“April is the cruelest month…”
Those first five words of T.S. Eliot’s seminal poem The Wasteland are quoted with regularity this time of year, often with ironic humor, given their almost bitter stance that ascribes cruelty to the burst of flowering beauty across spring landscapes through much of the world. It’s something we Californians might jocularly offer via text message to friends in the East who are stuck with a foot of snow on the ground while we’re making plans for Easter picnics.
Much of what follows in The Wasteland, however, can come across as an arduous slog through obscure literary references, many of them in foreign languages with no translation offered. This is one reason why the poem has long been a kind of feasting ground for academics to offer dense and convoluted interpretations for each other’s sometimes indignant argumentation, with the common reader left out in the cold.