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It’s funny, isn’t it, how sometimes a line of poetry will penetrate the national consciousness. People will know a line of poetry but will very often have little or no idea as to what it means or implies.

Here’s one such famous line: O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? Most people know who wrote that line and where it comes from. Most people also think that the character who speaks that line is asking where Romeo is. But what Juliet is really asking is not where Romeo is but why he is who he is. She is saying: why does the stranger I have fallen in love with have to be Romeo Montague, a scion of the enemy household?

The line April is the cruellest month is perhaps slightly less well known. Its source and author are not common knowledge, but every year it pops up like a bad penny. This year, according to various media commentators, April is the cruellest month because of the drought, or the economic climate, or the fact that the weather over Easter 2012 was so bad while the weather leading up to Easter was so good. Five minutes on Google is enough to inform me that this year April is the cruellest month for certain couples who are no longer eligible for tax credit, for the people of Mumbai because of rising food prices and for the users of Windows Vista because they will cease to receive security updates from Microsoft as from April 2012! But why does this line stick in peoples’ minds and why do they reach for it every year with depressing regularity? And is April really the cruellest month and, if so, why?

The line in question is the opening line of T S Eliot’s long poem The Waste Land. Let’s take a look at it in context:

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.

April is the cruellest month because it brings things back to life, it destroys the safe and protecting oblivion of winter. In The Waste Land this is seen as something dangerous and undesirable. But in The Waste Land, Eliot creates a dark and chaotic universe in which values are turned on their heads and nothing is as it seems. The opening of this poem presents stark contrasts and contradictions. Until Eliot wrote The Waste Land, April was not generally regarded as cruel. The idea of April as being “cruel” is intended to shock. Likewise, winter is usually regarded as a cold season rather than a source of warmth, and “dead land” does not usually bring forth lilacs. To a modern reader, this opening might invoke ominous forebodings of climate change and global warming. But the point is that the opening of The Waste Land is a gateway into a frightening and abnormal universe. It goes without saying that the first line of this poem was never intended to serve as a banal cultural cliché.

But outside of the context of The Waste Land, is there a sense in which April is indeed a cruel month? April is certainly different from the months which precede it. As I wend my way through the maze of West Sussex footpaths the air is suddenly rich with perfume from bluebells and wild garlic. The tiny crocuses and pale daffodils have had their season and the rhododendrons are showing forth their stronger colours. Change is in the air. And, yes, there is a sense in which Eliot is quite right. There is something comforting about the grey quietness of January and February which is torn away by April. It is time to stop hiding and start living again.

As a hypnotherapist I often think about the appropriate time for change. I will often tell my clients that maybe just before Christmas is not the best time to try to quit smoking or that just before a major family celebration is perhaps not the best time to begin a strict diet. The traditional time for change and the formulation of resolutions is New Year. But maybe April is a better time, because it is a time of transition between winter and summer, a time of awakening and renewal, a time of colour, energy and optimism.

April is not the cruellest month. April is April. It is whatever you want it to be.

Horsham Hypnotherapy: serving clients from Horsham, Crawley, Burgess Hill, Haywards Heath, Guildford, Redhill and all parts of West Sussex, East Sussex and Surrey. Contact us today.

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