Woodworking again: April is cruel

By Dave Wood
Posted 4/3/24

If you’re like me, you always look forward to April, thinking it’s going to be much better than the previous gloomy months, though we’ve been warned often enough by the privileged …

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Woodworking again: April is cruel


If you’re like me, you always look forward to April, thinking it’s going to be much better than the previous gloomy months, though we’ve been warned often enough by the privileged and the literary not to expect much of this “cruel month.”

T.S. Eliot begins his most famous poem, “The Wasteland,” with this stanza:

April is the cruelest month,

Breeding lilacs out of the dead land,

Mixing memory and desires,

Stirring dull roots with spring rain . . .

So my thoughts at the budding of this month turn to miserable reflections on the lives of some famous and, one would guess, enviable people, which often turn out to be just as disappointing as April often is.

History offers numerous examples of such not lovable, not admirable celebrities. Eighteenth-century dramatist Oliver Goldsmith was asked on his deathbed if his mind was at ease, and he replied succinctly, “No, it is not.” Little wonder, for his good friend, Samuel Johnson, summed up Goldsmith’s life saying:

“No man was more foolish when he had not a pen is his hand, or more wise when he had.”

Here is the bitterly ambiguous eulogy Bertrand Russell wrote of a poet that disappointed him mightily: “William Wordsworth,” he said, had “In his youth sympathized with the French Revolution, wrote good poetry, and had a natural daughter. At this period of his life he was called a ‘bad’ man. Then he became ‘good,’ abandoned his daughter, adopted ‘correct’ principles, and wrote bad poetry.”

Expatriate poet Ezra Pound pled insanity for his Fascist activities during World War II and was promptly thrown in St. Elizabeth’s hospital for 13 years (would that this could happen in our day to those who are doing crazy things!). Upon release he replied to reporters’ question “How did it go in the madhouse?” with this: “Rather badly. But what other place could one live in America?”

Perhaps these are good reasons after all for not envying literary luminaries (a fault, dear reader, of which I am occasionally guilty!) One of my deeply admired writers is Evelyn Waugh, of whom Cecil Beaton said at Waugh’s death: “He died of snobbery, his abiding complex and the source of much of his misery,” not the unrequited infatuation for which many of his fans pitied him.

At least Waugh had his fame and fortune to soothe his misery. French writer Francois Rabelais (the source of our word “Rabelaisian,” meaning gross exuberance), said of his dying, impoverished self: “I have nothing. I owe much. I leave the rest to the poor.”

I did find ONE famous writer for whom the obituary was one he would have been duly proud of: Rupert Brooke, author of the famous anti-war poem “Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori,” who died of blood poisoning. Three days later Winston Churchill, First Lord of the British Admiralty, wrote: “Brookes was all one could wish England’s noblest sons to be in the days when no sacrifice but the most precious is acceptable, and he gave what is most precious, yet was freely offered.”

Unless we want to make that kind of ultimate sacrifice, we could just try to face April with the kind of “devil may care” spirit that seemed to inspire the newly-wed pair of famous literary lights: Scott and Zelda. The newspaper article on their honeymoon gives this report:

On this day of April 3, 1920, Minnesota’s own, F. Scott Fitzgerald, married Zelda Sayre at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and honeymooned at the Biltmore, where they behaved so boisterously, the management asked them to leave.

Maybe that’s the only way to evade the April doldrums: live it up!

April, literary, Woodworking again, Dave Wood, column