Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)

Life in the Pedestrian Lane: April is Poetry Month …

T.S. Eliot had it right: April is the cruelest month

T.S. Eliot had it right: April is the cruelest month. He carried on for several stanzas in ‘The Wasteland” outlining the better parts of the year. (I’m not sure anyone ever really reads that poem).

He went the long way around to emphasize the Waste Land theme of a post-war world when I think his most succinct point was about April. I was an English major (you may have guessed) so read a lot of T.S. Eliot, a poet I never did get into.

Mom read us lots of poetry, but it was Mother Goose, Longfellow (“By the shores of Gittichi’ Gumi … “) and Stevenson, so poetry to me was rhythm and rhyme.

In high school I discovered Robert Frost, among others, who was straightforward in his language, so Eliot’s obscurity, to me, seemed like words simply for words’ sake. My thought process is much too literal to appreciate “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” where Eliot spends over 100 lines and a quote from Dante’s Inferno to lament his frustration with his life “measured out in coffee spoons.” Hank Williams did it much better, and set to music

Those of us who have been on the April merry-go-round for the past four weeks know the relevancy of Eliot‘s “cruelest month.” A day of beautiful warm (relatively) weather just to wake up to an inch of new snow with more coming down. And when we can finally think of getting rid of the boots and gloves and dare to look at the sneakers and sweatshirts, it’s cold and dreary again, 20 degrees and windy.

Robert Frost, in “Two Tramps at Mud Time” captured April in the third stanza: “The sun was warm, but the wind was chill. You know how it is with an April Day” then goes on to describe one minute it’s warm and sunny and you’d think it was May, but blink and it’s cloudy again like March. You could believe he’d spent an April in Kenai.

April to me was always spring: new leaves, greening fields, new patent leather shoes for Easter, tulips peeking above the ground, baby chicks, daffodils gone crazy, fawns and tractors in the fields. We’ve been in Alaska 50-plus years, so needless to say, I haven’t seen a “real” April (or spring) in that long. The closest I’ve come is my niece sending pictures of her daffodils and my sister telling me the farmers are getting into the fields. (What’s patent leather?)

When we were up North, April was nonexistent except as a page on the calendar, and a time to celebrate the increasing light. Finally, about the last week, one day it would be spring. The ice would go out on the river and the geese would fly over on their way to the North Slope. Like magic we’d see leaf buds, baby ducks and the road would open.

So we began to measure spring by different criteria. April was no longer the starting point. At first it was when the geese came in, both up north and here, but when the snow geese stopped gathering on the Flats, we had to find another indicator.

For a few years, the sandhill cranes filled the bill, but they are no longer a sure thing … much like spring … so we’ve begun to rely on the eagles on the bluff at the senior center. When they begin to stand guard again at the mouth of the river, we at least know spring is in the neighborhood.

No Poets equate eagles with spring, They write about their majesty, their elegance, their arrogance. Not many have watched them fight with the ravens, just because, or do their mating dance hundreds of feet in the air, clashing talons then plummeting towards earth, pulling up just in time to do it again. Sorta like April, a constant battle, hoping you come out with something good at the end.

But the only good thing April has going is it is National Poetry Month. There are lots of poems about April, but they are all flowery and light and treat April like a new beginning when we in Alaska know it is really the last hurrah of usually a long, hard winter. However, true to form, these last few days have offered a little promise for Springtime, (it IS the end of the month) even if the calendar says it’s been here almost six weeks.

As of my submission deadline the ice hadn’t gone out on the Nenana yet but if it’s broken up in the last three days, maybe we’re really on the way. I could try to write a poem about April to end this but I think Johnny Horton said it best: “When it’s springtime in Alaska, it’s forty below.”

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