Tuesday, April 10, 2018

In 2018 April is Indeed the Cruelest Month

It was supposed to be Opening Day at Wrigley Field.  Javier Baez looks for the seams on the ball....

Yesterday my Facebook pal JoAnne Gazarek Bloom messaged  me a plea.  It was time, she said, to post “April is the cruelest month” in the National Poetry Month series.  My post for that day had just gone up, but I had to agree.  I promised it for today.  Here you go, JoAnne!
After all, it was April the Friggin’ 9th and supposed to be the Cubs home opener.  But it’s been a long cold spring.  In my neck of the woods I haven’t even seen an open crocus yet.  The ground was covered not just with a dusting, but a blanket to new wet snow.   Scratch the opener, although further south the Sox got in their game before almost empty stands.
Of course, snowy Aprils are not as unusual as some folks think.  Another friend, Janet Burns pointed out “According to Tommy Skilling, [WGN-TV veteran weather maven for you outlanders] ‘Chicago gets snow in April most years...average snowfall is 1.2 inches.’ Chicago has seen major snow storms in April in 1920, 1938, 1961, 1970, 1975, and 1982 when we had 9.4 inches.”
True enough, but most Aprils there have been at least some warm days, the early bulb plants are not only spiked but in bloom and some trees are beginning to leaf out.  But I’m tough and experienced—I remember that 1975 snow that dumped nearly a foot of snow the day before another Cubs opener.  So yeah, I expect a little snow in April.  Hell, I’ve endured a couple of mighty cold and damp Memorial Days.
There are other reasons for April angst.  It’s tax time.  I spent yesterday, a day off from my job in Woodstock doing my taxes.  That’s always a high stress time for me.  I’m arithmetically challenged, a disorganized record keeper, intimidated and irritated by bureaucracy.  Even with the help of a good tax program that enters all my carryover info from last year and performs presumably accurate calculations, I am left in a cold sweat and in need of a stiff drink.  And this year went relatively smoothly, and we even will get sizable refunds, instead owing of stomach churning payments and penalties for not making estimated payments precisely the correct times.  And, despite the current Resident and maladministration, I don’t actually resent paying taxes, my dues for civilization, just the hoops you have to jump through to perform that civic duty.
And, of course, this April is chock-full-o-dreadfuls, from gas attacks in Syria and shoot-fish-in-a-barrel attacks in Gaza, to trade wars and stock market slumps, to the Cheeto-in-Charges daily depredations and incoherent bluster, to pick-your-poison.  We are fulfilling the ancient Chinese curseliving in interesting times.
William Wordsworth was guilty of raising unrealistic expectations of April.
Maybe poets were to blame for impossible expectations for spring.  After all, Wadsworth went on and on about all of those bright daffodils and there were plenty of others gushing over flowers, birds, and fresh meadows.  Plus, all of the “young man’s fancy turns lightly to thoughts of love” and romance crap.
Others, have entertained reservations.  Walt Whitman’s “When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed” were an omen of the death of Abraham Lincoln.”
But for a really dour vision, it is hard to beat T.S. Eliot in his signature long poem The Wasteland.  Eliot, as you probably know was an expatriate American living and working in England, a scion of the Unitarian elite Eliot clan who rejected their religion and liberalism.  He became a protégé of another run away American Ezra Pound and became the leading imagist and avant-garde poet of the post-World War I era.  He was generally regarded as the greatest English language poet of the 20th Century.  He is still widely admired, but the obscurity of his references, have somewhat eroded his reputation among those who prefer their verse to be more accessible

T.S. Eliot at work.

Here is the first section of The Wasteland, which is far too long to post in its entirety here. 
The Wasteland

                                  FOR EZRA POUND
                                IL MIGLIOR FABBRO
              I. The Burial of the Dead

  April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the arch-duke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

  What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
                      Frisch weht der Wind
                      Der Heimat zu
                      Mein Irisch Kind,
                      Wo weilest du?
“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
“They called me the hyacinth girl.”
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Oed’ und leer das Meer.

  Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations.
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,
Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
One must be so careful these days.

  Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying: “Stetson!
“You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!
“That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
“Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
“Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
“Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,
“Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!
“You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!”

—T.S. Eliot

The esteemed and prestigious literary magazine in which Ye Olde Proprietor made his debut as a published poet.

Here is another jaundiced look at April by a far less talented bard—a callow novice, really aping the style of his better, e.e. cummings half a century ago. 

April is a Bad Month For…

April is a bad month for Cokes
            and the flies
                        gather on the droppings
                                    drop, drop
            while the clods slip off
                        the steel plowshare.

Robins die with boyish arrows
            in their throats,
                        children dance
                                    round and again
            on silver-slick grass
                        of the graveyard.

Abortion with a knitting needle
            and greasy hands
                        interrupts prematurely
            the expected rebirth
                        of earth.

April is a very bad month for Cokes.

—Patrick Murfin,
From Apotheosis, 1967 Niles West High School literary magazine

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