Now Is the Month of Maying

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"Now is the Month of Maying"
Published 1595
Form Ballett
Composer(s) Thomas Morley
Lyricist(s) Orazio Vecchi (tr)
Language English

Now is the month of maying is one of the most famous of the English ballets (a light dancelike part song similar to a madrigal, frequently with a 'fa-la-la' chorus). It was written by Thomas Morley and published in 1595. It is based on the canzonet So ben mi ch'a bon tempo used by Orazio Vecchi in his 1590 Selva di varia ricreatione.[1]

The song delights in bawdy double-entendre. It is apparently about spring dancing, but this is a metaphor for sex. For example, a "barley-break" would have suggested outdoor sexual activity (rather like we might say a "roll in the hay"). The use of such imagery and puns increased during the Renaissance.[2]

The ballett forms a key part of Oxford's May Morning celebrations, where the choir of Magdalen College sing the verses from the roof of the college's Great Tower.

Now is the month of maying,
When merry lads are playing,
Fa la la la la la la la la,
Fa la la la la la lah.
Each with his bonny lass
Upon the greeny grass.
Fa la la, etc...

The Spring, clad all in gladness,
Doth laugh at Winter's sadness,
Fa la la, etc...
And to the bagpipe's sound
The nymphs tread out their ground.
Fa la la, etc...

Fie then! why sit we musing,
Youth's sweet delight refusing?
Fa la la, etc...
Say, dainty nymphs, and speak,
Shall we play barley-break?
Fa la la etc...


  1. ^ Phillip Ledger (ed) The Oxford Book of English Madrigals (1978) Oxford University Press, and co-issued recording, by Pro Cantione Antiqua
  2. ^ "Renaissance Love Songs Study Guide" by Prof. Paul Brians at Washington State University [1]