The merry month of May is upon us! We hope you’ll spend many happy hours in the fields this month, but if you have to stay inside more than usual, from rain or from the current pestilence, you can still always find an echo of spring indoors — so Leigh Hunt reminds us in our homeschool poem-of-the-week for this first week of May:
May and the Poets
There is May in books forever;
May will part from Spenser never;
May’s in Milton, May’s in Prior,
May’s in Chaucer, Thomson, Dyer;
May’s in all the Italian books:—
She has old and modern nooks,
Where she sleeps with nymphs and elves,
In happy places they call shelves,
And will rise and dress your rooms
With a drapery thick with blooms.
Come, ye rains, then if ye will,
May’s at home, and with me still;
But come rather, thou, good weather,
And find us in the fields together.
Leigh Hunt (1784–1859) was one of the prominent writers of the Romantic period in England in the early 1800s, along with John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelly, and many others. He wrote not only poems, but also essays, plays, literary criticism, and political commentary. His verse is not as philosophical as Keats’ or Shelley’s, and so he is not as popular with academic critics today — but in a sense that makes some of his poems more accessible, especially for younger readers.
“May and the Poets” is a clever reminder that spring can be found at any time of year in the lines of the great poets — and Hunt recites his favorites for us: Edmund Spenser, John Milton, Matthew Prior, Geoffrey Chaucer, James Thomson, and George Dyer. May hides in our bookshelves, and even when it rains, May still can be found between the pages. Nevertheless, fair weather is always the best, so we — you and me — can go into the May fields together.
Structurally, “May and the Poets” is a string of seven couplets arranged into two sentences, and that gives it a cheerful regularity when read aloud. It starts out in perfect trochaic tetrameter (“There is May in books forever; / May will part from Spenser never”) — but once the catalog of poets is complete, Hunt begins to vary the line-lengths from seven to nine syllables, and that keeps the rhythm from becoming excessively monotonous. The first ten lines develop the May-in-books theme, and then the final four lines make a summary turn, almost like a sonnet, bringing us to a final wish not for books, but for the May fields themselves.
What wonderful words and poetical productions have you been studying in your homeschool this Leo Term? 😊
❡ Find us in the fields together: If a special line or turn of phrase happens to strike you in one of our weekly poems, just copy it onto your homeschool bulletin board for a few days and invite your students to speak it aloud — that’s all it takes to begin a new poetical friendship and learn a few lovely words that will stay with you for life. 😊
❡ Explore more: For a quick homeschool review of the artistic and literary movement known as Romanticism — the movement with which Hunt was associated — turn to page 338 in your River Houses history encyclopedia (riverhouses.org/books). 📚
❡ Literary lives: The website of the Poetry Foundation includes biographical notes and examples of the work of many important poets (including Leigh Hunt) that are suitable for high school students and homeschool teachers. 🖋
❡ Here, said the year: This post is one of our regular homeschool poems-of-the-week. Add your name to our River Houses mailing list (riverhouses.org/newsletter) to get posts like these delivered right to your mailbox, and print your own River Houses Poetry Calendar (riverhouses.org/calendars) to follow along with us as we visit forty-eight of our favorite friends over the course of the year. 📖