In a Word . . .

. . . April

Flake, from Old English flakka, for ‘flat, level, particle’

Flake, from Old English flakka, for ‘flat, level, particle’

 

April . . . “is the cruellest month . . . ” I’ve never understood why.

From TS Eliot’s epic The Wasteland. April, he wrote, “is the cruellest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/Memory and desire, stirring/Dull roots with spring rain.”

We know that in 2021 – to date – January has been the cruellest month, with Covid-19 taking more then than in any other so far.

Eliot wrote The Wasteland following that last great global pandemic which shut down the world, the Spanish flu. He and his wife caught it in 1918 with much of the poem written as he recovered. And that pandemic followed the second World War, with its industrial-scale slaughter.

If April is cruel for him then, and maybe for us now, that is because it represents hope dashed. We had hoped for greater freedoms from next Monday, April 5th, an expectation exploded in recent weeks, leaving us with our memories of the pre-Covid world and a yearning desire for it again.

April has confronted us with the perennial problem of hope – that it can raise frail expectations.

The other day I found two contrasting “literatures of hope” in my letter box. One from a TD, a member of the Dáil’s permanent-opposition-by- choice, promising the sun, moon, plough and the stars in return for my support. The other a message from the Jehovah’s Witnesses assuring me of a sure-fire route to eternal happiness (terms and conditions apply).

Both trade in the same currency, hope. Where the politician is concerned I can at least hold him to account if he fails in realising my hopes but what about those promising an eternal life?

Their assurances cannot be proved or disproved this side of a grave. True, I have yet to hear of a dissatisfied customer returning to complain! That is where religion wins when it comes to hope there is no customer complaints department.

For most of us it is best to hope moderately. Wisely, but not too well. And to love April, the first of those three months – April, May, and June – when the year is in its glorious youth.

Welcome April, the “sweet showers of April” (“Aprill with his shoures soote”), as Geoffrey Chaucer put it 600 years ago in his Canterbury Tales.

April, from Old French avril, Latin Aprilis, second month of the Roman calendar.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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