Tuesday, April 7, 2009

National Poetry Month

This month, April, is National Poetry Month (following last month, which was Irish Heritage Month and February that was Black History Month—we may need more months!).

It’s ironic because, of course:

April is the cruelest 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.

No doubt many of you recognize T.S. Eliot’s famous poem The Waste Land. In honor of National Poetry Month (and the decade I spent in graduate school studying poetry), I’m going to spend some time discussing poetry this month, but not very much today on The Waste Land, which I find almost too difficult to be worth the work.

The opening passage, though, isn’t too bad. April is cruel because it reawakens hope. Usually, at least in the climes Eliot was familiar with, for that hope to be dashed with the return of cold weather—even here in Dallas we have a frost threatened for tonight.

[BTW: Lilacs are the plant most emblematic of spring in the north—sort of Wisteria for Yankees. Lilacs smell wonderfully and I was disappointed when I found that they didn’t grow in Texas.]

I think most of us know that it isn’t failing that hurts so much as the elusive chance of success. When you have no hope, then after awhile you quit hurting. The glimpse of a better life reinvigorates the pain. The freeze after a few days of warm weather hurts more than another week of winter.

This is one reason why when we start a project that we commit ourselves to see it through to the bitter end. People at the bottom are hurt much more by false hope than by no hope at all. Sometimes organizations with great hearts but limited resources end up doing more harm than good because they don’t realize how difficult community development work is. Promises are made that can’t be kept. Hope is stirred up and then cruelly dies in spring’s last frost.

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