Awake, ye pretty maids, awake,
Refreshed from drowsy dream,
And haste to dairy house, and take
For us a dish of cream.
If not a dish of yellow cream,
Then give us kisses three
The woodland bower is white with flower,
And green is every tree.
A branch of May we bear about
Before the door it stands;
There's not a sprout unbudded out,
The work of God's own hands.
Awake, awake ye pretty maids,
And take the May-bush in,
Or 'twill be gone ere tomorrow morn,
And you'll have none within.
Throughout the night, before the light,
There fell the dew or rain,
it twinkles bright on May bush white,
It sparkles on the plain.
The heavenly gates are open wide
To let escape the dew,
And heavenly grace falls on each place
It drops on us and you.
The life of man is but a span,
He blossoms as a flower,
He makes us stay, is here to day,
And vanish'd in an hour.
My song is done, I must be gone,
Nor make a longer stay.
God bless you all, both great and small,
And send you gladsome May.
Verses 6 and 7 were added when the character of the May-Day visit was changed from one of lovers to their swethearts into children seeking May gifts. Then kisses three were changed to "Pennies one or three."
abc | midi | pdf
Source: Songs of the West - S. Baring Gould
Baring Gould notes:
Melody and words noted down a good many years ago by J.S. Cayner Esq. it was sung, till of late years in my neighbourhood, where a bunch of flowers at the end of a stick was carried about by children. it was customary in England for a lover on may morning to take a green bough to the house of the beloved. if she opened the door and took it in, this was a token of acceptance. At the Puritan epoch this custom was altered, and the song was converted into a carol with a moral to it, see "Notes and Queries," Third Series ix p. 380; Hone's "Every Day Book," 1826, i p. 567; Chamber's "Book of Days," i p. 578. Herrick refers to the custom of youths bringing their May bushes to the maids of their choice:-
"A deale of youth ere this is come
Back, and with white thorn laden home,
Some have dispached their cakes and cream,
Before that we have left to dream"
The melody is a very early one in the Dorian mode, and resembles that of the carol "The moon shines bright," Broadwood's "County Songs" p. 108. The carol is still sung in Cornwall.
Roud: 305 (Search Roud index at VWML) Take Six