Friday, April 5, 2013

"April is the cruellest month..."

Micah Mattix on the first line of Eliot's The Waste Land:
...Eliot’s “April is the cruellest month” is not so much about his conflicted response to spring (rooted in some forgotten childhood trauma) or about creating a linguistic puzzle to help us develop our skills of attention but about hope.
What makes April cruel in the poem (among other things) is that the hope of new life that spring evokes is, at least for Eliot at the time, always temporal. Unfulfilled hope is the worst sort of pain, and the speaker of the poem initially claims that it is preferable to live in winter, covered in “forgetful snow.” Yet the rest of the poem is largely an act of remembering, as lines, characters, and scenes from the Bible, The Divine Comedy, Metamorphoses, Les Fleurs du mal, Augustine, Spenser, and Shakespeare are trotted out in an effort to temporarily recapture something of what Eliot considered the West’s vibrant (Christian) past.
So we discover, if hope is always temporal, it is also inescapable. As sure as April returns every year, we cannot cease to hope. There is something in us that pushes us to hope in some final consummation, some final life in which there is no winter, no death. Thus, hope in an eternal spring is a fact of the human mind, and this fact either points to nothing, which makes us the most miserable of all the animals; or, as Eliot would later believe, it is a fact that corresponds to a spiritual reality, no less real for having no exact material equivalent. .... [more]