Whan that aprille with his shoures soote, the droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote, and bathed every veyne in swich licour, of which vertu engendred is the flour….
For whatever reason, some members of the high school class above mine memorized the first 10 lines of the Middle English version of The Canterbury Tales and spent several weeks reciting all 10, or at least repeating the words “Whan that Aprille,” at every opportunity — as if part of some elaborate inside joke — until they tired of it and went on to the next fad. Poets, though, never seem to tire of singing the virtues and the hopefulness of April, when (in Chaucer’s words, translated to modern English) “the sweet showers fall… to sire the flower… and many little birds make melody.”
April is a time for a young Willie Mays, seasoned by two years in the Army, to roam center field at the 1954 Polo Grounds with breathtaking flair and grace; April is a time for an awe-inducing Jack Nicklaus of 1965 to romp through Augusta’s zillion azaleas playing what Bobby Jones called “a game with which I am not familiar.” April every pre-leap year is when the party out of White House power emerges from winter desperately seeking a new knight who (again in Chaucer’s words) “love[s] chivalry, truth, honor, freedom and all courtesy…and [is] honored everywhere for worthiness.” April is Easter redemption. April is the Lexington-Concord Shot Heard Round the World, and April is when Thomas Jefferson, the prose laureate of liberty, is born. April’s glories are so bright that even those things tried and trite can reach full flower, at any hour, and be greeted with benign indulgence. Only an April Fool, indeed, could fail to celebrate each April’s metaphorical renaissance.
Then came my April of 2010, though, bidding hard to turn me into that April Fool, or an April Scrooge, because it suddenly meant anything but rebirth. My remarkably indefatigable grandmother, 96 years young until she conked her head in a nasty fall, finally slipped Earth’s surly bonds mid-month — and my father, a spry and energetic 71 just a year earlier, could not even attend his own mother’s funeral because he was in the process of dying, 16 days later, of a viciously painful cancer. No longer a month of hopefulness for me, April instead became associated with what Robert Penn Warren called “the stench of the shroud.”
It wasn’t just the funerals. Everywhere else I looked last April I found no joy in Mudville. To add personal injury to the mix, I myself suffered a horrendous slip-and-fall on wet pavement, earning a hideous and deep, purple-green bruise on the entire upper half of one leg, sorely hobbling me for nearly a month. Politically, vile Obamacare had just been signed into law, threatening (if not repealed) to destroy health, jobs, and liberties. Worse still, BP’s deep-water oil platform blew, threatening (we thought at the time) to ruin my beloved Gulf Coast for months or even years. Forget the little birds making melody. Perhaps T. S. Eliot was right that April is the cruelest month. After last year, methinks April should be left in pieces.
Still, the season’s stirrings insistently return. The buds do bloom. The knights do ride. Despair should not, cannot, win. Spring needn’t celebrate only that life which is new: life with joy at any age should be welcome. Maybe it’s the more mature flowering, later on, we should most anticipate. For this year at least I’ll look a month further ahead. Whan that May, on the sixth of next month, Willie Mays turns 80. Even with the Say Hey Kid an octogenarian, I’d love to watch him roam center field. I bet he’d still show flair and grace.