Royal Star Magnolia bloom opening in April
The way we look at the world entirely depends on what has happened to us: what we’ve gained, what we’ve lost. This April I lost my dear friend, my dog Elsa who has shared the last fourteen years of my journey. Now I understand Eliot’s line: “April is the cruelest month…” a little better than I did before. April is not only happiness and new beginnings, it’s also the world going on and some dear things left behind.
I turn to flowers and their power to transcend this experience and dip into several layers of poetic existence. In this way, flowers are like music. A word is a word, and yes, it has powerful meaning to the hearer–but a flower mixed in word and song and smell and memorial–has even more power.
Our memorial to Elsa is this large rock under the Weeping Willow where we can sit and reflect. It’s surrounded by yellow daffodils which will come up every April and remind us of the gift of her life.
A friend brought a Bleeding Heart to us after the loss. How thoughtful–a Bleeding Heart. The act of flower-giving is often thought of as beauty and fragrance, but its real power is its meaning. I’ll plant this under the Weeping Willow, there among the Daffodils, after the last frost. In Spokane, the rule of thumb is 1.) After Mother’s Day, or 2.) When all the snow melts on Mt. Spokane.
April has many different meanings to me: The month I was born, the month my parents were married, the month I lost Elsa, the month of the return of the flowers and the grass. When I think of April I think of unpredictable weather–warm, sunny days and dark, windy and rainy ones. April can be tumultuous or calm. It offers promise; it certainly celebrates life. It often is the month of Easter. It’s National Poetry month!
What is April to you? Because, ultimately, it’s not about what flowers or seasons mean to anyone else or have ever meant, it’s about what they mean to you personally.
April Blooms: Daffodil, Hyacinth, Tulip, Widow Grass, wild Dogwood.
And since it’s National Poetry Month and we’re looking at all the ways a person can describe April depending on their life experience–here are some poems that demonstrate its complexity. To some it’s a month of life, to others it mocks life and death.
First, Emily….this poem doesn’t mention April specifically, but daffodils and April go hand in hand.
She dwelleth in the Ground –
Where Daffodils — abide –
Her Maker — Her Metropolis –
The Universe — Her Maid ––
To fetch Her Grace — and Hue –
And Fairness — and Renown –
The Firmament’s — To Pluck Her –
And fetch Her Thee — be mine
(Emily Dickinson, 744)
Next, TS Eliot from The Wasteland
THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD
APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering 5
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers….
‘You gave me hyacinths first a year ago; 35
‘They called me the hyacinth girl.’
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing, 40
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Od’ und leer das Meer. (Translation: Desolate and empty the sea)
And Emily in letter….
“The little garden within, though tiny, is triumphant. There are scarlet carnations, with a witching suggestion, and hyacinths covered with promises which I know they will keep.” (Letters 969, Emily Dickinson).
And Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales:
WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote 1
The droghte 2 of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich 3 licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth 5
Inspired hath in every holt 4 and heeth
The tendre croppes, 5 and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne, 6
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye, 10
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages: 7
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
Edna St. Vincent Millay…
To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots,
Life in itself
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.
—Edna St. Vincent Millay, Spring
Song of a Second April
APRIL this year, not otherwise
Than April of a year ago
Is full of whispers, full of sighs,
Dazzling mud and dingy snow;
Hepaticas that pleased you so
Are here again, and butterflies.
There rings a hammering all day,
And shingles lie about the doors;
From orchards near and far away
The gray wood-pecker taps and bores,
And men are merry at their chores,
And children earnest at their play.
The larger streams run still and deep;
Noisy and swift the small brooks run.
Among the mullein stalks the sheep
Go up the hillside in the sun
Pensively; only you are gone,
You that alone I cared to keep.
Edna St. Vincent Millay
April by Louise Gluck
No one’s despair is like my despair–
You have no place in this garden
thinking such things, producing
the tiresome outward signs; the man
pointedly weeding an entire forest,
the woman limping, refusing to change clothes
or wash her hair.
Do you suppose I care
if you speak to one another?
But I mean you to know
I expected better of two creatures
who were given minds: if not
that you would actually care for each other
at least that you would understand
grief is distributed
between you, among all your kind, for me
to know you, as deep blue
marks the wild scilla, white
the wood violet.