John Milton (1608-1674) was an English poet and author best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost (1667); the story of Satan’s defiance of God, and Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Brought up in Cheapside near St. Paul’s Cathedral, Milton went on to attend Cambridge University in 1625; only to be suspended a year later following an argument with his tutor. After his degree, Milton returned to London to act as tutor to his nephews and children of other, more well-to-do families. His literary career covered a particularly turbulent time in history: the outbreak of Civil War in 1642. After the end of the Commonwealth in 1658, Milton was forced to go into hiding from King Charles II’s followers due to his propaganda writings, some of which were publicly burned. From 1663 onwards, Milton’s life was spent tutoring students and working to complete Paradise Lost.
‘Song on a May Morning’ is taken from Milton’s volume of 1645 Poems: a collection written in a variety of genres, and including some of his more famous work such as ‘Lycidas and Comus’. This particular poem celebrates both the youth , innocence and ‘mirth’ that is generally associated with the coming of Spring, and the ‘blessing’ of new life and colour that the month of May provides us with. The image of dawn breaking in the first two lines of the poem emphasises the start of a new time in life: the coming of the ‘flowery May’.
Song on a May Morning
Now the bright morning-star, Day’s harbinger,
Comes dancing from the East, and leads with her
The flowery May, who from her green lap throws
The yellow cowslip and the pale primrose.
Hail, bounteous May, that dost inspire
Mirth, and youth, and warm desire!
Woods and groves are of thy dressing;
Hill and dale doth boast thy blessing.
Thus we salute thee with our early song,
And welcome thee, and wish thee long.
John Milton, 1645