On Poetry and Culture Shock

Unavoidable: April is the cruellest month.

Imagine this. May in Southern Spain. Heat, 40 first-year University students taking a survey course in English Literature. Understanding plain English is sometimes a challenge. And about three lectures before the end of the semester, T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland is presented. General hostility follows. It makes no sense.

Although I disliked it initially, it was the second time in my life that someone introdued me to such elegant, fluid free verse, the first time being Pedro Salinas' La Voz a Ti Debida (The Voice I owe to you). Today, a sunny April day with the crocuses starting to bloom, is a perfect occasion to post the opening of The Wasteland.


APRIL is the cruellest 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.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke's,
My cousin's, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie, 15
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.


Abril es el mes más cruel, criando
lilas en el yermo, mezclando
memoria y deseo, revolviendo
raíces moribundas con lluvia primaveral.
El invierno nos dio calor, cubriendo
la tierra con nieve olvidadiza, alimentando
un poco de vida con tubérculos secos.
El verano nos sorprendió, llegando al Starnbergersee
con un chaparrón; nos detuvimos en la columnata
y salimos al sol, al Hofgarten,
y tomamos café, y charlamos una hora.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
Y cuando éramos pequeños, en casa del archiduque,
mi primo, me llevó en trineo
y yo tenía miedo. Él decía, Marie,
Maríe agárrate fuerte. Y allá que fuimos.
En las montañas te sientes libre.
Paso leyendo casi toda la noche, y viajo al sur en invierno.

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