Tuesday, April 21, 2015

It's April

I know--April is two-thirds gone already, but as the old cliche goes--better late than never.  Following are several poems about April, and not all agree about April.  That's what makes poetry so interesting, for me anyway.

While this first poem doesn't specially refer to April, in the Midwest, where I grew up, April would seem to be the best fit.  A frost in March wouldn't really be considered a late frost, while one in May is extremely unlikely.  Moreover, the blossoming appears to be more like April, which seems, to me anyway, to be set between the "orchard bare" and the "orchard green."   But, I'm sure there will be those who disagree with my weather observations.

Frost here uses his name to signify something dangerous, which he has done several times in the past in a number of poems.  Other writers have also suggested that reading can be dangerous to one's ideas or one's perspective.

A Peril of Hope

It is right in there
Betwixt and between
The orchard bare
And the orchard green,

When the boughs are right
In a flowery burst
Of pink and white,
That we fear the worst.

For there's not a clime
But at any cost
Will take that time
For a night of frost.
-- Robert Frost --

The following opening lines to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales provides a different feeling about April--partly I think as a reaction to the escape from winter, as well as recognition of the beauties of Spring.

Prologue to Canterbury Tales

WHANNE that April with his shoures sote
The droughte of March hath perced to the rote,
And bathed every veine in swiche licour,
Of whiche vertue engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eke with his sote brethe
Enspired hath in every holt and hethe
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foules maken melodie,
That slepen alle night with open eye,
So priketh hem nature in hir corages;
Than longen folk to gon on pilgrimages,

 -- Geoffrey Chaucer --
 from The Canterbury Tales

For those who don't have a glossary for Middle English handy:

  When April's gentle rains have pierced the drought
Of March right to the root, and bathed each sprout
Through every vein with liquid of such power
It brings forth the engendering of the flower;  
When Zephyrus too with his sweet breath has blown             5
Through every field and forest, urging on
The tender shoots, and there's a youthful sun,
His second half course through the Ram now run,
And little birds are making melody
And sleep all night, eyes open as can be                     10
(So Nature pricks them in each little heart),
On pilgrimage then folks desire to start.

I think the opening lines of this poem plays on Chaucer's opening lines.  Of course, the difference can be seen as due primarily to the differing locations for each poem:  Chaucer's set in England, "Now that Aprils' here,"  while Eliot's is set in a wasteland.  It's sort of related to Frost's poem, in that both speak of thwarted hope. 

The Wasteland, first stanza
  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.

-- T. S. Eliot --
from The Wasteland

Here's another view of April, very different than that of Eliot.  It's very simple and straightforward and echoes Chaucer's "April with his shoures sote ." 

April Rain Song

Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.

The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk.
The rain makes running pools in the gutter.
The rain plays a little sleep-song on our roof at night--

And I love the rain.

-- Langston Hughes --

I can't leave out my favorite haiku, even though I've posted it several times already.

April's air stirs in
Willow-leaves.  .  .  a butterfly
Floats and balances.
          -- Basho  --


  1. Thank you for sharing these poems, Fred. I am especially fond of Eliot, which probably says more about me than the poet.

    And I am sure your blog followers will appreciate the "translation" of Chaucer. You remind of those student days when I struggled through Chaucer and -- even more problematic -- Beowulf in the older forms of English. Yikes!

    As for April, I wonder if any other month has been so repeatedly a motivation for poets. Seasons are common provocations but perhaps not months. Of course, that "thesis" is off the top of my head, and I could be quite wrong. Hmmm.

    1. RT,

      I don't know which month is most commonly referred to, but I will bet April would be among the most frequent.

      I "struggled" through a semester with the Canterbury Tales in Middle English. A year later, it was time for my qualifying exams, and the Tales was on the list. I got a Penguin modern translation and settled down with that. However, it was so dissatisfying that I put it away and dragged out my beaten up Tales in Middle English and happily "struggled" through it again.

      This also taught me to pay more attention to language, and I found myself more willing to take on works where the language was much, much less than transparent. Because of the TALES, I .discovered one of the best SF novels ever created--Russell Hoban's RIDDLEY WALKER. If you are curious about the connection, check out my several posts about RIDDLEY WALKER.

  2. I've just learnt that April's National Poetry Month. Didn't know.
    Thank you for these poems. Especially those lines from The Wasteland.

    For Vietnamese, at least Southerners, April isn't a happy month though.

    1. Di,

      I hope you have a chance to read _The Wasteland_ some time.

    2. Yeah, I should. I love "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock".

    3. Di,

      My favorite is "The Hollow Men." The last stanza was used as an epigraph for an SF story whose name and author I've long since forgotten. When I discovered that it had come from Eliot's poem, I had to find and read it.

      That's when I discovered that the epigraph for the poem was from a story I had much enjoyed--Conrad's _Heart of Darkness_.

      Interesting linkage there--Conrad's _Heart of Darkness_ and Eliot's "The Hollow Men."

    4. Oh. Okay. I haven't read Heart of Darkness either.

    5. Di,

      _Heart of Darkness_ and "The Hollow Men" --- definitely not light reading.

    6. I wonder if you're just saying that normally, or thinking that I'm squeamish, because of my posts on Corregidora.

    7. Di,

      It has nothing to do with your posts on _Corregidora_. I consider them both to be on the dark side.

  3. I've never read The Wasteland, but now I know where "April is the cruellest month" is from. Thanks, Fred.

    1. madamevauquer,

      Yes, it does show up frequently and usually without attribution. If you have some time, I would recommend reading _The Wasteland_. It was published in 1922 and echoes the destruction of Europe in WWI.

    2. Thanks for the push, Fred. It's one I've always been meaning to read. I just downloaded it from PG. Here's the link if anyone needs it:

  4. I had to run over to Project Gutenberg because I thought I remembered that Edna St. Vincent Millay had some poems about April. Sure enough, there is actually a collection titled "Second April" at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1247

    The first poem in the collection is "Spring":
    To what purpose, April, do you return again?
    Beauty is not enough.
    You can no longer quiet me with the redness
    Of little leaves opening stickily.
    I know what I know.
    The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
    The spikes of the crocus.
    The smell of the earth is good.
    It is apparent that there is no death.
    But what does that signify?
    Not only under ground are the brains of men
    Eaten by maggots,
    Life in itself
    Is nothing,
    An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
    It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
    Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

    Further down is one which really touches me:

    Song of a Second April

    April this year, not otherwise
    Than April of a year ago,
    Is full of whispers, full of sighs,
    Of dazzling mud and dingy snow;
    Hepaticas that pleased you so
    Are here again, and butterflies.

    There rings a hammering all day,
    And shingles lie about the doors;
    In orchards near and far away
    The grey wood-pecker taps and bores;
    The men are merry at their chores,
    And children earnest at their play.

    The larger streams run still and deep,
    Noisy and swift the small brooks run
    Among the mullein stalks the sheep
    Go up the hillside in the sun,
    Pensively,--only you are gone,
    You that alone I cared to keep.

  5. madamevauquer,

    Thanks for posting these two poems. They strike as suggesting the April is a problematic period. I think that poets/writers seem to agree about how to view most months. April seems to be the exception.