May 20, 2012

Ne'er cast a clout 'til May be out

The old saying refers to May blossom, of course, rather than the month, and May is most certainly out now. May blossom refers to the flowers of the hawthorn tree; the blackthorn produces similar blooms, but they come out before the leaves, whereas on hawthorns the leaves come first.

The other difference is the scent: there is something heady and slightly worrying about the way May blossom smells, a hint of something rotting, or sexual – or both. Perhaps its fragrance is the reason it was thought unlucky to bring it inside. Perhaps it reminded our forbears, far more familiar with such things than we are, of death.