It seems fitting with the onset of April and beautiful weather to offer some remarks about T.S. Eliot's extraordinary poem The Waste Land. The poem famously opens with the line "April is the cruellest month." The perversion implied in this declaration is often lost in the extreme confusion caused by reading the poem. Let us try and capture how this opening line articulates the essential nature of the curse that has hold over the wasteland. The cruelty of April is specified as follows: it "breed[s] / Lilacs out of the dead land," it "mix[es] / Memory and desire," it "stir[s] / Dull roots with spring rain." These three charges laid against April all relate to the awakening of life from death, the natural resurrection that cycles year after year. Miraculously, each year spring comes. What sort of a person prefers the warmth of "winter?" The paradox implied in this line is that there is something so objectionable to the inhabitants of the wasteland about new life that they would rather it not happen at all. What sort of a people clings to infertility and a perpetual, zombie-like existence instead of the exuberant risk of new things?
Usually the cause of these people's rejection of spring is interpreted as the fear of death. This reading, while somewhat correct, misses the reason why the people are so afraid of death. After all, (almost) everyone who has ever lived has feared death. But the wasteland is something new, something modern. So we are not just faced with the fear of death. We are faced, rather, with the fear of life! Rain, the life-giving force that the poem's parched soil screams for, is what everyone in the poem is trying to avoid (until the end). When the rain comes the inhabitants of the wasteland venture into the "colonnade" or the "closed car at four." If I may venture an explanation of why this is the case, I would suggest that it is precisely the incredible power to control (seemingly) everything, or at least potentially control, that has led the inhabitants of the wasteland into this darkness. Those things that they cannot control grip them with terror. In an image of a diabolical Pentecost, the sound of the "wind under the door" which betokens a divine manifestation possesses the lady in the chair (symbolized by Belladonna in Madame Sosostris' wicked pack of cards) with an overmastering fear instead of a life-giving spirit.