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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Queen of the May

(Madonna among the Strawberries by
an unknown German master, circa 1425)

Since medieval times, in many cultures, the month of May has been devoted to Mary, the mother of Jesus.

May is Mary’s month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:
Her feasts follow reason,
Dated due to season ─

Candlemas, Lady Day;
But the Lady Month, May,
Why fasten that upon her,
With a feasting in her honor?

asks the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Is it only its being brighter
Than the most are must delight her?
Is it opportunest
And flowers finds soonest?

Ask of her, the mighty mother:
Her reply puts this other
Question: What is Spring? ─
Growth in every thing ─

Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
Grass and greenworld all together;
Star-eyed strawberry-breasted
Throstle above her nested

Cluster of bugle blue eggs thin
Forms and warms the life within;
And bird and blossom swell
In sod or sheath or shell.

All things rising, all things sizing
Mary sees, sympathizing
With that world of good,
Nature’s motherhood.

~ from The May Magnificat by Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.,
1844-1899, British poet whose work has had a profound influence on modern poetry


“Queen of the May” is a hymn, most likely Irish, that traces its origins to the thirteenth century. There are several versions of the lyrics, including one written by Mary E. Walsh and first published in 1871. This hymn is often sung during the traditional May processions in the Catholic Church.

(The performance here is by the Irish tenor Frank Patterson,


Bring flowers of the rarest,
Bring blossoms the fairest,
From garden and woodland and hillside and dale.
Our full hearts are swelling,
Our glad voices telling,
The praise of the loveliest flower of the vale.

O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, and Queen of the May.
O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, and Queen of the May.

Their lady they name thee,
Their mistress proclaim thee.
O grant that thy children on earth be as true;
As long as the bowers
Are radiant with flowers,
As long as the azure shall keep its bright hue.

Sing gaily in chorus,
The bright angels o’er us
Re-echo the strains we begin upon earth;
Their harps are repeating
The notes of our greeting,
For Mary herself is the cause of our mirth.

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