Woster: Easter and April's cruel weather bring hope
Hope needs no defense, not by me and not against the words of a poem.
I know April showers bring May flowers, but I’ve never heard anyone sing of what April gales bring, which is biting wind chills and a river so angry it froths at the mouth.
It’s Easter week as I write, Thursday to be specific. We’ve reached the middle of April, yet for the past two full days the wind has been 30 mph or stronger. The foam-capped breakers on the river look aggressive enough to be the setting for an Annette and Frankie beach party movie. The whole cast would freeze during the filming, but the scenery would be authentic.
Often when I think of April as I wait to sleep of an evening, I picture a landscape rich with bright flowers, warmed by a brilliant sun and washed with a gentle breeze. When I experience a couple of cold, windy days such as we’ve had this week, I think perhaps T. S. Eliot was correct when he wrote in “The Wasteland’’ that “April is the cruellest month.’’ (I put two Ls in that word because the poet did it that way.)
I’ve seen poets and writers who, at one time or another, have referred to almost every month on the calendar as the cruelest. Eliot supposedly said it first, though, and he said it about April.
When Eliot called April cruel, he went on to say the month bred lilacs out of the dead land and stirred “dull roots with spring rain.’’ The first time I read that poem, I thought that didn’t sound the least bit cruel. April is the first real month of spring, after all, and spring is supposed to be about bringing lilacs and other vegetation to life from the winter-dead land. Spring is supposed to be about stirring dormant roots with spring rain. Otherwise, what’s the point of April showers and May flowers?
During one of my literature courses in college, the professor suggested that Eliot called April cruel because it is the month when humans begin to hope again after winter passes. Hope, my professor said, can lead to cruel disappointment.
I can’t remember the professor’s name. He wore double-breasted suits, grey on Tuesdays and navy blue on Thursdays. It was clear that he had a mastery of the subject he taught, but I pushed back one class period on the notion that hope necessarily led to disappointment.
I tried to argue that, even if disappointment sometimes comes, hope is a good thing to have. I said I believed it was essential to the human spirit. I wish the movie “Shawshank Redemption’’ had come out before I took that literature course. I could have quoted Andy, who wrote to his friend, “Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.’’ That’s one of my favorite lines from a film I greatly enjoyed.
What Andy wrote to Red is kind of what I tried to say in that college classroom. I know I didn’t make the point clearly. The professor seemed pleased that a student actually spoke up, although not so pleased he agreed with me. I left the class that day feeling pretty good, anyway, having played a role as the champion of hope. I’m pretty certain a person can be many worse things than that.
Now that I’m older, I think my juvenile defense was somewhat audacious, certainly unnecessary. Hope needs no defense, not by me and not against the words of a poem. I’m pretty sure I was right, though, when I called it a thing essential to the human spirit. It absolutely is.
That’s at least part of the message of Easter, it seems to me. The writer and war correspondent Janine di Giovanni is said to have written, “Easter is meant to be a symbol of hope, renewal and new life.’’ If through the observance of the Easter season, a person feels renewed hope, that’s a wonderful thing. And for those who don’t believe in the celebration of Easter, it’s still a good thing, perhaps the best of things, to feel hope, no matter what day it is.