The book begins with a poem that has several interesting features:
At eve, the primrose path along,
The milkmaid shortens with a song
Her solitary way;
She sees the fairies with their queen
Trip hand-in-hand the circled green,
And hears them raise, at times unseen,
The ear-enchanting lay.
Rev. John Logan: Ode to Spring, 1780
Primroses flower early in spring, and in many areas have a strong link to May Day celebrations. Their Latin name, primula, means “first” (primus) with a cute diminutive. They are used as food for faeries, and as a protection, much as a dish of milk is, in some areas. They are also considered a curative herb in many areas. The “primrose path” appears in Hamlet, and refers to the life of luxury and ease, as compared to the thorny path of Heaven. In this case, it may refer to a faerie road (or “trod”, although that’s a later term.)
Milkmaids are attractive to faeries for two reasons: milk and beauty. Milk attracts faeries because it contains vitality. Her regular interaction with milk soaks the maid in its nature, much as a smith is considered to be, in some way, filled with the power of iron. Milkmaids are also proverbially attractive.
The explanation for why milkmaids are so attractive varies over time. Some suggest it is because being washed in milk causes skin to be clearer. Later, it was suggested that unlike urban women, milkmaids had a healthy outdoor life. Most recently it has been suggested that they suffered cowpox at an exceptionally high rate, which protected them from smallpox, and the related facial scarring.
The faeries form a hand circle because it creates a bordered space. This increases the power of the faeries, by allowing her to work glamours at a lower Range.