Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Cruellest Month

With temperatures reaching 45 degrees Celsius up north, Facebook updates have begun quoting the opening line of T.S.Eliot's The Waste Land: April is the cruellest month.

In the poem, the line is meant ironically. It is spoken from the point of view of those who feel threatened by the awakening of spring, who prefer winter's 'forgetful snow'.

APRIL is the cruellest month,
Lilacs out of the dead land,
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 plays off the prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, with its evocation of the sweetness of spring that inspires people to leave their homes for pilgrimages. Here are the opening lines of the Prologue (in somewhat modernised spelling, with difficult words explained in brackets):

When that April with his showers soote (sweet)
The drought of March hath pierced to the root
And bathed every vein (rootlet) in such liquor (liquid)
Of which virtúe engendered is the flower;
When Zephyrus (West Wind) eke (also) with his sweete breath
Inspired hath in every holt and heath (grove & field)
The tender croppes, and the younge sun (spring sun)
Hath in the Ram (Aries) his halfe course y-run,
And smalle fowles maken melody
That sleepen (who sleep) all the night with open eye
[So pricketh them Natúre in their couráges]
, (spurs / spirits)
Then longen folk to go on pilgrimáges,

All this is a far cry from the oven-like plains of North India. Another misunderstood phrase frequently used in these months is 'Indian Summer'. An Indian Summer has nothing to do with India. It refers to a sudden warming of weather that is occasionally witnessed in parts of North America in October, confounding the expectations of those who assume temperatures will keep dropping through autumn. The Indians in question are Native Americans, not desis.


Rohan said...

Chennai-ites (and Tamil Nadu residents in general) present and past, feel mildly offended by this blatant snatching of what is often our defining characteristic. We demand an inclusion somewhere in this post. :)

Great post, BTW.

Anonymous said...

isn't indian summer also referred to a senile relative falling for/marrying a inappropriately young girl?

(from my pgw readings) do you know the history behind that ?

Girish Shahane said...

Rohan, sorry for the slight caused by my cultural ignorance. Consider Tamil Nadu included. Hehe.
Anonymous, I missed that bit in my Wodehouse readings, so can't help you out.

Anonymous said...,_Jeeves

2nd last story

Girish Shahane said...

On the face of it, he seems to use the metaphor appropriately: a man sliding into the winter of his life suddenly experiencing a rush of hot blood...

antiglam superstar! said...

The East Indian summer sure is cruel. I studied in Rajasthan and to get by we'd pretend we were tourists and speak in thick fake accents to each other, saying "India's hot!"
While on the topic of April
Written in the comfort of my hostel few years ago.. Thought I'd share.