Saturday, 9 May 2020

TS Eliot and Lockdown

April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire...

As a teenager I found Eliot's poetry weird. I didn't understand it or like it. If that makes me a peasant in the eyes of many, I don't care. But this opening to The Wasteland has reverberated since Lockdown. Our extraordinary "halt", standing on a planet that still spins whilst we don't has certainly mixed memory with desire. All the things which only two months ago we could have are now a memory. The spontaneity of showing up at a friends door, laughing with strangers sitting at the adjacent cafe table, the monotony of the weekly grocery shop, planning a road trip to the next city. All gone.

I love being at home. I never run out of things to do and I'm quite happy with my own company if my husband is closeted away writing. But sometimes it is really hard to smell the lilacs, knowing that there are many millions barely surviving.

The Biblical book of Lamentations opens with "How lonely sits the city that was full of people!" The prophet talks of Jerusalem, but his exclamation could rattle and echo around every city in the world right now. I am longing for the muted hum of people against the stones and the walls of my small town again, not the echoing crack of just one footfall. The loneliness of the inanimate is palpable.

And the future lilacs, where shall we find them? I remember a lilac bush in our garden when I was a small child. At certain hours of the day, I could smell its fragrance through my bedroom window. It would catch me by surprise and then its intensity would grow until everywhere I went in the house I could smell it. I am grasping for that intensity now. I want the fruit of this experience to bring something so intense to my life that it changes everything that remains of it for the better.

I am looking for lilacs.

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