Tuesday, April 21, 2009

T.S. Eliot, Hitler, Tax Day, or Columbine?

Although (arguably and in fact easy to disprove) English Literature began with Chaucer's "Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote" and offered the promise of Spring rain, birth, and new beginnings (unless we recognize The Canterbury Tales as satire of such), it seems T.S. Eliot's version of April dominated the twentieth century in most of its real and imagined states. In "The Wasteland," he rejected April's life-affirming rains and warmer weather, insisting in fact:


April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

When he wrote those lines, Eliot most likely did not imagine the continued devastation and false promises of Aprils throughout the twentieth century. Did Eliot anticipate a second world war?

Perhaps in reference to Chaucer and Eliot, Tim O'Brien chose April as the month to set his soldiers' sad, aimless wandering through Vietnam. In O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" the month's symbol is the fallen Ted Lavender, he of the spring-colored last name and tranquilizers and marijuana, killed several times over in a text that uses repetition in an almost Nietzschean sense of eternal recurrence.

So America will have Columbine and Tax Day and Hitler's birthday and all the other unfortunate serial killers to dwell upon each April, but I do want to leave you with the positive side.

Let our rebirth or rejuvenation this month echo perhaps a misinterpreted, sincere Chaucer when we think of warm sun and pleasant rain and opening day and the relief our taxes are paid(!) and the end of semesters and even vacations or "staycations" or long walks through our neighborhoods and towns. Summer be not proud as you bring stifling heat, humidity, and the false sense of cool our controlled environments provide.

April is shockingly awesome! Everything is in bloom. Even our adverbs will be fruitful and multiply!

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