On a beautiful sunny day, following a small practice initiated by my Literature professor, I did a Library Hunt, which started from choosing a random word and then letting it lead you to different related resources (the dérive). I looked up the definition of my random word in the dictionary, and found several art and literary pieces related to the word. The hunt was very intriguing and rewarding as I discovered more about culture through the multifaceted world of the arts.
I was born on the second day of spring. The excitement of having a birthday on such a warm and cheerful sunny day drove me to look up the word “April” in the Oxford English Dictionary. Obviously, April, falling between March and May and containing 30 days, is the fourth month of the year according to the Julian and Gregorian calendars. One new thing that I discovered was the figurative meaning of this word with allusion to April as a month in spring (in the northern hemisphere) or to its changeable weather. People used it to describe a carefree and youthful time of their life, as in C. H. Sisson’s Antidotes 27: “Free was I in the April of my years, Without a care,” or the early and unsettling perception/attitude towards life, as in F. Quarles’ Enchyridion: “Be very vigilent over thy Childe in the April of his understanding.” It could also serve as an adjective to describe the freshness of things and the juvenileness or foolishness of a person, especially a newly-married husband, as in “April gentleman.” It is intriguing to me that these meanings of the word “April” seem to resemble my personality: cheerful, sprightly, bold, a little silly and brisk.
The hardest part of my Library Hunt is to find an interesting image. Most of the pictures simply represent the landscapes of spring while I was trying to find something different from that common notion. Finally I came across a striking portrait of Abvdongwe, a young girl from the Dani tribe, in her skirting ceremony (a part of the wedding ceremony), taken on April 8, 1962. It not only contains a conspicuous contrast of color, lighting, and focus between the base canvas (her skin and the background) and the wedding garments she wears, but also represents a dimensionally cultural significance of ethnic diversity. This soulful photograph satisfies my fondness of portrait, and stimulates my curiosity for a civilization distant from mine.
“April Burrial” by Winnifred Kirkland was the essay that caught my attention. It discusses the April time of the year and the April time of our soul to believe in resurrection, and start realizing and blossoming from our experience of losing someone. People often hesitate to revisit their memories of loss, and are so instilled by that habit that they fail to see the transformational value of pain—making us wiser and stronger—“We do not observe how often spring is fulfilled within our life. We are heavy-witted with habit, and when once we have termed an experience hopeful or painful, lucky or sad, we do not perceive that since we labelled it, it has changed its nature, and is actually producing fruits totally different from the name we give it. We bow above some spot where a hope lies buried, and do not note that already it has sprung up into beauty, and is filling our life with fragrance.” Grief gives us leisure to appreciate. Ironically, we feel like we understand the dead more than the living, and are more willing to ponder about those whose souls we see more clearly as soon as they are freed from “the obscurations of the flesh, their flesh and ours.” That’s why separation simultaneously allows immense bereavement and recognized beatitude of our present possession.
The work of literature I found was the poetry collection “Second April” of Edna St. Vincent Millay, which contains her most loved poems about spring and the cycle of life. Edna has a multifaceted and skillful writing style with powerful use of symbolism and rhetorical questions. Behind the alluring facet of nature always lies the immutable law of death and replacement. In the first poem of the collection, “Spring,” Edna questions the interrelation between the idea of rebirth and blossoming, and the idea of mortality and despair of the season spring. She hides images of death and pain in the description of the birth of new life. April comes again not just to rejuvenate the beauty of nature but also to deprive life of the living, and this is an inescapable truth.
The final piece of my Library Hunt puzzle is my accidental discovery of the fiction “The Twenty-One Balloons” by William Pène du Bois, which was first published in April 1947. This fascinating book tells the adventure of Professor William Waterman Sherman on a giant balloon across the Pacific Ocean as an example of the type of travel that carries out without regard to speed and a targeted destination, as opposed to the one that aims at reaching a place within the shortest amount of time on the shortest path. I found it particularly intriguing and desirable that the journey leads him to an isolated island full of wealth, fantastic inventions, and one-of-a-kind human culture that ignites his passion for travelling and discovering the world. He is such an April spirit!
April 02, 2015