I don’t know why they chose April as National Poetry Month. Maybe it’s because two of the most famous poems in the English language begin with an April reference.
A modern translation from Middle English of the opening lines of Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales,” reads:
“When April with its sweet-smelling showers
Has pierced the drought of March to the root
And bathed every vein (of the plants) in such liquid
By which power the flower is created ...”
Chaucer is speaking about the rebirth of nature in spring, something all of us in Farm Country can appreciate.
In the opening lines of “The Wasteland,” T.S. Eliot takes a different view of spring:
“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
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.”
Eliot evokes the pain that comes with rebirth, opening old wounds and forgotten desires.
I guess which you prefer depends on whether you’re a “field’s half-planted” or a “field’s half-fallow” kind of person.
I know, I know. You’re probably too busy to care about that stuff.
You have things to do and people to text. Poetry, you’re certain, will never appeal to you … as you bebop along in your truck, listening to the latest works of great songwriters, singing along with their lyrics … which are organized in verses ...
You see where I’m going with this? You only have to look to the lyrics of your favorite songs to find the poetry that you love. The notes of those songs are pleasing, of course, and speak to the skill of musicians. However, it’s the words of the song that cause it to resonate with you. It’s some other person’s honest expression that punches you in the gut and causes you to think, “I know that’s true because I’ve felt exactly the same way.”
When country music artist Chris Stapleton sings, “I’ve looked for love in all the same old places, found the bottom of a bottle always dry,” in the classic song “Tennessee Whiskey,” you know, deep in your soul, the feeling he’s talking about. You know that it has little to do with the physical realities of empty bottles, and more to do with feelings of loneliness and the often-futile things we do to combat those feelings.
There’s plenty of poetry, of course, that isn’t accompanied by sweet guitar licks. Some of it can employ imagery and metaphor, like those song lyrics, and sometimes it can be fairly straightforward.
As a boy on the family farm, I often worked with my grandfather. When we had a full day of hard work ahead of us, we would step outside, put on our work boots, and he would quote Psalm 118:24 to me. “This is the day the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” There’s little artifice in King David’s words in that verse, but for my grandfather they held both special meaning and a challenge. He used that one verse to change his entire outlook on a hard day.
That is the power of poetry. It changes us. It opens our eyes. And it’s all around us.
In April, we’re asked to remember and celebrate the verse that moves us and seek out new poetry that awakens us to new feelings and new wisdom.
Here’s hoping your experience is more like Chaucer’s than Eliot’s.