Friday, June 02, 2006

Dancing at Whitsun

Today is Shavuot, or in Greek "Pentecost", meaning "fiftieth", so called because it is the fiftieth day after Nisan 16, the second day of Passover. In Jewish tradition, it is the day when Moses received the Torah on Mt. Sinai, and also the day for celebrating the first fruits of the grain harvest. In Christian tradition, it is the day when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples who had gathered to celebrate Shavuot and caused them to speak in tongues, although Christians traditionally celebrate it on Sunday now.

To the quaintly traditional Episcopalians among whom I grew up, it was known not as "Pentecost" but "Whitsunday" -- a truncation of "White Sunday". In Merrie Olde England, it was once customary for newly baptized parishioners to be baptized at Easter and to wear white robes on Pentecost Sunday.

There were also some vestigial pagan fertility/harvest overtones to the celebration of the day in agrarian England, corresponding somewhat to the Jewish "first fruits" connotations, memories of which are preserved in the Anglican moniker. It was a time for county fairs, and markets offering the first produce, and May and Morris dancing. In the old days, the May dances were performed by women and the Morris dances by men. In more recent times, mens' Morris teams have grown fewer and womens' teams have begun to appear, much to the dudgeon of some old-timers -- a point that it seems poignant to mention this year, as our conflict in Iraq continues.

"Dancing at Whitsun"
John Austin Marshall

It's fifty long springtimes since she was a bride,
But still you may see her at each Whitsuntide
In a dress of white linen with ribbons of green,
As green as her memories of loving.

The feet that were nimble tread carefully now,
As gentle a measure as age will allow,
Through groves of white blossoms, by fields of young corn,
Where once she was pledged to her true-love.

The fields they stand empty, the hedges grow free--
No young men to turn them or pastures to see --
They are gone where the forest of oak trees before
Have gone, to be wasted in battle.

Down from the green farmlands and from their loved ones
Marched husbands and brothers and fathers and sons.
There's a fine roll of honor where the Maypole once stood,
And the ladies go dancing at Whitsun.

There's a straight row of houses in these latter days
All covering the downs where the sheep used to graze.
There's a field of red poppies (a gift from the Queen)
But the ladies remember at Whitsun,
And the ladies go dancing at Whitsun.


At June 3, 2006 at 7:55:00 PM EDT, Blogger PeaceBang said...

Big old smartyhead.


Post a Comment

<< Home