Chaucer’s Squire Meets Tennyson’s May Queen

Artherton as Tess Durbeyfield at the May pole dance

Artherton as Tess Durbeyfield at the maypole dance

Wednesday

May has exploded in Maryland and, around campus, I see students walking hand in hand. If my own college days with Julia are any indication, they aren’t only holding hands. The men I imagine as Chaucer’s Squire, who is “fresh as is the month of May”:

With him [the knight] ther was his sone, a yong Squyer,
A lovyere, and a lusty bacheler,

With lokkes cruller [curly locks], as they were leyd in presse.
Of twenty yeer of age he was, I gesse.
Of his stature he was of evene lengthe,
And wonderly deliver, and greet of strengthe.
And he hadde been somtyme in chyvachie [calvary]
In Flaundres, in Artoys, and Pycardie,
And born hym weel, as of so litel space,
In hope to stonden in his lady grace.
Embrouded [Decked out] was he, as it were a mede [meadow]
Al ful of fresshe floures, whyte and rede.
Singinge he was, or floytinge [fluting], al the day;
He was as fresh as is the month of May.
Short was his goune, with sleves longe and wyde.
Wel coude he sitte on hors, and faire ryde.
He coude songes make and wel endyte [compose],
Iuste [Joust] and eek [also] daunce, and wel purtreye [sketch] and wryte,
So hote he lovede, that by nightertale [all night]
He sleep namore than dooth a nightingale.

The women, on the other hand, are Tennysonian May queens:

The May Queen

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

You must wake and call me early, call me early, mother dear;
To-morrow ‘ill be the happiest time of all the glad New-year;
Of all the glad New-year, mother, the maddest merriest day;
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.

There’s many a black, black eye, they say, but none so bright as mine;
There’s Margaret and Mary, there’s Kate and Caroline:
But none so fair as little Alice in all the land they say,
So I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.

I sleep so sound all night, mother, that I shall never wake,
If you do not call me loud when the day begins to break:
But I must gather knots of flowers, and buds and garlands gay,
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.

As I came up the valley whom think ye should I see,
But Robin leaning on the bridge beneath the hazel-tree?
He thought of that sharp look, mother, I gave him yesterday,–
But I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.

He thought I was a ghost, mother, for I was all in white,
And I ran by him without speaking, like a flash of light.
They call me cruel-hearted, but I care not what they say,
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.

They say he’s dying all for love, but that can never be:
They say his heart is breaking, mother–what is that to me?
There’s many a bolder lad ‘ill woo me any summer day,
And I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.

Little Effie shall go with me to-morrow to the green,
And you’ll be there, too, mother, to see me made the Queen;
For the shepherd lads on every side ‘ill come from far away,
And I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.

The honeysuckle round the porch has wov’n its wavy bowers,
And by the meadow-trenches blow the faint sweet cuckoo-flowers;
And the wild marsh-marigold shines like fire in swamps and hollows gray,
And I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.

The night-winds come and go, mother, upon the meadow-grass,
And the happy stars above them seem to brighten as they pass;
There will not be a drop of rain the whole of the live-long day,
And I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.

All the valley, mother, ‘ill be fresh and green and still,
And the cowslip and the crowfoot are over all the hill,
And the rivulet in the flowery dale ‘ill merrily glance and play,
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.

So you must wake and call me early, call me early, mother dear,
To-morrow ‘ill be the happiest time of all the glad New-year:
To-morrow ‘ill be of all the year the maddest merriest day,
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.

This entry was posted in Chaucer (Geoffrey), Tennyson (Alfred Lord) and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

  • AVAILABLE NOW!

  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

  • Sign up for weekly newsletter

    Your email will not be shared or sold.
    * = required field

    powered by MailChimp!
  • Twitter Authentication data is incomplete