Category Archives: Seasons and Holidays

A Celebration of The Merry Month of May

By Laura Heyrman

As the month comes to an end, we celebrate May in art and poetry.

The Merry Month of May by Thomas Dekker

O, the month of May, the merry month of May,
So frolick, so gay, and so green, so green, so green!
O, and then did I unto my true love say,
Sweet Peg, thou shalt be my Summer’s Queen.

Now the nightingale, the pretty nightingale,
The sweetest singer in all the forest choir,
Entreats thee, sweet Peggy, to hear thy true love’s tale:
Lo, yonder she sitteth, her breast against a brier.

But O, I spy the cuckoo, the cuckoo, the cuckoo;
See where she sitteth; come away, my joy:
Come away, I prithee, I do not like the cuckoo
Should sing where my Peggy and I kiss and toy.

O, the month of May, the merry month of May,
So frolick, so gay, and so green, so green, so green;
And then did I unto my true love say,
Sweet Peg, thou shalt be my Summer’s Queen.

from Ernest Rhys, Thomas Dekker, London: Vizetelly, 1887.

About the painting:

One of twelve miniatures illustrating traditional monthly activities, the “May” page from “Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry” (The Duke of Berry’s Very Fine Book of Hours), was painted by one of the Limbourg Brothers, leading painters in Northern Europe in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. The manuscript was commissioned by John of Berry, third son of King John II of France, and a lavish patron of the arts. Sadly, the manuscript was left unfinished in 1416 upon the death of the patron and the artists, as can be seen from the empty calendar grid at the top of the May page. Scholars have attributed the May Page to Jean Limbourg, the brother most associated with courtly scenes.

In the “Très Riches Heures” the calendar illustrations alternate between activities of the nobility and the peasantry. The settings of the calendar scenes are frequently identifiable as buildings belonging to the patron; the May page shows the Hôtel de Nesle, the Duke of Berry’s Paris residence. In celebration of spring, young men and women in ornate garments ride through a woodland. Many of the figures wear green clothing which was a traditional aspect of the “May jaunt.” Bedecked with ivy, the young nobles elegantly chat and flirt while a pair of dogs in the foreground express their springtime attraction more explicitly.

About the poem:

The poem “The Merry Month of May” is from the late 16th century and was written by Thomas Dekker, an Elizabethan playwright and pamphleteer as part of his play “The Shoemaker’s Holiday.” The play debuted in 1599 and was also performed on New Years Day 1600 as part of Queen Elizabeth I’s annual Christmas entertainments. The play is set much earlier though, during the reign of Henry IV. This would make its story roughly contemporary with the Limbourg Brothers’ May page. “The Shoemaker’s Holiday” is a romantic comedy set among London’s artisans, including three subplots dealing with inter-class romance and city politics. Dekker was known for works depicting everyday life.

“The Merry Month of May” is one of two songs or catches that are associated with the play. Though its exact position in the play is uncertain, an 1887 edition of the play places it in Act Three in association with a morris dance performed to entertain the Lord Mayor of London. The master shoemaker Simon Eyre counters his wife’s insistence that he be serious in the Lord Mayor’s company by saying that he will be serious at the Guildhall and we’ll all be old soon enough. The light-hearted love song and dance suit Eyre’s philosophy but the lyrics also hint at the tangled love affairs going on throughout the play.

Limbourg Brothers, May calendar page from “Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry” (The Duke of Berry’s Very Fine Book of Hours), ca. 1412-1416. Ms. 65, Musée Condé, Chantilly, France.

“It’s Black History Month. Look in the Mirror.” By George Yancy

Matt Black/Magnum Photos

“It’s Black History Month. Look in the Mirror.”


To many Americans, February, first officially recognized by President Gerald Ford in 1976 as Black History Month, is a time to celebrate African-American achievements, ones that were gained against nearly impossible economic, social and political odds. But there is one achievement that is rarely on the list. As a people, African-Americans forced the United States of America to look deep into its own soul and to see the moral bankruptcy that lay there.

That bankruptcy was exposed as African-Americans struggled to live under white supremacy, a system that rendered them “sub-persons.” And even as we fought to make America “our home” — a home that was already brutally taken from Native Americans by white colonial settlers — our black bodies were subject to unconscionable white enslavement, violence and oppression; we lived through forms of carnage, mutilation, rape, castration and injustice that will forever mark the profound ethical failure of this country. By surviving, and demonstrating that the American experiment had failed black people and minorities, we became far more American than those who withheld America’s promise.

On paper, America stood for freedom. Yet that freedom was denied to black people. White America, white people, lived in a profound form of what Sartre called “bad faith” — a state of inauthenticity and self-deception. The white social critic Lillian Smith (1896-1966), who grew up in the Deep South and later wrote “Killers of the Dream,” observed, “I had learned that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that we might have segregated churches.” She also noted, “I learned it is possible to be a Christian and a white Southerner simultaneously” and “to pray at night and ride Jim Crow car the next morning and to feel comfortable in doing both.” It is this bad faith, this ethical perversity, that haunts the history of white America.

And as Frederick Douglass noted, “Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.” And in his speech “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July” (1852), Douglass said to white America: “The Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

As I listened to President Trump’s Black History Month remarks on Feb. 1, it was painfully clear that he didn’t bear witness to that Douglass. It is convenient for him not to know that Douglass. In this nightmare of Trumpism, we mustn’t forget Douglass’s words, just as we mustn’t forget the dejection felt by those who suffered under the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 or in the anti-Japanese internment camps during World War II. Those actions contradicted America’s alleged identity as a nation whose arms are open to the stranger, the outcast; a nation that, in theory, does not discriminate based upon race or national origin.

It is this brutal and contradictory history from which America cannot, and should not, turn away. Just as Jews refuse to forget Hitler’s Germany, we black Americans refuse to forget the often unspeakable atrocities we endured. It is this resistance to forgetting that must be nurtured as we find ourselves in the midst of a dangerous form of antiglobalism, white nativism and xenophobia under Trump’s vision for making America “great again,” a vision closer to D. W. Griffith’s 1915 “The Birth of a Nation” — a film predicated upon white fear and denigration of the black other — than that of an actual nation.

In our current morally perilous moment, it is important to critically consider Trump’s signing of an executive order that temporarily blocks both immigrants and nonimmigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries — Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. This action has implications beyond questions of constitutional legitimacy. This ban, along with the plan to build a wall along the United States border with Mexico, is indicative of deeper issues regarding American white nativism and the fact that millions of Americans have become so gripped by hopelessness and fear that they are willing to overlook constitutional violations and ignore their own moral conscience.

Trump’s divisiveness is not only xenophobic, but also anti-theological, according to his own professed Christianity. At this time, we are symbolically walking from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he is telling us it is “better,” “safer,” not to attend to the wounds and sorrows of the “stranger.” This is America’s crucible. The Judaic concept of Tikkun Olam (“repairing the world”) is bastardized under Trump’s executive order. We are instead in the midst of a dangerous form of idolatry that praises unmitigated power, valorizes American nativism and borders on neo-fascism. In 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Without love, there is no reason to know anyone, for love will in the end connect us to our neighbors, our children and our hearts.”

And just who are our neighbors? They are undocumented immigrants who seek to be with their families in the United States; they are refugees and “strangers” with whom we share a common humanity and who flee war-torn countries. As we fight against draconian orders that would make us turn our backs on those in need, we must also collectively fight against an Orwellian nightmare that would have us believe that two plus two equals five.

As Americans of all races reflect on our history this month, it is important that we acknowledge the systemic forms of marginalization, pain and suffering that black people had to endure, and that others may now face. In this way, we confront white America’s sins unequivocally. We undertake a collective mourning for black people who were never meant to be included within the ideal norms of American democracy, yet forced themselves to dream as they faced nightmares, to continue breathing as they were suffocating from the stench of black bodies lynched and burned alive, and who forced themselves to stay alive when suicide would have been easier.

Black History Month must not be just about black people, but about white people, too. It requires more than just having white students read a poem by a black poet. So, if you are white, take this month and grieve. Find a private and sacred place to weep for those whose dark skin marked them for sub-personhood. Consider the racist historical conditions that allowed you freedom of mobility, freedom of being and a sense of personhood. Acknowledge that whiteness saved those who looked like you from the vicious barbarity visited upon black people. And in that moment, I want you to lament a country that continues to grant privilege to whiteness, that continues to fall far short of what is written on parchment.

White people ought to use this month to engage in a shared form of vulnerability and mourning, a collective recognition, with a fearless countenance, of how white racist complicity and black suffering were historically linked and are currently intertwined. Such a courageous act of vulnerability is not about white guilt, but white responsibility. There is a specific injury that is necessary for white people; it is a kind of injury that will unsuture forms of trapped and concealed lies. King likened racism to “a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness.”

Part of the narrative of this election is that it was a repudiation of those voters who ignored the plight of poor and working-class whites in this country. To those whites I would say, I empathize with your economic pain and suffering. I understand your lack of economic growth, but are you then prepared to understand that, being black, we suffer economically, but also physically and spiritually under the institution of white racism? I agree with my fellow philosopher Judith Butler, who said: “Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something.” If I am to be undone by your economic pain and plight, then you must be willing to be undone by the economic and white systemic and prejudicial racist pain that we feel.

Now, if you’re white and you think that I’m playing the race card, I ask you to perform this small task. Look at your face in the mirror. Allow your economic plight to anger you. And as you do, imagine your face encased in dark skin. And as you look in the mirror and begin to see a dark face look back, be honest with yourself. Isn’t it better to be white and economically forgotten than to be economically forgotten and to be black under the same circumstances? My guess is that you would rather the former.

Butler also warns us that “we make a mistake when we take ‘self-preservation’ to be the essence of the human.” There is something indeed inhuman about insulating ourselves from the touch of the other, willfully ignoring the pain and suffering of the other. We are headed into an ethical abyss beyond which there may be no return. Before he was murdered on April 4, 1968, King had planned to deliver a sermon titled “Why America May Go to Hell.” Though King did not give that sermon, we should heed his prophetic warning.

By George Yancy, Reprint from The New York Times / The Stone, 9 February 2017, © 2017 The New York Times Company.

Happy Cinco de Mayo, 2016!

Diego Rivera (Mexican; Social Realism, Mexican Mural Movement; 1886-1957): (central detail) Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park (Sueno de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central), 1947-48. Fresco: 7 tons, 4.8 x 15 m (13 x 50 ft). Museo Mural Diego Rivera, Mexico City, Mexico City. Originally in the Hotel del Prado on Alameda Park.

#HappyCincoDeMayo! Rivera–Dream… Alameda Park #IRequireArt #art

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Diego Rivera encapsulates in this robust fifty-foot, 7 ton mural, read from left to right, a significant slice of Mexican history from conquest through the Revolution of 1910. A fitting tribute for this Cinco de Mayo, 2016!

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

John Sloan (American, American Realism, 1871–1951): Music in the Plaza (Plaza, Evening, Santa Fe), 1920. Oil on canvas, 26 x 32 inches. New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA. Image: © The New Mexico Museum of Art. © This artwork may be protected by copyright. It is posted on the site in accordance with fair use principles.

#HappyCincodeMayo! Music in the Plaza, Santa Fe; 1920 (John Sloan) #IRequireArt #art

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The many faces of spring always delight. See some of our favorites below in the slide show.

Add your own favorites with your comments!