The Month of May

Write a May Day poem with help from a 1100 year old visiting poet.

The Month of May

‘The Month of May’ is a poem by an unknown poet from the 9th Century. I found it in a brilliant book “The Wise and Foolish Tongue, Celtic Stories and Poems” by Robin Williamson. I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the myths, poems, and stories of Celtic Britain. I actually recommend everything Robin Williamson has ever done- from his records with The Incredible String Band in the 1960s to all the music, spoken word, books, and eccentric theatrical events he’s done since.

This poem and activity are for adults and older children who would like a really rewarding writing challenge.

Here’s the full poem, with my scribbles:

The Month of May from ‘The Wise and Foolish Tongue’ by Robin Williamson.

The poem makes a day in May in rural Ireland 1100 years ago feel as fresh and alive as this day in May 2020.

I think it’s a great poem for anyone to use as inspiration for writing about nature. It shows how simply describing the world can make a brilliant poem if words are very carefully chosen.

So…let’s do a writing experiment. Try writing a poem that sticks to some rules based on ‘The Month of May’ poem. These are the rules:

  1. Your poem must be about NOW. It must be about your experiences of nature at the moment, in May 2020. It could be about your daily exercise-walk, or nature in your garden or out your window. You can include things you’ve noticed over the past few days but not from long ago or even last year. It’s not about imagining a day in May somewhere else. It’s about your experience of nature in May 2020.
  2. You must NOT have “I saw… or “I feel” or “I think..”etc. The writer desribes what they experience without once saying ‘I’. We don’t see the writer in ‘Month of May’, we see what they see. The writer is a window we look through and see The Month of May.
  3. Describe something new on each line. You’re not writing a whole poem about a bird or a tree or the sea. You’re writing a poem with a lot of images. Each line is a different picture. The main challenge is to make each picture as vivid and alive as you can. Use every syllable to paint the best picture you can. This is what makes ‘The Month of May’ so good. Try and write lines that are as short and brilliantly descriptive as “Hedge green bristle the branching boughs” or “haze upon the brimming lake” or “harp of the trees hums and soothes”
  4. No rhyming, no upper-case letters, and keep punctuation to a minimum.

Give it a go and see what happens!