"April is the Coolest Month"

Apr 16, 2009

Murray, KY – You know the saying, "April showers bring May flowers." April is the first full month of spring and for many it evokes a spirited new beginning, for others: RAIN. Commentator Robert Valentine gives April a proverbial umbrella and says, it's not the "cruelest month," it's the "coolest month."

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

T. S. Eliot
The Wasteland (1922)
I, The Burial of the Dead

I don't know what T. S. Eliot was so upset about. April might not be the greatest month of the year, but I can't see why he was so inalterably down on it. I have a theory, though.

It may have something to do with the fact that his last name is spelled with only one "l," and the kids at school probably gave him a hard time. I think Eliot's dad was not well off, and he had to sell of some of the extra letters in the family name just to make ends meet. Before his father started pawning the family alphabet, young Eliot's full name was Takhomasak Sacajaweeya-pocohontas Elliotson. (This is not widely held knowledge, and I'm not sure where I heard it, but I think it's sort of right.)

In any case, it doesn't fully explain his problem with April. So, in the tradition of American Manhood, I choose to figure it out for myself. (American Men seem to prefer this pioneer-like approach, even when the instructions are right there in the box, or the plumber is only a phone call away. A hammer usually helps.)

For cruel months, I'd put November right up there near the top. November can start out with warm days and golden afternoon as the sun filters through the leaves of red maples, but it can end up in snow or bitter, freezing rain. That may not be cruel in Mr. Eliot's book, but it's a pretty rotten trick in my neighborhood.

The poet Thomas Hood seems to have agreed. He wrote:

No sun no moon no morn no noon,
No dawn no dusk no proper time of day,
No warmth no cheerfulness no healthful ease,
No road, no street, no t' other side the way,
No comfortable feel in any member
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,

I used to think that February was pretty cruel, with its grey ol' days and high wind. But February holds the promise of Spring. William Morris thought so, and wrote a poem about it that would make a meteorologist fairly green with weather-reporting envy.

Late February days; and now, at last,
Might you have thought that Winter's woe was past;
So fair the sky was and so soft the air.

What about May? May brings the end of school for many folks. The very thought of having one's children descend on one's household without the supervision of teachers, security officers, counselors, principals, psychologists and school bullies must be very frightening to parents who have been spoiled by months of daytime solitude. That's pretty cruel.

Yet, Louise Chandler Moulton loved May. She wrote:

I hied me off to Arcady
The month it was the month of May,
And all along the pleasant way,
The morning birds were mad with glee,
And all the flowers sprang up to see,
As I went on to Arcady.

And May is so close to April, it is hard to see Eliot's point. April might be called "cruel" because one warm day can easily by followed by a cold rain; because pleasant weather can cruelly tempt the prisoners of a classroom to truancy, or because it bears that most wretched of days, April 15.

But, all in all, Eliot is just wrong. It's a lovely month. The lilacs, whether from "dead land" or a florist's shop, are a treat for winter-dulled noses. "Memory and desire" may stir "dull roots with spring rain," but new memories are made during pleasant afternoons at play and warm evenings spent around the glowing charcoal in the backyard grill.

So, lighten up, T. S.; April is fine with me.

Robert Valentine is a professional Speaker, Storyteller, and Senior Lecturer at Murray State in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications. The full text of this editorial can be read in the spring 2009 issue of Murray Life Magazine.