I think my favorite poem of all time is T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” It’s the only poem that ever grabbed me within its first five words: “April is the cruelest month.”
DAMN RIGHT, it is!
The first time I heard that poem, Katharine Hepburn was reciting it in the film Without Love. I was about 9 or 10 years old and when I heard that first line and it just clicked with me.
That particular April, I had my first experience with allergies, which turned into a sinus infection. My sickness arrived just as the April spring weather did. I remember hearing my friends playing outside as jealousy soared through my sick, little body. My mother reminded me that with spring weather comes spring allergies and I pouted, “April is the cruelest month!”
Statements like this were used as evidence by my mother to prove that I was a child “genius.” Granted, had I learned the poem from actually reading Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” then she might have been correct. Sadly, I was an old-movie obsessed couch-potato who learned poetry from television. In conclusion, I was not a child genius, rather a child recluse.
As I grew older, I attended Duquesne University where I was exposed to the actual text. It was then the concept of the opening line and the entirety of the whole poem fell into place.
I have this tendency to personalize art to find a connection with the artist and their work. At that particular time in my life, I was just beginning adulthood. My father had just died that winter and my entire world was changing in front of my eyes.
I recall that April being extra cruel. My father’s birthday was April 9 and his favorite holiday was Easter, which fell in April that year. The grief had a cold emptiness that was not being soothed by sunshine and warm weather.
It was the sun beaming on my sad face when I realized that April is a month full of dichotomies, like Eliot describes in the poem. It’s a month that’s in complete transition, finding its way out of the dead of winter to start anew.
I now look at April like the puberty of months. Abrupt weather changes (mood swings), squealing wind (voice changes), and constant April rain (middle school tears).
I think the best way to muddle through this cruel month is to remember the words of another wise poet, Justin Timberlake. Use it as your mantra this month and repeat it as needed.
“It’s gonna be May.”