April is the cruellest month. These five words open T. S. Eliot’s seminal long poem, “The Waste Land.” And five words was all it took to upend centuries of poetic convention. Suddenly spring wasn’t a graceful period of blossoming life and romantic potential, but an end to winter’s comfortable apathy and the beginning of an agonizing struggle towards rebirth. Even the flowers are not so much in bloom as in pain. And Eliot’s nightmare spring wasn’t just a season. He was writing at the end of a devastating world war and at the birth of the modern era, a time that would be marked by a seemingly endless string of brutal wars (including another world war, this time with one Holocaust and two cities leveled by atomic bombs) and by major political, cultural, and artistic revolutions. Like the “corpse” planted in a garden in one of the poem’s stanzas, death and destruction are the fertilizer that facilitated the growth of relatively easy 21st Century lives. But that ease seems more tenuous with each passing day (and every minute spent on twitter), and the innovations of the last 100 years have brought us no closer to a peaceful world (or peace of mind). Summer isn’t here yet.
In honor of the cruelest month in the cruelest of all possible worlds, here is Vai S.H.’s homage to “The Waste Land”: a series of images inspired by the poem that illustrate its anguished tone and place it within the context of the unending sadistic shitshow of human history.