Iolly Iune

May 31, 2007

I have a soft spot for the poetry of Edmund Spenser, and have been slowly working through all of The Faerie Queen. It will probably take me forever to complete it, since I use it as filler reading when I’m between books. Probably unfair to Spenser, but I can only take it in small doses – a half-dozen or so cantos at a time.

In any case, The Shephearde’s Calendar and a significant portion of Two Cantos of Mutabilitie (towards the end of Faerie Queen) are devoted to the passing year. In the former, each month forms the setting of a dialogue between two shepherds who discuss, declaim and console one another. The latter features a parade of figures from classical antiquity, including the seasons and months personified. Since June is upon us, here’s the relevant bit.

And after her, came iolly Iune, arrayd
All in greene leaues, as he a Player were;
Yet in his time, he wrought as well as playd,
That by his plough-yrons mote right well appeare:
Vpon a Crab he rode, that him did beare
With crooked crawling steps an vncouth pase,
And backward yode, as Bargemen wont to fare
Bending their force contrary to their face,
Like that vngracious crew which faines demurest grace.

The “her” in the first line is May, “the fayrest maid on ground, / deckt all in dainties of her seasons pryde.” I’ve quoted here from the University of Oregon’s Renascence Editions; the complete text can be found here.

In looking for an appropriate illustration, I came across the entry for the first of June at the Every-Day Book. Among other things, we learn that

The rural business of this month is made up of two employments, as beautiful to look at as they are useful,—sheep-shearing and hay-making. Something like a holiday is still made of the former, and in the south-west of England, the custom, we believe, is still kept up, of throwing flowers into the streams, and evident relic of paganism; but, altogether, the holiday is but a gleam of the same merry period in the cheap and rural time of our ancestors.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: