THE LORD OF MISRULE

By: Alfred Noyes

 

 

“On May days the wild heads of the parish would choose a Lord of Misrule, whom they would follow even into the church, though the minister were at prayer or preaching, dancing and swinging their may-boughs about like devils incarnate.”—Old Puritan Writer.

 

ALL on a fresh May morning, I took my love to church,

To see if Parson Primrose were safely on his perch.

He scarce had got to Thirdly, or squire begun to snore,

When, like a sun-lit sea-wave,

A green and crimson sea-wave,

A frolic of madcap May-folk came whooping through the door:—

Come up, come in with streamers!

Come in, with boughs of may!

Come up and thump the sexton,

And carry the clerk away.

 

Now skip like rams, ye mountains,

Ye little hills, like sheep!

Come up and wake the people

That parson puts to sleep.

They tickled their nut-brown tabors. Their garlands flew in showers,

And lasses and lads came after them, with feet like dancing flowers.

Their queen had torn her green gown, and bared a shoulder as white,

O, white as the may that crowned her,

While all the minstrels round her

Tilted back their crimson hats and sang for sheer delight:

Come up, come in with streamers!

Come in, with boughs of may!

Now by the gold upon your toe

You walked the primrose way.

Come up, with white and crimson!

O, shake your bells and sing;

Let the porch bend, the pillars bow,

Before our Lord, the Spring!

 

The dusty velvet hassocks were dabbled with fragrant dew.

The font grew white with hawthorn. It frothed in every pew.

Three petals clung to the sexton’s beard as he mopped and mowed at the clerk,

And “Take that sexton away,” they cried;

“Did Nebuchadnezzar eat may?” they cried.

“Nay, that was a prize from Betty,” they cried, “for kissing her in the dark.”

Come up, come in with streamers!

Come in, with boughs of may!

Who knows but old Methuselah

May hobble the green-wood way?

If Betty could kiss the sexton,

If Kitty could kiss the clerk,

Who knows how Parson Primrose

Might blossom in the dark?

The congregation spluttered. The squire grew purple and all,

And every little chorister bestrode his carven stall.

 

The parson flapped like a magpie, but none could hear his prayers;

For Tom Fool flourished his tabor,

Flourished his nut-brown tabor,

Bashed the head of the sexton, and stormed the pulpit stairs.

High in the old oak pulpit

This Lord of all misrule—

I think it was Will Summers

That once was Shakespeare’s fool—

Held up his hand for silence,

And all the church grew still:

“And are you snoring yet,” he said,

“Or have you slept your fill?

“Your God still walks in Eden, between the ancient trees,

Where Youth and Love go wading through pools of primroses.

And this is the sign we bring you, before the darkness fall,

 

That Spring is risen, is risen again,

That Life is risen, is risen again,

That Love is risen, is risen again, and Love is Lord of all.

“At Paske began our morrice

And, ere Pentecost, our May;

Because, albeit your words be true,

You know not what you say.

You chatter in church like jackdaws,

Words that would wake the dead,

Were there one breath of life in you,

One drop of blood,” he said.

“He died and He went down to hell! You know not what you mean.

Our rafters were of green fir. Also our beds were green.

But out of the mouth of a fool, a fool, before the darkness fall,

We tell you He is risen again,

The Lord of Life is risen again,

 

The boughs put forth their tender buds, and Love is Lord of all!”

He bowed his head. He stood so still,

They bowed their heads as well.

And softly from the organ-loft

The song began to swell.

Come up with blood-red streamers,

The reeds began the strain.

The vox humana pealed on high,

The Spring is risen again!

The vox angelica replied—The shadows flee away!

Our house-beams were of cedar. Come in, with boughs of may!

The diapason deepened it—Before the darkness fall,

We tell you He is risen again!

Our God hath burst His prison again!

Christ is risen, is risen again; and Love is Lord of all.