I love April.
It was Mother’s birthday month and I associate it with the big bouquet we made for her with the flowers of the garden, mainly with irises and apple blossoms. She had a fondness for irises and she nursed and raised the plants, exchanging rhizomes with friends and collectors near our house: they came in all sorts of hues from the simple, straight, blue ones to the fat gorgeous golden yellow others, going through browns, pinks, whites, slightly striped, zebra, cut out, bearded petals. It seemed that the variations were infinite. We kept to the simple dark purple ones that were swathed in the frothy apple blossoms, a candid white tinged with a blush of pink rose. We would have devastated the orchard so we were left two or three trees which gave each year a crop of acid apples that never matured and which we used in the early autumn as prime elements to our desperate experiences to make cider.
Life is to be compared with April according to William Cowper: “It is a sort of April-weather life that we lead in this world. A little sunshine is generally the prelude to a storm.” And nowadays more than ever I do think so. What little joys we have are soon drowned by a shower of sorrows.
Elder Girl is still in hospital. I have been told by our doctor that she does not want to get up by herself, to stand up, to walk. Her food is processed and rolled and she eats it with a spoon. She speaks when she is spoken to and she passes the day sitting in an armchair. “An ideal patient”, said Matron over the phone. She never complains and she never moves.” Our doctor was enthusiastic about the notion of our joining her in hospital and was highly surprised when I refused, telling him we were not ill and asking him to hasten her return home. “She will be a weight upon you”, he said, eyeing me dubiously. “And she will need continuous care with nurses at least twice a day, special implements like an electric armchair, another chair in which she will spend her days, people to transfer her from bed to chair and from chair to bed. “That sort of things.” “All right”, I answered, let’s get the help we need and have her back with us in her own home and environment.” “She is aging, you know”, he said. ”She is an old lady according to her pathology. She is aging fast.” I bit my lips thinking that his prescription of antidepressants, anxiolytics and sleeping pills maintained her surely in a state of half dozing that could easily pass for early senescence. He is glad to have slotted Elder Girl into her proper little square: at long last, she is under the thumb of the medical profession and made to behave as a proper Down Syndrome person.
I feel guilty to have let her out of my sight. I should have passed over our doctor’s injunction to let her go to the main hospital in Périgueux alone. From there she was dispatched to this wretched country hospital where I cannot go and see her regularly to keep her in the world of the living. Guilty. Guilty.
In order to keep my mind busy, I thought about poetry. No, I will not talk about “April, the cruelest of month” and about T.S. Eliot. I tried to lift up my spirit with the thought that this month is the promise of gold and blue days.
Wanton with long delay the gay spring leaping cometh;
The blackthorn starreth now his bough on the eve of May:
All day in the sweet box-tree the bee for pleasure hummeth:
The cuckoo sends afloat his note on the air all day;
Now dewy nights again and rain in gentle shower
At root of tree and flower have quenched the winter’s drouth.
On high the hot sun smiles, and banks of cloud uptower
In bulging heads that crowd for miles the dazzling south.
Robert Bridges, The Shorter Poems (1896).
Have you noted the internal rhymes within lines (delay/gay, now/bough, et cetera), the combination of end rhymes and internal rhymes across three lines (cometh/starreth/hummeth, shower/flower/uptower), and the internal rhymes across lines (smiles/miles, cloud/crowd)?
The garden is sadly neglected but while going through it to open the gate for the cleaning lady’s car, I noticed how much the daffodils are on the wane, that tulip are perking up, that violets smile through perks of new grass, and that pâquerettes, these small, short-stemmed, wild daisies that are in full bloom for Easter (thus their name, as Easter is Pâques in French) are already dotting the whole grounds with the help of primroses and cowslips. April is a time of arrivals and departures.
In the Valley
On this first evening of April
Things look wintry still:
Not a leaf on the tree,
Not a cloud in the sky,
Only a young moon high above the clear green west
And a few stars by and by.
Yet Spring inhabits round like a spirit.
I am sure of it
By the swoon on the sense,
By the dazzle on the eye,
By the long, long sigh that traverses my breast
And yet no reason why.
O lovely Quiet, am I never to be blest?
Time, even now you haste.
Between the lamb’s bleat and the ewe’s reply
A star has come into the sky.
Sylvia Townsend Warner, Time Importuned (1928).
Here, “the dazzling south” of Bridges in the former poem meets “the dazzle on the eye” of Warner. And, coincidentally, Warner employs the same technique of end rhymes and internal rhymes across three lines used by Bridges: sky/high/by; eye/sigh/why.
April’s mutability is embodied in the trees: their branches are still mostly bare, but, from a distance, they seem to be enveloped in a yellow-green haze. Mutability and promise. “Nature ‘s first green is gold” says Robert Frost.
Exactly: where the winter was
The spring has come: I see her now
In the fields, and as she goes
The flowers spring, nobody knows how.
H. Sisson,What and Who(Carcanet Press 1994).
But even how much I want to glorify spring, I cannot prevent myself from worry for Elder Girl and melancholy for the time “when we were young” (with A.A. Milne) and when we were roughly and rudely pruning the apple trees with laughter to please Mother on her birth day.
Wet Evening in April
The birds sang in the wet trees
And as I listened to them it was a hundred years from now
And I was dead and someone else was listening to them.
But I was glad I had recorded for him the melancholy.
Patrick Kavanagh, Collected Poems
Time has gone by. Mother is dead. Elder Girl is aging. I am too.