Imagery and symbolism in The May Magnificat

The format is simple. Hopkins begins by asking: why is May called Mary's month?

  • Her other church festivals, Candlemas and Lady Day, mark something specific:
    • Candlemas signifies the day when Mary took the infant Jesus to be blessed in the Temple in Jerusalem and she herself went to be purified according to Jewish custom (usually designated as 2nd February)
And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord. (Luke 2:22)
  • Lady Day celebrates the Annunciation when the Archangel Gabriel came to visit her to announce the fact she was pregnant with Jesus:
And the angel came in unto her (Mary) and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee. (Luke 1:28)

But designating May as ‘Mary's month' seems to have no good reason. Hopkins, of course, soon comes up with several, all connected to the Spring:

  • the life force that bursts out in Spring
  • the joy, even ecstasy, there is in this
  • parallels in both of these to Mary's own pregnancy.

The argument proceeds leisurely. Hopkins is much more interested in describing spring by means of little vignettes, such as ‘Cluster of bugle blue eggs thin...'. ‘Bugle' is a type of mint, with blue spiked flowers. We are reminded of the thrush's eggs in Spring, with which poem there are obvious similarities. Hopkins has, in fact, been accused of being quite pagan here, but the tying-in of parallels with Mary at every stage renders that accusation inappropriate.

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