The Cruellest Month

T S Eliot wrote in his poem The Wasteland ‘April is the cruellest month…’ Trees and plants burst into sharp green leaves and the first flowers appear. Intermittent sunlight; hailstorms and rainbows – a month of contrasts.

Not that long ago I visited a friend. His house is hemmed in by double lines in the road, but there was parking space inside the cobbled courtyard that had once been the setting for horses and an array of carriages from pony cart to closed coach. The cart and coach are still preserved under a coat of dust.  I rang the bell to the side door. It opened and a dog pushed out, followed by his master. It was the entry to an enchanted world, a journey back in time when the dusty carriages sparkled, when horses stamped and neighed nearby in the stables, when the world sped by at horse pace and one could wave royally at pedestrians for a fleeting moment.

The owner’s dog led the way up the steps for a tour of the garden. To the right, a long fragile glasshouse, its plant shelves empty, was being repaired. Youths had climbed over the perimeter walls and thrown stones at it before tearing round the garden toppling statues. There is a perverse sort of thrill, it seems, in smashing glass and defacing statues – a speedy rendering of the ravages of time. The greenhouse was not covered by insurance, so it remained empty, its potential shattered. We followed the walk round the garden periphery passing a statue that had lost its nose and a pavilion where, in times past, we would have paused to contemplate the delicate shades of spring’s advance while sipping sorbets or whatever refreshments might have been served in times of yore. Shrubs were leaning out over the path with pricks of light from the raindrops of last night’s shower. The flowering cherry trees were already coming into blossom, the small white petals blown like confetti over the path ahead to celebrate the coming of spring.

An early butterfly, a Red Admiral no less. The strident calls of birds thinking about rehabilitating their nests from last spring. Sunlight stroking mossy branches. Tiny slivers of green as leaves are about to uncurl. One can relive the thrill of Chaucer’s pilgrims as they set forth that spring so long ago on their way to Canterbury, telling their tales to while the time away in the mid-fourteenth century.

‘When that aprill with his showrs soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendered is the flour.
When zephirus eek with his sweete breath
Inspired hath in every holt and heath
Tendre croppes…
And small foweles maken melody,
Then…

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