The rain is the great protagonist of the first lines of Chaucer‘s Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. It’s April and the “sweet showers “ have soaked deep into the dry ground to water the roots of the flowers. The combination of this spring rain with Zephyrus, the god of the west wind, is so powerful that the “tender shoots” are quickly transformed into “buds” everywhere under the eyes of a “young sun” and with the background music of the birds singing. It is the joyful natural rebirth which also stirs man’s spiritual rebirth, that’s why spring was symbolically chosen as the perfect time of the year to go on pilgrimage to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Thomas Beckett. Chaucer, therefore, gives us a vision of a man totally integrated and in harmony with the world and its natural forces. But this was more or less seven hundred years ago. When The Waste Land was published in 1922 , the world had just witnessed the horrors and follies of World War I and the present was only a “heap of broken images” . Among the ruins of the certainties and values of a glorious past, Eliot’s modern man is at loss, he is a “dried tuber” forced to live a meaningless life. So when spring comes, this time the rain has no effects neither on nature nor on man. The world is deaf to the seasonal call to life. The drops of water try to stir the roots of the flowers, but they are “dull” and would rather still be covered by the “forgetful” winter snow. That’s why April for Eliot is “the cruellest month”: man must emerge from his hibernation to face a desolate present and the sad memories of a recent past with no hope for a better future, because no root can clutch “out of this stony rubbish“. This is the point, Eliot’s modern man has no the smallest hope, he walks in circle and fixes”his eyes before his feet”.
Here is The Waste Land, read by T.S.Eliot: