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This Just In: April the Cruelest Month
April 3, 2009 - 6:34pm


Hemingway felt it in Paris:

[Y]ou could see the spring coming each day until a night of warm wind would bring it suddenly in one morning, Sometimes the heavy cold rains would beat it back so that it would seem that it would never come and that you were losing a season out of your life. […] When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person had died for no reason. In those days, though, the spring always came finally but it was frightening that it had nearly failed.

Here the roses have tiny leaves, the amaryllises and magnolias buds, and the crocuses, tulips, and yellow and white daffodils are up, nodding in the cold high winds, and looking positively showy on the gray and brown landscape until you see them outside a university greenhouse that’s filled with palms and other tropical flora. Suddenly the poor daffs look alien and forlorn.

April is also National Poetry Month, an event inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets. Order this year’s poster for your school, bookstore, or library, but watch out—it looks a little threatening.

Here’s a poem by Charles D’Orléans written in the fifteenth century, when life, the introduction to Formal Spring says, was

...nasty, brutish, and short—but it was vivid. Against a background of extreme discomfort [including executions, war, and disease] a seat in the sun for five minutes is exquisite pleasure, a crust and a mouthful of wine paradise. Even for the nobility a rose, a coloured neckerchief, a painted saint on a church wall, glowed and vibrated in the mind like a child’s new toy: the beauty of a spring day and the scarcely more lasting loveliness of a woman were felt with an exceptional intensity.


Winter, you’re nothing but a lout.
Summer is polite and gentle;
Only look how May and April
Accompany him day in, day out.

See how fields and woods and flowers
Wear his livery of verdure
And of many other colours
According to the rule of Nature;

But, Winter, you are all filled out
With snow and sleet and wind and drizzle;
It’s time we sent you into exile;
I never flatter, but speak out;
Winter, you’re nothing but a lout.


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