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Ingrid Wendt's Contextual Analysis on Ada Hastings Hedges' "Then April"

April 30, 2020

This April of 2020—with the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic raging, with each newscast bringing us higher, ever more staggering numbers of new infections and deaths, with unemployment and fear for the future growing—could there be any greater disconnect than between the rapid escalation of these horrors and the leisurely unfolding, all around us, of spring? Here in Western Oregon, glory abounds. Elsewhere in the northern hemisphere, every day brings buds and green beginnings.

How do we cope with our awareness of this simultaneity, this irony? How do we maintain emotional and intellectual balance? I think of health-care workers, grocery clerks, neighbors on the front lines, risking their lives, being either being too occupied to notice the tender beauty around them, or being stunned by it. Wounded by it. To them, and to us, a raging storm might make more sense, though a storm would bring little comfort.   

When OSU Press asked me to say a few words about my favorite Ada Hastings Hedges poems, I never saw myself writing about COVID-19. But that’s what’s on our minds these days. It’s become the lens through which we see things anew.

And so, rereading these poems, some speak to me differently now, especially “Then April,” a poem Hedges wrote after the death of her husband: a poem so skillfully crafted, so elegant in its use of convention, the reader is unprepared for the “stab of pain” in that last stanza, for the ache that rises from within, so much like the ache we feel right now for all humankind. We might even know someone, personally, whose life has been lost to the virus, or whose loved one is fighting to stay alive, even as we rejoice in the coming of spring. For just maybe, right below our brave, bright surfaces, lurks anguish. And for us, the beauty of this spring is both glorious and almost unbearably sad.

-Ingrid Wendt

Then April

I saw the silent golden leaves
Fall from the autumn pear,
With sorrow for a summer’s end,
A bough of love left bare.

And through the gray of winter days,
Unwinding like a thread,
My heart knew peace as it is known
Among the dreamless dead.

But these things brought life throbbing back
With a swift stab of pain—
Wet fragrance from a lilac tree,
A bird-song through the rain.

by Ada Hastings Hedges, Good Housekeeping, April 1937, reprinted in The Collected Poems of Ada Hastings Hedges, Alan Contreras and Ulrich Hardt, editors. OSU Press, April 2020, p, 124.


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