Emily Dickinson makes rain generous and loving,
like a mother, in 'Rain Poem’.
Drops fall on a house 'half a dozen kissed the eaves/and made the gables laugh’. By accounting for raindrops, almost one by one, this poem introduces each one as something precious. The poet, in following the course of these falling drops, imagines 'were they peals/what necklaces could be!’. If we succeed in teaching people to value raindrops as much as pearls falling from the sky, we will be delighted! There is something quasi-magical about rain’s ability to transform a location’s appearance. Mindful of this, Dickinson’s poem dramatizes how, after a rain shower, dust is gone from the roads; the birds sing more brightly, and glittering 'spangles’ hang from trees boughs in orchards.
Forceful RainWilliam Carlos Williams’ poem, 'Spring Storm’, represents the kind of deluge that falls, melting the winter snows. It dramatizes water’s power. Rainwater is shown to reshape topographies, cutting 'a thousand runnels’ through the snow, and fashioning a way for itself to flow 'through green ice in the gutters’.
Rain in the City
Of all poets that have made rain the subject of
their poems, Alice Oswald has, in my view, offered the most compelling account of
how a rain storm can change an urban environment. Her poem 'rain’ dramatizes
events on one June day, when 40 mm of rain fell on Romford, London. 'Rain’ is currently
available as a BBC Radio 3 sound file, in which Oswald reads her own poem.
The following citations are my transcriptions of this audio. Early on in the poem, the poet describes the storm as 'these continuous interruptions and out of body out bursts of the air, falling on the just and the unjust’. Thinking of rain as 'out of body out bursts’ defamiliarizes rainfall, and invites us to think of the planet as a strange, extended body, whose frustrations and shouts might come from cloud bursts, thunder claps or ocean storms.
In the strained context of a storm, people are asked to pay attention and recognise it as a transformative event. The poet says 'I ask you to open your windows and share this catastrophe/ coats on heads, swishing of water-skirts, skirts clinging to skin’. This is a request that everyone come together as equals, under the same sky. Furthermore, it is not only humans who are changed by this deluge. The poet sees the heavy rain damaging flowers: 'I see flattened asters, this is Romford allotments’. That the flowers are growing in an allotment, where people plant and tend flowers and vegetables for their own consumption, implies their battering by the rain will also sadden at least one patient gardener.
One of Oswald’s skills as a poet is to describe natural features, like rivers or rainstorms, as amorphous, changeable phenomena. She takes the same approach in describing rain’s shifting self, writing 'what a multiple personality had been shattered and drawn to speak in small drops’. With this phrase, the extended body of the sky (and possibly the whole biosphere) is shown to have things to say. But all is not serious in this poem. It also acknowledges the comic, yet resilient nature of the relationship between people and rain. It does so by figuring an old man, who when it rained, 'just belted a bit of corrugated iron to his middle/ bent over and went on walking. What a performance of fat sounds, drumming on his back’.
Next year, for World Water Day, we might be
tempted to make a video of IRHA’s secretariat staff following the example of
this old man, with his corrugated iron strapped to his back. That would be a striking
way to celebrate the life-sustaining performance of the rain!