May Day


According to Peter Linebaugh’s pamphlet history, May Day has both ‘red’ and ‘green’ origins, and has traditionally been a time when humorless commies and libertine tree-huggers can put aside their differences and be excellent to each other.
Here’s my favorite tale:

In 1625 Captain Wollaston, Thomas Morton, and thirty others sailed from England and months later, taking their bearings from a red cedar tree, they disembarked in Quincy Bay. A year later Wollaston, impatient for lucre and gain, left for good to Virginia. Thomas Morton settled in Passonaggessit which he named Merry Mount. The land seemed a “Paradise” to him. He wrote, there are “fowls in abundance, fish in multitudes, and I discovered besides, millions of turtle doves on the green boughs, which sat pecking of the full, ripe, pleasant grapes that were supported by the lusty trees, whose fruitful load did cause the arms to bend.”

On May Day, 1627, he and his Indian friends, stirred by the sound of drums, erected a Maypole eighty feet high, decorated it with garlands, wrapped it in ribbons, and nailed to its top the antlers of a buck. Later he wrote that he “sett up a Maypole upon the festival day of Philip and James, and therefore brewed a barrell of excellent beare.” A ganymede sang a Bacchanalian song. Morton attached to the pole the first lyric verses penned in America which concluded.

With the proclamation that the first of May

At Merry Mount shall be kept holly day

The Puritans at Plymouth were opposed to the May Day. they called the Maypole “an Idoll” and named Merry Mount “Mount Dagon” after the god of the first ocean-going imperialist, the Phoenicians. More likely, though the Puritans were the imperialist, not Morton, who worked with slaves, servants, and native Americans, person to person. Everyone was equal in his “social contract.” Governor Bradford wrote, “they allso set up a Maypole, drinking and dancing aboute it many days together, inviting the Indean women for thier consorts, dancing and frisking together (like so many faires, or furies rather) and worse practise.”

Merry Mount became a refuge for Indians, the discontented, gay people, runaway servants, and what the governor called “all the scume of the countrie.” When the authorities reminded him that his actions violated the King’s Proclamation, Morton replied that it was “no law.” Miles Standish, whom Morton called “Mr. Shrimp,” attacked. The Maypole was cut down. The settlement was burned. Morton’s goods were confiscated, he was chained in the bilboes, and ostracized to England aboard the ship “The Gift,” at a cost the Puritans complained of twelve pounds seven shillings. The rainbow coalition of Merry Mount was thus destroyed for the time being. That Merry Mount later (1636) became associated with Anne Hutchinson, the famous mid-wife, spiritualist, and feminist, surely was more than
coincidental. Her brother-in-law ran the Chapel of Ease. She thought that god loved everybody, regardless of their sins. She doubted the Puritans’ authority to make law. A statue of Robert Burns in Quincy near to Merry Mount, quotes the poet’s lines,

A fig for those by law protected!

Liberty’s a glorious feast!

Courts for cowards were erected,

Churches built to please the priest.

Thomas Morton was a thorn in the side of the Boston and Plymouth Puritans, because he had an alternate vision of Massachusetts. He was impressed by its fertility; they by its scarcity. He befriended the Indians; they shuddered at the thought. He was egalitarian; they proclaimed themselves the “Elect”. He freed servants; they lived off them. He armed the Indians; they used arms against Indians. To Nathaniel Hawthorne, the destiny of American settlement was decided at Merry Mount. Casting the struggle as mirth vs. gloom, grizzly saints vs. gay sinners, green vs. iron, it was the Puritans who won, and the fate of America was determined in favor of psalm-singing, Indian-scalpers whose notion of the Maypole was a whipping post.

Parts of the past live, parts die. The red cedar that drew Morton first to Merry Mount blew down in the gale of 1898. A section of it, about eight feet of its trunk became a power fetish in 1919, placed as it was next to the President’s chair of the Quincy City Council. Interested parties may now view it in the Quincy Historical Museum. Living trees, however, have since grown, despite the closure of the ship-yards.

Perhaps this makes me a reactionary, but I don’t trust utopian stories that don’t end in tragedy — not because of a metaphysical conviction in the impossibility of human happiness, but because I like my tales to be, if only in an oblique sense, historically accurate.

Which means I both like and am uncomfortable with the way Linebaugh ends it:

Where is the Red and Green today? Is it in Mao’s Red Book? or in Col. Khadafy’s Green Book? Some perhaps. Leigh Hunt, the English essayist of the 19th century, wrote that May Day is “the union of the two best things in the world, the love of nature, and the love of each other.” Certainly, such green union is possible, because we all can imagine it, and we know that what is real now was once only imagined. Just as certainly, that union can be realized only by red struggle, because there is no gain without pain, as the aerobiticians say, or no dreams without responsibility, no birth without labor, no green without red.

As a commentor points out, where are the anarchists? It’s an amusing hypocritical foible of mine (and I’m sure is not only mine) that I have a working student-level knowledge of Marxism, am developing one in ecological leftism, and know next to nothing about anarchism; this despite the fact that my few actual experiences of political involvement on the left have been basically anarchist in orientation. This is not very materialist. As usual, I don’t feel guilty. Just incoherent.

Happy May Day.


8 Responses to “May Day”

  1. Mr. Mullins, in a Rare Tv Appearance Says:

    ‘working student-level knowledge of Marxism, am developing one in ecological leftism, and know next to nothing about anarchism; this despite the fact that my few actual experiences of political involvement on the left have been basically anarchist in orientation. This is not very materialist. As usual, I don’t feel guilty. Just incoherent.

    Oh fucking christ, ‘as usual’, you don’t have the slightest idea what you feel, you vicious babe. You’d probably be just as happy with your iPod up your ass.

    ‘Happy May Day.’

    I suppose I’d have been just as upset to discover the news any place else, but this time it’s YOUR FAULT! Arpege once did a ‘Happy May Day’ and lustmolch and I hated it so much, she put up one about Maypoles, which obviously make a lot more sense to ‘Professional Grecian urns’ like me. There’s a wonderful story in the Hawthorne Twice-Told Tales about Maypoles. As per fucking usual, he comes down on the side of Deep Seriousness, but isn’t this raaaeeellly because he thinks SUSTAINING Maypolery is, how you say, somwhat less eternelle than the lurve of Jeedoth Chrahst….lord, I got rid of all such compunction long ago…or rather, recently I did…

    Are you working on your vanity, lovely? You know if I didn’t remind of these things from time to time, NOBODY would, they all want you to grow up and be ’eminence grises’ just like they are. And you give EVERY INDICATION of doing exactement what they order you to…once you have given up worrying what warszawa thinks about about you, and converted to Dick Cheneyism, you can even imagine retiring to Tahiti in the middle of a deep recession! I can’t give you any advice on anarchy, however expert I am, since I finally converted to Dick Cheneyism last night….

    Are you coming to New York? I’d love to see you, but at this point, you WOULD BE SCARED SHITLESS, and I DON’T BLAME YOU! I’ve become even more of what you always knew I was…

  2. Mr. Mullins, in a Rare Tv Appearance Says:

    Well, I’ll be fucked, you narrowly escaped the Basilisk Monsterpisser after all, you horrid and ungrateful urchin! At LEAST I didn’t know because I hadn’t been following your BLAWG closely, assaulted numerous times by Gematria Freaks over the last few days…oh my gawd, if you come to MANHATTA to a goddam LEFT CCONFERENCE, I’m sure you’re clothes must be in TATTERS by now. Next, you’ll be calling yourself Ragged Trousered Pessimist II..I once had some very poor recording work done by someone at Pace. Ask anybody….

  3. traxus4420 Says:

    “I finally converted to Dick Cheneyism last night”


    sorry i didn’t visit. was busy with the conference and the friends who put me up. i’ll let you know next time i stop by, we’ll settle our differences with a fistfight in front of some seedy vegan restaurant in the east village.

  4. Patrick J. Mullins Says:

    ‘we’ll settle our differences with a fistfight in front of some seedy vegan restaurant in the east village.’

    Oh God, the glamour of a vegan restaurant–the charm of a SHITTY vegan restaurant! A fucking turkey burger with some bean sprouts, I guess, for me…sounds like the end of the world…and the FISTFIGHT! You’re exactly like what Arpege so brilliantly said about ANDREA DWORKIN (I mean it, this was one her true gems): ‘She thought sex and violance were one, and the violence was the good part….’ And WHAT makes you think you could beat me up, especially because of the fury at horrid restaurant choice…that’s already like a good nose punch on your part….you know perfectly well I would wrestle you to the ground and try to make out with you…ooohhhh yes, I think Marxism is just soooooo BUTCH…

  5. mr. mullins, in a rare TV appearance Says:

    …sorry I got a little out of control there…wouldn’t want to embarasss you, whether or not you think I would…anyway, the Cheneyism occurred as a result of Erda telling me I hadn’t found God and that I needed to repent–THIS is the goddam result. You’ll find more at woggia when I finally found her comments under ‘A Round of Laughter’. I love Erda, wise among wimmern, she quickened my ‘Rake’s Progress’ by trying to hasten me to God the Father (I was quite content with cute men. I am going to meet Erda, but since she is a witch and fortune teller, I have changed the location from Inland Empire to Soul Food Restaurant in Hollywood, because she might have a dark, squishy miracle set up for me in the Inland Empire (which I nevertheless want to visit just to spite Dejan, who didn’t know it was a real place even after some 95 viewings of all the abotrions…I mean, OBVIOUS if I could overlook somebody’s Marxism, I ought to be able to overlook somebody’s Dick Cheneyism. Hence, my unconditional love because of ignoring goodlooking men’s fucked-up polticis….

    Happy May Second (all you Marxists just go right along as if I hadn’t said anything. I won’t write on the ‘serious threads’, because for one thing, I never know what traxus is talking about.

    “Kiss the blawg goodbye
    the sweetness and the sorrroooowww
    Wish me luch the saaaaamm tooooo youuuuu
    But I won’t forget what I did for blawgluv, what I did foh blawglove…”

    (sung with Streisand-like overdoings and exaggerations, which demonstrate ‘coming out’ as being a person who ‘fells in love with love’. Oh yes, da Metrosexual, kid–just the sort lustmolch always hated…. So liberated I even go strapless (jockstrapless, that is.)

  6. traxus4420 Says:

    “Inland Empire (which I nevertheless want to visit just to spite Dejan, who didn’t know it was a real place ”

    i think that means the movie ‘worked’

    “OBVIOUS if I could overlook somebody’s Marxism, I ought to be able to overlook somebody’s Dick Cheneyism”

    fair enough. what about obama-ism?

  7. mr. mullins, in a rare TV appearance Says:

    what about obama-ism?

    Well, I’m guilty of that myself, and it’s weird that my blawg reputation coincided with Obama’s victory, I must have used the fact that adore the First Couple just like the superficial metrosexual I am to go straight to the hell I always wanted. That’s why I can do brief Cheney/Rummy J.O. TeeVee Episodes, Arpege’s consternation notwithstanding. I never thought Michele was as pretty as Barack till they got into the White House, now I think they’re both gorgeous. I can’t imagine anybody doing a better job, Dr. Fossey’s daily complaints notwithstanding.

    After all is said and done, Arpege and warszawa very valiant….but I’m just sooooooooo New Yawk Times…

  8. Mr. Mullins, in a Rare Tv Appearance Says:

    i think that means the movie ‘worked’

    Not necessarily, even if it did work. It just meant Dejan wouldn’t be able to get past the bottomism that makes her read ‘People Magazine’ in secret instead of ‘Popular Mechanics’ or ‘Roads and Streets….’I’m thinking now, what I’ll do is make her come to hollywood, then sneak out by myself on the train to Chino Hills, so she won’t have a chance to pull one of her numbers. ..she won’t try that in Hollywood, methinks…

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