‘Lord, what fools these mortals be," Puck said to King Oberon as he brought him to see the "fond (foolish) pageant." When I look at what is going on around me, I am certain Puck continues to be right. Global warming, party politics, hunger and poverty, attempts to suppress voters rights, women’s rights, equal rights, the Koch brothers -- it’s a fools’ paradise.
But today is the day when foolishness and being made fools of are acceptable. April Fools’ Day possibly came into being when the Gregorian calendar was introduced during the reign of Charles IV, and New Year’s Day was moved from March 25-April 1 (New Year’s Week) to January. In a time without cell phones or twitter, some people didn’t find out about the change until years later; still others resisted the change. They were labeled "fools."
Days of foolishness at the end of March and beginning of April probably have more to do with the arrival of spring than a calendar. Let’s face it, when spring does arrive in the Berkshires, we are all going to feel giddy and behave foolishly. Maybe we should do what the ancient Romans did when they observed Hilaria to celebrate the return of Attis, the vegetation god. They had a day of laughing. In France, where it supposedly began, April 1 is Poisson d’Avril, or "April Fish." French children sometimes tape a picture of a fish on the back of a schoolmate, and taunt, "Poisson d’Avril."
Here’s what I gleaned from my on-line April Fools’ research: "In Scotland, April Fools’ Day is devoted to spoofs involving the buttocks and as such is called Taily Day. The butts of these jokes are known as April ‘Gowk,’ another name for cuckoo bird. The origins of the ‘Kick Me’ sign can be traced back to the Scottish observance. In England, jokes are played only in the morning. Fools are called ‘gobs’ or ‘gobby’ and the victim of a joke is called a ‘noodle.’" It was considered bad luck to play a practical joke on someone after noon. In Portugal, people throw flour on one another.
We tend not throw things in our observance of the holiday. Of course, we could be throwing snowballs given the prolonged winter. But I have a better idea. Since April 1 is also the beginning of National Poetry Month, we could throw some poetry at each other -- not books of poetry (that would be painful), but one of those poems we are supposed to carry in our pockets during Poetry Month. We don’t have to literally throw the poem, we could recite it.
Like April Fools’ Day, National Poetry Month isn’t really necessary. We can and do play jokes and share poems any day or month of the year. And poetry can be as playful as a prank or a joke, like this one called "Riddle" by Richard Wilbur:
"Where far in forest
I am laid,
In a place ringed around by stones,
Look for no melancholy shade,
And have no thoughts of buried bones;
For I am bodiless and bright,
And fill this glade with sudden glow;
The leaves are washed in under-light;
Shade lies upon the boughs like snow.
Vladimir Nabokov said in "Speak Memory," "To a joke, then, I owe my first gleam of consciousness -- which again has recapitulatory implications, since the first creatures on earth to become aware of time were also the first creatures to smile."
To celebrate both April Fools’ Day and poetry, I will leave you with a few poetry jokes thanks to poet Allan Wolf at www.allanwolf.com
Q: Why are poets always so poor?
A: Because rhyme doesn’t pay.
Q: Why do cowboys write poetry?
A: Because they are inspired by the moos.
Q: How do poets say good-bye?
A: I’d like to linger a little longer but it’s getting aliter-ate.
Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.