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.
T.S. Elliot, “The Waste Land” (1922)
I would have loved to have written those lines. I am, however, almost as happy to have read them over and over again since I discovered T.S. Elliot in high school. I’ve mostly been a reader of fiction my entire life—from James Joyce to Henry Miller and about everyone in between. I also love poetry where my tastes run from “Beowulf” to modern-20th Century and beyond. I tend to read fiction once (with the exception of “Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain and “Siddhartha” by Tomas Mann—now that I’ve started, I can think of way too many to name), but I read poetry over and over again. For me it’s like listening to a piece of music over and over because it feels good—it harmonizes with something in your soul.
I don’t really know what this poem is all about, other than it follows the Holy Grail and the Fisher King’s saga, but I am drawn to the images and to what they mean to me. My favorite T.S. Eliot poem is the “Four Quartets”, with “The Waste Land” following closely behind.
Spring is my favorite time of the year and this poem stirs in me feelings of rebirth and renewal; watching the bare spindly branches of the tree I see when I look up from this computer screen, begin to grow small green buds, which will flourish into a bright green canopy covering my back yard. But now those buds are only the lush sounds of the earth springing to life from the dried tubers.
I’ve been planning and re-planning what I want to grow this season. I have not been planting gardens in recent years, mostly because I don’t like weeding and any garden depending on me doing that on a regular basis is doomed to failure. I’ve used pots and containers to grow everything from tomatoes to morning glories and I want to expand upon that this year. However, I have found a little triangular piece of ground in front of the garage.
Last year I planted sunflowers in this spot from plants along the front of our fence and was I ever surprised. What I thought were medium sized yellow sunflowers turned out to be, what my friend Trish has identified as Mexican Sunflowers. The plants themselves turned out to be 15 feet tall, with small, (by sunflower comparisons) bright orange-red flowers all over the plant. They were beautiful and I hope to plant them again. This triangular piece of ground is in front of the sunflowers and I want to make it an herb garden. I’ve planted herbs in pots and some herbs take to that, but others need room to grow and spread their wings. I’m not a really good gardener, not someone with whom you would trust your houseplants, but I think if I concentrate on this one little patch of ground I can perhaps let it grow into something edible.
I now see dozens of blackbirds silhouetted in the trees waiting for me to throw out the first seeds of spring. The bird feeder, however, draws all the other birds and most of the squirrels and chipmunks in the backyard. They, in turn, keep Juneau and Buster busy chasing them. I know that there are skunks in the neighborhood (not the people) so I try to keep both dogs inside during dawn and dusk hours. The other critters around here are raccoons, which live in the storm sewer inlets and under the small garden sheds that populate our neighborhood. We also have the occasional opossum eating the cat food on the back porch. I think that planning projects and getting into things you know nothing about keeps one a step ahead of the reaper.
The end of the first section of “The Waste Land” is called “Burial of the Dead” and ends thus:
“That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
Oh keep the Dog far hense, that’s friend to men,
Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!”