Yesterday-A Poem NOT about April


Several times in recent date I have read of a poem categorized as being about "april being the cruelest month." In most cases the person quoting the line wished to disagree in one way or another and to say why some other month is more cruel. (Usually my favorite--October, but then chacun á son goût.) However, the poem they are quoting isn't really about April being the cruelest month, although that is the first line after the epigraph. It is in fact probably the most important poem of the 20th Century and the harbinger and measure of the modernist movement:

from The Waste Land
T. S. Eliot


APRIL is the cruellest 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 archduke'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.

You can see from the context that what is happening is that we are being introduced to one stream-of-consciousness in a multiplicity. April is the context because it springs from this consciousness. However, April is cited as cruel because of its forced resurrection which mixes "memory with desire." It forces us out of ourselves and into the light when we had long lain dormant.

But the poem is not about April, and Eliot did eventually come to terms with the despair he so neatly chronicles by joining the Church of England. And really the only reason for this post is not to correct anything or make any real point at all--it simply gave me sufficient excuse to quote an excerpt from a poem I love and I love to talk about.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 11, 2003 8:59 AM.

Poem for Yesterday--One of the All Time Greats was the previous entry in this blog.

Poem for October--Longefellow's Wreck of the Hesperus is the next entry in this blog.

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