April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
– T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land, 1922
What is it about April? It should be the welcome rise of Spring, but it also holds something back. From the beginning, it seems to kick you in the gut. According to Mark Twain, “The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.” Thomas Tusser put a half-hearted positive spin on it in 1557, “Sweet April showers do spring May flowers.”
Among other notable ignominies, Galileo was convicted of heresy, Oscar Wilde was arrested, Martin Luther King was killed, Lincoln was assassinated, William Henry Harrison died in office of pneumonia, and FDR passed away of a cerebral hemorage. The Titanic sank this month, and the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 occurred. Suicides peak in April, with Kurt Cobain being one of those to have succumbed. Perversely, Dr. Kervorkain even participated in his first assisted suicide during April. Just to round things out, George Orwell’s 1984 begins, “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
On a more hopeful note, Earth Day is held in April, as is Arbor Day. April is National Humor Month, no doubt in association with its opening day. April 2 is appropriately designated as Fact Check Day. Buddha’s birthday is celebrated in April. Raphael was born this month, as was William Shakespeare.
April is most often associated with religious significance. The story of the Passover, also called Pesah, is told in the Bible in the book of Exodus, Chapter 12. It begins on the 15th day of the Hebrew month Nisan, which falls in March or April, given the fact that the Hebrew calendar is based on the lunar year.
Easter can fall on any Sunday between March 22 and April 25, since it is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon in the Northern Hemisphere. One might assume that Passover and Easter would always coincide, since the events leading to the Crucifixion occurred during Passover. History, however, doesn’t always repeat itself. For a good primer on the topic, see this site.
In appreciation of T.S. Eliot’s line above and all that he contributed to Twentieth Century poetry (and the struggles of students attempting to make sense of his The Wasteland), the community of poets arranged for April to be named National Poetry Month. It is richly and widely observed, and my favorite source is YourDailyPoem.com.
In recognition of the month, I thought I’d offer a short poem of mine, in memory of my mother, who died all too many years ago.
I passed by your grave today
and happened this time to pause.
It was the first day to smell of Fall –
cool, as it was, with an early dark.
Kneeling beside your name,
I saw what seemed a scrap of yellow –
a frayed silk petal in a poignant shade,
from another’s memory of you.
Time, it seems, may fade the finest flower,
but the memory of love lives on.