“Oh, do not tell the priest our plight, or he would call it a sin,
But we’ve been out in the woods all night, a-conjuring summer in.”
– Rudyard Kipling
Well, not really. I’m a little old for the Elizabethean sport of greengowning, let alone getting up and out before sunrise. But I admit to a romantic fondness for the idea of the old observances like the solstice — no doubt due to raising myself on tales of King Arthur and Robin Hood. Certainly, they’re more evocative than the empty cant of Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, those artificial holidays of the consumer culture.
Of course, with more people tied to their cars than to the land, the solistice doesn’t mean much to most of those around me. But, as a regular jogger, it means a lot to me. I run early in the morning, so all the year around, I’m keenly aware of the changes of daylight. And this year, the start of summer (called Midsummer by my medieval English ancestors because they reckoned summer as starting on May 1) has coincided locally with the end of rain and the first really decent weather all year, so the day feels worth noting, even if I don’t make the traditional observances.
Not being a pagan, neo or otherwise (or especially virtuous, for that matter), I won’t celebrate with anything more strenuous than rereading Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or possibly hauling out Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel riff on Shakespeare’s play.
Still, all day long, I’ve been channelling Rudyard Kipling by way of Peter Bellamy. I know that oak, ash and thorn are simply a spelling out of “oath” in an alphabet of trees, but they’re still full of poetic mystery and splendor to my ear, and I can’t get Kipling’s words or Bellamy’s music out of my mind:
Sing Oak, and Ash, and Thorn good sirs,
All on a midsummer’s morn.
Surely we sing of no little thing
In Oak, and Ash, and Thorn.