Reading Nick Joaquin’s May Day Eve brings to mind stories told us as children. But the second reading of the story, and a closer reading at that, will not only reveal Joaquin’s fine craft but his lofty ideas as well.
May Day Eve is the magic night, proper time to consult oracles, hold séances. Certain rites and runes are supposed to enable you at midnight to behold in a mirror the face of the person fated to be yours love.
The plot of the summary may be simple enough.
In one part, Joaquin intends to present the circumstances of Aqueda describing her encounter with the devil in the mirror to her young daughter. The child is keen in fact sees a similarity of his father to the description of the devil by her mother. The ambiguity of Aqueda weeping towards the end renders innumerable possibilities.
In yet another part Joaquin is more determined to show the circumstances of Don Badoy Montiya’s recollection of seeing a witch in the mirror. Teary eyed, he recalls to his grandson that he saw standing before the mirror the witch.
Som have been guilty of looking at the story as a simple tale for little children, but Joaquin aims at something grander and loftier. His attention to present a man and a woman holding on to love until the death of them is worthy of note. His intention to exhibit the hazy romance of the old world, the quiet consummation of their love, itself an elevated thought, is a result of his great imaginative power.
The sexual overtones in the story are forgivable only because Joaquin aimed at a higher purpose. He is not only brave enough to make the suggestion but he is also dignified to scale those dangerous heights in good taste.
Initially, one is propelled to feel connection especially if one has been told of age-old ritual, but it is even true that you will at once be enthralled by it at first reading. The beauty of Joaquin’s language at once moves you.
Joaquin generously employed the figures of speech.
Many a times, Joaquin chose to repeat for amplification. This he intends to produce familiarity. He writes the following lines to begin the story so as to suggest a mood of the old world.
“…looked out upon the medieval shadows of the foul street where a couple of street-lamps flickered an a last carriage was rattling away upon the cobbles, while the blind black houses muttered hush-hush, their tiled roofs looming like sinister chessboards against a wild sky with clouds, save where an evil old moon prowled about in a corner or where a murderous wind whirled, whistling and whining, smelling now of the sea and now of the summer orchards and wafting unbearable Maytime memories of an old, old love…Guardia sereno-o-o! Alas dice han dado-o-o!”
He repeats exactly the same description of the foul street towards the end of the story to encourage the reader to remember the mood and promote further transport. The story should leave an impression that last even after the story has been put away.
Also note his asyndeton, his rapid flow of words with occasional stops.
“The ball had been in their honor: and they had waltzed and polka-ed and bragged and swaggered and flirted all night and were in no mood to sleep yet-no, caramba, not on this moist tropic eve! Not on this mystic May eve! – with the night still young and so seductive that it was madness not to go out, not to go forth..”
In fact, this beautiful word arrangement even if it is quite apart from the natural flow of words did not fail the computer auto-correction. As it is being typed in my computer, the program offered no automatic grammar correction at all!
May Day Eve immediately brings transport. His choice and striking words wonderfully attracts and enthralls.
show to me
her whose lover
I will be.”
Joaquin’s phrasing not only used the words most striking but breathes life into what seem to be non-living as well consequently lending the work its delicious ambiguity and double meanings.
“She bewitched me and she tortured me. He ate my heart and drank by blood.”