of April, and Aprille

John's (relatively) innocent question

How does April affect each of us?
What do we look forward to as Spring unfolds,
and what is the "shadow side" of Spring for each of us
— perhaps memories, new plans, fears, or just
the mud and black flies?

...provokes in me a flurry of thoughts and associations and, lo,
a terrain of rabbit holes opens before me.

My first thought was in the direction of what TS Eliot was really on about with "cruellest month", and why it is that the phrase stuck so firmly in cultural consciousness of English-speaking folk. There's a pretty grand-scale literature exploring that question, especially as the centennial of publication of The Waste Land was just celebrated.

And then there's our old buddy Geoffrey Chaucer, whose opening lines to The Canterbury Tales are about equally famous in that cultural consciousness of English-speaking folk:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open eye,
So priketh hem nature in hir corages;
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath hopen whan that they were seeke.

I got to thinking about the world of the early 1920s, into which The Waste Land exploded: The Great War less than 5 years in the past, so many millions of young men Gone West, Europe struggling to find its feet again. What were the prospects? Tom Eliot wasn't hopeful. Time to read All Quiet on the Western Front and to watch the 2022 film on Netflix... and to seek out other Great War materials...

But also to consider the world of April 1923, in which


And there's a nostalgia side, too, exemplified in this by Robert Browning
(who was in Italy at the time he wrote):

Home Thoughts, from Abroad

O, to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossom'd pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray's edge—
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower
—Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!


I'm whipsawn at this point, tugged in the direction of further exploration of The Waste Land (which hasn't much to do with April once you're past the first line), but also trying to keep my balance with the gristly bits of John's Question: the darker ("shadow" is exactly right) side of Spring. I'll take the latter first:

Spring is so fleeting, changing so much from day to day as Life renews itself. The signature is green, the direction is emergence, and each splash of floral color has only a few days of magic. Forsythia is a potent example: suddenly the ornamental invasive is everywhere in brilliant yellow, and then it's gone, and it's time to prune the bushes. Tulips (another ornamental invasive) last for a while, until the hungry deer notice them... The peepers appear for a few weeks, and then quiet down. And so on. Buds swell, and burst forth and do their part in the seasonal dance, and spread pollen into the air, and then fall to the ground in time-sensitive cascades. Leaves unfurl, fruit sets ... so Spring is a sequence of days in which one must attune to the ephemeral and the transitory, and try to live in the Moment.
...and nothing of the glories of Spring lasts, but rather enters into the annual cycle of the Sun appearing to shift in the sky, higher at noon, further and further into the west at setting ... until the end of that process at the Summer solstice, and the slow return as Summer leads into Fall. It all has to do with that obliquity of the ecliptic, that 23.4 degree axial tilt (but Wikipedia tells us that "Earth's obliquity oscillates between 22.1 and 24.5 degrees on a 41,000-year cycle"). Summer seems [but isn't] a plateau, a succession of days of warmth and light ... but of course Summer is also fleeting. Only February and March aren't "fleeting"...

As for The Waste Land, and poetry in general, where do we find the contemporary Document that has the cultural power and reach that seems to be accorded to The Waste Land? I'd argue that Allen Ginsberg's Howl (1956) makes a pretty good candidate for a midcentury poetic event of similar calibre and reach, but then what? It occurred to me that poetry didn't survive the Marshall stack, and I'm tempted to switch media and consider Everything Everywhere All At Once as a 2023 candidate.

...but it's worth noting that The Waste Land and Howl (and EEAAO) are quintessentially really English/American, and have little resonance in Turkish, or Chinese, or Indonesian, or Latinx, or African cultures/heritages. And while one might well go looking for analogs —powerful, riveting, epoch-making documents— it's possible that there's nothing comparable, for all sorts of reasons having to do with the Media that Marshall McLuhan was on about.

Indeed, the fraction of American or English society that's susceptible to The Waste Land or Howl or EEAAO is ... a highly educated minority, who fancy themselves to be the cognoscenti (among whom I number myself, of course). So we have a tempest in a teacup in the wider scheme of culture.

But April affects everybody, which is what makes this a compelling Question.