Sunday, April 5, 2015

Cruel and Joyous April

It is holiday time. No, not the vertical rise of the (Y)easter souffle or the horizontal Hebrew trek out of bondage or even the shout of Play Ball as the baseball season opens tomorrow but the inner buoyancy of National Poetry Month.

Buoyancy may be the wrong word since T.S. Eliot tagged April as the cruelest month in his opening line of The Wasteland.  It accomplishes the shock of awakening us to unfulfilled expectations and an ultimate mortality to follow. Referencing World War One April was the month when military action began again sending young men to fertilize Flanders Field. 

In a larger sense it might have been Eliot’s rejection of all the myths, pagan and religious, surrounding spring. He seems to be saying we’re on our own in this pilgrimage. What appears all calm, beautiful and various and with certitude... (soon)on this darkening plain / ignorant armies clash by night.(Dover Beach, Matthew Arnold). It all ends without the illusion of progress as a given or a comforting god.

On the other hand what can hurt by conjuring the season’s burst of new life and celebrating its razzle-dazzle? We might follow Emily Dickinson in which a lane of yellow leads the eye / into a purple wood / whose soft inhabitants to be / surpasses solitude.

If happiness is fleeting it becomes our purpose in life to catch it. Jane Kenyon put it this way. Happiness is the uncle you never knew about / who flies the single engine plane / onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes / into town and inquires at every door / and finds you asleep in mid-afternoon/ as you do so in the unmerciful / hours of your despair.

Leave it to Robert Frost ( Hillside Thaw) to remind us how the sun lets go / ten million silver lizards out of snow… But if I thought to stop the wet stampede / and caught one single lizard by the tail…I have no doubt I’d end by holding none. The second stanza brings in the wizard moon which turned the swarm to rock and held them all until day, / one lizard at the end of every ray. / The thought of my attempting such a stay.

Frost, like Eliot, brings in the shadow side. Whatever stay he bears witness to against this fractured and uncertain world would be a momentary one. But our lives are just moments strung together. If April is cruel so is all emerging life. It is. And it isn’t. Whether we write or not we can all be poets alert to layers of meaning inherent in everything available to our mind and senses.

As for the two holidays of Resurrection and Passover, both are, in my mind, fables never intended to be more than metaphors when first written. (See the April 6th issue of the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz.) There is no evidence to suggest the Jews were ever enslaved in Egypt in large numbers. They most certainly did not build the pyramids. When they arrived in the Promised Land they, too, enslaved the Canaanites. It was the custom of the day. Too bad the 11th commandment was, Thou shall not eat shell fish instead of thou shall not hold slaves.  What most Americans celebrate today are two poems and that's not a bad thing.

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