Man Without Qualities

Monday, May 03, 2004

April Showers

William Safire opens his current column about the prospect for democracy in Iraq with a despairing snip from T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land: "April is the cruelest month." But the column is actually more sensibly optimistic than that, and soon phases into a more optimistic message: However, a certain grim logic suggests a turn for the better may be coming this summer.

Safire's optimism is a jewel held to the light. No new democracy has ever sprouted and bloomed painlessly - or at least as painlessly as the mainstream media and, say, much of Europe, are implicitly demanding before advocating abandonment of the Iraqi people to despotism.

So it strikes me that the cite to Elliot is not quite right. It's progenitor line would have better served. "April ... month" is a beautiful allusion of the opening lines of Chaucer"s Canterbury Tales (1400): "Whanne that Aprille with his shoures soote." Chaucer celebrates the return of spring and its refreshing but bothersome rains, rains needed to restore vigorous life to roots and to engender a new cycle of natural fertility. Eliot's "waste land" offers little hope of new life - even the early spring rains bring only "a little life" in the "dull roofs" and "dried tubers."

In other words: "April showers bring ..."

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