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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. The Book of Elizabethan Verse. 1907.

Ralph, the May-lord

Francis Beaumont (1584–1616)

LONDON, to thee I do present

The merry month of May;

Let each true subject be content

To hear me what I say:

For from the top of conduit-head,

As plainly may appear,

I will both tell my name to you,

And wherefore I came here.

My name is Ralph, by due descent,

Though not ignoble I,

Yet far inferior to the flock

Of gracious grocery;

And by the common counsel of

My fellows in the Strand,

With gilded staff and crossèd scarf,

The May-lord here I stand.

Rejoice, oh, English hearts, rejoice!

Rejoice, oh, lovers dear!

Rejoice, oh, city, town, and country,

Rejoice eke every shire!

For now the fragrant flowers do spring

And sprout in seemly sort,

The little birds do sit and sing,

The lambs do make fine sport;

And now the birchen-tree doth bud,

That makes the schoolboy cry;

The morris rings, while hobby-horse

Doth foot it feateously;

The lords and ladies now abroad,

For their disport and play,

Do kiss sometimes upon the grass,

And sometimes in the hay.

Now butter with a leaf of sage

Is good to purge the blood;

Fly Venus and phlebotomy,

For they are neither good!

Now little fish on tender stone

Begin to cast their bellies,

And sluggish snails, that erst were mewed,

Do creep out of their shellies;

The rumbling rivers now do warm,

For little boys to paddle;

The sturdy steed now goes to grass,

And up they hang the saddle;

The heavy hart, the bellowing buck,

The rascal, and the pricket,

Are now among the yeoman’s pease,

And leave the fearful thicket;

And be like them, oh, you, I say,

Of this same noble town,

And lift aloft your velvet heads,

And slipping off your gown,

With bells on legs, and napkins clean

Unto your shoulders tied,

With scarfs and garters as you please,

And “Hey for our town!” cried,

March out and show your willing minds,

By twenty and by twenty,

To Hogsdon, or to Newington,

Where ale and cakes are plenty;

And let it ne’er be said for shame,

That we the youths of London

Lay thrumming of our caps at home,

And left our custom undone.

Up then, I say, both young and old,

Both man and maid a-maying,

With drums and guns that bounce aloud,

And merry tabour playing!

Which to prolong, God save our king,

And send his country peace,

And rout out treason from the land!

And so, my friends, I cease.