round Table.

Tales of King Arthur - EDSITEment Lesson with activities related to the stories of King Arthur and his Court that have entertained young and old alike for over a thousand years.