Today’s poem is by the American poet, Sara Teasdale, who was writing in the first third of the twentieth century. So it is somewhat surprising to find that the theme of the poem, that resilient nature can outlive mankind which has destroyed itself in war, is years and decades ahead of the second world war, the most destructive war in human history, of the nuclear threat overhanging the post-war Cold War, and, of course, of the nuclear power disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima. This poem could have been written as a response t any one of these, but no, it comes from an earlier time when these dangers were perhaps not apparent.
Another thought that comes to mind is the “soft rain” of the title bein gin contrast to Bob Dylan’s “Hard Rain”, from his 1960s anti-nuclear war song. Many things are indeed connected.
There Will Come Soft Rain
There will come soft rain and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;
Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
The first half of the poem, the first three couplets, focus on the continuity of the beauties of nature, the nurturing rain softening the ground, the swallows. The frogs, the beautiful plum trees in blossom., the robins happily chirping away on the fence. All seems well in this idylll of nature, at this point we readers probably don’t even notice that humans are absent from this scene.
But then the kicker comes in the seventh line – there has bee a war and there is nobody left to tell the tale or to enjoy the beauties of nature. And worse, in lines seven or eight – unlike humankinds appreciation of nature in all its beauty, nothing in nature would be able to care or regret that mankind has been annihilated. To the robin or the plum tree or the frog, whether or not there are people is an irrelevance – their lives go on regardless. Even in Spring, the season of renewal and growth of the natural world, the absence of humans would barely have any impact.
And of course, we have indeed undertaken this experiment, inadvertently, at Chernobyl and at Fukushima, where nature is thriving in the human exclusion zones.
Food for thought from a poem ahead of its time.
The Poetry Dude