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The speaker of the poem opens by describing how a steady stream of raindrops beat down on the roof of his “bleak hut.” His health is not very good. The speaker is by himself in a trench somewhere in the First World War battlefields. He muses over death in general and his mortality in particular while he is there. He goes on to explain that there are benefits to the rain. He’s been “cleaner” after using it than he’s been in a while. It has shown itself to be the one love he can rely on by acting in this way. In the last few words, the speaker rejects all that is “perfect” because it can’t be relied upon. However, death is inevitable.
About the Poet
While he was also a prolific critic, biographer, and nature writer, British author Philip Edward Thomas (1878–1917) is most known for his poetry. He made a good living writing prose, but it wasn’t until he was 36 years old that he found his poetry voice. Sadly, after serving for just two years during World War I, he was killed in action in 1917. He was a World War I soldier in 1916, experiencing the brutal reality of the trenches and reflecting on his mortality at the time he wrote this essay. The main topics of the poem were greatly impacted by these components.
One stanza of the text contains eighteen lines, which make up the poem. There is a lot of repetition and a metrical rhythm, however, Thomas has opted not to adopt a regular rhyme scheme. The majority of the lines follow the most often-used rhythmic scheme, iambic pentameter.
Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain On this bleak hut, and solitude, and me Remembering again that I shall die And neither hear the rain nor give it thanks For washing me cleaner than I have been Since I was born into this solitude. Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon: But here I pray that none whom once I loved Is dying tonight or lying still awake Solitary, listening to the rain, Either in pain or thus in sympathy Helpless among the living and the dead, Like a cold water among broken reeds, Myriads of broken reeds all still and stiff, Like me who have no love which this wild rain Has not dissolved except the love of death, If love it be towards what is perfect and Cannot, the tempest tells me, disappoint.
The speaker in the opening lines—who is usually taken to be Thomas himself—is thinking about the rain, which doesn’t seem to be stopping. The first line contains three instances of the word “rain.” This, together with the metrical pattern and further repetitions, ensures that the reader is never far from this visual and the sounds that go along with it. It is midnight when the speaker describes the rain starting to pour. He describes it as “wild” because it has been coming so fiercely and continuously. This contrasts with the “bleak hut” he is staying in and the “solitude” that permeates the area around him.
The speaker is reminded that they will eventually “die” by the rain. This ominous statement instantly immerses the reader in his reality. He is experiencing something unfathomable to most people. He intends to portray what it was like to live with the continual awareness of one’s death in “Rain.” His lonely moments simply serve to serve as another reminder of his impending demise.
The rain is depicted differently in the lines that follow. Although initially interpreted as ominous, the speaker is now admitting that it has contributed to “washing [him] cleaner” than he has been since the start of the war. It is this time that is called “solitude” itself.
The speaker goes on to discuss the characteristics of rain and how it affects those who are similar to him in the following few sentences. He starts by talking about the “dead” that are beneath the rain. They are “Blessed” no matter where they are as long as the rain touches them. It acts as a purifying force, aiding in the removal of the bigger tragedy of death as well as the stains left by the conflict.
The speaker “pray[s] that none of those he previously “loved” are living as he is today, from where he sits in his hut. He is aware of how alone he is and does not want anyone else to be in his shoes. The orator expresses his wish that his loved ones are secure and not “dying tonight or lying still awake / Solitary.” He acknowledges at the end of this section that some of these individuals may be “in sympathy,” alone in their thoughts about the persons they love. In any case, he doesn’t want his loved ones to go through this.
As the poem comes to an end, the speaker turns his thoughts to how “helpless” the people he loves are. Somewhere between the “living and the dead,” is where he envisions them getting stuck. These people—friends, family, or even just acquaintances—are stuck in a river like “cold water” would be “among broken reeds.” The next line reiterates this statement while putting more focus on the quantity of reeds. A “Myriad” exists, and they are all “still and stiff.” It is nearly impossible to walk through these long grasses. They stand for the hardship of day-to-day existence.
The speaker returns to his condition in the last four lines, imagining that others do not have “no love” that has been “dissolved” by the rain. Well, not besides the “love of death,” no love. The speaker’s thoughts are now consumed by this power. It is constantly there and getting bigger and bigger. He loves “death” because he believes it cannot disappoint, thus his love appears reasonable. He loves something almost palpable but unavoidable, as opposed to something that is “perfect” and “Cannot” ever truly exist. You can rely on death when all else fails.
Edward Thomas’s 1916 poem “Rain,” written amid the depressing effects of World War I, is more than just a weather report; it’s a potent picture of mortality, loneliness, and the comfort that comes from being in nature.
The first image in the poem is bleak: constant rain beating down on a “bleak hut,” reflecting the speaker’s solitude and reflection. Not only is this physical isolation present, but the words “Remembering again that I shall die” bring death into sharp focus and compel the reader to consider an uncertain future. However, rain isn’t the only metaphor for hopelessness. It has purifying properties, eliminating “solitude” and implying a link to something greater than the present adversity.
The speaker’s compassion goes beyond their situation. Echoing the wider effects of the conflict, “Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon,” acknowledges the suffering of both the living and the dead. Thomas’s increasing knowledge of the cost of the struggle is reflected in his sympathy.
The reference to “love of death,” a nuanced phrase that reflects Thomas’s mixed feelings regarding the war, gives the poem a philosophical turn. Though apprehensive at first, he finally considered combat to be his duty. The poem doesn’t say definitively whether or not he saw death as a possible release because of the ongoing threat and damage.
The last few words return to the natural world and change the focus. The metaphor of “broken reeds,” while initially signifying suffering and loss, also suggests a possibility for rebirth. This and the fact that the rain is still falling point to a cyclical nature in which death makes room for new life. The poem doesn’t sugarcoat the brutal facts of life and death, but it ends on a hopeful note that reminds us of the strength of nature’s enduring force and the possibility of finding purpose even in the most hopeless circumstances.
“Rain” is a testament to Thomas’s extraordinary creativity since it captures the nuanced feelings of a person coping with loss, loneliness, and conflict while still providing a glimmer of hope amid misery.