Hal an Tow, Jolly Run Below . . .

we were up/ long before the day, O!

Take no scorn to wear the horn
It was the crest when you was born
Your father’s father wore it
And your father wore it too

Chorus (after each verse):
Hal-an-tow, jolly rumble O
We were up long before the day O
To welcome in the summer,
To welcome in the May O
The summer is a-coming in
And winter’s gone away O

What happened to the Spaniards
That made so great a boast O?
Why they shall eat the feathered goose
And we shall eat the roast O
Robin Hood and Little John
Have both gone to the fair O
And we will to the merry green wood
To hunt the buck and hare O
God bless Aunt Mary Moyses
And all her power and might O
And send us peace to England
Send peace by day and night O

Maying! Hal-an-Tow is one of a number of May carols, in this case a true carol because it is danced to on the first day of May. “The Padstow May Song” is another old tune, used in a rather creepy ritual with hobby horse, a distant cousin of the Mari Llawd of Wales. “All Around my Hat” is another one that has a couple of meanings.

Beltane, Maying, the first of spring . . . there are lots of end-of-winter festivals and welcome spring events. They almost all include greenery, young men and women, and the ritual dismissal of lean times and winter. Loreena McKennitt’s “Mummer’s Dance” is a modern version of the story:

When in the springtime of the year
When the trees are crowned with leaves
When the ash and oak, and the birch and yew
Are dressed in ribbons fair

When owls call the breathless moon
In the blue veil of the night
The shadows of the trees appear
Amidst the lantern light

We’ve been rambling all the night
And some time of this day
Now returning back again
We bring a garland gay

Who will go down to those shady groves
And summon the shadows there
And tie a ribbon on those sheltering arms
In the springtime of the year

The songs of birds seem to fill the wood
That when the fiddler plays
All their voices can be heard
Long past their woodland days


And so they linked their hands and danced
Round in circles and in rows
And so the journey of the night descends
When all the shades are gone

A garland gay we bring you here
And at your door we stand
It is a sprout well budded out
The work of our Lord’s hand


Rudyard Kipling described something similar, albeit for midsummer, with “A Tree Song”:

Of all the trees that grow so fair,
Old Engerland to adorn,
Greater are none beneath the Sun,
Than Oak and Ash and Thorn.
Sing Oak and Ash and Thorn, good Sirs
(All of a Midsummer’s morn)!
Surely we sing of no little thing,
In Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Oak of the Clay lived many a day,
Or ever Aeneas began;
Ash of the Loam was a lady at home,
When Brut was an outlaw man;
Thorn of the Down saw New Troy Town
(From which was London born);
Witness hereby the ancientry
Of Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Yew that is old in churchyard mould,
He breedeth a mighty bow;
Alder for shoes do wise men choose,
And beech for cups also.
But when ye have killed, and your bowl is spilled,
Your shoes are clean outworn,
Back ye must speed for all that ye need,
To Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Ellum she hateth mankind, and waiteth
Till every gust be laid,
To drop a limb on the head of him
That anyway trusts her shade:
But whether a lad be sober or sad,
Or mellow with ale from the horn,
He’ll take no wrong when he lieth along
‘Neath Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight,
Or he would call it a sin;
But—we have been out in the woods all night,
A-conjuring Summer in!
And we bring you news by word of mouth—
Good news for cattle and corn—
Now is the Sun come up from the South,
With Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Sing Oak and Ash and Thorn, good Sirs
(All of a Midsummer’s morn)!
England shall bide till Judgement Tide,
By Oak and Ash and Thorn!

And you can be certain that neither the young people a’ maying nor the couples “welcoming summer in” were engaging in quiet contemplation and Christian prayer. 😀

[Please keep all commentary PG-13]


11 thoughts on “Hal an Tow, Jolly Run Below . . .

  1. May Day! May Day! (I’m in trouble because I haven’t had my morning coffee.) 😉

  2. Welcome summer, and gladly met. Sun is bright and warm this morning.

    • Warm? Check. Sun? No. There was some, and then a high, thick overcast came in. We’re supposed to be 96 today.

      • If you sweat without exertion, you’re past warm and into hot.
        96 is hot, even if it’s a “dry heat”, and even though it will get worse.

  3. Some great luminous thing rose on schedule here this morning – it should have been the Sun, but, what with all the Morris dancers being on lockdown, it could have been a mere ball of flaming gas.

  4. Peter!!! And yes, interesting to be in England/Scotland on the first of May. I’m not saying it got drunk out, but there was an affluence of incahol… 🙂

    • That’s why they invented beer and uisge beatha. I recall part of 2 May on Islay, but the water all turned to whiskey. A miracle.

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