1761
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

On May, wrote in April, 1761.

Public Ledger 2 (4 August 1761) 737.

John Cunningham


Four double-quatrain stanzas on the vernal season, signed "J. C." John Cunningham adapts the anapestic meter of Shenstone's Pastoral Ballad to a purely lyrical subject: "The goddess will visit ye soon, | Ye virgins be sportive and gay: | Get your pipes, oh ye shepherds, in tune, | For music must welcome the May." Perhaps the poet's Irish background contributes something to an uncommon gift for lyric. In Cunningham's Poems (1766) the poem was republished under the title of "On the Approach of May." Cunningham may have had a connection at the Public Ledger, which puffed his Elegy on a Pile of Ruins in November 1761.



The virgin, when soften'd by May,
Attends to the villager's vows:
The birds sweetly bill on the spray,
And poplars embrace with their boughs.
On Ida, bright Venus may reign,
Ador'd for her beauty above;
We shepherds that live on the plain,
Hail May, as the mother of love.

From the west, as it wantonly blows,
Fond Zephir caresses the pine:
The bee steals a kiss from the rose,
And willows and woodbines entwine;
The pinks by the rivulet side,
That border the vernal alcove,
Bend downward to kiss the soft tide:
For May is the mother of love.

May tinges the butterfly's wing;
He flutters in bridal array!
And if the larks and the linnets now sing,
Their music is taught them by May.
The stock-dove recluse with her mate,
Conceals her fond bliss in the grove;
And murmuring seems to repeat,
That May is the mother of love.

The goddess will visit ye soon,
Ye virgins be sportive and gay!
Get your pipes, oh ye shepherds, in tune,
For music must welcome the May.
Would Damon have Phillis prove kind,
And all his keen anguish remove,
Let him tell a soft tale, and he'll find,
That May is the mother of love.

[p. 737]