Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Monday, April 07, 2008

A Poetical Month

April is National Poetry Month. So far this year, April has been a rainy month. Here in rural America, things are green and/or blooming. And muddy. Really, really muddy.

Anyhow, I figured a few poems about April might kill two birds with one stone, if you’ll pardon the cliché (though with Spring Gobbler season starting soon, it might be more accurate and less cliché-ish to say, kill two birds—and mar a few roadside signs—with several blasts from a shotgun).

I found three poetical selections (or portions thereof) that fit:

The opening lines from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (written in 1922) are spot on:

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.

Now, even though I have a master’s in English, I confess to not really understanding a lot of Eliot’s poetry. Especially The Waste Land. For one thing, I don’t know why he slipped that extra l in cruelest. Is that a Brit spelling, or what? Plus I never can remember to put his title in quotations marks or to italicize it because it's a long poem. And what he means by the poem is anybody's guess (or doctoral thesis).

But he is right about some stuff in that poem. Lilacs do green up in early April. The other day, I transplanted some of Granny Sallie’s lilac bush from Smith Farm to my flowerbed at the house, and the new leaves are still green. By the end of April, the original bush will be blooming.

These are last year's blooms, but this is the bush I took slips from.

As for “memory and desire,” I remember other Aprils and desire the weather to warm up soon. We’ve been in a cold rainy spell for about a week. Before that we were in a windy spell. I’ve still got half a truckload of soggy mulch that I’d like to spread, and I don’t know when it’ll ever dry out.

The “spring rain” has stirred up the “dull roots,” too, because I have a lot of tulips blooming and a bunch of lilies that look hopeful.

Winter was warmer than usual, but we still had to have the heat on. And where’s the “forgetful snow”? It forgot to snow much around here. We only got a couple dustings.

Moving along, we have Ogden Nash’s poem, “Always Marry an April Girl.”

Praise the spells and bless the charms,
I found April in my arms.
April golden, April cloudy,
Gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy;
April soft in flowered languor,
April cold with sudden anger,
Ever changing, ever true --
I love April, I love you.

That about covers everything to do with April, doesn’t it? Of course, I can’t forget Geoffrey Chaucer (1340(?)–1400) and his "Prologue to the Canterbury Tales," which begins like this:

WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye,

(So priketh hem nature in hir corages:
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmers for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, couthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende

Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The holy blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke.

Thanks to a great Chaucer course I had in grad school, I can make better sense of Chaucer than I can of Eliot. But just in case you need to look up a few words, here’s what those strange terms mean:

  • soote— its sweet showers
  • droghte—drought
  • swich—such
  • holt—wood
  • croppes—young shoots
  • halfe cours y-ronne—The sun left the sign of the Ram about the middle of April.
  • corages—hearts
  • straunge strondes—foreign strands
  • ferne halwes—distant saints.
  • couthe—known.
  • seke—sick
If the word list didn’t help, here’s what the poem’s about: April’s showers take care of March’s drought and flowers bloom and a bunch of folks decide to take off on a pilgrimage to some strange country where they might find some relics of a saint and get cured of what ails them.

While this doesn’t sound like a heckuva lot of fun nowadays, keep in mind this poem was written almost six hundred years ago when recreational travel opportunities were limited. Now they’d go to Disney World or something. If they were younger, they might take off to the beach during Spring Break and end up on a Girls Gone Wild video or something.

Now, if Geoff C. were around today, he most likely wouldn’t mess with a long poem. He’d blog about it. In fact, he does. Well, sort of: Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog

To celebrate National Poetry Month (and National Library Week), the Valley Writers Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club will present “Poetry of the Blue Ridge” on Thursday, April 17, at 6:30 p.m. at the Edible Vibe in exciting downtown Rocky Mount. (Whoooeee! Using that string of prepositions tired me out!) The Franklin County Library is sponsoring this presentation.

Y’all come on down, have a cup of coffee, and listen to some poetry.

The performance is free, but y’all have to pay for the coffee and food.

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Blogger CountryDew said...

April is one of my favorite months - not too cold, not too hot. Time to get in the garden and there's daylight after dinner again. Not to mention all the lovely blooms (achoo). Nice post.

9:59 AM  
Blogger Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

He put in that extra l to be fancy.

8:39 PM  

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