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Where is there a more delightful picture than an expansive meadow, dotted here and there with groups of little children, busied in gathering the flowers? Here lies one laughing and tumbling in the sunshine, or burying his face in beds of the purple crocus; while another runs to and fro in search of the largest buttercups, scarcely knowing which to pluck from among
the countless millions; and a third is busied in sticking the heads of daisies upon a small branch of hawthorn, not content unless he can carry home a tree of flowers. How lively is the description given by the Italian poet Franco Sacchetti of ladies gathering flowers in a wood !
“ Walking and musing in a wood, I saw
Some ladies gathering flowers,—now this, now t’other,
A grasshopper, a grasshopper !'” The heaths now wear a gorgeous livery : the red ferns are bursting forth, and the yellow gorse is hung with flowers of gold. Primroses also show their starry eyes among the dark moss under shady hedges, or upon shelving banks; and the spotted cowslip puts forth its gaudy bells from out the velvet sheath of green. Lilies-of-the-valley throw their fairy light around the forest-dells ;-the wild forget-me-not, the foxglove, and trembling blue-bell, are all in flower. Nothing can excel the fragrance and beauty of the hawthorn, adorned with its delicate crimson blossoms, clustering together like thousands of stars, each retaining its own distinct form amid the galaxy, and filling the air far around with a sweet perfume. The flowers of the hawthorn are called “May” in the country; and it is still a custom in several counties to go a-Maying. Many a village
yet pours forth its youths and maidens during this month to gather May, which they rear in their parlour fireplaces, or preserve in jugs of water. It is a pleasant sight to see them come laden home with flowery boughs in the evening twilight, approaching like moving trees, their own forms buried beneath the white blossoms.
The ringdove is now heard in the woods with its melancholy “coo,” and the mellow pipe of the blackbird rings through the fields ;-the whitethroat may also be seen hopping from bush to bush, to allure you from its little nest. The shriek of the jay, the shrill shout of the woodpecker, the measured “weeting" of the chaffinch, and the tinkling voice of the small titmouse, pour their mingled melody from every covert. The cuckoo
may still be heard singing, as she flies from tree to tree, or glides above the hedges, searching, as the peasants say, for some nest where she may deposit her eggs, and leave them to the care of any other bird, as chance may direct. I recollect, when a boy, finding a young cuckoo in the nest of a hedgesparrow. Some say
these birds are as devoid of affection as the ostrich, which leaves its eggs in the sand of the desert. Still they are great favourites with us ; and the country people consider it good luck to have money in their pockets when first they hear the cuckoo sing. Shakspeare thus alludes to the song of the cuckoo and the beauty of spring:
“When daisies pied, and violets blue,
And lady-smocks all silver white,
Do paint the meadows with delight,
Unpleasing to a married ear!
And merry larks are ploughmen's clocks-
And maidens bleach their summer smocks,
The cuckoo then on every tree
for thus sings he: -
The woods have a very beautiful appearance this month, for the trees have only put on a part of their foliage ; and where in a few more weeks all will be clothed in a leafy darkness, now reigns a green soft light—an emerald sunshine. Each tree also shows its fine tracery ; - the wiry twigs, the feathery branches, covered with ivy and enamelled moss of various hues, and the stronger boles throwing up their iron arms in every direction. There too are the silver brooks “kissing the feet" of tall stems with murmurs, and making sweet melody as they glide along, reflecting the blue sky, and the young leaves which glitter around many a new-made nest. The wild-rose uplifts its amber cup on the thick hedges, as if wooing the dews to alight ; and the trailing woodbine blushes along the wood-side, and loads the breeze with sweet odours; while the wild-cherry, sheeted with blossoms, rears up like a pillar of snow in the forest. The tulip-tree is in full leaf,—the flowers of the chestnut are appearing-and the lilac sends forth a pleasant smell. The leaves of the mulberry have put out: the tall fir, the majestic oak, and the lovely beech, are also in flower: so is the elm, the mountain ash, the alder, the horse-chestnut, laburnum, Gueldres rose, and several others mentioned last month. Nearly all the trees have before the end of this month put on their summer dress_every day the woods look darker-most of the flowers are in full bloom—and the birds also are in full song. A thousand winged insects now hum in the air—the bee is on the wing—the butterflies are out in the sunshine—and the fields are filled with music.
May-poles are yet standing in many of the villages of merry England; and I recollect well being aroused long before day by my companions, and walking with them to the woods to bring
home May. Many a goodly branch did we sever from the trees, and many a comely girl rent her kirtle among the briars. Oak-boughs were felled, too large for us to carry home; and we tore down the silver plumes of the hawthorns. Spenser, in his “Shepherd's Calendar,” has described such a scene very beautifully.
“ Young folk now flock in everywhere,
To gather May-bushes, and smelling brere.
To help the ladies their May-bush to bear!” The May-boughs we brought home were suspended from windows, and fastened above the doors, like leafy porches ; others were bound together in the form of arches, and stuck into the ground at regular distances—the openings between being filled with lesser branches and trailing flowers, until a beautiful green arbour was formed. At the end of the arbour, elevated above the rude seats, rose a rustic throne, covered with flowers of every hue: this was erected for the May-queen. Ladders were now reared against the May-pole, and the village girls brought out the garlands which they had woven of flowers and
gaudy ribands; and many a boy gave up his string of birds’ eggs to decorate it. Old and
green ; and many a dim eye glistened with joy, when they saw the rich garlands wave in the sunshine, and heard laugh and shout and song, mingled with bursts of music. Then we commenced dancing, forming ourselves into a circle, and wheeling rapidly round the May-pole. Hand in hand we flew in giddy mazes, the roses trembling in the long locks of our fair partners as their measured steps bounded from the greensward. Within the ring which we had formed stood a youth, holding in his hand a garland of roses: this he presented to the village girls as they danced around him. How beautiful they looked, as with averted heads they turned from the flowery chaplet, blushing, and glancing downward abashed !—each one expecting to be crowned Queen of May, yet uncertain upon whose brow the garland would be placed. At length it was thrown around the nut-brown ringlets of Mary Gray, and all with one acclaim hailed her “Queen of May!” She was indeed the most beautiful girl in the village. How lovely she looked, robed in white, with a pink sash round her slender waist, as she was led blushing to her flowery throne, amid the clapping of hands, and silver-sounding music, and the waving of scarfs ! The day was spent in innocent amusements; such as singing, dancing, love-making, and feasting. How much happier should we be if these good old customs were universally kept ! I like not to see our peasantry seated over their humming ale, discussing politics. The garlanded May-pole, the festive merriment of bringing home harvest, the sheep-shearing feast, and the dance upon the village green under the old oak tree, are more in accordance with their simple habits. Such scenes infuse a poetry into their hearts, and soften down their ruder habits, causing them to venerate their green woods and flowery meadows. Why should we envy sunny Italy, or the classic shores of Greece, while our own green hills lift up their wood-crowned foreheads to heaven, and our velvet valleys are musical with