I've been rambling all the night,
And the best part of the day;
And now I am returning back again,
I have brought you a branch of May.
A branch of May, my dear, I say,
Before your door I stand,
It's nothing but a sprout, but it's well budded out,
By the work of our Lord's hand.
Go down in your dairy and fetch me a cup,
A cup of your sweet cream,*
And, if I should live to tarry in the town,
I will call on you next year.
The hedges and the fields they are so green,
As green as any leaf,
Our Heavenly Father waters them
With His Heavenly dew so sweet.
When I am dead and in my grave,
And covered with cold clay,
The nightingale will sit and sing,
And pass the time away.
Take a Bible in your hand,
And read a chapter through,
And, when the day of Judgment comes,
The Lord will think on you.
I have a bag on my right arm,
Draws up with a silken string,
Nothing does it want but a little silver
To line it well within.
And now my song is almost done,
I can no longer stay,
God bless you all both great and small,
I wish you a joyful May.
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Source: Broadwood, L, 1908, English Traditional Songs and Carols, London, Boosey
Lucy Broadwood wrote:
This carol, contributed by Sir Ernest Clarke, is sung at Hinwick. It should be compared with "The Moon shines bright" and "The Hampshire Mummers' Carol." The words of course allude to the undoubtedly pagan May Day customs against which the Puritan Stubbes declaims in his Anatomie of Abuses, (1583). On the first day of May young men and women were wont to rise a little before midnight and to walk to some neighbouring wood, making music with horns and other instruments. There they would break boughs of hawthorn and other trees, weave garlands, and wander till sunrise, washing their faces in the May dew so magical in its properties. The boughs were then planted before the house-doors, and nosegays left at the thresholds ; carols being sung, and gifts asked for in song. Countess Martinengo-Cesaresco, in her excellent Essays in the Study of Folk Songs, quotes the words of a March Day song sung by Greek children of Rhodes more than two thousand years ago. This, of which a version is sung still by Greek country folk, is strikingly like our May Day and Wassail Songs. It is supposed that the Puritans supplied the gloomy reminders of death in these Christmas and May Carols.
Roud: 305 (Search Roud index at VWML) Take Six