Rough Winds of May

Monday Morning Musings

“Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May.”
William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 18”

(Full text here.)

It’s been a week of horror and hope; a week of unforeseen occurrences and unexpected miracles. Rough winds have shaken the darling buds of May.

In Nepal, the death toll from last week’s earthquake has climbed to over 7,000. Thousands more are injured or unaccounted for. The death toll will no doubt rise, as people succumb to their injuries and diseases spread through contaminated food and water in makeshift camps. (BBC news article.)

In the midst of the tragedy, there have been all too few briefs glimpses of hope. A 5-month old baby pulled from the rubble after 22 hours. And a 101-year old man was rescued a week after the earthquake. It is unlikely now over a week after the tragedy that survivors will be found buried under rubble, although rescue attempts continue. Worldwide support is still needed. Rebuilding Nepal is going take time and money.

In other news, some of the women captured by Boko Haram were rescued. Survivors have told of the horrors they’ve experienced, the abuse and the deaths from malnutrition. So far, it does not appear that any of the Chibok schoolgirls who were abducted last year were among the rescued women. But the world rejoices that some of these women have been rescued. Horror and hope.

As the weather gets warmer, people flock outside to celebrate–and to protest. Here in the US, the nation watched the ignition of rage and flames in Baltimore, following the death of Freddie Gray, now ruled a homicide. Six police officers have been charged. For days, Baltimore was under a curfew, which has now been lifted.

For many, the protests, riots, and rage in Baltimore brought back memories of the 1960s. But May has often been a time of protests. May Day is designated International Workers’ Day. In the US, this appellation goes back to May 1, 1886, when workers sought an 8-hour working day, and over 300,000 workers across the country walked off their jobs. Chicago was the center of this movement. The strike started off peacefully, but workers continued to strike, and by May 3, almost 100, 000 Chicago workers had joined the strike. At the McCormick Reaper Works, violence broke out between armed Pinkerton guards and police and steelworkers who had been locked out. Tensions there had been escalating for 6 months. Police beat workers who retaliated by throwing rocks. Police fired and killed at least 2 workers. The next day, a rally was held at Haymarket Square. Once again, violence broke out, after detectives accused the speakers of using inflammatory speech and prevailed upon police to go after them. Later the mayor testified that the speakers had used no incendiary language. Someone set off a bomb—it is not known who it was. Some believe it could have been an agent provocateur who worked for the police. Police then fired into the crowd. Civilians and police officers died, and many more were injured. Eight anarchists were arrested, tried, and later hanged. Six years afterwards, the governor pardoned some of the organizers and publicly criticized the judge for his mockery of justice in the trial that convicted them. (This is a really brief summary. There’s a nice digital narrative with photos here.

Older than May protests, however, are traditions of May celebrations: Beltane, fertility festivals—the day to bring in the flowers, to go “a-maying, dance around a Maypole, and crown a May Queen. Bryn Mawr College has a May Day celebration every year. (I know because one of my daughters was an undergraduate there.)

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 vapour or a drop of rain
Once lost, can ne’er be found again,
So when or 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.

Robert Herrick, last stanza of “Corinna’s Going A-Maying”

Full text illustrated here with “Village Scene with Dance Around the May Pole.”
Pieter Brueghel, the Elder, 1634.

Robert Herrick (1591-1674) is best known for his carpe diem poems. (Is that a thing? I’m going to say it is.) In another poem, perhaps his most famous, he offered this advice (to virgins) to “gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” However, Herrick was a clergyman who lost his post during the English Civil War, but Charles II restored him to his position during the Restoration. Herrick also wrote religious poems. Perhaps he saw life from several perspectives—the beauty and rhythms of the rural areas, religious beliefs, the excesses and turmoil of war and the effect it has on a society, and the various ups and downs of life. He never married, and some believe the women he wrote of existed only in his imagination. Perhaps he imagined his life going a different way. In his 83 years he must have seen and experienced many changes. Nevertheless, there is truth—and value—to the idea that people should not postpone living and enjoying life because we might never know what will happen. At the same time, most people have friends, family, and coworkers–communities that depend upon us. So help others, help yourself, stand up against injustice, and be a good citizen of the world, but be moved by miracles, and take some time, if you can, to enjoy the flowers and life itself. Gather ye rosebuds and stop to smell them. Come, though rough winds blow, let’s go a-Maying.

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14 thoughts on “Rough Winds of May

  1. Your pairing of Brueghel’s art and the Robert Herrick poem is an English teacher’s delight. Thanks too for the quote from Shakespeare, so appropriate today.

    Unfortunately horror and hope seem to co-exist in this world, the horror a call to action to do our small bit, and the hope to pass you as you have done here.

    Last week a tornado blew through Jacksonville, and we were at the edge of the 104-mph wind gusts. The yard waste people are a week behind in picking up the debris. April and May are months when warm and cold air clash, which can awaken us to new awareness on many levels as you point out here. I hope my rambling makes sense. It is a Monday morning musing after all . . . !

    • It all makes sense, Marian, and expands upon what I wrote. Thank you. I wish I could take credit for pairing the Brueghel and Herrick–they are perfect together, aren’t they?

  2. Excellent post. My personal previous last thirty days has been a roller coaster ride. The death of my father April 12th and the birth of a granddaughter just yesterday. Luckily, no major calamities. When the hurricanes hot us so hard in 2004-05, and we operated with no power or water in the nursing home for nine days, I had a little taste of that…I’m sure nothing like Nepal, but it did give me a direct comparison to how people must keep on keeping on in such trying times.

    • Congratulations on the birth of your granddaughter! Such a wonderful event coming so closely after the death of your father. I know hurricanes are horrible, and I can only imagine what it must have been like to operate a nursing home without power or water! I admire you for nursing under those conditions.

  3. A thoughtful and sobering post, Merril. Thank you. For the record, I’d add May 4, 1970, the day four students were shot and killed on the Kent State (Ohio) campus, killed by national guard troops exhausted from dealing with a recent strike and sent to the campus by a governor who should have known better. This was followed in short order by another on May 15 at Jackson State (MS), where two students were killed.

  4. April and May – change of seasons and all sorts of madnesses here in South Africa at this time. Thank you for your reflections on May as she is and in the past Merril. Sobering, but a reminder of the hope that springs eternal, although sometimes sorely tested.

    • Thanks, Susan. Yes, all parts of the world facing their own unique changes and types of madness–yet perhaps there are also universal hopes and dreams. Wishing you all best.

  5. I bounced in to read a post or two. This one was great – a little current event, some history and poetry. A woman after my own heart! Thanks for following my blog!

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