April is the cruellest month

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.

So begins Part I, The Burial of the Dead from The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot. I thought of it yesterday when I was working in the garden, though I have no lilacs.

The poem is rightly regarded as one of the most important poems of the 20th Century and Eliot one of the most important poets but in my opinion one thing he wasn’t good at was reading his own work. I always found his readings of his own work rather flat and dreary. He’s not the only poet I think that of either, but perhaps that’s just me.

Anyway, here is T.S. Eliot reading all of The Waste Land so you can make your own mind up:

4 Responses to “April is the cruellest month”

  1. I agree. As a small child someone gave me a copy of “Old Possum … “, with pictures by Bentley which seemed a good fit for the words. I liked it a lot, and can still recite bits from memory, almost. Soon afterwards I heard a record of TSE reading it which was, as you say, dreary, and a big disappointment. Still I’d rather listen to that than to the musical.

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    But why is April the cruellest month? Perhaps there is a folk memory that it is the month before food becomes available from the soil again and so is the month in which people starve if not enough food was stored the preceding autumn?

    • telescoper Says:

      I think it’s because there’s nothing more cruel than a false hope, which is what the poet says that spring does. The opening section is filled with recollections of what life was like before the First World War started,

      The first lines are thought by many to be a riposte to the opening lines of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

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