I love the opening lines of TS Eliot’s The Wasteland, the sense of force and vitality which drives the words:
April is the cruellest month, breedingTS Eliot
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Yet I cannot understand their sentiment, since I do not find April as “the cruellest month” at all. I find the boisterous opening of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales closer to my feeling about this time of year:
Whan that Aprill with his shoures sooteChaucer
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every vein in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Eliot was parodying Chaucer, conveying his own dispiritedness in the wake of World War One and battling his own demons. His poem surveys a broken world in which life is arid and hope is lost, whilst in Chaucer there is vibrant growth and a feeling of rebirth after the winter. The pessimist and the optimist are pitted against each other: it is always salutary to transport the words of great thinkers to our own circumstances. Though we do not stand in the aftermath of world war, most would agree that the last year has been tough and sad. There are many who have good reason to look on the world as a wasteland, waiting for ‘a damp gust/Bringing rain’, as Eliot puts it in the final part of his epic. Reading the history of Chaucer’s age, one must reflect that he had little more reason for hope than Eliot: The Black Death, the brutal suppression of the Peasant’s Revolt and the deposition of a tyrannical king, were all in the melting pot that lay behind his poems. The poet’s different temperaments can be felt in their responses, just as today there are those who are hopeful and those who are not.
We may have had good reason to think April cruel as a bitter northerly wind brought flurries of snow and depressingly low temperatures at the beginning of the month. A walk to the Badger Wood kept the penetrating wind off us and it is exciting to see life bursting out everywhere. The resident badgers have been very busy clearing out their setts and the newly excavated tunnels are evident from the heaps of newly turned soil near the entrances. Also near the main sett, in the covert of a holly bush, a large and recently used latrine can be seen.
In the woodland many of the Bluebells are appearing and the ground will soon be a sea of blue. I noticed that there has been a significant encroachment of Dog’s Mercury, which may well be a competitor species. As we followed the Badger’s trail, skirting the boundary between field and wood a Tree Creeper hurried up the trunk of an oak, like an avian abseiler. Once you have spotted a Tree Creeper the chances are you may see it again because they are home birds with very limited territories, some birds staying on one tree for much of their life. Having said this, they are well camouflaged, their dusky brown plumage merging with the colour of the bark, making it difficult to see them.
There are a number of Rabbit holes on the edge of the wood, and many of these look as if they are in use. I have seen a few rabbits this year; last year there seemed to be a sad dearth of them. Rabbit populations can soon bounce back, as their breeding rate is remarkable, so the many knocks the species has suffered since the war have been overcome: something which farmers, foresters and gardeners are not too pleased about but which I am happy to see.