There Is But One May In The Year

Christina Rossetti

‘There Is But One May In The Year’ by Christina Rossetti reveals, through awkward word choices and natural concepts, how life can offer good and bad elements.

Christina Rossetti

Nationality: English

Christina Rossetti was one of the most important poets of the Victorian age.

Her most important collection is Goblin Market and other Poems.

There Is But One May In The Year by Christina Rossetti reveals, through awkward word choices and natural concepts, how life can offer good and bad elements. Even those bad elements, however, can have good consequences if we persevere through them, and the overall experience of life is worthwhile in spite of the poor moments. In fact, our life experiences can “grow”—as can we—because of those bad times, just as “flowers” can bloom in the harshest of “May” moments.

There Is But One May In The Year by Christina Rossetti


There Is But One May In The Year Analysis

Lines 1-4

There is but one May in the year,

And sometimes May is wet and cold;

There is but one May in the year

Before the year grows old.

Within these lines of There Is But One May In The Year, there is a sensation of being pulled in two directions regarding the general topic of “May.” In the first line, Rossetti paints “May” like it is a rare gem by expressing that “[t]here is but one May in the year.” It is the wording, “but one,” that shows that experiencing “May” on an annual basis is a negative idea since “but” is contrasting conjunction. While this particular “but” is not used to join independent clauses, it does put a negative spin on the phrasing to show that only having “May” once a “year” is a negative thing.

The irony is that the next conjunctive word used is “[a]nd.” This is a word that expresses togetherness, like one idea is in addition to the other. The irony occurs in that this “[a]nd” leads into concepts that contrast the understandable reasoning for wanting “May” to happen more than once a “year.” Specifically, “sometimes May is wet and cold.” These concepts are in contrast to images that typically relate to “May,” like “flowers” and sunshine, and this is where the contrast comes into play. “[W]et and cold” sound nothing like a nearly-summer “May” day. In fact, even the cliché concept of April showers bringing “May” “flowers” would hint the “wet” detail would have passed by the time “May” arrives. These details, therefore, do not offer the traditional concepts of “May,” and this contradictory concept is matched in the logical misplacement of “but” and “[a]nd.”

This contradictory factor continues in that, after the idea of “[t]here [being] but one May in the year” has been reestablished, Rossetti turns to say that this “May” occurrence happens “[b]efore the year grows old.” When “May” is over, “the year” is not half over, so there is no logical reason to say that “May” happens just prior to “the year” becoming “old.” It is approaching its end, but it is hardly there.

This section, then, ends as a paradox where there is little to no consistency and fewer pieces of fitting guidance from one idea to the next. Is “May” to be looked forward to, since it comes just once a “year,” or is it too “wet and cold” to be worth experiencing? “And” and “but” do not let the reader know for certain, so the audience could feel a bit lost over what to think of “May.” Once more, though, the irony is at play because this confusion is fitting to what Rossetti is attempting to express through There Is But One May In The Year since the key element at work is life.

As confusing as these lines might be, life can be just as uncertain and vague. Whether a moment is “wet and cold” or a rare gem that occurs “but once” in a lifetime, it is still to be treated as precious. Just as “May” should be embraced in spite of these varying details because “the year” will become “old,” life too will pass so that even the harsh moments could be worth missing. It could be a confusing state of mind to note that “wet and cold” traumas could be worth embracing, but the finality of life makes it a potentially valid approach—like the end of a “year” makes “May” worth experiencing despite the harshness it could bring.


Lines 5-8

Yet though it be the chilliest May,

With least of sun and most of showers,

Its wind and dew, its night and day,

Bring up the flowers.

This section of There Is But One May In The Year is the proclamation of what was inferred from the previous lines, which cements the concepts for the reader to embrace. No matter how “chill” the month of “May” seems, it still comes with the worthwhile factors of “flowers.” What this entails in regard to life is that no matter what comes—even if it is little “sun” and many “showers”—there are still positive elements to concentrate on that make life something to embrace. Despite the “wind and dew,” “night” leads to “day,” and reasons exist that make the “wet and cold” beautiful.

In this, these lines do take the previously noted concepts and push them a bit farther since Rossetti is not just saying there are pleasantries in life that make it worth living, but that those harsh concepts of “wet and cold” can lead to better moments. Because of the struggles, then, we can find “flowers” within our lives, which represent the good things that make life a remarkable thing. A secondary connection to the concept of “[b]ring[ing] up the flowers” is that people themselves could be noted as “the flowers” that “grow” in the struggles of “showers” and harsh times. If we persevere through the rough times, we could “grow” as humans, rising from the “chilliest” concepts to become better versions of ourselves—like “flowers” that develop out of literal “showers” and in spite of “wind” and little “sun.”

Once more, then, Rossetti has brought us back to basic concepts of life to pair them with the confusion of “May.” The highs and lows of life might intermingle, but it is still worth embracing before “the year,” or life, is “old” and forgotten. We go through good moments and bad ones, but life can still be beautiful—and we can become remarkable through the right struggles.


About Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti was a Victorian poet, and she remains one of the most known poets of this time. She experienced a pleasant childhood and writing acknowledgment during her life before she passed away in 1894 after struggling with cancer.

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Connie Smith Poetry Expert
Connie L. Smith spends a decent amount of time with her mind wandering in fictional places. She reads too much, likes to bake, and might forever be sad that she doesn’t have fairy wings. She has her BA from Northern Kentucky University in Speech Communication and History (she doesn’t totally get the connection either), and her MA in English and Creative Writing. In addition, she freelances as a blogger for topics like sewing and running, with a little baking, gift-giving, and gardening having occasionally been thrown in the topic list.
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