‘Now Is the Month of Maying’ by Thomas Morley

In this post we’ll travel to the time of the English Renaissance, with a jolly little music piece written by Thomas Morley.

A contemporary of William Shakespeare, Morley (1557–1602) was a true Renaissance figure: a composer, organist, music theorist… It was largely thanks to him that the Italian madrigals  became so popular in England, adding to the rich heritage of music making in Britain. 

Thomas Morley

The piece below, written by Morley, is a ‘ballet’—a dance similar to madrigal—originally written by the Italian late Renaissance composer Orazio Vecchi (1550–1605). At first glance, the lyrics seem to be about spring dancing, but the piece is actually a thinly veiled allusion to love making.

Below the lyrics you’ll find a simple vocabulary exercise for ESL learners. Also, make to sure to watch the videos provided at the bottom of the post, with the performances of this joyous tune. 

Now is the month of maying,
When merry lads are playing,
Fa la la la la la la la la,
Fa la la la la la la lah.
Each with his bonny lass
Upon the greeny grass.
Fa la la la la la la la la…

The Spring, clad all in gladness,
Doth laugh at Winter's sadness,
Fa la la la la la la la la,
Fa la la la la la la lah.
And to the bagpipe's sound
The nymphs tread out their ground.
Fa la la la la la la la la…

Fie then! why sit we musing,
Youth's sweet delight refusing?
Fa la la la la la la la la,
Fa la la la la la la lah.
Say, dainty nymphs, and speak,
Shall we play barley break?
Fa la la la la la la la la…


Find the words in the lyrics above with the following meaning:

  • a young man (noun)
  • a mythological creature in the form of a beautiful young woman (noun)
  • small, delicate, and pretty (adjective)
  • an archaic word of disapproval or annoyance (exclamation
  • lively, cheerful (adjective)
  • beautiful, attractive (adjective)
  • a young woman (noun)

To check your answers, please click here.


Now Is the Month of Maying (performed by chant 1450)

Now Is the Month of Maying (performed by the King’s Singers)

Thomas Morley Biography (an entry in the New World Encyclopedia)

The cover image is Nymphs Dancing to Pan’s Flute by Joseph Tomanek (1889–1974).

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