Apr 1: Browning out

So April is the cruelest month, everyone says -- even on Sports Talk radio. When you input "April is the cruelest month" into Google News, you get this as a hit (it's a preview of a roller derby matchup). The difference between making art in Eliot's time and making art now is that back then you would have no idea that your work would eventually be used in the context of roller derby, and nowadays that's what you're shooting for.

Eliot, good Harvard man though he is, is not our reading today. It's the poem that "April is the cruelest month" replaced:

O, TO be in England
Now that April’s there,

Which is by Browning. As I think of the compilers of the Harvard Classics as mouth-frothing Anglophiles, I can only imagine how close this poem must be to their heart:

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!

I can't even read this kind of poetry anymore -- the kind that has "bowers" in it. This poem, in fact, doesn't have bowers, but it could. It's funny that this poem is in this selection, as is Pippa's Song ("God's in his heaven/All's right with the world!"), and it finishes with the masterfully creepy "Last Duchess" (which I remember studying in high school):

Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive.

No bowers anywhere here. As I reread it again (yes, sticklers, you can reread again if your readings > 3), I'm struck by something, which is that a friend of ours (the Mrs. and me) was just over here , complaining about how his girlfriend's personality is too agreeable -- he can't be a uniquely awesome boyfriend, because she takes everything in stride. And here it is in poetry:

She had
A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad.
Too easily impressed: she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ’twas all one!

I personally think the Duke character in this poem is just a little too fusty for me to really love it, but the exclamation point -- the stamping of his tiny Ducal foot -- I really like a lot.

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