Study Guide

Corinna's Going A-Maying Quotes

  • Lust

                         Wash, dress, be brief in praying:
    Few beads are best when once we go a-Maying. (27-28)

    Lust is the engine that drives this impatient poem. Notice how every word in these two lines (except for "praying" and "a-Maying") is one syllable, hurrying her out of bed and prayers and into the pagan fun outside.

        Come, we'll abroad; and let's obey
        The proclamation made for May:
    And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;
    But, my Corinna, come, let's go a-Maying. (39-42)

    Our speaker wants to celebrate May Day right, with some al fresco lovin'. To stay in bed is to sin, since this holiday basically proclaims that everyone needs to get out, find a shady grove, and do it. Like Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, May Day celebrates the naturalness of sex and love.

    There's not a budding boy or girl this day
    But is got up, and gone to bring in May (43-44)

    Every adolescent in the town is out celebrating May, letting those hormonal urges get out in the open, renewing life right along with the spring. And could they be more like flowers? These youngsters are actually "budding."

    And some have wept, and woo'd, and plighted troth,
    And chose their priest, ere we can cast off sloth:
        Many a green-gown has been given;
        Many a kiss, both odd and even:
        Many a glance too has been sent
        From out the eye, love's firmament;

    Just look at all the shenanigans going on around this maypole! We've got full-fledged dating and engagements, with churches booked and wedding cakes ordered. The less committed ones have been flirting, making out, and having sex.

    Many a jest told of the keys betraying
    This night, and locks pick'd (55-56)

    But lest you think this is just innocent spin-the-bottle stuff, the speaker slaps on a line or two of winking innuendo. Yeah, this morning you might be exchanging glances and kisses, but we know what things you were up to last night. We'll just say this: that locks and keys metaphor is about a lot more than opening doors.

    So when you or I are made
        A fable, song, or fleeting shade,
        All love, all liking, all delight
        Lies drowned with us in endless night. (65-68)

    Nothing kills lust like death. Using a carpe diem argument, the speaker insists that by the time they've bit the dust, the fun will be over. "All love, all liking, all delight" will go out like a candle flame. But this is about more than sexy fun times. There's no lust in the coffin, yeah, but there's also no cakes and cream, no village concerts, and no maypole dancing. Everything great about life will vanish. The take-home point? Let's live (and have sex) right now.

  • Inertia

    Get up, get up for shame, the blooming morn
    Upon her wings presents the god unshorn (1-2)

    The repetition of "get up" makes this command even more insistent, while the "for shame" reminds us that being lazy is something to be embarrassed about.

    Get up, sweet slug-a-bed, and see
        The dew bespangling herb and tree (5-6)

    This speaker keeps it together. He's impatient but still affectionate, and when Corinna doesn't respond to one argument, he switches to a new one in the next stanza. Talk about resourceful.

        Come and receive them while the light
        Hangs on the dew-locks of the night:
        And Titan on the eastern hill
        Retires himself, or else stands still
    Till you come forth […] (23-27)

    No one in the village is waiting on them—the cream cakes are probably completely obliterated—but nature's willing to dawdle a little for a good purpose. Note the contrast, though, between these lines and stanza 5. Night's willing to stand still in stanza 2, but by stanza 5 it looks like everyone's patience has run out: "Our life is short, and our days run / As fast away as does the sun" (61-2). So don't test your luck too far, Corinna.

                          Wash, dress, be brief in praying:
    Few beads are best when once we go a-Maying (27-28)

    It's a sin to miss May Day, but lazily skimming through your morning prayers? No problemo. This poem discourages physical and philosophical inertia, the kind that drags your hand back to the snooze button when a new day of possibilities beckons. But religious inertia is encouraged.

        Some have despatch'd their cakes and cream
        Before that we have left to dream: (47-48)

    Here the speaker tries to fill Corinna with FOMO on all the fun happening without them. He contrasts her dreams with the rich, sweet, delicious, three-dimensional pleasures of the real world. Corinna might be dreaming about being Queen of England, but that imaginary fun has nothing on a cream cake being eaten in real time.

    Come, let us go while we are in our prime (57)

    It's essential to go now, while they are young and happy and in love. If he can't rouse Corinna to get in the May, then before you know it, they'll both be haggard and limping. Or at least that's the hyperbole he wants her to believe. He's actually speaking about laziness in general, which procrastinates and wastes time and watches opportunities drift by like bubbles. And suddenly you wake up 99 years old and realize you've done nothing.

  • Time

    Each flower has wept and bow'd toward the east
    Above an hour since: yet you not dress'd;
        Nay! not so much as out of bed? (7-9)

    Time and inertia are closely related themes since Corinna's stop-at-nothing laziness is a big waste of time. Even the flowers are more conscious of time, and they don't even have watches. Isn't it time to get up, watch CNN, and drink some coffee?

        Come and receive them while the light
        Hangs on the dew-locks of the night:
        And Titan on the eastern hill
        Retires himself, or else stands still
    Till you come forth (23-27)

    Ah, maybe there is a solution. In stanza 2 it sounds like time's willing to cut Corinna some slack. Since this is a different message than what comes at the end of the poem, it looks like either the speaker has changed up his arguments or that time is kinder to young people in love: days are longer, time is slower, and it seems like you have all the time in the world.

                          Wash, dress, be brief in praying:
    Few beads are best when once we go a-Maying (27-28)

    No time for religion when it's May Day. God can wait, the sun can wait. The only thing that can't wait is the speaker, who's incredibly anxious to get Corinna out in the fragrant air.

    Come, let us go while we are in our prime;
    And take the harmless folly of the time.
        We shall grow old apace, and die
        Before we know our liberty (57-60)

    Now's the time to have fun. Every passing moment brings us closer to death, and it would be a tragedy to die before we've really taken advantage of our freedom to love and dance and eat. Youth should be a celebration of liberty, not a confinement.

    Our life is short, and our days run
        As fast away as does the sun;
    And, as a vapour or a drop of rain
    Once lost, can ne'er be found again,
        So when you or I are made
        A fable, song, or fleeting shade,
        All love, all liking, all delight
        Lies drowned with us in endless night (61-68)

    These lines provide an interesting peek into a possible after-life situation. There's no talk of heaven, but he and Corinna might live on as part of a story, a poem, or even as ghosts. Not bad, especially when death could have spelled total annihilation. And yet. No matter how exciting the story or touching the poem, they'll still be dead, unable to even experience their own narrative.

    Then while time serves, and we are but decaying,
    Come, my Corinna, come, let's go a-Maying (69-70)

    You know how you cut up an apple and it immediately starts turning brown? That's sort of how the speaker views the world. As soon as you're born, you start decaying. While you're young and fab it doesn't show as much, which is why it's important to maximize your fun sexy adventures while you're still in your prime.

  • Tradition and Customs

    […] 'tis sin,
        Nay, profanation to keep in,
    Whereas a thousand virgins on this day
    Spring, sooner than the lark, to fetch in May (11-14)

    "Sin" and "profanation" are dripping with Christianity, but is the speaker talking about missing Sunday school or buying soda on the Sabbath? Not a chance. He flips these words around, adds a dash of irony, and claims instead that it's a sin to play hooky on May Day. In other words, May Day = a Holy Day, not just a holiday. By sleeping in, Corinna's not respecting this day of village fun.

                          Wash, dress, be brief in praying:
    Few beads are best when once we go a-Maying (27-28)

    He's not telling her to skip praying completely, but he does want her to cut some corners. This is a day of revelry and joy, not religious devotion.

    […] see how
        Devotion gives each house a bough
        Or branch: each porch, each door ere this
        An ark, a tabernacle is,
    Made up of white-thorn neatly interwove. (31-35)

    Instead of a real ark or tabernacle (sacred vessels used in Christian churches), the village houses are decorated with branches of flowering trees. So why would the speaker pick such a religious metaphor? Just like in lines 11-14, he's stealing religious language and reinventing it for this pagan holiday. These braided branches might not be Christian objects, but they're just as holy—they're just symbols of love, nature, and tradition instead of God.

        Come, we'll abroad; and let's obey
        The proclamation made for May:
    And sin no more, as we have done, by staying (39-41)

    According to our speaker, May Day is such a famous festival that it's basically an institution, protected by law. Take that, you creepy sneaky Puritans! You're up against a holiday with a freaking proclamation. And don't get your 17th-century knickers in a twist over religious immorality either, because this party also has the religious weight of Christianity, thankyouverymuch. It's a sin to stay inside on such a beautiful holiday.

    There's not a budding boy or girl this day
    But is got up, and gone to bring in May.
        A deal of youth, ere this, is come
        Back, and with white-thorn laden home.
        Some have despatch'd their cakes and cream (43-47)

    Talk about neighborhood block party. Everyone is involved in this May Day celebration. And you've got to admit, it sounds like some pretty good times: flower arrangements, flirtations, and lots of potluck dessert.

    Come, let us go while we are in our prime;
    And take the harmless folly of the time (57-58)

    Yeah, it might be silly to dance around a big stick stuck in the ground, but it's also wonderful fun that hurts no one and actually does a lot of good. Since it makes people happy and celebrates the beauty of nature, our speaker thinks that's reason enough to keep this holiday on the books.

  • Man and the Natural World

        See how Aurora throws her fair
        Fresh-quilted colours through the air:
        Get up, sweet slug-a-bed, and see
        The dew bespangling herb and tree.
    Each flower has wept and bow'd toward the east
    Above an hour since: yet you not dress'd (3-8)

    Not only is the natural world beautiful and awe-inspiring; it's also really good at getting work done. Corinna may be just as beautiful, but her laziness makes for a pitiful contrast.

    Rise and put on your foliage, and be seen
    To come forth, like the spring-time, fresh and green,
        And sweet as Flora. […] (15-17)

    Okay, she's not actually dressed in leaves and daisy chains. Her clothes are only called "foliage" because he wants her to embody the purity of nature. We're going for a simple Flora look this morning: pretty and fresh.

                                         Take no care
        For jewels for your gown or hair:
        Fear not; the leaves will strew
        Gems in abundance upon you: (17-20)

    Since this holiday celebrates spring, the speaker tells Corinna to get her back-to-nature spa on. She should adorn herself as simply as possible, to imitate nature. No caked-on makeup or Bath & Body Works jasmine lotion for this holiday.

        Come and receive them while the light
        Hangs on the dew-locks of the night:
        And Titan on the eastern hill
        Retires himself, or else stands still
    Till you come forth […] (23-27)

    Not only does the earth save dewdrops for her pearls and basically become an open jewelry box for Corinna; it also promises more radical solutions if she still needs help with the snooze button. The night offers to stand still and not let dawn get any further until she's ready to get up. For a powerful dude like a Titan, that's a pretty big concession. And it's the first hint that for all its mythological personification, nature in this poem is ultimately controlled by humans.

                                                        and, coming, mark
    How each field turns a street, each street a park
        Made green and trimm'd with trees (29-31)

    May Day celebrates the natural world, in all its untouched beauty, but like Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation, this village is all about civic improvement. Fields turn into streets, and the streets are beautified by parks, which are "made green and trimm'd with trees," a description that emphasizes the human work behind a lot of this beauty. Nature and humans: we're in it to win it.

    As if here were those cooler shades of love.
        Can such delights be in the street
        And open fields and we not see't? (36-38)

    Nature is also the place for lovemaking. Sure, Corinna's in bed and it sounds like the speaker was too, but this is a festival that celebrates physical love and it makes sense to get out among the birds and bees.