Is April really the cruelest month? T.S. Eliot certainly thought so. In “The Wasteland,” a poem widely regarded as a literary masterpiece, Eliot offers a description of April so bleak that anyone who reads it will probably want to skip from March straight into May.
I am of two minds about April, which I regard as a picturesque bridge between winter and spring. While I enjoy the colorful landscape, the warmer weather, and the longer days, I can understand how Eliot came to regard April as the month he disliked the most.
I don’t know what the pollen levels were like where Eliot lived, but if they were anything like they are in Fayetteville during a typical spring, when every bush, plant and tree is in full bloom, that factor alone would explain why he wrote dystopian poetry about this time of year. It is difficult, if not impossible, to create an ode to spring when every inch of your home’s interior is covered with bright yellow dust that no amount of cleaning will remove. Even Shakespeare would have been unable to pen a seasonal sonnet if he had been forced to stop writing every other minute to wipe away the tears from his eyes or the discharge from his nose.
While the pollen tsunami gives us a reason to dread the coming of April, there is another reason some of us do not look forward to this month. I refer to it as the Easter bonnet syndrome, and it is a real condition for those of us whose memories stretch back many decades.
I have a photograph of myself on my kitchen refrigerator that was taken the Easter I was 5 years old. In it, I am wearing a new dress with a voluminous petticoat underneath it. When I use the word “voluminous,” I am understating the circumference of this garment. It was so wide and full that if a strong wind had been blowing while I posed for this picture, I would surely have been swooped up and transported to Oz or Neverland.
This garment could have offered shelter to untold numbers of small animals during a rainstorm if they had formed a circle around my feet.
Just in case the petticoat wasn’t bad enough, I also had to contend with two other fashion challenges — a corsage and a tight-fitting hat. Even now, it would be hard for me to decide which of these items was more torturous. While the corsage was beautiful, it was so itchy that I practically scratched the skin off my neck. Because it was a gift from my uncle, my mother would not let me take it off, so I had to endure the irritation for several hours. The hat had thin ribbons that were tied so tightly under my chin that I felt like I was being choked. It didn’t help that these two irritants were just inches apart. They may have occupied a small space on my neck, but the discomfort they created resonated from head to toe.
Nothing tops off a day of sartorial torture like an Easter egg hunt, and my memories of most of these only validate Eliot’s opinion about April. Since the candy inside the eggs was the first candy I would enjoy after a long Lent of eating no sweets, I had to make sure I found eggs that contained the treats I wanted. As a devout chocolate lover, I dreamed of finding Hershey’s Kisses or Tootsie Rolls. What I inevitably ended up with were Peeps and jelly beans, two confections that should never have been created, much less put into the eggs I kept finding. Apparently, the chocolate candy was as elusive as a comfortable Easter outfit.
One reason Eliot believed that April was the cruelest month was the mixing of “Memory and desire.” I am in total agreement with him on this point. My memories of wearing itchy corsages and never once finding chocolate candy during an Easter egg hunt created in me a desire to skip this month altogether.