The Meaning of Tyler Childers’ “Lady May”
“Lady May” is the beautiful love ballad that closes out Tyler Childers’ acclaimed 2017 album Purgatory on a gentle, tender note. The song was written for his wife Senora May, who is also a singer-songwriter and whom he married in 2015.
The lyrics tell the story of meeting your lover down by the river after a long, hard day of work, with the desire to surround yourselves in nature and let your troubles slip away. As is the case with many of Tyler’s love songs, you can hear the depth of his emotions in the the cadence of his voice.
With “Lady May”, Childers uses imagery of the forest, mountains, changing seasons, and even religion to express his devotion to his “lovely Lady May”, a phrase which is repeated at the end of each of the song’s four verses.
Let’s take a closer look at the lyrics, starting with the first verse:
I’m a stone’s throw from the millFirst verse to “Lady May” by Tyler Childers.
And I’m a good walk to the river
When my workin’ day is over
We’ll go swim our cares away
Put your toes down in the water
And a smile across your face
And tell me that you love me
Lovely Lady May
Here the scene is set: Tyler is working at the mill, which is a decently far walk away from the river. He heads down there after work to meet with his woman, and let the troubles of the day slip away in the refreshing river water. Together, the two enjoy the late afternoon and share expressions of love.
In the second verse, Childers expresses his devotion to this woman on a deeper level:
Now I ain’t the sharpest chiselSecond verse to “Lady May” by Tyler Childers.
That your hands have ever held
But darlin’ I could love you well
Til’ the roll is called on high
I’ve seen my share of trouble
And I’ve held my weight in shame
But I’m baptized in your name
Lovely Lady May
Tyler looks upon himself as almost undeserving of her love, and dedicates himself fully to her, even singing that he’s baptized in her name, meaning that he is fully committed and born to be with her.
His words paint this woman as something greater than him, while he is represented as nothing special, a simple man that has seen some hard times.
Again, in the third verse Tyler sings of hard times, this time using not a religious image but an image of the wind:
Lord the wind can leave you shiverin’Third verse to “Lady May” by Tyler Childers.
As it waltzes o’er the leaves
It’s been rushin’ through my timber
Til’ your love brought on the spring
Now the mountains all are blushin’
And they don’t know what to say
‘Cept a good long line of praises
For my lovely Lady May
He sings of a cold wind that “can leave you shiverin'”. This brings to mind a brutal winter, which in “Lady May” represents a safe haven amidst the dark loneliness.
Childers sings about being stuck in this long, cold winter until the love of “Lady May” brought the warmth of spring. He depicts the mountains in bloom, and a wonderment about how he could be so lucky, but all he can do is give thanks to Lady May.
The fourth and final verse ties things together with another image of himself as a simple, hardworking man:
Now I ain’t the toughest hickoryFourth verse to “Lady May” by Tyler Childers.
That your ax has ever felled
But I’m a hickory just as well
I’m a hickory all the same
I came crashin’ through the forest
As you cut my roots away
And I fell a good long ways
For my lovely Lady May
This time he compares himself to a hickory tree, not the biggest or the strongest, but still a hickory. Hickory trees are known for being stiff and strong, and are native to Tyler’s home of Eastern Kentucky.
With this he means that he isn’t worthless, but still doesn’t see how he is special enough to deserve the love of Lady May. He was simply standing there in the forest, coping with the cold winter winds, when she came along and helped him escape the problems of his past that were holding him down.
Tyler Childers has a knack for bringing a connection with nature into his songs, which is part of what gives him such a special appeal as a songwriter.
There is a certain relatability to his songwriting that connects with the innate desire to keep it simple, and focus on what makes you happy.
His album Purgatory, with gems like “Feathered Indians”, “Universal Sound”, and of course “Lady May”, breathes new life into the modern era of country music, a genre that can sometimes seem repetitive and cliché. For that we are thankful for Tyler Childers and “Lady May”.
Listen to the song below.